Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Television Review - Coast series 8

Most welcome a new series of Coast is… but really, blink and you’d have missed it!  In time gone by, a series of Coast would have 12 episodes, then down to 8 and now we have to make do with 6.

Nick Crane on the Isle of Wight overlooking The Needles

Still, these are 6 episodes of top quality.  Top quality stories hosted by top quality presenters produced by top quality film-makers.  Sea cliffs, rivers and seas, workers on the coast are all classic Coast stories.

In the past, Coast has been a journey around the sea’s edge in a particular neck of the woods, but this eighth series following on from the “themed” style of the seventh…  and it works just a well as it did in that previous series.  After all, there’s only so many times you can go past the White Cliffs of Dover and talk about them in isolation… but make the episode about Sea Cliffs and suddenly you can link those same cliffs with stories from around the British Isles.

 Neil Oliver at Clydebank
Don’t be listening out for the dulcet tones of a long-haired Scottish historian in every episode this series.  Out of the original line up of Coast experts, only Nicholas Crane remains throughout the series… but that’s one of the brilliant strengths about the series.  It never was “Coast with Nicholas Crane”, because if it was, it probably wouldn’t have carried on after the second series when Nick moved onto to other projects to leave Neil Oliver as the main presenter… and again when Neil moved on and Nick returned as the front guy.   The changing of the experts brings a new, fresh feel to the series in much the way a newly regenerated Doctor brings to my other passion, Doctor Who.  The new experts have a different take on the stories, allowing them to develop in a totally bold way.

Tessa Dunlop at Plymouth Lido
Of these new experts, two are really of note for me.  The first is Tessa Dunlop, whose enthusiasm for the stories she tells is unbound.  Tessa is also now on my list of people who I could officially listen to all day long, together with Kirsty Young and Radio 4 continuity announcer Zoe Diamond – I’d listen to them read the telephone directory…  The second is the excellent South Yorkshireman Ian MacMillan – the man who shows his passion for the spoken as well as written word in all his segments.  And perhaps now there’s a space on telly for a South Yorkshire-born walking expert too…

So it does beg the question why only 6 episodes?  Well, there’s no doubt budgets across the BBC are being tightened, and it seems there possibly is only enough money from BBC Two for 6 programmes.  And within that budget, everything else is going up too.  Take transport for example; how much of Coast’s budget is taken in transporting crew, cast and equipment to the various locations?  For my own experience with our Walks Around Britain video walks I know that’s a fair chunk.  But another benefit of the “themed” style of Coast is it allows the same cast and crew to film two segments for different episodes back to back in a similar location.  Again, something the team here know all too well!  So Nick’s trip to the Isle of Wight makes it into both episodes 5 and 6 – with different stories of course.

Nick Crane at top of Grimsby Dock Tower
It seems another drawback of the squeeze on budgets is the reduction in the number of computer generated imagery, or CGI.  Traditionally one of the series’ signature points, there’s noticeably less of these sequences in the eighth series.  Thankfully, the ones included are just as amazing as they always have been.  As is the sumptuous aerial photography – another of Coast’s signature points.

There were quite a few highlights throughout the short series, but Ken Gollop hearing a recording of his father which he didn't know existed was perhaps my particular favourite, along with Nick’s perilous descent along the remarkable ropeway to get to the fishing grounds below.

The big question is just how does the production team manage to keep the programme of such high quality every series?  Here’s looking forward to series nine…

Monday, 13 May 2013

Gear Review - Hi-Tec Sierra Mid walking boots

Being the editor of Walks Around Britain often means I’m surprised.

Surprised when walk I've started out on suddenly changes into another one – like the one through Coombs Dale;  or when a famous person is revealed to be a dedicated walker; or the Hi-Tec Sierra Mid boot.

From first glance, you struggle to see how this this boots are going to be suitable for anything other than walking from the car to work in the middle of town.

But therein lies the surprise… and I’ll come to that side later.

Let’s have a look at the boots.  They feature a leather high-top married to a Vibram sole.  The ones we had are a black upper – which Hi Tec say is Dark Chocolate - with a cream sole, and this provides an attractive contrast between the two.

There’s the option of single and double eyelet lacing combinations, as well as a moisture-wicking lining to keep feet dry.  Inside, there’s an ortholite sock liner will aims to provide long-lasting cushioning, plus anti-odour and anti-microbial properties. The Vibram rubber out sole provides extra flexibility, although don’t expect anything more than a more conventional foot bed here.

