The Art of Loitering*

Old map england

In the morning I awake / My arms, my legs, my body aches / The sky outside is wet and grey / So begins another weary day.

The nutty boys in surprisingly serious mood. Except, of course, that there was always more to Madness than novelty party tunes. (The video for Grey Day is however, reliably nutty.)

We’ve had a long run of grey days here. It’s dreich. We’ve managed to get out a couple of times none-the-less. We dragged the kids down to the Cove and across the Lots on Christmas Day. On Boxing Day, with my in-laws minding the fort, TBH and I had an afternoon turn around Eaves Wood. The following day we walked to Arnside for a very late breakfast. At lunchtime. That was a particularly grey day, with Arnside Knott hidden by cloud and not visible even from Arnside Tower Farm (i.e. very close by).

It was good to get out though and for our return to Silverdale it had even stopped raining.

Having a walk together without the kids gave us a really good opportunity to talk, and, it being this time of year, to start making some plans for the year ahead. I recently picked up ‘In Your Stride’ a book by A.B. Austin, published in 1931. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, but it has really had me thinking. It’s called ‘The Art of Loitering’ . (As luck would have it, you can read it here.) In it Austin advocates exploring Britain over the course of a year, dedicating one month to exploring, divided between eleven monthly weekends and one week’s holiday. It’s hard to find a passage to quote, but he makes an excellent case – I recommend that you read it. In a similar vein, TBH had been chatting to a friend who ‘does’ one city each year. With those ideas in mind we began to think about our year ahead.

Old map Britain

The first thing that struck me – considering the year ahead in this way – is that I don’t do too badly as it is. Put in our regular annual get-togethers: the highlands in March, Nether Wasdale in May, a week at Towyn Farm in the summer, the ‘Adults’ weekend in the Autumn and our pre-Christmas bash in a Youth Hostel and we’re almost halfway there already.

One section of Austin’s ‘The Art of Loitering’  covers the potential cost of his suggestion:

That, you may protest, is rather a tall order, for who has leisure to go exploring all the solitariness that is left in England while he has to find the means to spread butter on his daily bread ? The question may be answered by asking another. How much do we spend on holiday comings and goings every year, including not only our annual exodus to sea or countryside, but all our odd motoring, sporting, walking, climbing, butterfly-catching escapades ? How much, in other words, does our leisure cost us ?

He goes on to make some suggestions as to how to make savings: travel over-night to save on one night’s lodgings; sleep out or in barns (this was 1931); visit popular places out of season. I’m surprised that he doesn’t advocate camping, which is our favourite for many reasons, one of which is cost. Most of our regular trips work out pretty reasonably. We’ve added a couple more weekends to that list, booking cheap accommodation via a source which Austin might not recognise: Travelodge’s winter rooms sale. I know – not an obvious choice for getting away from it all, but functional, and in the sale potentially very well priced. So far we’ve booked a weekend in Tadcaster and another in Wakefield. Again – perhaps not places which immediately spring to mind, but there is method in our madness. Tadcaster was cheaper than York and is only a few miles down the road. York will be this year’s city. Lots to see: the city walls, Jorvik, the National Rail Museum, York Minster (if you have other suggestions please pass them on). Wakefield, meanwhile, has the new Hepworth gallery and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the doorstep.

Ruskin's drawing of York Minster

So where else should we go? I fancy a look at the Shropshire Hills, TBH wants to go back to the Forest of Dean. I have some other vague plans and wild aspirations, about which, perhaps, more later.

Aside from the obvious places where would you recommend?

The old maps and Ruskin’s drawing of York Minster are here because I don’t have any photos from our walks and I don’t like my posts if they don’t include any pictures. Yes – I really am that shallow. Oh – and because I like maps and drawings.

Which brings me to another point, a guilty pleasure I suppose, does anybody else find themselves looking back over their old posts when they really ought to be doing something more constructive, or is that just me?

* Another title might have been ‘Making Plans’ which instantly puts the tune ‘Making Plans For Nigel’  into my head. An alternative to the Madness to leave you with.

