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Our friends at Cicerone publishing house have released yet another fascinating book, this time celebrating the mountain huts that dot the European Alps and Pyrenees in The Mountain Hut Book.
Author Kev Reynolds has been compiling travel guide books since the late 1970s and has an undiminished passion for mountains and the countryside. With his enthusiasm, personal anecdotes and authority, we at Sherpa are already a big fan of the publication.
The book explores the development of alpine mountain huts from primitive and often squalid beginnings to a valuable network for people who venture into the mountains. Whether you are new to the experience of staying in huts, or are an old hand, we believe that the book will bring you lots of entertainment and information.
Drawing on Reynolds’ long experience of staying in hundreds of mountain refuges, the new book examines hut life, what facilities to expect, and hut etiquette. For example: reserve your spots in advance, cancel if your plans change in order to make space for other hikers, bring a pair of ‘hut shoes’ to wear indoors, or make your bed once you’ve been allocated a room & spot.
Sherpa Expeditions has one copy of the book to give away. Would you like to win? Head over to our Facebook page and answer one simple question before Sunday 3 June, 11:59PM. We’ll announce the winner in the course of the week commencing the 4th of June 2018.
The Mountain Hut Book has profiles of the author’s 10 favourite huts in the Alps and Pyrenees, gives the best approach routes and offers suggestions for ascents and outings from them. 10 hut-to-hut walking tours of between 3 and 13 days duration are also outlined, including the Tour of the Bernina and the Alta Via 2.
>> Learn more about Cicerone and how you can claim 20% discount on books when you travel with Sherpa Expeditions.
The Austrian Alps are one of the great mountain playgrounds of Europe and the Dachstein is the most dramatic and arguably most interesting of these mountain areas in Austria. Huge pyramids of limestone pierce through the great icy expanses of the Hallstätter and Gosau Gletschers (glaciers).
Yet these peaks are often hidden by steep valley sides and flanking peaks. The glaciers of this area have been, of course, in full retreat after the last Ice Age ended some 12,000 years ago and, in their wake, they have carved out some impressive 'U' shaped glacial valleys. These valleys have been scoured deeply and over the millennia have filled with melt and rain water to create the classic and popular Austrian Lakes District.
It is in this setting that you will find yourself when travelling on the Austrian Lakes and Dachstein Alps walking holiday with Sherpa Expeditions.
To introduce you to the mountainous region, read on for 6 unique aspects of what an Austrian Alps hiking holiday is all about.
#1 Viewpoint over Hallstätter See
Hike to a great viewpoint over the Hallstätter See and the mountains of Hoher Dachstein. Actually, the way to this climax could be considered a highlight in itself as it follows Austrian Emperors’ hunting grounds and passes the old salt working village of Salzberg. When you’ve made it to the summit of Predigstuhl (1214m), the views will be rewarding.
#2 Austrian Flag Waymarkers
The trails on Sherpa Expeditions’ Austrian Alps hiking trip are generally well waymarked. Most of the routes that we take are numbered and waymarked by the Austrian Alpine Club and we love the symbols they use. These are either classic red & white waymarks, and regularly red-white-red – like the Austrian flag!
The old town of Hallstatt is clustered on a very steep site along the lake, while the newer parts of this stunning town are located a little further south. With an attractive market place, nice town houses, two ancient churches and a lot of traditional Austrian charm, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is definitely beautiful!
The town of Gosau lies at 780 metres and is actually a sprawling collection of original farmsteads from the 15th century onward that have coalesced in the Gosau Valley to now form the villages of Vordertal, Mitteltal and Hintertal. Gosau is the actual centre with couple of attractive churches and good views of the Gosaukamm Mountains, which offer amazing Austrian Alps hiking opportunities. Take a few of the many ski lifts that you find in the valley for excellent views and walks – we especially like those going up the Zwieselarm.
#5 Hiking around Hallstätter See
Whether you choose to follow the eastern or western shore of this stunning Austrian Lake, you will hopefully get some beautiful reflections of the town in the waters of the lake. On you walk, and on a good summer day, take the opportunity to go for a swim. Or take the boat over to the other side of the lake to start your walk and to add some extra romance to your day.
