For years I’ve taken a daily walk through the fields with the dog, exchanging pleasantries or pausing for a brief conversation with other walkers on the footpaths. It would have seemed strange to avoid people (apart from the man with the two Staffordshire Bull Terriers that nearly all the dog walkers here avoid) or not smile and say hello.
In the space of a week, with the introduction of social distancing, it’s become normal to avoid all encounters we can. I scan the path ahead for approaching walkers. Some instantly turn around and retreat as soon as they see another person. Other people start walking in a wide arc so that we make a sort of choreographed pass and I supress the urge to do a little twirl.
I find it easiest to keep going and step aside into the field as the oncoming walker get closer. Time it wrong and we both step into the field necessitating a clumsy shuffle to pass while inwardly I calculate the distance between us and wonder how many steps to take before it’s safe to breathe in.
Just lately several blogs have been brought out of hibernation with short posts about the inconsequential. It’s as if we need to share the ordinary to make sense of all that’s happening around us at the moment but can’t encapsulate it in a tweet or an IG photo caption (apparently only a third of people always read the captions in Instagram anyway).
It can be tricky knowing what to pack for a day walk if you’re new to walking or walking in unfamiliar territory. You don’t want to be weighed down with too much but if you pack too little or the wrong things, you may end up lost, hungry and wet. If I’m only sauntering out for a couple of hours, I do nothing more than see if I need a coat, slip my phone in my pocket and set off. But, if you’re going out for longer, you need to be a little more prepared.
This is a list of what’s packed in my rucksack for a full day of walking on reasonably gentle terrain (rather than walking in mountains or in remote and wild places) in the British countryside; there’ll be things that I consider essential that you may think frivolous and vice versa, but I hope you’ll find it a good starting point.
Food & Water
First Aid Kit
Torch & Whistle
Write your phone number on a slip of paper and tuck it into your rucksack in case you lose it. It’s also useful to add the phone number of someone who should be contacted if there’s an emergency.
Who wouldn’t take a full charged phone, especially as it can also act as camera, torch, compass, map, timetable checker, note taker and much more?
I always take a paper map, usually an Ordnance Survey Explorer map but sometimes just a print out, because I’m nosy and want to know where I’m going and what’s on the horizon and be able to change my route. I use a highlighter to mark the route to make it easy to pick out. If you also take a compass, you can check your position.
I also have the OS app on my phone but tend to use that only when I’m hopelessly lost as I don’t want to drain my battery. If you’re planning to walk in remote places with indistinct landscape features like a moor, you might want to invest in a hand-held GPS device and conversely, if you’re on a well signposted trail, you can probably manage with a guide book that includes good maps.
FOOD & WATER
A stainless steel one litre water bottle is usually all I need unless it’s a hot day and if necessary, I refill it as I walk. Water points are often marked in guide books, ask at a pub or shop, look in the churchyard for a tap or use the Refill app.
FIRST AID KIT
The First Aid Kit is one of those things that I pack but hope never to use. My kit is very basic and contains only blister plasters, antiseptic wipes, wound dressing pads, micropore tape and a penknife.
I (nearly) always take a lightweight waterproof coat that folds down into a small pack even if a sunny day is forecast though I only pack my waterproof trousers when rain is possible.
TORCH & WHISTLE
I’ve only used the torch to get back to the B&B from the pub in the evening but, even if we are going straight home after the walk, it’s good to have a torch in case the walk takes longer than anticipated. I hope never to blow the whistle to attract attention, but it seems foolish to leave it behind as it takes up so little space.
It’s good sense to pack a spare pair of bootlaces when they have so many uses like tying walking poles to your rucksack, replacing broken straps and (probably) 101 other things.
I have a lightweight sarong for unexpectedly windy/cold/sunny days as extra protection. It’s also good to sit on while eating lunch, can be used as a towel and could be fashioned into a bag to carry things.
At the end of a long walk it’s good to take off my walking boots and wear a pair of flip flops, especially if we have a long journey home on the train. The downside is that my walking boots don’t fit into my small daypack, but I can tie them on or carry them in a bag.
Most of these things stay in my rucksack all the time, so I don’t have to hunt around for them whenever we decide to go walking. However, batteries run out, first aid supplies go out of date and handwipes dry out, so it’s a good idea to empty the rucksack and check the contents regularly. Not to mention delving to the bottom to retrieve empty sweet wrappers. Or worse, unwrapped sticky sweets.
It seems an age since we last walked along the Jurassic Way, but with May fast approaching (one of the best times of year for walking) we consulted the maps, packed our rucksacks and jumped on a train.
The problem with linear walks is getting to the start and returning home. My preferred option is use public transport, but this can be very difficult, especially in rural areas where buses and trains are infrequent or non-existent. Taking a taxi to the start or finish is an (expensive) alternative, but you can wait an age for a taxi to reach you and every local taxi seems to be booked out at school run times. Leaving a car at both ends is possible if the walk is local, though I hate seeing the end before I start. When it’s too awkward, as it has been since we walked to Sibertoft, we do circular walks. It can also be difficult to find accommodation on the route and believe me, the closer the better.