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The Art of Loitering*

Ninebanks Again II – A Superb Walk

The sledging field

Whilst some of us were floundering around in waist-deep bogs, the kids were sledging and building snowmen, giant snowballs and an attempted igloo.

Our second day at Ninebanks began cloudy, but cleared up very early and the kids were soon outside again making the most of it.

Starting a run

I had been up with the lark and watched the Adopted Yorkshireman* and the Madman make an early start for the hills, but opted myself for a leisurely fry-up before joining the Shandy Sherpa* and Geordie Munro* for what we expected to be a brief stroll.

It wasn’t. A brief stroll. But it was too nice a day to hurry.

Mohope Burn 

In brief, our route took us along the Mohope Burn….

The sledging field from Mohope Burn 

…and below the now busy sledging field…

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…on a path which is part of Isaac’s Tea Trail, a 37 mile circular route inspired by Isaac Holden, Lead Miner, travelling tea salesman and Methodist philanthropist.

The Shandy Sherpa and Mohope Burn 

Mohope Burn brought us to…

…the River West Allen…

River West Allen 

…where the Shandy Sherpa and Geordie Munro both steadfastly refused to go back to pose for a photo on the footbridge.

“What you need,” they said, “is the Madman. He can always be relied upon to pose on request in any spot.”

As if by magic, coming down the hill towards us were the Madman and the AYM.

A meeting 

We were by now already an hour into our ‘stroll’  and less than an hour short of the time we had predicted for our return to the hostel, so passed on a message for our respective partners about the shortcomings of our estimated ETA.

Because we had miles to go, and hills to climb…

Looking back across the valley 

The views were expansive.

Geordie Munro 

And we can’t have been in a hurry…

The Shandy Sherpa 

…because at times I even managed to get ahead of the boys.

Admiring the view 

However, normal service was resumed as we neared the edge on Greenleycleugh Crags…

The final pull 

…although this photo might suggest that the ascent was epic and vast, which it wasn’t.

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To the west cloud was spilling over Cross Fell and it’s neighbours.

Greenleycleugh Crags 

Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell, Cross Fell 

To the north we could pick out Cheviot, and to the north-west more snow covered mountains, we thought the hills around Dumfries, whilst down to the east we could see Newcastle and great ranks of clouds over the North Sea. A coast to coast view.

Approaching the cairn 

Greenleycleugh Crags – not exactly spectacular, but a fine place to be.

By the cairn we stopped briefly (it was really quite cold here) to share a portion of apple crumble and custard, and a hot drink. Geordie Munro had hot pink grapefruit cordial in his flask – if you’ve never tried it, I can strongly recommend it: very refreshing.

Leaving Greenleycleugh Crags 

We took a slightly different route down.

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..before eventually rejoining Mohope Burn…

Mohope Burn again

…to retrace the first leg of our journey back to the hostel.

*We’ve been friends for a very long time and nicknames proliferate. The Shandy Sherpa you might know as Surf’n’Slide and on Surf’n’Slide’s blog the Adopted Yorkshire Man, who has had numerous appellations over the years, is known as the EWO (Eternal Weather Optimist). The Madman isn’t really Mad (well not entirely), and Geordie Munro isn’t really a Geordie. The Hardman is Hard, but perhaps not as Hard as he once was. Uncle Fester – City fanatic and Bridge player extraordinaire – who made it for part of the weekend, has also been Raspberry Ripple, the Tank Engine, the Ginger Whinger and probably several other things which can only be aired after the watershed. Female members of the party, I need hardly mention, aren’t infantile enough to give each other silly names. I hope that’s cleared things up a little.

Ninebanks Again II – A Superb Walk

Ninebanks Again – I : Bog-snorkelling.

Climbing Hard Rigg

Like last year, on the final weekend before Christmas we met up with old friends at Ninebanks Youth Hostel, which is near Alston in the Pennines. On the Saturday a group of us set-off reasonably early for a yomp around the surrounding moors. It started well: lots of ice and snow. It was cold, and hard-work, but satisfying none-the-less. The cloud even began to lift, and there were occasional hints that the weather might be improving…

Distant sunshine 

Although we are old hands at clutching at straws.

