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Different countries in Europe are famed for their own style of the camping knife or pocket tool and in this month’s Gear Matters blog article, John takes you on a tour to learn about the various types of blades, potential usage of pocket knives on a cycling or walking trip, EU law, and maintenance.
Some people don't use them, others can't live without them on a walking or trekking holiday. They may be left alone in their pouches for the whole trip or maybe used several times in a single day. A camping knife or pocket tool is available in all sorts of shapes and sizes. With Christmas fast approaching, a new knife or multi-tool could make for a beautiful compact gift. Often you can even have them inscribed for the Ray Mears, Bear Grylls or Mykel Hawke in your life.
Most of us get attached to our knives over time, but the stories of people leaving their forgotten prized piece of cutlery in their hand luggage when taking a flight and losing it going through security are legion. For me especially on camping trips, a good knife or multitool combo is more or less essential.
Knives with a Tang
A good quality knife should have a sharpened edge on one side and be made of high carbon or stainless steel. I think it is best to avoid ceramics, they can shatter and break easily. The finest forged knives (e.g. from Norway or Sweden) have a cutting edge of differing hardened steel which is sandwiched in a layer of softer steel. A good outdoor or bush knife will have a 'tang' (the handle end) that extends into the end of the handle and that can be heavy duty plastic, wood or even horn. This will then be attached via brass rivets which will resist oxidation. Knives like these are superb for cutting and wood carving; the handles offer good grip to be used quite safely for controlled cutting. The Swedish Fällkniven forest knife can even be used for splitting small pieces of wood in lieu of an axe and some have claimed that these are the best bush knives in the world. Similarly, Norwegian Helle knives are great for carving. These can be bought in Flam on Sherpa's Fjordland trip. The camping knives of this brand are great for bush-craft and they make an excellent range including a beautiful model with curly birch, leather and antler handles. Their blades come in different lengths, materials and thicknesses and are handmade.
Folding & Multitools
Then we have the category of folding knives and multitools. These are generally a sandwich of aluminium and steel plates. The main blades are always a bit of a compromise, as they will never be as strong as a full tanged knife. Swiss army knives are rightly very popular; being very compact and having some wonderful useful features. They are ubiquitously available on all of our walking holidays in Switzerland an in every town in various guises. They have been used in the Swiss military since 1897. I have personally possessed three Victorinox Swiss Champ knives in the past 35 years. Two, you've guessed it, lost going through the customs x-ray in hand baggage by accident. I have used every blade for all manner of things including clearing ice from cross country ski binding cleats, to removing ticks, making holes in leather belts, opening cans and bottles, and even filing down bike spoke ends. There is a tiny driver that tightens all those minute screws that people always lose from their glasses and take it or leave it, the standard toothpick! The main blades are 'Inox' steel and very good quality, the scissors are the best of any multitool that I have seen and the can opener works really well. The downside is that with most Swiss army knives (and there are some exceptions) the blades do not lock, so you have to be very careful during any cutting activity that the knife doesn't fold onto the fingers. Also the classic acrylic side panels of the handle engraved with the Swiss flag, can scratch easily, although they are surprisingly durable.
Then there are the multitools based upon pliers, the most famous ones being from manufacturers such as Leatherman and Gerber. These normally have a main plier with the auxiliary blades and tools folding neatly into the handles of the body. The better ones have mostly or all locking blades. These are great, but I have sometimes been a little disappointed with the quality of some models: flimsy knives, scissors with poor action and hard to use tin and bottle openers. The hinges can loosen over time and you may need to remember to take a specialised tool to tighten them.
Simple Folding Knives
Some people are very happy with a simple folding knife on their travels, such as the Victorinox 'Hunter' or even the more basic and popular French made 'Opinel.' These are great for cutting cheese and salami on picnics. The latter one has a nice wooden handle with a simple twist lock that kind of half locks the blade, so some care is needed. Recently, Opinel have jazzed up the camping knife with coloured handles including a built-in whistle and a main blade with an unusual spanner aperture for tightening sail shackle pins of all things!
Some walkers may like to carry a beautiful French handmade knife and on our Way of St James walking holiday in France, you will go very near to where the Laguiole knives are being manufactured. Several village shops in the region will sell this charming model and it makes a great memento of your trip.
Camping Knife Maintenance
All knives and multitools require periodical maintenance: wash and dry them thoroughly and use a light machine oil on hinges and smeared on blades, especially if you will store your knife for some time. Vaseline is also quite useful in this regard. Wooden handles, leather pouches or sleeves should also be waxed occasionally. Follow the manufacturer’s sharpening instructions; knives should be sharp and without burrs.
