Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Hi-Tec V-Lite Altitude Ultra WPi Boots – A Review

New Hi Tec boots

Back on 29 November 2008 I was given these boots, originally intended for Alan Sloman (luckily they didn’t fit him, but they did fit me), on the understanding that I would review them in due course.

Today they were binned, so perhaps it’s time for that review.

First impressions were that the boots were comfy and very light.  In fact the first time I wore them, for 22km, they were so comfy that I didn’t bother to change out of them for the two hour drive home from mid Wales.

At this point I agreed with most of the comments in Outdoors Magic’s ‘First Look’.

After 50km I wore them on a damp day in Torridon.  This was their first real exposure to wetness.  They immediately leaked, so they weren’t worn for the rest of the trip.  They leaked in wet weather thereafter.  They were not waterproof.

In June 2009, with the prospect of dry weather, I used them to backpack a variation on the Dales Way.  They did around 185km on this trip, but whilst initially being extremely comfy, by half way one of the boots had rubbed my ankle sufficiently to cause a painful tendon problem.  This resulted in my walking in Crocs for 10km or so to try to minimise damage to the ankle.  It rained on the last two days of this trip, so I finished with SealSkinz socks deployed.

After a few months’ break to avoid further tendon problems (luckily my feet were fine in my other footwear), I donned the boots again for some dry October days in the hills.  After a further 60km the stitching on top of the toe boxes split.

Hi Tec V-Lite boots after 500 km

Split stitching

The boots can’t really be worn in this state as the toe box flops around loosely and the boots really do feel as if they are falling apart.  Which indeed they are.

The soles were virtually as new, but that’s of little comfort.

My records indicate that the boots lasted for 487km of walking, over a period of a year, mainly in dry weather.

During the same period I covered around 1000km in a pair of Asolo Fugitives.  These also leak, but not as soon or as badly as the Hi-Tecs.  Nor do they show serious signs of wear, despite having been used in much rougher conditions than the Hi-Tecs.  I have an older pair of Fugitives (see here) that are now on their last legs after over 2000km.  Incidentally, the Inov8 Roclites purchased at the same time as the Fugitives lasted for only 290km before being binned – the uppers of those shoes being less than robust; but that’s another story.

Postscript
On 3 March I received the following email from Hi-Tec’s marketing department:

Hi Martin,
I recently came across your blog and was extremely disappointed to see you weren't happy with your Altitude Ultra.
Firstly, on behalf of HI-TEC I sincerely apologise for your terribly (sic) experience with our footwear.
Please be assured your experience is truly disappointing not only to your good self but to everyone who is involved with the HI-TEC brand.
As a company we are proud to have a faulty returns record of under 1% (industry standards of 4%) and we pride ourselves on the quality, comfort and performance of our product. On this occasion we have failed and I am going to try my very best to rectify this fault and improve your experience.
I would appreciate the opportunity to send to you another pair of boots free of charge. I would like the opportunity to change your perception of the Altitude Ultra boot. It looks as if you had the first model and since then we have released a new model under the Altitude Ultra luxe, which rectifies a number of issues we had with the first model. If you would rather receive something different then please let me know, however I would love to turn your opinion round on the Altitudes Ultras.
Please can you confirm you are happy to receive the Altitude Ultra Luxe including your boot size and delivery address and I will organise delivery to you asap.

So I contacted Hi-Tec, stating that whilst it would be nice to have another pair of the Ultras, what I really needed was a trail shoe that would be more robust than my failed Inov8 Roclites.

On 5 March I received the pair of Hi-Tec V-Lite Thunder HPi shoes that I’d suggested may be appropriate (perhaps I should have requested Hornets, but hey).  I’ll be posting about them separately.  They are ‘Adventure Sport’ shoes and retail for about half the price of the failed boots, so you could say I’ve lost out, but given that the original boots cost me nothing, I think Hi-Tec should be praised for their alertness and generosity.

I should add that other reviewers don’t all seem to have had the same problems with their Altitude Ultras, but if they have lots of kit to review they may not have ‘worn them to death’ like I did.  A Google search (which probably brought you to this page) will no doubt reveal more.

I would of course be happy to give the ‘luxe’ model a try (to turn my opinion), should Hi-Tec be brave enough to risk that by sending me a pair!