Consequently, we often veer away from the official route to fit in with transport and accommodation or just because there’s something interesting that we want to see. On this last part of the Jurassic Way, the nearest rail station is a few miles north at Market Harborough, so we began on an alternative path. On the second day, to fit in with accommodation we had the choice of nine miles (too short) or twenty-four miles (too long), so we diverted briefly to the Rutland Round to cut a few miles off the longer day. It’s not a problem for us to approximately walk a path, but I know some people get a bit het up about walking every step of a named route.
The Jurassic Way follows the band of Jurassic limestone from Banbury to Stamford, so the rolling countryside has been a beautiful backdrop to the honey coloured stone buildings in the villages that we’ve walked through or spied across the valleys.
If you’re thinking of walking this route (I’d highly recommend it) a word of warning that in the final section heading towards Easton on the Hill, the path runs uphill cutting across several large arable fields. It was easy in May, with the crops only knee high and the well walked path dry underfoot, but I suspect it’s a bit of a slog in a wet autumn.
So, another long distance walk completed. It’s always a bit of an anti-climax when we reach the end, especially on the Jurassic Way as there didn’t appear to be an official finish point. At least Stamford, frequently described as “the finest stone town in England” was an excellent place to end the walk.
Last month, we went walking a little further afield than normal and I fell just a little in love with Flinders Island where the sea is crystal clear, the powdered sand beaches stretch for miles and the emptiness is achingly beautiful.
Discovering hidden beaches.
Where walking trails like the one above near Castle Rock are marked only by stone cairns and the occasional directional arrow as they cross boulders covered with orange lichen and weathered rocks.
Even ‘Private’ signs lack the imperiousness of some at home.
As we walked, dropping down to deserted beaches in secluded coves, it made me think that no matter how much I might extol the virtues of walking along the Essex coastline, it doesn’t quite compare.
September is an ideal time for walking in England as the fields are firm underfoot without too much foliage to hinder the way and the days are still reasonably long and warm. On the farm, an early harvest meant we had some free time before autumn sowing, so we packed our bags and headed to Northamptonshire.
Earlier this year, we started The Jurassic Way, which is an 88 mile trail between Banbury in Oxfordshire and Stamford in Lincolnshire. According to the Jurassic Way leaflet (produced by Northamptonshire County Council) archaeologists in the 1940s believed that the Humber and Severn estuaries were linked by a prehistoric trackway that followed the Jurassic outcrop across Middle England and though the theory of a single track has subsequently been disproved, the Jurassic Way was devised to follow the route it could have taken.
Chipping Warden to Staverton (12 miles)
We picked up the Jurassic Way again at Chipping Warden (about six miles from Banbury) and headed off for Staverton on a beautiful sunny day. Despite being told not to get lost by a cheerful chap driving past us in a muddy Land Rover, we promptly lost the path in a wood amongst bunkers and buildings that look as though they’re used for war games. We eventually found a way marker and set off across the fields to Woodford Halse, which turned out to be a village with probably everything a walker needs – convenience store, butcher, pharmacy, podiatrist and best of all a café with delicious carrot cake. The Old School Café had only opened at the beginning of the month and the menu looked so good that I was rather disappointed that I’d packed sandwiches for lunch.
Our lunchtime sandwiches may not have been exciting, but the peace and solitude of the church and adjacent manor house surrounded by fields at Church Charwelton more than compensated. These medieval deserted villages have been quite a feature of the walk.
Staverton to West Haddon (12 miles)
On Day 2, fortified by a “Full English” breakfast, we headed out of Staverton.
We paused on the bridge at Braunston to admire the narrow boats on the canal and carried on to the pretty village of Ashby St Ledgers with its street of thatched houses and magnificent manor house associated with the Gunpowder Plot.
In short succession, we then encompassed nearly all modes of transport as we walked under the London to Birmingham railway line, along the Grand Junction Canal towpath, under the A5 and then under the M1. We had reached the infamous Watford Gap, where the break in the limestone ridge has made it an important traffic corridor for thousands of years and (some would say) the divide between north and south. In contrast, the village of Watford is tiny and very quiet and the walk to West Haddon uneventful.
West Haddon to Sibbertoft (12 miles)
On Day 3 we walked to Winwick, up Honey Hill with its panoramic views, down the other side of the hill past a stone that marked the place where the Jurassic Trail was opened in 1994 and onwards towards the Hemplow Hills.
For once, a good place to sit coincided with lunch time and with no need to rush, we sat on the thoughtfully provided picnic bench perched on the hillside and enjoyed the sunshine and the views. I had made the mistake of not switching off the audible reports of our mileage and pace from the route tracker on my phone (it’s always a surprise when your rucksack starts speaking to you) and Bill was determined to make up for the slower mile when we climbed Honey Hill, so we set off after lunch at a very swift pace. Next time I shall mute the tracker.
After what looked on the map like a walk across water, but actually turned out to be a concrete causeway between two reservoirs that had been constructed to supply the canal system, we came to another deserted medieval village at Sulby. The village disappeared between 1377 and 1428 (according to my leaflet) probably to make way for sheep pasture. This was just one of the many different styles of stiles that we climbed over the walk, some more sturdy and accessible than others. We made it to Sibbertoft five minutes before the pub closed for the afternoon, so had time for a quick refreshment before heading for home.
All in all, an excellent way to spend a few days in the September sunshine.