Knives & EU Law
Most countries in the EU have their own laws on knives. The UK, quite rightly, has enforced laws over carrying knives, although it is pretty vague. The basic rule is that 'you cannot carry a knife in public without good reason, unless it has a folding blade with a cutting edge 3 inches long or less.' If you have a long fixed bladed knife or a multitool with a locking mechanism on the blades (which just about covers all multitools sold from outdoor or tool shop), they 'are not classed as folding knives and are illegal to carry in public without good reason.'
The 'without good reason' part explains it all; it's about perceived intended use. For example, you can buy a 20-inch carving knife from a hardware shop (a public place) and walk with it back home through a high street or mall (another public place). It is unlikely that you will ever be inquisitioned. Although police can be arbitrary at times; it is a question of being sensible if you are on a walking, backpacking or cycling holiday. To make things simpler your camping knife should be sheathed and in your backpack not about your person.
For more advice on the gear to bring on a cycling or walking holiday, contact our team of travel experts.
For more in John’s series of Gear Matters blog posts and tips and advice for cycling and walking gear, see the full overview of outdoor gear articles from the past months.
Make Your 2018 New Year’s Resolution to Travel More
Start Off with an Active Spring Breakaway
Get 2018 off to a great start and immediately realise your New Year’s Resolutions!
>> Receive a Discount of £65 per person when you book before 29 December 2017
>> Have your 2018 active getaway organised now
With another new year in sight, most of us will soon be thinking about making New Year’s Resolutions. For us in the Sherpa Expeditions team, there is one resolution that always tops the rest and that is quite obviously to Travel More!
We hope you have this New Year Resolution somewhere on your list and we are here to help you realise your goals for 2018. Receive a discount of £65 per person* when you book before 29 December 2017 for a trip departing before 31 May 2018. This way you can already look forward to travelling more in 2018 and enjoy Europe when the paths and trails are still relatively quiet and flowers begin to bloom. Or, why not start even sooner and discover on foot the sunny islands of southern Europe when other places are still covered in snow.
Top 10 Popular European Destinations to Visit before June 2018
1. Walking in Cyprus
2. Coast to Coast Walk Self Guided
3. Madeira Island Walking
4. Tuscany walking & cycling
5. Exploring the Cotswolds
6. Hidden Treasures of the Dordogne
7. Tenerife on Foot
8. Isle of Wight
9. Amalfi Coast
10. Cornwall Coast Path
*Terms & Conditions:
- Book a holiday departing on or before 31 May 2018 and receive a discount of £65 per person.
- Booking must be received before 29 December 2017.
- Only valid for trips departing on or before 31 May 2018.
- Valid on land portion of the trip only and not valid on extensions, supplements or extra services.
- Only valid for bookings made with Sherpa Expeditions directly, not valid for bookings made through third parties.
- Only valid for new bookings received between 1-29 December 2017.
- Only valid for Sherpa Expeditions operated trips, eg. not valid on UTracks operated trips.
- Not valid with any other discount or offer.
- Offer applies only once per person per booking.
- Subject to availability and on guided trips also subject to minimum numbers reached.
- Booking Terms & Conditions apply.
- Quote code ACTIVESPRING18 at the time of booking.
Today’s frequently asked questions are answered by walking blogger Charles Hawes, who was in the French region of Aveyron in September to walk along some typical French villages on our Medieval France: Tarn and Aveyron walking holiday. If you like to read more about the trip, have a look at this Traveller Tale or at Walking the Blog on which Charles made a separate post for each walking day and illustrated the walks with many professional photographs.
#1 What was the weather like in autumn and was it good for walking?
Temperature wise the weather was near-perfect when I did this walk in late September 2017. Not too hot or cold. When it was sunny, we were walking comfortably in T-shirts/base layers. We had several days when it started off quite misty but by midday it was sunny and warm. We had just one morning when it rained but that blew over by early afternoon.
#2 What is special about trekking in this part of France?
This walking holiday in France is for the most part gentle rolling countryside; though you will cross some quite steep river valleys. One of the things that struck me and my travel partner, and we enjoyed, was that it was so quiet! So even when walking on minor roads, you will seldom be passed by any vehicles. I think we came across other serious walkers just once in 5 days. It can give a quite special feeling like having the place to yourselves! The route takes you through many tiny hamlets and small villages and many, many abandoned buildings. Even the smallest places had great character. But the main villages – several of which are listed as some of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” – were all exceptionally pretty.
#3 Is it easy to communicate with the local people?
On this walk, you will probably not see that many other people! For a large part you will be on a Grand Randonnee (GR46), but it would likely not be very busy at any time of the year. All the bed & breakfast and hotel owners were very friendly, welcoming and helpful. I guess it all depends how good your French is. Mine is pretty poor but we got by OK.
#4 Are there enough places on the route to go for a drink or a snack?
There are very few places that you walk through during the day where you could stop for a drink or a coffee. Most of the time I didn’t mind this except for once or twice when we would have loved to have found a café. In the larger villages you will have more options though; we enjoyed a lovely break at Penne in a café with a fabulous view over the river valley.