The BlackBerry Curve 8320 Smartphone – A Review

The BlackBerry Curve 8320 Smartphone and pouch
I have now been using this piece of kit for blogging whilst away on trips for nearly two years.  I reckon I’ve spent about four months of that time using it to send blog postings whilst on the move.

This won’t however be a comprehensive review, as I use the phone as a phone and blogging device.  That’s all.  It has lots of other features that I don’t use, but I do of course use its camera to remotely send ‘Postcards’.

I know that both Gayle and Jamie use a BlackBerry for blogging.  Gayle’s is the same model as mine.  Their comments on this posting would be appreciated as I’m sure they are both more technically minded than me.

The phone weighs 112gm, a spare battery is 41gm, the standard BlackBerry case is 32gm, and the charger is 123gm.  That makes a total of 308gm for a trip when you need to go 5 to 6 days between charges.  I suppose you could use a ziplock bag (or other more protective case) instead of the BlackBerry pouch if you are particularly sensitive to weight issues, and some may wish to carry a second spare battery.  The charger has European and North American adapters that slip in to replace the UK plug, so no separate adaptor is necessary.

Text messages and calls operate more or less as on any other mobile phone that I’ve used, so it’s fine for that purpose.

The camera is easy to use and produces adequate results.  I have mine set on the lowest resolution so that the images (approx 100Kb) transmit fairly easily.

I don’t use the phone for emails other than the blog postings, maintaining just one email address on the phone.  If I want to look at my emails whilst on the move I access them through webmail.  If people want to contact me they can send a text message (or use the designated email address if they know it).

The qwerty keyboard works fine.  It is firm and responsive.  It could be cumbersome for someone with fat fingers, but having said that, my hands aren’t small.  Obviously, try before you buy.

Emailing to our blog was simple and intuitive to set up.

With minimal use with the phone left on all the time, the battery keeps the phone powered for nearly a week.  If using the phone for a few calls and for blogging, I usually get about three days out of one charge, though Gayle reckons I could get more if I turned off the Wi-Fi setting, that I don’t think I’ve ever used!  Carrying a spare battery, I’ve never really had to worry about running out of power.

I haven’t linked the phone to a computer, other than to download a few images (not related to blogging) taken when I have forgotten my camera, and that was a very simple process.

There is a massive (293 page) on-line manual.  I’ve not looked at it.  There’s also a small ‘Getting Started Guide’ – a leaflet that I find useful for basic information and to remind me what the various icons mean.

I understand there are loads of ‘apps’, but I know nothing of these, or whether any of them may be of any real practical use.

I’ve encountered a few minor problems:

  • sometimes the phone tells me a posting has failed, so I send it again.  Then I discover that it has gone twice.  This can be annoying when different people have commented on each of the postings.  So if in doubt I check using webmail before re-sending, but this isn’t always convenient;
  • occasionally the posting takes an interminable length of time before failing to transmit, often, but not always, in an area of poor reception.  Taking the battery out for a few seconds and replacing it seems to resolve this problem, so long as there is a viable signal;
  • the top of the casing of my phone has recently cracked at each side, though this has not affected the performance of the phone.  These hairline cracks don’t show on the low-res image above;
  • I first used the phone in anger on the 2008 TGO Challenge, and tried to send postings headed by an image, in my usual ‘postcard’ style.  This resulted in me spending a fair amount of time standing on windy trig points with my arm in the air transmitting postings - effective but time consuming and battery draining.  I’ve learnt that it is better to send text only postings at such times, when the signal is weak or intermittent, and send the images separately when the signal strengthens.

I’m sure there’s more to add to all this, which seems rather superficial, but in truth I’ve found the phone basically works fine for mobile postings.  If you want to see how we have fared with it, you could scan through our ‘Italian Border Route’ postings made in the summer of 2008.  Most of those postings have been edited only for indexing purposes and to remove the innocuous ‘BlackBerry’ footer that appears with each mobile posting.  Also some larger images with black borders have been inserted in place of the original images.  The same applies to our 2009 Alpine trip, but in this case we were staying in apartments with good mobile phone reception, so blogging was a very easy task.