#6 The Glacial Lakes of Vorderer Gosausee & Hinterer Gosausee
On a walk around Gosausee you will pass the glacial lakes of Vorderer Gosausee and Hinterer Gosausee. From both, the views of the Gosaukamm Mountains are just stunning. It is quite a popular route as the mountains are magical. With good weather you can hopefully get some good reflections of the peak in the lake and go for a swim in the clean waters.
For more information and booking requests, please download the trip notes of the Austrian Lake District & Dachstein Alps walking holiday or contact our knowledgeable team in London.
More About Austrian Alps Hiking
The highlights of a Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) walking holiday are without a doubt the excellent views of Mt Blanc itself and of the snow-clad alpine peaks of the Wildstrubel, Valais and Bernese Oberland, plus plenty of impressive glaciers. For others, magnets can also be the fresh cheeses & local wines, classic mountain cottages, or the fact that you’re circumnavigating an entire peak, in this case western Europe’s highest one!
But why go trekking around Mont Blanc with Sherpa Expeditions? To give you a better idea of how our Tour du Mont Blanc walking holiday stands out, we made this short overview that helps explain how our trip works:
- 10 fixed departure days in this summer’s season
- Walk independently, but at the same time as a small number of other Sherpa travellers
- Enjoy the benefits of support from our team members who live in the area
- Stay in good value for money accommodation while trekking around Mont Blanc
- Receive maps and very detailed route notes that include options to walk different trails
- Lots of background information and tips for local establishments
- Complete circumnavigation of Mont Blanc; from Les Houches to Les Houches
- Meet & greet at the start of the Tour du Mont Blanc
- Are you a single traveller? Make use of the option to share a room with another single traveller of the same gender and avoid paying a single supplement
- A suitable choice for first-timers on a self guided walk
- En-suite facilities in the accommodation we selected for you (except for the nights in a guesthouse & auberge)
- Days at leisure on which you can choose to rest, explore museums, go shopping or undertake more walks
- The personal support of our friendly team in London, before, during and after your trip
Have you got any questions on this? Do feel free to contact our friendly team in London via phone, email or drop by if you are in the area.
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The long-awaited film adaption of the international bestselling novel ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ will premiere in UK cinemas next week, on the 20th April 2018. To celebrate the occasion, we are giving away free copies of the book by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Schaffer.
Book on the Guernsey Islands – Channel Island Way or Jersey: The Channel Island Way walking holiday and receive the novel that the film is based on*
Book before 31 May 2018 on the Guernsey Islands – Channel Island Way or Jersey: The Channel Island Way walking holidays and travel before 25 October 2018 and we will send you the novel together with your Final Documentation.
Directed by BAFTA-award winning Mike Newell and starring Lily James and Michiel Huisman, the film shines a light on Guernsey’s occupation during World War II. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles that were under German control during the war and evidence of their stay is still widely visible today.
Sherpa Expeditions Manager Tali Emdin explains:
“The Guernsey Occupation, between June 1940 and May 1945, shaped the islands into what they are today. It left a lasting legacy and, to this day, the coastline still bears testament to this time, dotted with well-preserved fortifications built by German soldiers.
History aficionados will find that the island’s heritage, including those five tempestuous years, is depicted in stunning detail through a whole host of museums, which aim to recreate those dark days with gripping exhibits.
The German Military Underground Hospital, the largest construction in the Channel Islands, was built by slave workers during the occupation; the German Occupation Museum features a recreation of an occupation-era street; while La Villette Underground Military Museum is set in a series of tunnels used for U-Boat fuel storage during the occupation”.
If ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ inspires you to discover the unique history of the Channel Islands, activity holiday specialist Sherpa Expeditions can take you there.
>> View all details about Guernsey Islands – The Channel Island Way
>> View all details about Jersey: The Channel Island Way
*Terms & Conditions:
- Book on the Guernsey Islands – Channel Island Way or Jersey: The Channel Island Way walking holidays departing on or before 25 October 2019 and receive a free copy of the international bestselling novel ‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’ by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Schaffer.