#5 What 3 items should others definitely pack for this walking holiday in France?
Do make sure you are carrying enough water. There are very few public toilets or drinking taps along the route and though I am sure anyone would be happy to fill up a water bottle for you, you may not find anyone to ask. Talking of toilets, I always carry toilet paper and a plastic trowel – much nicer to make sure your visit is not noticed! A French phrase book or translation app on your phone is handy.
#6 How would you describe the landscape of Tarn & Aveyron?
On this walking holiday in France, you will find a landscape that is well-wooded with familiar species of trees – oaks and chestnut, for instance. There are a lot of Buxus (Box trees) throughout the area, which is relatively unusual in the UK. The architecture is very different from the UK, which makes this part of France so interesting.
#7 What extra costs did you make on this trip?
The only things you will need to pay for will be your drinks and some of the evening meals. With the value of the pound having dropped by over 20% in recent months gone are the days of bargain menus and cheap wine. Wine in restaurants was probably the same as we’d pay in the UK, but the beers were eye-wateringly expensive almost everywhere – it was not unusual to pay 4 euros for a small beer.
#8 Can you describe this trip in one sentence?
This circular walk has impressively well been put together; it was a delight from start to finish.
Did you like this Q&A and would you like to get similar details of one of our other active Europe holidays? We’d be happy to hear about your suggestions.
Or if you like to be among the firsts to hear about the latest On Track Q&A destination, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter here.
Wainwright's Coast to Coast is an all-time popular walking path in the English Lake District. Travellers Carol and Mona set off on foot to explore the coastal paths, moors and country towns of northern England in May this year. Their photos give a fantastic image of what walking the Coast to Coast Path looks like and we are enthusiastic and were thankful of them for sharing their English Lake District pictures with us.
If you’re curious to understand a little more what walking in the English Lake District and following Wainwright's Coast to Coast looks like, check out the images below.
Signboards on Wainwrights Coast to Coast
An image of Lake District Fauna
Accommodation on the Coast to Coast Walk
Lake District Paths in Pictures
Carol and Mona did the self guided Coast to Coast Walk in 16 days and walked in the spring of 2017, from 3-18 May.
For more information on the English Lake District, have a look at all blog articles related to Wainwright's Coast to Coast >>
For more impressions of Sherpa Expeditions' walking holidays, check out the Picture This! series >>
Legendary and influential personalities from the past were the inspiration for many of the famous hiking trails that we find today scattered all over Europe. Roman emperors, artists, environmentalists and kings & warriors, these famous names have all left their legacy in places that are still attractive to discover on foot today. If you like to follow in the footsteps of legends, below overview of popular hiking trails may bring you some ideas for your next walking holiday.
John Muir, the great bushy bearded man, was born into a strictly religious household. As a child, he developed a deep love for the natural world around his home. He was known to escape from his bedroom window into the Dunbar countryside to enjoy the natural wonders of Scotland.
As a grown up, he moved to the United States where he founded the Sierra Club, convinced politicians to create the Yosemite National Park, and raised the cry for conservationism and environmentalism decades before it was fashionable to do so.
Where? Scotland, this trail is also dubbed as Scotland’s Coast to Coast walk
Distance? 216.2 kilometres / 134 miles
Highlights of the Walk: Beautiful coastal walking around Dunbar and North Berwick, time spend at the city of Edinburgh, pretty Scottish fishing villages and historical sites such as the Antonine Wall, Roman forts and castles.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of John Muir >>
Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus as his full name was, ruled the Roman Empire between 117-138. The emperor spent a great deal of time with the military among ordinary soldiers, visited basically all corners of the empire and is known to have been one of the ‘good emperors’. To separate the Romans in Brittania, as the UK was known in the time, from the ‘barbarians’ in the north and to keep intact the empire, he called for the construction of the wall. In this way, trade between the border could be controlled and it also helped regulate immigration.
The wall was built by 15,000 men in under six years and runs from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. From here the Romans could command their resources and control the raiding skirmishes of the Northern Britons.
Where? North England, an alternative English Coast to Coast route between Carlisle and Whitley Bay
Distance? 133 kilometres / 83 miles
Highlights of the Walk: To start with, the wall itself of which much can still be seen today and along which many other interesting Roman sights such as bath houses, forts and bridges. Then we like this famous trail because of the scenic variety from the modern cityscapes of Newcastle Upon Tyne to the red sandstone hues of medieval Carlisle, from industrial Tyneside to the quiescence of Bowness on Solway.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of the Roman emperor Hadrian >>
Also known by names such as the Swan King, Mad King Ludwig or ‘der Märchenkönig’ (the Fairytale King), King Ludwig was the head of Bavaria in Germany for 20 years until his death in 1886. He never got married or had any heirs and during his reign, he was mostly occupied by the construction of castles and other buildings, as well as art & music. He was so taken by his passions, that he spent all of his royal money on this and even borrowed extra to realise his projects. All this probably explains his nicknames.