On Hard Rigg the wall had almost disappeared beneath a snow drift.

Snowdrift on Hard Rigg 

But, unlike last year, the drift was soft and yielding, not compacted and hard-frozen snow. Then, we had made good progress stomping along this highway across the bog. This time we floundered. Most of us had soon crashed through the snow and ice and had one or the other boot full of a delightful cocktail of ice, mud and snow. I’d managed to fill both boots and had also been stuck with one boot in the bog for a while until given a helping-hand out.

We’d already revised our ambitious plans and were making for a descent by Black Cleugh when I broke through the ice beneath the snow again – but this time I found myself doing a full-on Doctor Foster: right up to my middle in the soup. Geordie Munro, proud member of Cheviot Mountain Rescue Team, leapt straight into action: he whipped out his camera and took a photo.

I can’t say I enjoyed the rest of the walk. Even though, as we descended, it brightened up considerably.

Surf'n'slide - not surfing or sliding

Although my new thermals performed admirably, I was very wet and cold. I soon started to get cramps in my legs and by the end of an amble of all of 6 miles I was practically out on my feet: absolutely exhausted. Fortunately, at the end of the walk was shelter, sympathy, a hot shower, soup and plenty of hot tea, and several layers of dry clothes.

From there the weekend picked up again: good company, fine food (even if, as one of the chefs, I do say so myself), cold beers, a musical intros quiz, a slideshow from Mozambique, and, perhaps most importantly of all, a superb walk on the Sunday. Of which more anon….

Ninebanks Again – I : Bog-snorkelling.

Pearly dewdrops’ drops

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I haven’t been out as much as I would like of late: daylight has been in short supply, and one way or another I’ve been very busy. There have been a few short jaunts. One morning, when the fields were white with frost, I found that under the trees of Eaves Wood the temperature was a little higher, too warm for ice, and the wood was full of the music of falling drops.

Up to that point I’d been fair stomping along (by my own modest standards) but the drops encouraged me to loiter. I’ve photographed drops in Eaves Wood on several occasions before. Mostly I’ve been fascinated by the refracted images in the droplets, the apparent self-contained worlds, like one of those snow-globe paperweight things, but this time I found myself watching the droplets slowly gather and develop, growing from shallow curves into increasingly pendulous drops. This droplet…

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….is the same one as in the first photo, but it has begun to oscillate: bouncing and stretching under it’s own weight shortly before plopping down onto the leaf-litter below. Hence, I think, the additional distortion of the inverted trees in the droplet.

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Whilst I was absorbed in this way, I think that the sun must have risen – the hint of pink behind this droplet is a cloud tinted by morning sunshine.

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P.S. If you came this way looking for the Cocteau Twins, I hope that you weren’t too disappointed.

Pearly dewdrops’ drops

Hi Gear Thermal Baselayer – First Look

Hi Gear Men's Thermal Baselayer Long Sleeved Top

More gear to review from Go Outdoors. This time a Hi Gear Men’s Thermal Baselayer Long Sleeved Top and Hi Gear Long John Thermal Baselayer Leggings. Both of which cost a mere £4.99 (and you can get 10% discount with a Go Outdoors discount card).

Actually in this case I can do more than a first look, having worn the top three times and the long-johns twice (much to TBH’s amusement). On one of those occasions I gave them a very stern test, as you shall see.

I already had a cheap set of thermals, bought online for much the same price and expected that these would be much the same. Mostly they are – warm, comfortable and very functional. Being 50% polyester they are very warm and seem to generate quite a quantity of liquid from somewhere. (No, no, it’s got nothing to do with me.) Being 50% cotton that moisture tends to be retained rather than wicking away. I find that this isn’t much of an issue until I stop and cool down a little – and then I can become very aware of being damp and can then get cold. Having said that, my impression is that these thermals are better in this respect than my old ones.

Now: the Stern Test. Purely in the interests of science you understand, I immersed the long-johns in the kind of boggy hollow endemic to the Pennine moors. Whilst wearing them. In order to do that I first had to break the ice which covered, some might even say concealed, said bog. Did the thermals keep me warm? Well no: to say that would be to claim too much. I didn’t really feel warm again until I’d spent several hours indoors in numerous layers of warm and dry clothes. But, the performance of the soaking long-johns really surprised me – my legs felt warm and comfortable to a much greater extent than, in the circumstances, I thought they had any right to do.