- Bookings must be received before 31 May 2018.
- Only valid for departures on the Guernsey Islands – Channel Island Way and Jersey: The Channel Island Way trips on or before 25 October 2018.
- The book will be included in your pre-departure information.
- Only valid for bookings made with Sherpa Expeditions directly, not valid for bookings made through third parties.
- Only valid for these specific trips operated by Sherpa Expeditions.
- Offer applies only once per booking, eg. you will receive one (1) copy of the novel per booking.
- Trips and book are subject to availability.
- Booking Terms & Conditions apply.
- Quote code POTATO at the time of booking.
The colours that inspired famous painter Vincent van Gogh for many of his, now world-famous, paintings are especially visible during the French spring and summer months of May, June, July and August. Naturally, this makes these months some of the best time to visit Provence. If you have seen the film Loving Vincent, you may have been inspired by these vibrant colours and you may have added to your travel bucket list a visit to the French region that the painter loved so much.
Lavender fields are perhaps the most iconic image of Provence and if you are hoping to get that picture-perfect photo of the Senanque Abbey near Gordes (on our Rambling in the Luberon walk), make sure to be there in June. When you travel in this month, you are quite sure to find a glorious purple field of lavender surrounding the beautiful abbey.
©Google Art Project via Gemeente Museum Den Haag
No less spectacular are the fields of coquelicots, perhaps better known as the bright red poppies of France. For some walkers, the best time to visit Provence is in May: when fields of poppies simply explode and paint the landscape a magnificent red. At the same time, May is also that time of year when the strawberries are at their sweetest and most delicious. Ah, and for asparagus-lovers, this is your time to visit as well, when they are prepared with omelettes for example.
Seen in one of Vincent van Gogh’s more famous paintings, ‘Olive trees with yellow sky and sun’ is a grove of olive trees. The olive forms an important part of life in Provence and feature in tapenades, pissaladiere, quality oils and of course in many varieties as cured olives. Although the harvesting season is in winter, the beautiful rows of green-leaved trees in April and May come with a white blossom. Take a little picnic stop and take advantage of the trees’ shadow during the warm summer months.
From all over the world, visitors come to Provence to enjoy great weather, the delicious Provençal cuisine and of course the impressive surroundings. Add to that in late summer fields on end with sunflowers and it’ll be almost without effort to position yourself in one of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. For some this is definitely the best time to visit Provence.
In Provence, Vincent van Gogh had the most ambitious and productive period of his life. Working under luminescent skies and the bleaching Provençal sun, he painted the fields, drawbridges, cypress trees, cafes, local folk and ancient Abbey ruins.
Why not theme your holiday for this year around Vincent van Gogh and combine our walking holiday in Provence with a visit to Paris and Amsterdam to visit the Van Gogh Museum, where the temporary exhibition Inspiration from Japan is on display until 24 June 2018.
For more information and booking requests, please contact our team of travel experts in our London office.
Trace the trails of Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter’s Lake District
Lake District walks have gotten an extra dimension now that the film Peter Rabbit has gone out in theatres across the globe. The live-action/computer-animated film of Peter Rabbit was part shot in the English Lake District in places like Windermere (on our Dales Way walking holidays).
Let the big screen inspire you to explore the timeless landscapes of Beatrix Potter’s Lake District – and her beloved character!
The story was originally introduced to the public in 1902 in ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and has captivated the imagination of readers of all ages for more than a hundred years. The new feature adaptation was partly filmed in the Lake District. This is a true ode to the character’s creator as Beatrix Potter had spent many holidays in the area, most likely she would have done the same Lake District walks as we take today. Potter is also widely credited with preserving much of the land that now comprises the Lake District National Park.
For those who like to get a first-hand experience of Beatrix Potter’s Lake District, the highlights below of the Cumbrian Way walk may convince you to take a walking holiday to the region.