Luckily for us, today his legacy can still be admired in the German region of Bavaria by means of, for example, Linderhof Palace, Herrenchiemsee and his architectural masterpiece Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig was a keen walker himself and you will pass the lake where his body was found in 1886.
Where? Bavaria in Germany and close to the border with Austria
Distance? 96.5 kilometres / 60 miles
Highlights of the Walk: Being one of the famous longer walks in Germany, the trail takes you past two scenic lakes, baroque architecture, plenty of castles, gorges, a limestone wall, fine viewpoints and finally King Ludwig’s superb Neuschwanstein Castle.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of the German King Ludwig >>
James Alfred Wight was born on 3 October 1916, in Sunderland, County Durham, England. In 1939, at the age of 23, he qualified as a veterinary surgeon and in July 1940 he took on a position in the town of Thirsk where he spent the rest of his life. The practice was located close to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, where he spent a lot of his time.
Today we know him as James Herriot and the author of a series of books based on his personal life: ‘If Only They Could Talk’ or perhaps better known as ‘All Creatures Great and Small.’ In 1977 filming started for a TV series of the books and the majority of this was shot in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Where? The Yorkshire Dales National Park in England
Distance? 80 kilometres / 50 miles
Highlights of the Walk: For a fantastic exploration of England’s Yorkshire Dales, this walk brings you attractive fell walking, contrasting Dales (valleys), typical English villages, rivers, waterfalls, mountains and moorlands.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of James Herriott (or James A. Wight) >>
Bishop St Cuthbert
St Cuthbert’s ministry began around 650AD and he became the prior of Lindisfarne where he was famous for his healing powers. In his life, he increasingly craved for more solitude so he decided to retreat to St. Cuthbert's Isle, just off Holy Island, and later to Inner Farne where he lived as a hermit in a small enclosure.
Soon he was appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne and was obliged to travel around preaching the gospel. He eventually returned to Inner Farne to die and, eleven years later, his coffin was opened to reveal such a miraculously well-preserved body that he was canonised. This was also the reason for the extended cult following that has developed and that is known as The Community of St. Cuthbert. The Community was responsible for the Lindisfarne Gospels; claimed by some as the greatest work of art in the Anglo Saxon period. In 875AD, during the times of Viking raids, the Community left the island with the relics of St. Cuthbert for an eight-year jaunt around the borders of England and Western Scotland. The relics were meant to have rested in a spot known as St. Cuthbert's Cave on the first night off the island and you will be able to pass the cave on the famous trail that is the St Cuthbert’s Way.
Where? From the Scottish borders to the coast of Northumberland in northeast England
Distance? 147 kilometres / 91 miles
Highlights of the Walk: This hiking trail includes unspoilt countryside and the broad horizons of the Northumberland coast, small historic towns, grand castles, Tweed Valley (from where the famous tweed cloth origins), and the holy island of Lindisfarne.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of bishop St Cuthbert >>
Offa, King of Mercia
Offa, King of Mercia in 757 to 796 AD, may have taken some inspiration from Hadrian's Wall (which would have then still have been moderately intact) when ordering the construction of Offa’s Dyke. Originally it was about 27 metres wide and 8 metres from the ditch bottom to the bank top.
King Offa wielded a tremendous amount of power over a kingdom that effectively made him an early English monarch. His domain included the Trent - Mersey River line in the north and south to the Thames. Kent and East Anglia were also included, and although Wales, Wessex and Cornwall were all ruled by different kings, Offa strategically created a series of alliances with the Kings of Wessex and Northumbria by marrying his daughters off to them. He had diplomatic and trading links with Charlemagne, the powerful King based in Francia, and communicated with the Pope.
King Offa is famous for having established the penny as the standard monetary unit in England, with the same silver content as coins in circulation in Francia, thereby assisting both national and international trading.
Distance? 125 kilometres / 79 miles
Highlights of the Walk: One of Wales’ most famous hiking trails follows the boundary of Mercia and brings you to walk past historic castles and abbeys, the Wye Valley and more than 10 crossings of the border between England and Wales.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of King Offa >>
We know about the Coast to Coast Trail today thanks to British fell walker, illustrator and guidebook author Alfred Wainwright. He was the founding father of one of the world’s most popular and famous hiking trails when between 1955-1966 he published the seven-volume Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. In fact, the books have been available ever since. His Coast to Coast Walk guidebook (still available and a great souvenir of the trip) was the first to describe “one of the world’s great walks” and is used as a base for other publishers today. As a child, little Alfred already drew his own maps of his local area and England and at age 23 he first saw the Lakeland Fells. There are 214 of these described in the Pictorial Guides and visiting them all is a famous way of peak bagging.
