Cygnet Time

Due to the lock-down my five hour walks in the Kent Weald and North Downs have been replaced by the allowed one hour in urban London.

Luckily Tooting Common, Clapham Common and Brockwell Park are nearby so there is plenty of green space nearby.

A highlight of Brockwell Park during spring is the hatching of the cygnets. The swans have been nesting on the ponds for four years.

The first year the nest was built on an island on a small pond with the swans moving to the largest, more open pond, after the hatching of the cygnets.

The next year the nest was built on the largest pond and the cygnets moved in the opposite direction back to the island. Unfortunately this did not provide the protection from foxes that might be expected.

Since then the cygnets have remained where they hatched on the largest pond. The prelude to hatching is the male swan driving the heron who generally lives there away. Last year I saw the heron on the nest, the water littered with feathers, presumably after eating one of the cygnets.

This year six cygnets have hatched. Generally only half survive the foxes and heron but this hopefully they will be more successful this year.

Posted in Brixton

A Hint of Spring

On this week’s walk I saw two butterflies and a large bee. Not certain if there is enough nectar for them yet. It is not clear if this is a hint of spring or an indication that winter never really happened.

No spring lambs or flowering Bluebells though as the woods are full of Wild Garlic and Bluebell plants this can not be far away.

The sheep must still be on winter rations as when I stopped for a break a flock stampeded across the field to demand food.

It is surprising how much noise a flock can make and who vaguely intimidating they can be.

Posted in Hiking

The importance of a halfway pub

My last walk involved 4 hours of unrelenting rain. It was surprisingly enjoyable and provided a test for my newest kit.

I think one of the reasons it wasn’t a bad experience was the promise of a pub halfway along the route.

When it is too cold or wet to picnic a pub in the middle of a walk is essential. Ideally this pub should

  • look like it was built in the medieval years,
  • serve bitter from a local brewery,
  • provide good home cooked food,
  • be run by a landlord who doesn’t glare at you when you walk in with the “you aren’t from around here” expression

The Well House Inn scored 4 out of 4 and despite being unexpectedly packed when I arrived, I was found a place at the bar to eat.

When it is picnic season, the pub merely has to serve a good pint and be a couple of miles from the end of the walk. This enables me to fully enjoy the self-satisfaction of completing a day in the countryside before getting the train back to the noise of Brixton.  

Posted in Hiking

Walking Prerequisites: Trekking Poles

I have been hiking for 8 years but have only just started using trekking poles.

Slow on the uptake but with the evangelism of a recent convert I now consider them essential, increasing walking speed and stability and easing the strain on my aging knees.

The height of the poles should be set so that they touch the ground when your elbows are bent at 90 degrees and your lower arms are parallel to ground.

The crucial step is to bring your hand into the straps from below and then grip the strap against the pole;

I am not convinced that reducing the pole length when going up hill or increasing it when going down hill is worth the effort unless the gradient is very steep or goes on for miles. Over the last few months I have found changing where I plant the poles is sufficient to adjust to hilly terrain.

There are many videos on-line showing how to walk with poles but I have found that the required gait is automatic as long has you keep you arms close to your body and ensure you plant the pole behind you when walking on level surfaces.

Posted in Hiking

Walking in Winter

For the last 8 years I have been a fair weather walker. Not just to avoid the cold and rain but also because I like to enjoy the countryside by having a picnic during the walk.

From the beginning of this year, in preparation for a long walk planned for the summer, I have been walking irrespective of the weather conditions. Sometimes this has been unpleasant.

When the sun is out and it’s dry and crisp it is a joy,

but when it is dark and damp it can be a slog.

Irrespective of the weather, paths are now waterlogged and I have had to wade through up to 5 inches of mud and water. This has made me change my kit; I have returned to using leather walking boots rather than fabric shoes (even though these are Gortex lined) and invested in gaiters and trekking poles.

I must be slow on the uptake as poles make walking so much more efficient and are essential when the ground is slippery.   

As well as cutting down on the post walk laundry, gaiters are definitely a good idea when entering the pub for a mid-walk break. I have always put on decorator’s overshoes when stopping for lunch but with mud up to my knees I was still dropping dirt throughout the pub. Being able to take the gaiters off means I can enter without looking like I have come from a mud wrestling competition.


Posted in Hiking

Walking Prerequisites: Navigation

I prefer paper maps and a compass, not just because they don’t require a phone or GPS signal but for the viewable distance a map provides. I have never seen a hand held mapping device that displays a sufficient readable area.

The only problem with maps is that they are useless unless your know your position. For this I want a device that just gives me a grid reference. Using a phone app to determine this is not safe as it is guaranteed that when you need it you wont have a phone signal.

There are no simple GPS devices available that just provide a position as the manufactures want to sell more expensive products that include maps. My solution is to use the cheapest device on the market and ignore all the features other than the page that displays the grid reference. Currently this is the Garmin eTrex 10.

As well as showing the Ordnance Survey grid reference this also displays useful information such as distance walked and walking speed.

To display the OS grid reference (BNG, British National Grid, in the image) the device needs configuring to use British Grid as the Position Format and Ord Srvy GB as the Map Datum. It is also useful to change the Distance and Speed setting to Statute.

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