Extreme Walking in the 19th Century … and other random thoughts

Spotted in Kend and on Twitter (source: The Poke)

Spotted in Kent and on Twitter (source: The Poke)

My Twitter focus is on history and genealogy however from time to time I stumble upon tweets that could be of interest to ramblers. While the Visit Kent folks might prefer that visitors spend a bit more time (and money) in their county I can’t help but appreciate the local sense of humour, even if the London reference has been photoshopped in at a later date.

A far more interesting find was this excellent article on George Wilson – The Blackheath Pedestrian, an extreme walker from the early 18th century. Wilson became well known for taking bets on his walks including one in August 1814 when he successfully walked 96 miles in 24 hours (and finished with 30 minutes to spare). His most (in)famous wager was when he was offered 100 Guineas to walk 1000 miles on Blackheath in just 20 days. To find out how local magistrates and a celebrated elephant become involved you’ll have to read the story.

While I attracted no elephants on this weekends’ walk it was nice to get back on the trail after a series of minor ailments had put a temporary stop to my rambling. I’m still getting to grips with all the aches and pains associated with the other side of 50. The good news is I’ve discovered that a tube of Bengay and a fine single malt can work wonders.

Perhaps not surprisingly my appreciation of whisky and anti-inflammatories has coincided with an appreciation of birds. I’m not sure if this is related to having spent too much time on Twitter but I do admit to becoming increasingly curious as to what all that damned chirping is about when I’m out on my walks. It’s a bit unsettling really. I have nothing against Birders but I really never saw myself as being one. Imagine my surprise then when I forked out $300 for a pair of binoculars that increased my pack weight by a back-numbing 520 grams!

That being said I am very happy with my Vortex Diamondback 8×32 binoculars and I’m seriously considering taking them with me to Britain next year. What were once small blobs of greyish-brown feathers have been transformed into colourful collections of reasonably interesting creatures. If only they would stop flitting about!

Wood Duck (source: Wikipedia)

Wood Duck (source: Wikipedia)

My normal training walk passes by both Blenkinsop Lake and a large stretch of pastureland and so there are lots of previously unidentifiable flying objects to check out. I didn’t take any photographs but in addition to the many bald eagles soaring over the fields I spotted a pair of extremely colourful Wood Ducks at the lake and a sinister looking Turkey Vulture in a field. The former are year-round residents but the latter are only here during the warmer months. While it’s early days yet I hope someday to improve my skills beyond “see the big bird – it’s black and white“.

I’ll be off before the milk is

Good Beer Guide - mobile editionYes, it’s true.  By the time my recently purchased 1-litre carton of milk expires I will be quaffing a pint of a different sort somewhere in London. And finding the perfect pint is now that much easier with the addition of my most recent iPod Touch app: Good Beer Guide – Mobile.

Weighing in at exactly 0 grams it passed the ‘Pack Scrutiny’ test with flying colours.  Good Beer Guide Mobile includes description, location and contact information for over 4500 CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) recommended pubs in Britain.  Most pubs include a mouth-watering description of the beers on offer, an example of which is Sharp’s Doom Bar:

Faint aroma of flowery, spicy hop leads to fruit and malt in the mouth, with bitterness running through. The bitter finish is long with some sweetness and dryness.

You can search by address, postcode or tube station.  Better yet click “Near Me” to find recommended watering holes based on your current location.  Apparently the closest CAMRA pub to Victoria, BC is the Busta House Hotel in Brae in Shetland, a mere 4251.8 miles away.  It’s described as a “rambling mansion house on many levels, dating from 1588 with numerous later additions, sympathetically converted to a country house hotel”.  The review also mentions it is “said to be haunted by the ghost of a young lady, Barbara Pitcairn”.  Sounds excellent although it is a bit off-route.

I mustn’t forget to thank the cabin crews at British Airways.  Their decision to strike over the next couple of weekends has thrown a wrench into my travel plans (and those of thousands of others).  As of tonight it’s unclear as to whether my flight will be cancelled however I decided to avoid the chaos that will occur if it is and have already rebooked my flight.  I now arrive a day earlier than originally planned and the countdown clock has been readjusted accordingly.

Last but not least I recently added a page dedicated to my great-grandfather.  From time to time I will add to his story and include a link from my blog when I do.

OS maps on your iPod

OS 1:50K maps on your iPod Touch

An example of an OS 1:50K map on my iPod Touch

I stumbled upon a very interesting iPod Touch/iPhone app last weekend while purchasing an electronic version of the London A to Z atlas.