Alfred Wainwright was born in 1907 and passed away in 1991 after a heart attack.
Distance? 315 kilometres / 195 miles
Highlights of the Walk: The feeling of accomplishment after crossing a country from coast to coast can hardly be beaten. Along the way, appreciate classic English countryside, the dramatic landscapes of the Lake District National Park and lakes, rocky coastline, and welcoming English village pubs.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of the British author & fell walker Alfred Wainwright >>
The name Santiago is linked to the apostle James (Santiago means Saint James) who was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. He travelled to the most north-western part of Spain to preach and convert people to Christianity. After his passing in 44AD, his tomb was placed in the city Santiago de Compostela. In the 9th Century this was unearthed at which point early Christian pilgrims started to walk from their own homes to the city in Spain. Today, this famous pilgrimage is known as the Camino de Santiago, or just Camino.
Where? France, on the old pilgrim’s route between Le Puy and Conques
Distance? 200 kilometres / 124 miles
Highlights of the Walk: This ancient pilgrims’ route goes through the Auvergne and Languedoc to let you explore rural France, the Massif Central and the green hills of the Aveyron and the legacy of the Hundred Year War.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of Saint James or known as Santiago >>
Rob Roy MacGregor
Rob Roy MacGregor became a well-known cattleman at a time when cattle rustling was a commonplace means of earning a living. Defaulting on his loans he became an outlaw and a price was placed on his head. Escaping capture several times turned him into a Scottish folk hero and in later life, due to his fame or notoriety, King George gave him a pardon.
Where? Scottish Highlands
Distance? 124 kilometres / 77 miles
Highlights of the Walk: The walk begins in the pretty village of Drymen, whose Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland and would have been known by Rob Roy as it was run by his sister! From there, highlights of this famous hiking trail include attractive lochs (or lakes), a Victorian spa town, forests, river paths and of course the Scottish Highlands.
Read more about this hiking trail made famous because of Rob Roy MacGregor >>
Vincent van Gogh
In 1888 Vincent van Gogh moved from Paris to Arles in Provence where, after a 16-hour train journey, he started the most ambitious and productive period of his life. He worked under luminescent skies and the bleaching Provencal Sun painting the fields, drawbridges, cypress trees, cafes, local folk and ancient Abbey Ruins.
Living at Arles, his technique modified as he began to use the swirling brush strokes and intense colours that you see in works like ‘Bedroom at Arles’ (1888), and ‘Starry Night’ (1889). He seemed to imbue visible phenomena with vitality. In his enthusiasm he encouraged the painter Paul Gauguin to join him, but within weeks they began to have violent disagreements, culminating in a quarrel in which van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor. It was on that night, when in deep remorse, Van Gogh famously cut off part of his own ear.
Where? Provence, France
Distance? 48-56 kilometres / 30-35 miles
Highlights of the Walk: The reason why Van Gogh spent so much time in this part of France becomes obvious when you walk along vineyards and olive groves, medieval villages, beautiful Avignon and Arles, and the small massif of Les Alpilles.
Read more about this area in France made famous because of painter Vincent van Gogh >>
Inspired? Contact our team of travel experts with all queries you may have regarding these famous hiking trails and we are happy to assist you more.
Leaves are falling from the trees and bonfire nights, Halloween, country walks and hot soup remind us that the cold weather is approaching. Now is the time we start to think about winter clothing, whether or not we are intending to walk into the high mountains or stick to the lower trails along to the country pub.
A Step Back in Time
Thirty years ago, most of us outdoor types wore more simple fibre pile (polyester fibre-hair lined) jackets from Helly Hanson or Berghaus. The large duvet (puffa) jacket was very much the provenance of the mountaineer. Companies such as Mountain Equipment produced amazing down-filled duvets at the higher end with Gore-Tex shells which would keep you warm in Scottish, Alpine or Himalayan conditions. The level of insulation was determined by the quality and weight of the duck or goose down mix. Most of these were way too warm as soon as the temperatures became slightly bearable and all of these winter jackets commanded a high price tag, unless you opted for the Dacron (artificial fibre) filled alternatives which were heavy.
Some common points were that the fibre piles when soaked became a sponge and heavy and had to be carefully rung out. Duvet jackets once wet became like huge tea bags, lost their insulatory value and had to be left to dry and re-lofted.
Down the Line
All these years down the line, technology has meant these things have changed at least to some degree! Fibre pile has largely disappeared being replaced by compact fleece jackets often with stretchy 'Polar tech' fabric, some with hoods, extended thumb loop sleeves and hand warmer pockets. Fleeces are ubiquitous, competitively priced and are usually easy to compare in the shop just by putting on and testing what feels best. They come in many different thicknesses, all the main brands do them and the price is directly proportional to the brand name and the complexity of the product.