Cumbrian Way: Crossing the Lake District
Follow in the footsteps of Peter Rabbit on a classic walking introduction to the charms of the world famous ‘Lakeland’, England’s largest and most visited national park. Highlights include:
· A celebrated landscape, hailed over the years not only by Beatrix Potter but also poets, authors and painters such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Ramson and Wainwright.
· The first national park in the UK to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, inscribed to protect a landscape that has been “greatly appreciated from the 18th century onwards”.
· Follow the shores of quintessentially English lakes and find out why larger bodies of water are generally named as ‘mere’ or ‘water’, whilst smaller ones are denoted by ‘tarn’.
· Walk through sensational woodlands and forests that provide habitat for native English wildlife, including the red squirrel, one of the UK’s best-loved species.
· Cross typical stiles and ‘kissing gates’ along the footpaths on your way to tiny, centuries-old hamlets and traditional lively market towns, such as Ulverston and Keswick.
· Visit the traditional fell village of Caldbeck, where many of its old mill buildings, a testament to its glorious industrial past, are still in use.
· Stop at Hoad Monument – this concrete structure, built in 1850, commemorates statesman and local resident Sir John Barrow, and offers scenic views across Morecambe Bay.
· Fairly short distances covered each day, allowing for time to pause and admire the scenery; the route avoids upland areas, where navigation may become a problem in poor weather.
· Cosy handpicked accommodation throughout, including traditional pubs, rural family-owned guesthouses, as well as a Georgian townhouse
Or consider the Dales Way walking trail if the new film inspires you to explore the timeless landscapes of Peter Rabbit.
For more details and booking requests to explore Beatrix Potter’s Lake District, please contact our team of travel experts today.
4 active holidays to discover the other side of the French Riviera, behind all the glitz and glamour
There is more in southern France than the Cannes Film Festival and, especially beyond the seaside town, there is plenty of choice for active south of France holidays. Traditionally, the world-renowned festival takes place at the beginning of May and this is also a fantastic time to go out and explore some of the 60.000km stretch of tracks and trails that France is known for.
So, if the Cannes Film Festival has put you in the mood to discover the other side of France, behind all the glitz and the glamour, you can choose from a selection of self-guided week-long breaks across the southern part of the country…
On the Massif Central, above the broad valley of the Rhone, lies a walker’s paradise of hills where the Ardèche, Loire and Haute Loire regions meet. This little-known watershed for some of France’s great rivers is a land of steeply terraced slopes, half-hidden valleys and tumbling streams. Massive ruined farmhouses seem embedded into the landscape and the bleat of goats and call of the wild birds are often the only sounds you will hear on your hike. This active holiday in the south of France begins to unfold with breath-taking views across the enchanting Doux Valley from Le Crestet, a medieval fortified village built on a rocky hill, and is available over either 8 or 10 days, with the longer option taking in the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the Chateau de Rochebonne overlooking the River Eyrieux.
>> Find all active holidays in Ardeche
Gain a unique insight into rural French life as you walk the secret hills and gorges of the Luberon – some of which plunge to depths of 30 metres. This region in the south of France brings holidaying walkers the pleasure of discovering mas (stone Provençal farmhouses) and ochre coloured hilltop villages. Starting in the heart of Papal Avignon, you will cross a revolving landscape through magnificent forests filled with oak, maples, cherry and fig trees, but also butterflies, owls and eagles. The famed Luberon Nature Park also includes a Geological Nature Reserve, whereas Buoux is one of the most famous rock climbing areas in Europe.
>> View our active and introductory walking holiday in the Luberon
Did you know? In France the carpooling app Bla Bla Car is a great way to cheaply and quickly travel between places if you like to save money on taxi rides and save time on train journeys.
In the autumn of 1878 Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, set out to walk across the Cévennes accompanied by “a small grey donkey called Modestine”. His journey inspired Travel with a donkey in the Cévennes, which has since become a travel classic. Starting in the Auvergne, this south of France holiday follows a winding route across a region that boasts great natural beauty, sad romantic ruins and is almost totally unspoilt.