Outdoors is a series of Ordnance Survey 1:50K maps from RoadTour for your iPod Touch or iPhone. There are 14 maps, one for each of 13 regions and another covering National Parks. Once downloaded they don’t require connectivity to view, and at CAD$24.99 each, they are very reasonably priced. I’ve already invested in paper maps but others in the planning stage may want to check them out. I did purchase “Outdoors Lite” (only 99 cents), a 1:250K map that covers all of Great Britain and that also includes a small sample of 1:50K maps (as shown in the photo).

The regions are:

  1. East Midlands
  2. East of England
  3. London & South East
  4. North East
  5. North West
  6. South West
  7. West Midlands
  8. Yorkshire and The Humber
  9. Wales
  10. Highlands and Islands: Highland, Western Isles, Shetland, Orkney
  11. Central and Western Scotland: Strathclyde, Central
  12. Southern Scotland: Dumfries and Galloway, Borders, Lothian
  13. North East Scotland: Fife, Tayside, Grampian

If you’re interested I recommend you check out the demonstration video as it gives a good overview and points out some important issues such as battery life and memory requirements.

A Merry Victorian Christmas

A Victorian Christmas

A Victorian Christmas

A Movember to Remember
The competition in this year’s Movember contest was fierce and the judging was close, but I won by a hair and raised nearly $250 in the process. Thanks to all my family and friends who pledged on my behalf.

LEJOG preparation
With most of my map and route work complete (but to be closely reviewed in February) I’ve turned my attention to my family history research. I’ll have limited time to visit the cities and towns along the way so I need to make sure I’m properly prepared. I’ve made extensive use of Google Streetview to ascertain whether my ancestor’s homes are still standing so that I can avoid the disappointment of traipsing around streets only to discover that my great-parents mid-terrace home has been replaced by a Tesco’s. This tool has saved me a lot of time although I must admit I was still disappointed to discover that the Barnet Union Workhouse was torn down as recently as 2003 and replaced with a parking lot. My Great-great-great-grandfather, William Henry Clifford, died in the workhouse infirmary in 1914. From the photos on the workhouse website I would have thought that the buildings could have fulfilled some useful purpose?

Training Update
I completed another 17-mile plod out to the peninsula, this time wearing just about everything I will be carrying with me to England. The temperatures were hovering around the freezing mark but the snow held off and I pretty much had the trail to myself. I’ve decided to add a pair of light gloves to my packing list as I suspect the coastal path could be cool in April. The temps are now back to their normal daytime average (6C – 7C) but I already miss the cold, crisp and sunny week we enjoyed at the beginning of December.

It’s Wee and it’s XP

HP Mini

HP Mini Netbook

I realize many LEJOG’rs have blogged from their phones but as a touch-typist I can’t imagine maintaining this site using one finger, especially after a 20-mile walk and a couple of pints. The little HP Mini pictured above was purchased in November. It is undoubtedly a luxury item, at 1 kg it accounts for 10% of my overall pack weight, but I think it will earn its keep, and it cost me next to nothing … only $199 (shipping included)!

The HP Mini is your bog-standard Windows XP netbook and this particular model was state-of-the-art about a year ago. It has an 8.9″ screen, 1.6MHz Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 16GB solid-state drive and wireless connectivity. It includes a bunch of software, most of which I’ve uninstalled and replaced with lightweight portable apps. Most of the time I’ll be surfing or emailing but I have installed Family Tree Maker 2010 so that I can look up details on my 600+ ancestors when I don’t have access to Ancestry.com. Google Chrome is my browser of choice because it’s lightweight and supports Google Gears. The new mobile version of Where’s the Path uses Gears to display OS maps when you don’t have an internet connection (which is what I’m doing in the photo above). The trick is to access the maps when you have connectivity so that WTP can cache them for offline use at a later date. I haven’t done extensive tests but what I’ve tested so far has worked. I’m using paper maps for my LEJOG but as you can see low cost electronic maps, with or without connectivity, are a reality.

The last bit of kit
I just purchased a replacement for my 6-year old digital camera. After much deliberating I chose a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1, a compact digital weighing in at just 150 grams. My old Canon Powershot was a great camera but it was three times the size, weighed 500 grams and drained 4 “AA” batteries at an alarming rate. The 12 mega-pixel Panny has a 25mm-200mm optical zoom, is solidly built and has a very intuitive menu system. The battery life is fantastic and the tiny battery charger weighs only 50 grams.

The reviews from the experts are very positive, the one criticism being poor picture quality in low-light conditions (ISO 800 or greater). I found this to be true if you are indoors and not using a flash on a poorly lit subject, however the photo above was taken without a flash and looks pretty good to me. I plan to use the camera outdoors most of the time and so I’m not too worried. I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of the wide-angle lens.