I think Gayle bought her phone second hand and is on a PAYG tariff.  Mine is on an Orange ‘Dolphin 20’ contract.  This costs £17 for 75 minutes talk and 200 text messages, plus a BlackBerry charge of £6 a month for internet usage of 6Mb.  (Gayle pays £5 a month for this.)  I have rarely exceeded the 6Mb.  My normal UK bill is £25 to £30 a month.  This obviously increases when abroad, not least because of the ‘text’ charge for each posting, but it isn’t a huge cost.  For example, the additional cost I incurred during our two month Alpine trip in 2008, covering daily blog postings, regular viewing of webmail, and almost daily viewing of weather forecasting sites, was about £60 – say £1 a day.  Well worth it, I think.

Obviously there are many other phone options, and I can’t make comparisons, but I for one have found the BlackBerry Curve 8320 Smartphone a most acceptable piece of kit for posting blog entries whilst on the move.  Mine is now out of its 18 month contract, so I could have a free replacement, but I’m holding off doing that for the time being whilst everything is working fine (for my admittedly limited demands).

I hope this helps.  Feel free to comment, add your own pros and cons, or raise queries.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sunday 21 February 2010 – A Short Walk around Croft

Ploughed field on a snowy morning

Overnight snow made us think twice about a planned trip to the Peak District.  Instead, Sue and I chose a more local and easily accessed location in North Cheshire for today’s exercise.

We parked up, about 30 minutes from home, outside the Ranger cabin at Culcheth Linear Park.  This 1.5 mile stretch of bridleway follows the course of the Wigan to Glazebrook railway line, itself only twelve miles long, opened for freight in 1879 and for passengers five years later.  ‘Specials’ took racegoers to Haydock and trippers to Blackpool.

Beeching closed the line in 1968, following which the area became a muddy eyesore.  Since then it has been transformed into the pleasant amenity it is today.

We strolled under heavy clouds through an avenue of trees above the line of the railway, which is down to the left on the following image.
 The tree lined path throughCulcheth Linear Park

A lovingly crafted bench indicated how different this walk would be in summer.

A finely carved bench

After less than 1km we turned away from the rather soggy course of the railway, through pleasant farmland on well marked paths.

Perhaps this used to be a railway line...

The footprints of a large group of unseen ramblers led eventually towards the welcoming aroma of bacon, emanating from this hostelry, which in true LDWA tradition (not that we are members, but it does provide an excuse) we strode manfully past.

The General Elliot - and a fine stench of bacon

The sun came out as our wander progressed along the North Cheshire farmland paths linking Croft with Culcheth.

Sue - in a field in North Cheshire

We passed by fields of Fieldfare, under hawthorn canopies of flitting Redwing, whilst Buzzards lurked high on telegraph poles and oak trees.  Robins and Blackbirds flitted in the undergrowth, whilst Great Tits and Blue Tits sang sweetly from the hedgerows, keeping a wary eye out for the Magpies and Carrion Crows, who themselves observed the cooing Wood Pigeons in the woods and the scavenging Black-headed Gulls in the open fields.  House Sparrows and Chaffinches busied themselves amongst the hawthorn, whilst a lone Yellowhammer flitted elusively away, as did a rather noisier Grey Partridge.

A flock of 38 Pilgrim geese stomped around one of the fields (see slide show), but good images of all these birds remained elusive, so I resorted to the camera’s macro setting for a few pictures of the lichen that was flourishing on the bare hawthorn hedges that are just starting to come into bud.  Mr Google has helped me identify these as ‘foliose’ lichens, and I think the most photogenic was this Common Orange Lichen (see slide show for more).

Common Orange Lichen - Xanthoria parietina (I think)

This brought us neatly back to the car park at Culcheth Linear Park, after about 7 km and an hour and forty minutes. 

This would be an excellent venue for an evening walk, starting perhaps from the General Elliot.  So under the route overview shown below, I’ve inserted a brief description of the route.

As mentioned above, a fuller slideshow (26 images) has been uploaded here.