>> Find out about two walking holidays in the Cevennes
Along footpaths dotted with cypress trees, crumbling farmhouses and lone chapels, this trip follows in the footsteps of Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Take this southern France holiday to walk from St-Rémy to Les Baux-de-Provence and onto Arles, where the painter famously cut off his ear. Take in the sublime images of the region, with highlights including the Saint-Paul de Mausole monastery (where Van Gogh painted 150 paintings in a year!) and the painter’s much loved second home, the city of Arles, where he lived in the late 1800s.
>> Find all active holidays in the Provence or learn more about Van Gogh’s Provence
If these active south of France holidays have given you some ideas to add to your travel bucket list or if you have any questions on any of the above-mentioned suggestions, please feel free to get in touch with our team of dedicated travel experts.
We love Scotland and clearly we are not the only ones, as the country was represented with 12 entries in ITV’s Top 100 Britain’s Favourite Walks – a survey taken by more than 8,000 people. Out of these 12 places we have composed our own personal top 6 of the best hikes in Scotland.
Whether you are interested in short hikes to undertake in one or a couple of days, or for those who are after some of Scotland’s best long-distance walks, we hope that the list appeals to each and every one of you.
#1 Ben Nevis
Britains’ highest peak, Ben Nevis can be readily ascended in a day and is rightfully so leading our list of best hikes in Scotland. Much loved by not just the Scots but most of the population in the British Isles, Ben Nevis stands at 1,345m and its summit is actually the collapsed dome of a very ancient volcano. Different hikes lead to the top of the mountain of which the Pony Track is by far the most popular route. If you don’t succeed in your first attempt, perhaps you can get some inspiration from the 19th century poem written in the visitor’s book of the Ben Nevis hotel.
Want to know what the word ‘ben’ means? Read about it in this very handy list of hiking terminology.
>> Take a little detour when you are walking the West Highland Way or Great Glen Way and include a hike to the top of Ben Nevis.
#2 Great Glen Way
The Great Glen Way takes walkers to explore the heart of Scotland on foot. The route follows a fault line that was created 380 million years ago (read more about this here) and stretches for 73 miles (117 km) through the Scottish Highlands. In eight days, we take you to explore Fort William, the shores of the famous Loch Ness, paths along canal towpaths, forests and eventually to discover the ‘capital of the highlands’: Inverness.
>> Follow the Great Glen Way with Sherpa Expeditions between April – October.
#3 Falkirk Wheel
One of the 10 highlights on the John Muir Way is Falkirk Wheel, a unique structure as it’s the world’s only rotating boatlift. The lift only opened in 2002 and allows boats to efficiently connect between the Union Canal and Canal of Froth & Clyde. In the past this took up almost an entire day when boats had to negotiate through a flight of 11 lochs. The design of wheel has been described as “a form of contemporary sculpture” by the Royal Fine Arts Commission for Scotland and by modeller Kettle as “a beautiful, organic flowing thing, like the spine of a fish.”
If you book in advance you can go up on a boat in the wheel, ask our team for details.
>> Find the Falkirk Wheel on Scotland’s Coast to Coast walk, in itself a fantastic route that we think should actually have been included in the list of Britain’s Favourite Walks.
The Memorial Park in the pretty Victorian spa town of Pitlochry is the end of the Rob Roy Way. There are various walks to and around town and with Sherpa Expeditions you will follow an old railway line embankment through forest and including a steep descent. Once in Pitlochry, you will understand why this is such a popular town amongst visitors. It became popular as a tourist resort from the mid-1800s when Queen Victoria started to visit and a railway line was opened. The town has a population of below 3000 and much of its old-world charm is still visible today through many stone Victorian buildings and a shelter made out of cast iron on one side of the high street.
>> Hike the spectacular Rob Roy Way and finish in the pretty Victorian spa town of Pitlochry.
#5 West Highland Way
From the south of Loch Lomond to Fort William and Ben Nevis, this famous footpath connects Britain’s largest lake with its highest mountain. The route is a step back into history: many stages follow military roads that date back to the 1700s and used to link the Highlands to the Lowlands, as well as hotels that originated from droving inns that operated for centuries. All in all, it proves to be one of the best hikes in Scotland.