So – a big thumbs up from me. At the price – excellent value for money.

Go Outdoors range of thermal baselayers can be found here.

Hi Gear Long John Thermal Baselayer Leggings

Hi Gear Thermal Baselayer – First Look

Dapper Dick, Drunken Barnaby and King Billy

Or: A Walk along the River Kent and Over Cunswick Fell

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Playing truant. I should have been on Dalton Square in Lancaster with a placard in hand and a slogan on my lips. But I chose to spend my first day of strike action in a 20 year career somewhere quiet and peaceful instead. This is probably not the place for a discussion of the rights and wrongs of the case for public sector pensions, but…(a lengthy diatribe has been edited out here).

With a morning off and a not particularly promising forecast I decided to investigate one of those stretches of the Kent which I had yet to explore. As is my wont, however, I left the house with no definite idea of which section it would be. Maybe downstream from Levens Bridge around Foulshaw Moss? Or one of the stretches either side of Kendal? I thought perhaps I should park in Kendal and walk to and from Hawes Bridge – there are paths on both banks. But as I drove towards Kendal it occurred to me that I would arrive just as the rush hour reached it’s peak and that it might cost me a fortune to park. So – a last minute decision to bypass Kendal and park in the small village of Bowston.

I walked the river north of Bowston a while back, so today I would head south and into Kendal.

The riverside fields were very damp. As I plodged along a heron loped away downriver and a goosander dived midstream.

At Burneside I had to leave the river to circumnavigate the large paper-mill of James Cropper Plc., which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the diversion brought me close to…

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…Burneside Hall. This is another ruined Norman peel tower – there are several in the area. (Ol’ Norman Peel was a busy chap.) Like other peel towers which have appeared in this blog, it has been incorporated into a farmhouse – but this one is rather more grand than those at Arnside, Hazelslack, or up the valley at Kentmere. You can just about make out, in the photo above, the Tudor hall behind the tower and a gatehouse from the same period on the right. (More details and better photos here.)

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Researching the history of the hall after my walk, I discovered that Burnside (or Burneshead as it was then) Hall was the birthplace in 1588 of the poet Richard Braithwaite, known as ‘Dapper Dick’, whom I had only recently been reading about in Collingwood’s ‘History of the Lake District’. Braithwaite wrote, amongst other things, Drunken Barnaby’s Four Journeys, an account, in rhymed Latin and English doggerel, of four pilgrimages through the North of England.

Richard Braithwaite

Richard Braithwaite, from a plate in Collingwood’s ‘History of the Lake District’.

Barnaby, Barnaby, thou’st been drinking,

I can tell by thy nose, and thy eyes winking.

Drunk at Richmond, drunk at Dover,

Drunk at Newcastle and drunk all over.

I was soon by the river again, and although I think the sun had slunk above the horizon a while before, it had been lurking behind clouds until I caught a first glimpse as I was leaving Burneside.

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I was back with the river again. I watched a dipper by the far bank and almost got a photo – I had my lens trained on it, but as I pressed the shutter it took to the wing.

After the confluence with the Sprint…

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…there was a golf course on the far bank and then on the bank I was following too. The Kent seemed to be a water hazard for at least one of the holes. Several hardy souls were out having a round.

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Beyond the golf course, by the confluence with the Mint and on the outskirts of Kendal, is an industrial estate. It’s a shame really because it’s a lovely stretch of the river with a couple of broad bends and fast flowing sections where the river runs between banks of large pebbles. I watched another goosander whizzing through one of these ‘rapids’.

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Mallards in the Kent.

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A tree creating a bow wave in the river.

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The Kent and the outskirts of Kendal.

Potter Fell

Sunshine on Potter Fell.