A Capital Idea
I decided to test the camera out by being a “tourist in your own town” and managed to complete a 10-mile walk in the process. It was a rather dull day and by 3pm the light was fading fast but this ensured I would test the camera in very poor light (and with the flash turned off). Overall I’m very pleased with the results and I hope you enjoy the images of BC’s capital city (the gallery is in the post below). Victoria is a youngster compared to towns and cities in the UK but she does have one of the finest collections of heritage buildings in North America. These days Vancouver, our younger sibling, likes to flash it around a bit but in the 19th century Victoria was Queen City of the Golden West, second only to San Francisco on the west coast. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Lights, Camera …

It weighs just 36 grams and is so small I have trouble finding it in my shirt pocket. What is it? It’s my new iPod Nano and crammed into this little ultralight package is a video camera, an FM Tuner, a voice memo recorder, an alarm clock, a calendar and enough memory to hold up to 4,000 songs, 14,000 photos or 14 hours of video (or a combination of all three). I admit I’m a gadget junkie but it’s not hard to justify a piece of kit that is so versatile and weighs less than a watch. I decided to spice up my blog with a couple of videos shot on yesterday’s walk. It’s low-budget stuff but I’m hoping you might enjoy a few homegrown LEJOG videos next year.

Saturday’s walk was another 14-mile plod from Victoria to Saanichton. Once again I had outstanding weather and so my rain gear test will have to wait for another day. I decided to look for a new route out of town and ended up walking along a series of very pleasant residential streets that I had never seen before (I’ve only lived here for 35 years). My normal route along a busy and noisy thoroughfare was just 2 blocks away from the quiet and leafy lanes I now found myself on.

Once on the trail I found a quiet spot and shot this short video of my Osprey pack. It was a good opportunity to try out the video camera and find out how difficult it would be to post videos to my blog. I discovered that WordPress charges a fee to use their tool to upload and embed a video however YouTube is free and the linking process is pretty straightforward. If you find the videos are slow to load and/or make the blog difficult to use please let me know.

Osprey Exos 46: The Movie (take 17):

The Lochside Trail passes through several residential areas and semi-rural areas before opening up into proper farm country. The trail backs on to many properties and the owners of some take advantage of the steady stream of walkers, runners and cyclists to sell freshly picked produce from little homemade stands. These stands are often unmanned and so the honour system is in effect, ie. pick out your veg and leave the money in the tin (and don’t steal the tin!). One of my favourite stops is about halfway along where an artist has decorated the back of their property with artwork and background music. Unfortunately the property is in the process of being rezoned and so I suspect this little oasis will soon be replaced with a row of bog-standard luxury townhouses. So here it is, captured for eternity:

A Musical Interlude:

Walking in the rain…

or at least that was the intention. I headed off last Saturday on my 14-mile walk to the Peninsula expecting showers but receiving none. In my pack were two new pieces of rain gear, a Mountain Hardwear Typhoon jacket and a Sea to Summit SN240 pack cover. No doubt I’ll have ample opportunity to try out both in the coming weeks.

The decision to purchase the Typhoon jacket was made solely on comments from walkers and hikers on the internet. The reviews were excellent and it seemed to tick all the boxes: lightweight (439g), waterproof and breathable (Gortex Paclite) and well constructed. I stumbled upon the Sea to Summit pack cover in a local shop. I was immediately impressed by its size (it fits in a bag the size of your fist) and weight (85g for size S). The “small” version fits my Osprey Exos 46 perfectly.

I’ve managed a couple of long walks in the last few weeks and although I haven’t exceeded 14 miles I am noticing my recovery time is much quicker. The first time around I was pretty much done for the evening whereas now I can move around and communicate with other human beings, most recently at a dinner party for 18 where I remained vertical and awake through all 3 courses! I was rather hungry.

I have enjoyed receiving your comments so please keep them coming.

The Osprey Exos 46 wins out…

After visits to several shops and a few days of online research I made the decision to go with the Osprey Exos 46.  There was only one store in the area that had the Exos 46 in stock but when I arrived I discovered it was selling for less than expected (C$199 and not $219 as listed on their website).  The “Large” size is actually a 49 litre pack that weighs 1100 grams … slightly more than expected due to a discrepency between the owner’s manual and their website.  Nevertheless it’s more than 400 grams lighter than my current daypack so I’m not complaining.  I plan to load it up and go for a walk tomorrow or Saturday … as soon as the scorching temperatures moderate a bit (the humidex reading was in the upper 30’s the last few days).  I now have my gear list under 9 kilos not including water and snacks.