>> Learn much more about the West Highland Way, from the best time to visit, culinary highlights and some of our favourite viewpoints.
#6 Arthur’s Seat
From Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic hill near Edinburgh, you have fantastic views over the city. Besides this, you’ll even be able to look over the port of Leith, part of the Firth of Forth Rail Bridge and the waters of Firth of Forth fjord. Arthur’s Seat today is basically surrounded by Edinburgh so it makes for an easy-to-arrange hike, for example as an add-on to your walk or when you spend extra days in the Scottish capital. After an initial climb, you can easily do a loop around the hill. If you do this anti-clockwise up the steps for the steeper section and then follow the slope down from the summit, you can then wind down on the easier track to return to your start point. On a leisurely pace and including time to take in the views, this should take you no more than two hours.
>> Do a diversion on day 9 of the John Muir Way and walk up Athur’s Seat for fantastic views.
We have some suggestions for further reading for those that are interested to know more about the best hikes in Scotland or ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Walks. Or if you have any queries, please do contact our team of travel experts.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he has chosen to give you eight very useful travel photography tips. No matter what type of camera you use on your hike or bike ride, these beginner’s tips may help improve the tangible memories of your active Europe holiday.
People these days live through their cameras, mainly for gleaning memories and showing off to friends and families on Facebook or Instagram. However, sometimes the habit of taking a picture makes people forget to actually look at or see much of the subject matter. Nowadays even basic mobile phones have quite good cameras and only the keen photographers would carry with them a big single lens reflex (SLR) camera. In the middle ground, there are plenty of people using compact cameras. Whatever your preference is to travel with, here are a few travel photography tips that will most likely help you take even better travel photos.
1. Change Your Angle
Most people take the same shot from virtually the same angle as everybody else! Try something different, get low, lie on the ground and look up, get high in a building and look down, take the picture at a rakish angle. Once you have your standard shot try something new. Change your perspective, add blur. Change aperture for depth of field effects.
2. Add Some Effect
With SLRs and compact cameras a selection of graduated filters make interesting and easy effects: accentuating colours, darkening clouds etc. Some mobile phone cameras have effect changes that you can do after you have taken the main picture, for example increasing colour saturation, or turning pictures into paintings. Sometimes it is a bit gimmicky but other times these effects can be very effective. You may have noticed how a lot of travel photos these days look, well a bit too bright, a bit too unworldly: places are marketed with really clean looking shots which are not really 'how it looks'. Some extra advice, all JPEG type pictures can be transformed by degrees in Photoshop or Lightroom type software and it all depends upon what you want to achieve and how long you wish to spend doing it.
3. Filter & Zoom
With single lens reflex cameras, we advise to always carry a polarizing filter with you for those blue days of summer where you can get dramatic cloud or water effects. Just don't leave it on all the time. If you have a zoom lens, try a 'Vari zoom' technique, change to a 1:30 shutter speed, and try to zoom in or out with the lens in an even rate. This travel photography tip will help you get an effect of increasing blur towards the edges and more clarity in the middle, like the subject was rushing towards you. Other simple tips include, breathing lightly on the lens and you have a mist or fog effect that gradually clears as you look through the viewfinder.
4. The Golden Hours
Especially for outdoor photographers, weather conditions play an important role. In good weather, depending upon latitude and time of year, there is always that period when the golden light of dusk or dawn creates beautiful natural saturated colours. If you are staying overnight at a place, try to get up early, there will hardly be anyone about and you will be able to see the sites, although not always allowed to enter them, virtually on your own.
5. Tripods at Night
Before and beyond the Golden Hour, try night shots! If we are talking about how to take good travel photos, tiny but sturdy tripods can be really worthwhile packing to capture sharp night shots. Usually shots of illuminated monuments or cityscapes are usually better at dusk or dawn, just as the lights are going on or off, and before it is too dark altogether. There are tripods available even for mobile phones and of course for SLR and compact cameras.
Set your camera for the best resolution possible, memory space is comparatively cheap these days and there is nothing worse than having a superb shot and realizing that you cannot blow it up at all, unless the effect that you want to portray is that of Lego bricks!