So, how are they?

Well, I've been wearing these boots intermittently for the past 4 months, including several low-level walks and one – the Ladybower one from our website – in conditions which were best described as “extremely soggy underfoot”.  And my verdict?  Well, I like them.  Firstly, they are very comfortable.  I've been wearing them all day and I've found them to be really quite suitable both on a walk in the countryside and in the town afterwards.

The extended mountain boot-style ankle support does help provide much needed stability whilst out on the
paths, and the soles, whilst not having the bouncy nature of some other boots do provide good cushioning.

Onto the sole, and the tread is more substantial than a trainer or conventional shoe, but less so than a dedicated mountain boot.  As I said, I wore them out on the Labybower walk in quite soggy conditions and I felt safe and supported throughout – although I did feel slightly nervous as to how long my feet would remain dry for with the endless amount of unavoidable puddles along the way.

 And that’s why I feel that kind of walk is probably the limit to which you should attempt with these.  Silver Howe, Wansfell Pike and the like with rocky outcrops and difficult paths should really be done with more substantial boots.  That said, for what these are designed for, they are super.  Keep them to town and country walking with woodland and low fell treks and you’ll be fine.

The other point to note is because of the fashion styling, you don’t necessarily feel like you've just climbed another Wainwright when you wear them to go to Sainsburys.  The build quality has provide durable after the in-depth wearing I've been doing with them.  The one thing I’m not sure about it whether the side mounted mesh eyelets which are meant to help with breath-ability, actually do much.  One of these has actually fallen off..

Perhaps they should be the first in a new category of boot – a travel boot.  Equally at home on the low-fells, woodland walks and treading around our towns and cities, the other benefit of them is the weight – 800 gram isn't going to break any weight restrictions on travelling to places like the Isle of Man or Jersey.  In fact, I could have done with them when I went to Jersey to walk… but that’s another story.

What's Good

Comfortable, easy-to-wear boots
Low maintenance
Extended ankle support

What's Bad

Mesh eyelets may fall off over time
There's a danger of being too bold with them and getting caught out.

Hi-Tec Sierra Mid walking boots - Rough Price £50

Walks Around Britain rating 8/10

For more information, visit the Hi-Tec website here.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Top 5 Snacks to take on Walks

If, as Napoleon Bonaparte said, an army marches on its stomach, then us walkers certainly do too.  But whilst it is easy to make sure you have a good breakfast, it’s harder to know what to pack in your backpack for snacks en route.

So here’s our Top 5 suggestions for snacks to pack to keep you going through the walk…

Undoubtedly the best walking snack food known to man!  Bananas are a fantastic source of slow-release energy, making them guaranteed to see you through the morning’s walking and well into the afternoon.  Like other fruit, they are a great source of vitamin C – essential to help fight off any nasty bugs.

A fruit which has become largely ignored, thanks to popular image of nuts being fattening.  Well, if you eat a bag of salted nuts every day, they probably are – but as a snack food whilst walking, nuts are fantastic.  They are a good source of protein and contain essential fatty acids – these are “good fats” which will give you a boost of nutritious energy.

Oat-based Cereal Bars
You've got to love those oats… especially as they are great at keeping your energy levels up throughout the day’s walking.  Carrying a vat of porridge around the Northumberland hills isn't really an option – but a couple of oat-based cereal bars should fit into a daysack pocket.  The carbohydrates included within will sort your energy for quite a while.

Dried Fruits
All dried fruit is a good source of energy.  The main benefits of dried fruit for walkers is their space-saving and long-life properties – making them excellent for multi-day walks.  The fibre content will fill you up and help keep your intestines in fine working order.

Raw Vegetables
If you can prepare some chopped carrot, cucumber, red peppers, etc, then they make a super crunchy snack.  The ones we've mentioned have a great mix of lycopene, folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin B and vitamin C – all in a small tub of crunchy colour!

Thy are our Top 5 Walking Foods... but what are yours??

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Dog Poo Bags for Snowdonia National Park

Dog Poo Bags for Snowdonia National Park

SNPA Warden Gethin Corps demonstrating how to dispose of dog mess responsibly.

If you are a dog-walker in North Wales, did you know dog mess bags are available from Snowdonia National Park’s Wardens and Tourist Information Centres' staff?