The walk along the Kent into Kendal was very pleasant. I saw several more goosanders and tried, without much success, to get a decent photo. There were information boards along the river detailing the wildlife to be found in the river. It’s an important habitat for white-clawed crayfish apparently, elsewhere threatened by pollution, by competition with the introduced American signal crayfish and by a fungal disease carried by the signal crayfish. The boards also promised trout and held out the possibility of salmon leaping up the fish-pass in Stramongate Weir.

By said weir, I stopped for a cuppa, bought from a little kiosk by the river. The birds here were very tame. Or possibly just on the make – I think they thought I might feed them.

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Black-headed gull.

Even the goosanders here were pretty complacent. I’ve tried on many occasions to get photos of goosanders, but I’ve never got anything like this close before…

Female Goosander

Female Goosander.

Male Goosander

Male Goosander. (His head is green – I know it looks black, but it really was green.)

Stramongate Weir and Bridge

Stramongate Bridge, weir and fish pass. On the right of the fish pass there’s a …?

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An upturned wheelbarrow. Of course!

I didn’t have a definite plan for my return journey back to Bowston. If anything, I’d been thinking of simply turning about and retracing my river walk. But the weather had been kinder then anticipated and whilst I drank my tea I took the opportunity to peruse my map and devise an alternative.

Over the auld grey town to Benson Knott

Looking across the roofs of the ‘Auld Grey Town’ to Benson Knott.

Plan formulated, I climbed out of the town centre…

Castle Howe

..to Castle Howe. This is the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle (although the bailey was flattened when the surrounding park was landscaped).

The obelisk on top of the motte has a helpful plaque…

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Now, my limited grasp of British History, picked up at school, goes something like this: Roman invasion and occupation; Saxons arrive and cause King Alfred to burn some cakes; Vikings pillaging with longboats and horned helmets; 1066 and all that; War of the Roses; Sir Francis Drake plays bowls, puts a cloak over a puddle and finds time to defeat the Armada and circumnavigate the earth (busy chap); round-heads and cavaliers. After that comes O-level modern history and the Franco-Prussian War. You’ll note that there’s a big gap there. Presumably, we either ran out of time, or everything between the second half of the seventeenth centuries and 1870 was deemed too boring or too tricky for us to cope with. Fortunately, earlier this year I read ‘1688 – A Global History’ by John E. Wills (fascinating book – the title gives a pretty comprehensive idea of what it’s about – I like the concept of a snapshot like that) so I now know that 1688 is the year of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ when William of Orange deposed his father-in-law James II in an almost bloodless coup. The liberty referred to on the plaque is presumably the freedom to not be ruled by a Catholic monarch.

There’s a good view form the motte of Kendal’s other Norman castle

Kendal Castle

This castle, also originally a motte and bailey, is on the other side of the Kent, and was begun shortly after the Castle Howe one, but wasn’t a replacement for it – for a while Kendal had two castles. I don’t know whether this was common practice, although I do know that York also had two motte and bailey castles, one on either side of the river.

From the motte I climbed out of Kendal, past some terraces which must have tremendous views across the town to Benson Knott beyond. A pleasant track took me up onto Kendal Fell, another golf course and then down and over the Kendal Bypass via a footbridge. From there a gentle climb took me onto Cunswick Fell.

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Cunswick Fell toadstools.

Looking south

Looking South – the hazy horizon is the very familiar northern profile of the Bowland Fells, with Clougha Pike on the right-hand end.

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Sunshine on distant hills.

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Cunswick Scar – the steep west facing edge of Cunswick Fell.

Dropping steeply off Cunswick Fell, the path passes what I took to be a badger sett and shortly afterwards, as I zig-zagged through farmland on a series of paths, I came across a hedgerow which had a been almost hollowed out, with bare beaten earth beneath. I wondered whether this might be a badger highway and sure enough, when I reached the end the field, in an adjacent copse I could see another sett. A few nights before, driving home late after a long day at work, I’d been surprised by a badger shuffling across the road in my headlight beams – the first (and so far only) time I’ve seen a live, wild badger. Sometimes even working late has its compensations.

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Dark skies over Kentmere.