7. A Clean Lens
John’s seventh travel photography tip is to keep things clean: carry a lens-cloth and keep your lenses clean. Mobile phone lenses often acquire a film of grime very quickly. SLRs have lens caps so that is easier, compacts often have retracting lenses that can suck dust into them if you are not too careful. Also, the sensor should be kept clean: on SLRs and some compact cameras, hair and dust can get trapped over the image sensor. This means they will appear in virtually every photograph you take in some form. Get your sensor carefully cleaned!
8. The Obvious!
Perhaps an obvious tip, not just for outdoor photographers, but useful at any moment really. How many times are you taking photographs and then at the critical time your battery fails or you run out of memory space? Carry a spare battery, a wireless phone or camera charger and memory card at all times.
Do you like the Gear Matters blog articles written by our resident guide John Millen? There are many more topics besides these outdoor photography tips. Browse to the full overview to find articles for example about how to clean your walking boots, the best water bottles in order to reduce plastic use, and what overshoes to choose to keep your feet dry.
Every month our resident guide, John Millen, brings you an anecdote, update, or tip on the gear you are likely to use on a walking or cycling holiday. Always from his personal point of view. This month he looks at choosing the best cycling sunglasses and what difference a decent pair of eyewear can make to walkers and cyclists alike.
My early days of cycling and mountain walking led me very quickly to realise the value of wearing sunglasses. Cycling fast, I had various run-ins with bees and flies with a combined impact speed probably around 45mph! Then there have been those times on cycling holidays when a series of tiny fly flew into my eyes and started to dissolve leaving me to have to emergency-stop and flush the critter out before I swerved to the wrong side of the road. My early days on walking holidays in the mountains with inadequate sun protection resulted in squinty, tired and gritty feeling eyes. Soon I was investing in decent cycling sunglasses!
One should note at this stage that when we talk of sunglasses, very few brands these days are actually made of glass. Ray Ban, Persol and Vuarnet, for example still make lovely sunglasses from glass, but these may not be always so good for sporting activities; being heavier on the nose bridge than plastics. There is also the slight worry that a glass lens could break or chip in sport and get into the eyes although this is highly unlikely. Most sports sunglasses are a type of plastic such as silicon or Perspex. Generally speaking these are very strong materials, although not necessarily very resistant to scratching. Oakley were one of the companies that pioneered this manufacture and once boasted ‘bullet proof technology lenses at 10 metres’, their advertisement showing the pock marking on their lenses after a shotgun blast impact, rather than a sniper rifle! Oakley make well-loved sports glasses but may not perform or last as well as models made by manufacturers such as Julbo, Enduro, Tifosi and the likes, for a third of the price. So much for bullet proof protection, my beloved Oakleys eventually fell apart!
Nevertheless, it is probably wise not to buy really cheap shades, slight optical imperfections can in the short-term cause headaches and may do lasting damage in the long-term. Also, importantly the lenses should be shown to block harmful UVA and UVB blue light as this has proven to cause cataracts and retinal problems.
You don’t have to buy an expensive pair of glasses for cycling or hiking, as long as perhaps they are from a reliable make, have UV protection and are manufactured for the category of light that you are going to expose yourself to. Reasonable specification glasses will normally be marked on the frames or box with ‘Category’ (or CAT) 0 to 4: indicating the Visible Light Transmission (VLT) of the lenses. So, Category 0 is like a safety glass, or a clear cycling glass for grey weather and have a VLT of 80-100% whereas a CAT 3 pair have a VLT of 8-17%, which is fine for most walkers or cyclists. CAT 4 glasses are designed for long periods on snow and ice or in bright conditions such as a beach and have a VLT at 3-8%. CAT 4 sunglasses are provided by manufacturers such as Julbo and Vuarnet – both with side pieces or wrap rounds and the latter still using some optically correct glass lenses.
Especially for cyclists it is worth considering a pair of polarised sunglasses. Ordinary tinted sunglass lenses only cut down on ambient light that reaches the eye, or VLT. However by their very nature, they cannot block glare. Only polarised lenses can block glare and not having that option could be dangerous if you are riding your bike.