Duvet jackets are back in favour with loads of manufacturers offering different takes on design. You can decide whether to look like the ‘Michelin Man’ or maybe something a bit sleeker. We are concerned in this discussion about duvets from outdoor gear manufacturers rather than with those of fashion companies. The mountain duvets are generally lighter and have a better cut to allow movement than they ever used to.
Down vs Fleece Jacket
In making a decision about jackets, you should have a budget in mind and also know how you feel the cold. A duvet jacket can easily cost five times as much as a fleece and If you overheat easily, a duvet may not be for you in most cold conditions; a fleece might be a better option. Good quality duvets are rated by numbers which refer to the amount of down to the volume of the jacket and is quoted 500, 600, 800 etc. These jackets can be extremely compact and light and can be carried in a rucksack in addition to having a fleece if you want to invest in a possibly lifesaving piece of kit or perhaps something for the base camp on a high walking holiday. The Montane Featherlite jacket is very impressive in this category.
New developments to increase the efficiency of down jackets include the use of mixed linings as a compromise between weight price and the thermal range of a jacket such as in the Berghaus Asgard Jacket.
Some jackets now use 'Hydrophobic downs' that are meant to absorb less water, see the Mountain Equipment Dewline range or the Rab Microlight for example. Synthetic duvets have got a lot more compact than they were and of course keep you warmer when soaked than purely down jackets. Examples include the Rab Altus or Montane Prism.
Some things obviously have not changed: fleeces and duvets still succumb eventually to rainfall and will need to be worn under, or in some cases zipped into, good waterproof jackets. This can make duvets impossible to wear if you are doing anything active.
Duvets need quite a bit of care in order to keep them in good condition - don’t wash too regularly, use special down detergent and be careful to fluff out or re-loft after washing and drying so that all the down is not concentrated in a few places.
Also don't store them in their stuff sacs for prolonged periods as this can damage the fill.
For more advice on the gear to bring on a cycling or walking holiday, contact our team of travel experts.
For more in John’s series of Gear Matters blog posts and tips and advice for cycling and walking gear, see the full overview of blog articles from the past months.
Each year on the 17th of November you will find lots of people going out to celebrate Take a Hike Day. Originally initiated by the American Hiking Society in 2013, the day is mostly known and observed by our north American friends.
Aim for the day is, perhaps not too unexpectedly, to go out for a hike and appreciate the outdoors. By dedicating a specific day in the year to go out on a walking trip, more awareness and attention will be given to the benefits of walking. Not only is going out for a walk good for your personal well-being, by actually going to the outdoors, hikers will at the same time learn more about nature and their surroundings.
Autumn days in November can be beautiful, crisp and sunny, with the colours of orange, red and brown dominating the European countryside. In southern Europe there are even islands at this time of year where sunshine is almost guaranteed and there are flowers flourishing.
If Take a Hike Day inspires you to explore even more and go on a walking holiday for a week or two, have a look at the below trips that depart daily throughout the year or in the coming months:
Happy Take a Hike Day!
Since he was in his teens, Charles Hawes has been walking for fun. In recent years, he has re-discovered the pleasure of walking and Charles calls himself fortunate in having the Brecon Beacons and Wye Valley on his doorstep in south Wales. “I especially enjoy the rhythm of a good day’s walk (10-12 miles) to get to a new place, staying a night at a pub or Bed and Breakfast and then walking on. I completed the 870-miles Wales Coast path this way over nearly three years,” he recalls. According to Charles, perhaps the most enjoyable way of completing a long-distance walk, is to have all one’s creature comforts transported for you and to walk with a light day pack. That is how he did 10 days on The Way of St James in France with Sherpa and most recently how he did our circular walk along some of the most beautiful villages in France (Medieval France: Tarn and Aveyron). The latter is what Charles shares his memories on after coming back from the trip in early October.
Why did you choose to walk in France’s Tarn & Aveyron region?
I was introduced to France as a child and have loved it ever since. In my teens I hitch-hiked through the country, picking apples in the Loire. I love the language (though speak it badly), the food, the countryside with the typical French villages and the culture.
How did you prepare for this walk in France?
I had been suffering from a bad back so I did daily strengthening exercises ahead of the trip. I also found a great app for my smartphone, which is called DuoLingo. A few weeks before the trip departed, I did half an hour of French lessons each day – it certainly made a difference.
What was your favourite or most beautiful village in France’s Aveyron region?
My favourite place must be Puycelci. We arrived at lunchtime on a sunny day with nothing better to do than have an omelette and frites and a cool beer and enjoy the views.
Best French food and drink on this walk?
Without question the best food I had was at the wonderful chambre d’hôte a little outside the village of Vaour. Our host, Nathalie, is married to a chef who trained under one of the Roux brothers. A tomato flan was followed by steaks from her brother’s herd of Aubrac cattle, a wonderful cheeseboard and a simple apple and pear pudding. And needless to say, a local French wine.