Our route - 7 km in 1 hour 40 minutes

The Route
Start at the car park at Culcheth Linear Park (SJ 649 949), setting off NW into the park.
After about 700 metres go under a bridge, then after a further 200 metres turn left, up steps, following the sign towards Kenyon Lane, across fields.
Cross the lane and go ahead down the side of a field past a pumping station on the left. 
Follow the edge of the field to the left then descend shallow steps to a road.
Turn right, then immediately left, down the side of another field.
Turn left at the end of this field, then after a short distance turn right again, along a line of oaks to the next field boundary.
Turn left and continue along a low bank, past a solitary oak, reaching Heath Lane in Croft village.
Turn right and keep right onto Lord Street at the
General Elliot pub.
Cross the road and turn left down Abbey Close.  Pass the entrance to Deacons Close then turn left down a narrow footpath under a canopy of hawthorn.
Climb a stile at the end and continue straight ahead across fields to join Lady Lane to the left of the church.
Turn left, then right after a few metres over a stile, immediately after a bungalow called Lane Side.
Follow the field edge over stiles to cross a small brook.  Shortly after this turn left and after a few metres reach a three-way signpost.
Continue straight on, with a hedge on the right, all the way to a metaled road, Glaziers Lane.
Turn left, then right at Wigshaw Lane to return to the start.

All this, updated for changes such as the disappearance of a row of electricity pylons (!), is from ‘Walks in North Cheshire’ by Jen Darling – published by Alfresco Books in 1994.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Some Evening Walks

Sunset from Honister Pass - 6 June 2007

This is by way of a reminder to some readers, and to make other newer readers aware…

Sue and I enjoy short evening walks from time to time, mainly in South Manchester and about 2 hours in duration, usually starting and finishing at a convenient hostelry.  They start at 7.30pm, and this year’s are mostly on Thursday evenings, commencing this Thursday at the Midland in Marple Bridge.

Details of all these walks are included on our walks programme published on www.topwalks.com, the evening walks page being here.

You’ll find it’s a very small group (usually just 3 or 4 of us), but some of our newer readers may I think (I know) be quite local, so it would be great if you could join us on some of these strolls.

A Penny for the Guy, Mister?

Funkensonntag - 21 February 2010 - A Voralberg Tradition The residents of Dornbirn certainly seem to know how to celebrate bonfire night, even if they are nearly nine months early.

Or should that be ‘over three months late’?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Saturday 20 February 2010 – The Altrincham Circular

I last did this walk on 1 October 2007.  It was the subject of my first blog entry, many postings ago.  (855 actually!)

JJ had suggested latching on to the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) for today’s saunter, so we duly assembled at
9 o’ clock outside Timperley Metro Station, which is a mere two minute walk from our house, but somewhat further for Mick and Gayle, who travelled all the way from near Burton-on-Trent for this rather urban perambulation around Altrincham.

LDWA walkers assemble under the watchful eye of John Knight

By the time we had hi-jacked a passer-by (Andrea, on her way to post a letter) there were 15 of us in a merry group that could have done with a scythe to clear the path along the eastern side of the Bridgewater Canal.

It then became easier, as we crossed playing fields and progressed through an assortment of ginnels and alleyways, before arriving at the secluded path known as the ‘Boggart’.  The guide book to this walk, produced in 1989 by the Workers’ Educational Association, describes ‘The Timperley Boggart’ path as ‘one of those backwaters that invite exploration – dark, enclosed, mysterious and twisting.  It is the last tangible remains of an ancient route that once connected the Roman Road, near Sale, to Timperley and beyond.’ 

A shame then, that we discovered this path to have been ‘gated’ by the council, and as we possessed neither a key nor a ladder we were obliged to divert briefly from the ‘classic route’.

Soon afterwards the busy A560 road linking Altrincham with Stockport was crossed, and we entered an increasingly rural environment as we passed serenely down Brooks Drive, another ancient thoroughfare that is not blighted by motorised traffic.

Welcome to Brooks Drive, an ancient 'green lane'

Somewhere along the drive, we lost Sue and Andrea, who were keen to say hello to the lady in our local deli.

Meanwhile our leader, John, strode on (there is a reason for the journal of the LDWA being named ‘Strider’) past the posh Indian enclave leading to Hale Road, then on through the more modest mansions of Hale Barns, eventually reaching the banks of the River Bollin, where a tea break was in order (ordered?).

John Knight pushes on along the banks of the River Bollin

Fudge brownies were distributed (by a lucky coincidence I had exactly 13 with me) and drinks were supped.  It was 11 o’ clock.  Some folk ate their lunch.  Perhaps a wise move, as halts on LDWA excursions seem to be few and far between compared with my ‘normal walks’.