Tests show that the most protective sunglasses are wrap rounds that protect the eyes from incidental ambient light entering from the side. The wrap round can either be a continuation of the lens, or plastic frame or more traditionally, leather side pieces. Quite a number of cycling shades now have some cut-outs of lens material between the frames and the lens, although this may slightly increase incidental light. The real advantage of this for cycling is that it ventilates and defogs the glasses when you are cycling or running which is really useful. Examples include the expensive Oakley Jawbreaker and the much cheaper Endura Mullet.
There is a fashion at the moment for lenses to have a tint that is as reflective as a shaving mirror. However, even on expensive glasses, mirrored tints can easily scratch and even wear off. A lot of manufacturers have their own style of tint, but fundamentally the most common lens colours are brown, then green, then grey. This is because these lenses are 'colour neutral'- they cut down on overall brightness without distorting colours thereby accentuating relief. Quite a few cycling sunglasses have a range of interchangeable lenses with different tints that can be used in different riding conditions. Oakley and Rudy Project do this at the top end and Endura, Maddison, DHB, Tifosi and others do so at the more economical end. Of course it can be a bit fiddly changing lenses, so for some people photo-chromatic lenses maybe a way forward as they darken or lighten depending upon light intensity (for instance: Julbo Aero bike glasses).
No matter how good the lenses are, it won’t help if the frames let you down - they are after all, the support for the structure. Make sure that when you try the glasses that they fit well and you don’t have to keep sliding them up the bridge of your nose like Agnes does with her glasses in Mrs Brown’s Boys. A lot of the sporting shades do have rubberised ear and nose pieces which make them more secure and stop them from bouncing around when you are doing sports. Frames bend out and fatigue; if you keep them on the top of your head when you are not using them, they will tend to overstretch and then they never fit snuggly anymore. Instead, keep them in a case clipped to your rucksack if walking and if you are not using them while cycling, do what the cycle pros do, and insert them upside down- sliding the arms through the helmet ventilation slots. Watch out also for sunglasses with ‘crystal’ frames (clear transparent plastic) as clear frame can cause light refraction at certain angles around the lens creating dazzle in your eyes.
The hinges of sunglasses will normally break under any kind of stress. Metal frames are more durable than plastic ones and some have a spring induction dampener to prevent overstraining.
Cleaning & Caring of Your Sunglasses
Sunglasses need cleaning regularly especially after cycling or walking when they may be covered in sweat-salt, sun cream, sand particles or even the tiny flies I mentioned earlier. Wash them in warm soapy water, then rinse off. Use the manufacturer’s microfibre wipe for gentle wiping off smears and breathe on the lenses and wipe for polishing. Wash the microfibre wipe regularly. Any screws keep tight, but don’t over tighten.
The more expensive glasses can be made to a prescription order at some expense. Of course, some manufacturers still produce clip-on sun lenses to go onto the frame of your standard glasses.
Some More Thoughts
Many people, such as myself, normally carry two pairs of sunglasses, just in case one pair gets sat on, gets blown off my face or has a lens or frame failure. However, I have decided not to have such an expensive pair for outdoor activities having wiped out a few pairs over the years. I just leave a nice pair of glass-lens & folding Ray Bans in my main bag for après action, chilling and sightseeing use. Sometimes walking around with cycling glasses on, just makes you look too much like a space cadet!
Just to point out that the only sunglasses that lasted me more than 10 years have been a solid pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers, with large metal hinges, and a pair of Rudy Project cycling and running glasses. There are also my beloved heavy duty Vuarnet Alpine glasses that have been with me for 15 years and I just can’t quite get rid of, even though I maybe should..!
For more of John’s Gear Matters blog articles on topics like knives & multitools, water bottles, gaiters and much more, have a look at the complete Gear Matters blog articles overview.
If you have any questions on what gear you should bring on your walking or cycling holiday, please do get in touch with John and the rest of the Sherpa team. We are happy to assist you with specific questions.