During last summer, the National Park Authority appealed to dog owners to dispose of their dogs’ mess in a responsible manner and some improvement were been made following the appeal.  However, the concern persists and the main problem areas are to be found in the most populous places - from Llyn Tegid, Traeth Benar and Llyn Mair in the southern area of the Park to Cwm Idwal, Pen y Pass, Abergwyngregyn Woods and Sychnant in the north.

The National Park's Head of Wardens and Access, Mair Huws, said "We want people to enjoy themselves when they come to walk. But seeing and smelling dog mess affects people's enjoyment of the area, and creates an unpleasant experience for everyone. Not only that, but the mess can cause serious infections such as toxocariasis and can cause damage to the environment as well.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see dog owners allowing their animals to foul and then do nothing about it. Our hope, in introducing these bags, is that owners use them to clear the mess and then dispose the bags in a responsible manner. "

Failure to dispose of dog waste increases the risk of causing serious infection, especially among young children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years through the disease toxocariasis, which can lead to nausea, asthma and in severe cases, eye disorder that can lead to blindness.  The most common form is to catch the disease through hand contact but also through the soles of shoes and other objects such as bicycle wheels.  The eggs of the toxacora parasite can be found in soil or sand that’s contaminated with dog faeces.

The little blue bags, which are biodegradable and odourless, are available from the National Park Warden Offices at Pen y Pass, Betws y Coed, Penrhyndeudraeth, Dolgellau and Llyn Tegid, Bala. They are also available from the Authority's Tourist Information Centres in Betws y Coed, Beddgelert, Harlech, Dolgellau and Aberdyfi. Some are also available at Plas Tan y Bwlch in Maentwrog and the Authority’s Headquarters in Penrhyndeudraeth.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Walking the Camel Trail

The Camel Trail is a beautiful coastal walk in Cornwall, the length of a disused railway line from St. Breward to Padstow - and Walks Around Britain follower Angie Silver sent us this great description of her experience...

More Info :
County/Area : Cornwall
Author : Angie Silver
Padstow to Wadebridge - 5.5 Miles 8.8 Km
Wadebridge to Boscarne (Bodmin) - 5.75 Miles 9.25 Km
Boscarne to Wenfordbridge - 6.25 Miles 10.1 Km
Ascent : Quite flat
Grade : moderate

We picked up the walk, parking in Bodmin by the Borough arms pub and starting our adventure there. It is a very pleasant almost flat route, traffic free and family friendly, apart from other walkers and cyclists and the birds you are left to your own thoughts – blissful.

Setting off from Bodmin, on a beautiful sunny morning, we walked just under 6 miles into Wadebridge, passing old rail stops – as the line you walk along used to be a railway track, a tea room (one to remember for the return journey). Whilst all along the way being serenaded by spring bird calls and all along the path between us butterflies and damselflies dance a merry dance.

There are plenty of places to stop for a bit of lunch / or a snack, plenty of picnic tables. Then you pass the entrance to the Camel Valley vineyard – a chance to take a break and enjoy a glass of local wine on the terrace (the Sauvignon Blanc is lovely) with amazing views across the Camel Valley.

You cross two small roads, remembering to close the gates behind you, passing old railway cottages and beautiful tinkling streams.

Starting again on the walk, you go through central Wadebridge, where there are plenty of amenities, past a co-op and then past the old harbour edge, before picking up the trail again across the river.

We cross the estuary, and see beautiful sea birds, cormorants and waders, and here sounds of “chiff chaff” as walkers pass exchanging greetings.

We pause to look out at the area designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, the sky is blue not a cloud to be seen. The sea twinkling like diamonds, the smell and taste of salt in the air. Kingfishers dart back and forth in the banks, then we continue to walk the 5.5 miles to Padstow arriving close to the lobster hatchery, after refuelling on Rick Stein’s fish and chips from the shop on the Quay, we repeat the 11.2 mile walk back to bodmin – happy and fulfilled.

A glorious day filled with sights and sounds that only Cornwall can provide. A truly memorable experience with extensive views across the Camel Valley and Camel Estuary and beyond, one to be repeated at any time of the year, but particularly if you're in Cornwall and you wake up and the sky is blue with no clouds to be seen – then pack up a bag and head for the hills – a day for walking is to be had.

Many thanks to Angie for sending this in.  If you've got a walk with some photographs you'd like to share, please email it to