What was your biggest surprise on this walking holiday?
From time to time we saw wild colchicums (autumn crocus) growing along the paths. I knew about these plants before and asked a passing lady what they were called in French. The word is the same, but she then sang me a little song about the flower!
What aspect of this walk in the Aveyron region did you find most challenging?
I think the hardest climb was after a leisurely visit we made to the extraordinarily pretty village and castle at Penne. That pull up the hill opposite felt unrelenting. It wasn’t really; we had just relaxed in this beautiful French village just a bit too much!
Do you have any advice for travellers thinking about walking the Medieval France: Tarn & Aveyron trip?
Pay careful attention to the written notes you are given ahead of your trip, carry plenty of water, don’t be in a rush.
Our walking holiday along some of the most beautiful villages in France departs on any day you like during the European spring, summer and autumn months from May until the end of September. To learn more about the walk that Charles and his friend took, have a look at the full description of Medieval France: Tarn and Aveyron, or as always, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or write an email to our team of travel experts in the London office.
You may have booked a walking holiday and like to get in the mood for your upcoming trip. Or maybe you are looking for inspiration for new trails to walk on your time off. Reading a novel that is set in one of our destinations can really help create an image of the region and bring it to life. Whether it is about a famous or iconic person from the area, a route or pilgrimage that is being followed or highlights a specific town, travel novels can be a great holiday inspiration.
To help you find your way around in the large offer available, we have listed below a small selection of travel novels that relate to destinations in England, France, Cyprus and Austria.
The John Muir Way
There are plenty of books about John Muir and to get a glimpse of the man himself, we like to suggest the publications ‘Wilderness Essays’ (John Muir, 2015), or ‘Journeys in the Wilderness’ (2009). If you like reading, a terrific book that you can still find second-hand is ‘John Muir Eight Wilderness Discovery Books’ (1992).
For those that like graphic novels, there is a superb one available free to download as a PDF called ‘John Muir, Earth, Planet, Universe’ by Julie Bartagna and William Goldsmith.
Discover John Muir’s native Scotland on the 12-day John Muir Way.
Although strictly set in the northern and now Turkish part of Cyprus, we did want to include Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons of Cyprus in this list of travel books. The work was awarded the Duff Cooper Prize in 1957 and probably belongs to the most famous write ups on Cyprus. If you like to get an idea of what the island was like in the 1950s, how Durrell loved living there and how it changed in the few decades during the Enosis movement for independence of Britain, add the autobiography to your reading list.
Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, Lawrence Durrell (Faber and Faber Ltd)
Retrace the steps of author Lawrence Durrell on the 8-day Winter Walking in Cyprus holiday.
The Way of St James
The origins of the Camino de Santiago trail rest with the supposed remains of St. James who is enshrined at the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. There were four major routes to Santiago, of which the first recorded was the route commencing in Le Puy, France. This route is today known as the Way of St James. In his book Clear Waters Rising, Nicholas Crane summarises the history of St James and how Santiago developed into a famous pilgrimage site.
Clear Waters Rising, Nicholas Crane (Penguin)
Walk the Way of St James in France from Le Puy to Conques.
Cornish Coastal Path
When picking up one of the novels in the Poldark series by Winston Graham, you’ll travel in a time machine to step out into 18th century Cornwall. Author Graham spent more than three decades of his life in Cornwall where he spoke with local fishermen, farmers and miners, walked the coasts and explored the towns. His first-hand knowledge of Cornwall really gives an accurate and lively image of the region and can be a real motivation to go hiking in Cornwall. The first book, Ross Poldark, was published in 1945 and is still a novel that inspires to travel to this southern England county. In 2016, a new BBC One series was produced based on the books.
Ross Poldark, Winston Graham (Pan Macmillan)
Experience ‘Poldark’ countryside for yourself on one of the 6 walking & cycling holidays in Cornwall.
Austria & the Dachstein Alps
We all have heard of the story of Maria von Trapp who left Austria during the First World War with her husband and family. What you may not be aware of is that the world-famous musical The Sound of Music is based on the memoirs that Maria von Trapp wrote after some gentle but necessary pressure of a friend. Initially she didn’t feel a need nor confident for the story to be told, but she appeared to have a natural talent to write and produced the best-seller The Story of the Trapp Family Singers in 1949. Today a version of the book is available with pictures of the original version.
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, Maria A. von Trapp (Doubleday)
Has this novel inspired you to go hiking region Austria? You may be interested in the 8-day Austrian Lake District and Dachstein Alps walking holiday.
In the autumn of 1878, the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson (famous for his travel novels ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Kidnapped’), found himself spending a few weeks in Le Monastier, in France’s Auvergne. It is from here that he set off to walk a trail south across the Cevennes accompanied by ‘a small grey donkey called Modestine, the colour of a mouse with a kindly eye’. It took this pleasing pair eleven days to complete the trip, and the book that Stevenson wrote about their journey, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes has since become a travel classic.