Mick and Gayle searched in vain for a geocache.  The footbridge that led into more pleasant Cheshire countryside, and my previous incarnations of this walk, was declared to be ‘off route’, so a second geocache that I had thought we would pass would no longer be encountered, as we were to follow the classic but rather more urban version of this walk, through Hale and Bowden, where the Executives of Tomorrow were being taught some basic business techniques.

This is a school lesson entitled 'How to get on in life'

As we approached the main A56 road, we descended once more to the River Bollin.  It was very, well, slithery.  JJ was most relieved to emerge unscathed.

JJ ecstatic at having avoided a bum slide

After passing a pub (JJ exercised restraint) and rejoining the more rural route option the path crossed a farm track that is muddy even in the height of summer.  Today it provided ankle deep slurry…

The Slurry Crossing

…or was it waist deep slurry?

Yes, our esteemed leader gave a brilliant imitation of a hippo writhing in a shallow river of mud on a soggy day.

John tried to take away as much slurry as he could

Actually, it was a sunny day, but chilly.  Most of us wore gloves all day, and we (ie walk-leader John) couldn’t be bothered to disrobe sufficiently to be allowed in to The Swan with Two Nicks (“whinge” – JJ), so we trudged on down the muddy track to Dunham Massey, where the pump house looked quite attractive in the afternoon sun.

The pump house at Dunham Massey

It was after 1.30.  Time for lunch!  Now we knew the wisdom of butty eating at ‘elevenses’!

Dunham Massey house

We chomped in the shelter of the yard, outside the impressive mansion that was donated to the National Trust by the 10th and last  Earl of Stamford.  It was opened to the public in 1981 after five years’ restoration.  It must have been left in a poor state!

Our hike progressed.  Beyond Dunham Town and its Big Tree, leader John shot off over a stile in the direction of Dunham Golf Course.

Others (you can see JJ lagging at the back, for example) were bemused.

Hesitation?

Hmmm “Surely we should be heading 40 metres to the left?” someone remarked.

Quite a few of us, actually, muttered this under our breath.

But John was off and away.

There was no stopping him.

“We must visit the brewery some other time, perchance” the congregation chorused.

“Whinge” said JJ. (Or words to that effect.)

Anyway, the stately trees beside the golf course were, as always, very photogenic.

Trees by Dunham Golf Course

Beyond here, suburban roads led down to a narrow bridge over the Bridgewater Canal, and thence to the Bay Malton public house.  Needless to say, we passed straight by this hostelry (“whinge” – JJ) which apparently now masquerades as a Thai restaurant.

The pleasant, if rather urban and litter strewn, towpath led us directly towards Timperley, until the circular nature of the route necessitated a turn off the towpath shortly beyond the Linotype clock tower which pretty accurately disclosed the time as 3.41.  The first image uploaded to this blog, on 1 October 2007, was a picture of this clock tower which, coincidentally, I passed at 3.41 on that day.

The Linotype clock tower

Strange.  I always seem to pass this clock at the same time of day!

The industrialists of Altrincham don’t want ramblers encroaching onto their property…

The Bridgewater Canal in Altrincham

…but we found our turn soon after this, and romped through the streets and alleyways of Broadheath, then over a disused railway with its rails intact, and through a new housing estate at Stamford Brook, before completing the day’s circuit by way of Sinderland Brook, Woodheys Clough, Baguley Brook and the towpath of the Bridgewater Canal.

We walked quite briskly today, for 30 km, with an estimated 200 metres of ascent, taking about six hours excluding stops.  That would be a tad quicker than Mr Naismith’s pace.  LDWA pace, in fact – good training for all of us who are preparing for long walks.

“Missed a few pubs, but we’ll be fitter than those two slobs who are going scuba diving in the fens with Miss Whiplash” quipped JJ (under his breath, but I heard him!).

I’m sure I heard him…

Our route - 30 km with 200 metres ascent, in about 6 hours brisk walking time

As Gayle reports (here), there wasn’t much time for photos today, but the few that I took can be viewed on a Picasa slideshow here.

Finally, I do apologise to any delicate minded person who may be offended by any of the wording of this posting, in particular the industrialists of Altrincham.