I took a slightly circuitous route back to Bowston, passing Ratherheath tarn, which I’m sure I’ve read in one of  A. Harry Griffin’s books, was a favourite spot for ice-skating. Although Kendalians have not always had to walk so far: an old photo on one of the information boards in Kendal showed people skating on a frozen over river Kent.

More photos of bridges, birds and brooding views…

Dapper Dick, Drunken Barnaby and King Billy

The North Face Men’s Resolve Waterproof Jacket – First Look

North Face Men's Resolve Waterproof Jacket

I don’t really read gear reviews*. I find them, well (whisper it) a bit, well boring. Sorry.

I have however noticed that the retailer Go Outdoors has been showering, nay – carpet-bombing – fellow outdoor bloggers with largesse; to whit free, gratis and for nothing gear, and wondered when my time would come. (I know, a tad hypocritical to be sniffy about gear fetishists but jealous of the free gear – I put it down to capricious old human nature.)

Well – that time, my time, is here. Go Outdoors have very kindly sent me a coat to look at. Handy that because I have two cagoules already – both of which leak like the proverbial sieve.

The garment in question is a North Face Men’s Resolve Waterproof Jacket, which I notice, since they sent me it, has been discounted to a mere fifty quid less a penny.

One of the anoraks this will hopefully replace is also by North Face, and although it leaks now (after fairly heavy use), when I first bought it I was very happy with it. In fact, I rather hoped that the Resolve would be the same jacket. It’s not – it’s quite different.

Which begs the question – what is the Resolve like?

Well – it has two sleeves, a hood (not-wired), a zip down the front, various poppers and bits of velcro too. Elasticated wrist-thingies (way too big for my girly wrists). And….um, it’s black. Oh – it’s coated with hy-vent. Whatever that is. It probably isn’t a coat for winter mountain walking, but I think (hope?) it will be ideal for popping into my rucksack for my extended commutes when the evenings draw out and the forecast isn’t for anything too threatening.

I haven’t worn it in anger yet. Perhaps I’ll have more to say when I have.

*This is a whopping great lie. I’m quite fascinated by the evolving technology of tents/tarps/shelters. But that’s it. Oh – and stove’s too obviously, if there’s a video of the stove in action with real flames and a kettle boiling. Apart from that I’m immune to the charms of gear porn. Well, no I’m not, it’s just….sometimes it can seem that the gear is more important than the walking itself. I’ve been reading…

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…”…And Far Away”  by Garry Hogg. An interesting account of three walks undertaken towards the end of WWII. Along Offa’s Dyke, before it was a National Trail, from Skipton to Wooler in anticipation of the Pennine Way, and from Lulworth Cove to the Cotswolds (more about this last at some point I think). That’s him on the left. And here he is again…

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He has a great deal to say about gear – maps (of which he approves most heartily), his walking stick (for which he feels a great affection) and volumes of poetry (difficult to decide which one to take with you apparently). About his pear-shaped rucksack, his tweed suit, his shoes, hat, or even the ubiquitous pipe he has nothing to say. If it rained he looked for a barn to shelter in. Or knocked on a door. Or gritted his teeth and got wet. In the Pennines he carried (and almost certainly wore. A lot.) a waterproof cycle cape.

Would he have swapped his stick for pacer poles, his tweeds for a soft-shell, his shoes for performance footwear, his beloved maps for GPS, his cycle-cape for the latest technical fabrics?

Well, maybe he would. But…he still savoured his walking without any of those comforts. I’m not suggesting that we should do without, just that we should never lose sight of what the gear is all for: to enhance our enjoyment of being in the outdoors. So, erm…Go Outdoors!

(Oops – didn’t see the cheesy ending coming – sorry.)

P.S. – of the three links I was sent to insert in this post, one inexplicably, was for Hi-Tec stuff at Go Outdoors. It doesn’t make sense, but there I’ve done it – you don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Or bite the hand that feeds you.

P.P.S. I have some Hi-Tec Boots. With new ion-mask waterproof technology. Very comfortable. Very leaky, almost from the off. After one year’s use: falling to pieces. Just thought you might like to know that.

More about the Resolve when it has been tried and tested.

The North Face Men’s Resolve Waterproof Jacket – First Look