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, Robert L. Stevenson (Penguin)
Follow in the footsteps of R.L. Stevenson and choose from an 8 or 10-day walking holiday on the Stevenson’s Trail: The Cevennes.
Want to learn more about Sherpa Expeditions cycling and walking holidays? Feel free to contact our team of travel experts with any queries you may have.
To give you a deeper understanding of our cycling and walking holidays in Europe, we like to introduce you to the On Track feature. This is a series of quick Q&A’s on a specific trip from the Sherpa Expeditions offer.
Today’s frequently asked questions are answered by resident guide John, who went on a Hadrian’s Wall walk himself.
Why was Hadrian’s Wall built?
We know from tablets that Emperor Hadrian wanted to keep "intact the empire", which had been imposed on him via "divine instruction." The wall was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122 and used for around three centuries. The wall was built by 15,000 men in under six years and runs from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. From here the Romans could command their resources and control the raiding skirmishes of the Northern Britons.
What is special about walking Hadrian's Wall Trail?
Hadrian's Wall is the finest surviving frontier construction of the Roman Empire. Although by no means continuous in its current state, the long-distance footpath that we know as Hadrian’s Wall Trail stretches for 83 miles from Newcastle Upon Tyne to Bowness on Solway. Over this distance, over hill and dale you will find milecastles, barracks, ramparts and forts, in ever changing scenery. If you have a good imagination you will enjoy a walk in history. There are plenty of museum sites and other things to see as well including mediaeval castles, old villages, the bridges over the River Tyne and a look round Carlisle.
Can you see much of the wall when you walk it?
People may have in their mind something that looks like the Great Wall of China; but the ravages of time and use of the dressed stone from the wall for urban building, stone walling and road construction have all reduced its size. The final third of the wall to the west, was a mud embankment originally. You only see a tiny section of wall in Newcastle, a bit more in Heddon on the Wall, and then the stone walling really takes off as we walk into the undulating central section of Hadrian’s Wall.
Do you actually walk on Hadrian’s Wall?
The wall is a UNESCO recognized monument and the path does not walk directly on it to avoid damage, although there are places where you cross it or walk on it to visit museums, milecastles etc. The ditch built by the Romans beside the wall is often associated with a modern road, so you do actually walk parallel with roads for much of the first couple of days and the last day especially. Apart from where these are quiet lanes however, you will be walking generally on a specially created footpath beside the road or beside the wall.
What impressed you about this trip?
I love the section between Milecastle 31 at the Temple of Mithras and Milecastle 49B, at Birdoswold. There are so many great views and classic landscapes such as looking over Crag Lough - a lochen at the base of crags. There is 'Sycamore Gap' where an iconic sycamore tree grows at a gateway in the wall. Other surprises include minor things: walking past rock crags and cliffs where they quarried the stone 2000 years ago and seeing holes where 'pincers' were used to lift cut rock. Also seeing the substantial foundations of the Roman Bridge at Chollerford, was quite a surprise.
Who would you recommend to go for a Hadrian’s Wall walk?
Anyone with a good level of fitness can enjoy this walk, but it will especially appeal to people with an interest in history. There will be good opportunities to make the most of the historical sites along the way. A Hadrian’s Wall walk is also an excellent first time long-distance path to take. The hike is well waymarked as it is a 'National Trail' and so navigation is rarely an issue. It is also another coast to coast walk as you start on the tidal River Tyne and finish by the Irish Sea. For some, it may be an alternative to well known 'Wainwright's Coast to Coast,' that takes two weeks to walk from coast to coast.
Is Hadrian’s Wall Trail very popular?
On large sections of the walk you will not see many people at all, but the middle section around Housteads Fort and the hills of Steel Rigg get a lot of walkers and day trippers who walk and visit the forts such as Housteads, Vindolanda (off route), Birdoswald and Chesters.
Are there extra costs involved when I want to hike Hadrian’s Wall?
We choose to exclude lunches and dinners on this trip as there are many options to choose from along the way. Also Visits to the museums, open air or otherwise, do add up and you should decide locally whether you have the time and energy to visit them. Admissions vary and apply to Segedunnm (£5.95), Vindolands (£11), Housteads (£7.50), Birdoswald (£6.50), and Chesters (£6.60) – prices valid at the time of writing. The last three are run by 'English Heritage' and it might be worth your while to become a member of them if there are more things you want to see that they run in England.
We hope this information has indeed answered some of the questions you may have had on doing the Hadrian’s Wall walk. If you have other queries, please get in touch with John and the Sherpa team via phone or email.
Did you like this Q&A and would you like to get similar details of one of our other active Europe holidays? We’d be happy to hear about your suggestions.
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