Friday, 22 February 2013

And then there were four...

Thanks to Google, I have found details of a fourth coastal walker.

John Rayment set off from Tilbury on the 1st August 2012, and hopes to complete his stroll by 31st October 2013. He is raising money for three Parkinson's charities, and has a Facebook page with many photos of his walk, and a charity page. Rather sensibly he has taken the winter off, and restarts from Glandyfi in March.

In less than a month there will be four separate coastal walkers on the go, along with many more sectional walkers. After a rather fallow 2011, it is great to see more people enjoying our coast.

I have updated my list of all coastal walkers to include all the latest walkers.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Another coastal walker.

I dunno, I wait ages for news of a coastal walker, and then three come along at once...

Many thanks to Zoe Wathen for telling me about Christian, an ex-soldier who set off from Blackpool on the 8th August last year, and is currently approaching Southampton. He is raising money for Help for Heroes, and is sleeping rough most of the time; so far he has spent nearly 200 nights without accommodation.

He has a website at Christian Around Britain, and is on Facebook. His Twitter account is @ChristianNock1.

I think we can all agree that it is a brilliant cause, and an exceptional achievement.

(I should also point out Zoe's own blog about her walking exploits at

Monday, 18 February 2013

Hilleberg Akto tent - initial thoughts

As I have mentioned in the past, my reliable, 14-year old North Face Westwind tent is nearing the end of her life. Westie has been a faithful companion to me over many trips, and I have pitched her everywhere from mountains to shore. Westie has two large negatives: she's a heavy lady at three kilograms, and her bright yellow colour makes her very conspicuous when wild camping. Over the years I judged that I could live with these negatives in exchange for her friendly spaciousness  She is also a sturdy lady: in the hundreds of nights I have spent under her canvas, in all weathers, I have never once had to use the guy ropes.

But Westie is an elderly lady now. Creases are showing on her face, and her faded grandeur is visible to everyone. Like many elderly ladies, she is also suffering from periods of embarrassing dampness. Rather than keep punishing her, I have decided to put her into semi-retirement.

Changing partners is always difficult, especially after so many happy years together. So what could possibly replace such an old friend? I looked into many different tents, but one was always at the back of my mind: the Hilleberg Akto. It had several advantages: it is commonly available for a try-out, has a good reputation, and has a practical combination of weight versus features. There are tents which are apparently better for my purposes, but they are less available for a quick test in shop, and I did not want to buy unseen. Additionally, the Akto has maintained a very good reputation over a number of years.

So I went into Cambridge  where an assistant kindly set it up for me, so I could see if my 6'2" frame would fit easily within. Despite being a bit snug in height, I decided she would do.

The Akto, showing the big porch 
These are my first impressions after erecting it in the garden, and without having slept in it.


  • The porch is massive. Westie had a tiny porch for a tent of its size; so small that my boots would often press against the interior material. In contrast, the Akto has enough space for me to even keep my 70-litre rucksack in, and still have enough room to cook.
  • Adjusting the guy ropes is simplicity itself, due to the sliding lock tensioners on each guy.
  • There is no doubt that the weight of the tent, at 1.7 kg, is much lighter than Westie, which weighs in at nearly 3kg. This will make a devil of a difference to my pack weight.
  • The ability to pitch the fly before the inner could be an advantage on multi-day trips and whilst pitching in rain.
  • The interior is spacious; it is longer than Westie with plenty of space at my head and feet, although it is also narrower and squatter. I expect the height issue will become more of a factor when I am lying on my NeoAir inflatable mattress rather than the groundsheet.


  • You always need to use the guy ropes on the Akto, and that gives it a surprisingly bigger footprint on the ground than my old faithful - and much larger - Westie.
  • It is fussy to erect. Westie was fairly simple to put up, even with its three poles, and once up, she remained up. Glaciers could not shift her. I found the Akto to be more complex, especially when adjusting the guy tensioners. I would not like to have to erect her in the dark until I have had much more experience. It is also much harder to erect than my smaller Jack Wolfskin Gossamer tent.
  • The interior height is not quite ideal for me, although liveable with.
  • Even using the tensioners, I had difficulty getting one corner taught. It will need much more practice  preferably in an area with more space.
  • Being used to Westie's lightweight traditional metal pegs, I found Akto's pegs to be fiddly and less practical. For this reason, I may try pitching her with some of Westie's spare pegs. The V-profile pegs also have a tendency to clog with mud. The mud has to be scraped off after disassembly, which can be a mucky business.
  • The only interior storage is a very small mesh pocket at one end.
  • For some unknown reason, there are fabric hoops on the inner's ceiling from which you could theoretically hang a mesh storage shelf. But that would lower the available interior height considerably. It would be interesting to know if anyone uses these loops.

A small tent needs a big garden
Another oddity I noted; when Sencan got in, static electricity attracted her long air to the inner. Later on, I noticed that the inner was pressing against the flysheet. An investigation showed that static appeared to be attracting the two together. Hopefully this artefact will disappear with use.

I will have to spend a few nights in the Akto before I see if there any problems with condensation, which was Westie's biggest problem towards the end. It certainly should be better - the ventilation options seem more practical to use. However no substantial tent can ever be condensation proof on a frosty, still night.

Weighing her on scales, I get a packed weight of 1.740 kg; a good 140 grams more than the advertised weight. This is hardly unusual, but annoying: I wish manufacturers could give a more realistic weight estimate. However it is well over a kilogram lighter than Westie, which will make a difference on the hills.

The big question is whether I will be brave enough to use this in anger for the first time on a backpacking trip, or whether I will go for a car-camp. That will depend on mood, weather and bravery.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Coastwalk: vertical distances

In a previous post, I posited that pedometers are an inaccurate way of measuring distances on a walk, especially if hills are involved, due to the reduction in stride length as you ascend and descend.

In a comment on the post, bernieT36 asked a good question: whether the vertical component of any walk would account for this. In other words, the hypotenuse of a triangle (the ground really walked) is longer than the some route when measured on a map.

I thought I'd write a quick post to say why I think the effect is negligible.

Firstly, although there are some very hilly days on the coast (an example being between Bude and Hartland on the South West Coast Path), many are also fairly flat with little ascent or descent to be done. Indeed, some walks in Suffolk, Essex and Kent had total ascent and descent of a few feet over many miles.

The long, steady drag

Now for some maths (yay!).

As an example, let us take a fictitious walk up a mountain from sea level, with a total ascent of 2 kilometres over 10 kilometres horizontal distance.

For simplicity, this post assumes that all ascent is cumulative; that is, an ascent followed by a short descent and another ascent, equates to the sum of the ascents and descents.

The vertical component is not done in one go, as if the horizontal distance is walked, and then a ladder climbed. If this was the case, it would make a total distance of 12km. Instead, the vertical component is shared with the horizontal component.
Using basic trigonometry, the distance walked (the hypotenuse of the triangle) can be calculated as the square root of  the horizontal distance squared plus the vertical distance squared.

Therefore: walked distance  = sqrt ((10^2)+(2^2)).

This comes out as 10.19 km. Therefore the vertical distance accounted for not even a fifth of a kilometre on such an extreme walk.


Ah, I hear people cry, but hills are not a straight line!

So what happens if we walk a curve instead of a straight line? For simplicity I will choose an impossibly steep and long walk - a walk with 10 kilometres of ascent over 10 kilometres of horizontal distance. Using the formula above, the straight-line distance between the two points is sqrt ((10^2)+(10^2)), or 14.14 km. So even in this extreme case, the vertical component has added far less than half the horizontal component.

If we do this as an arc of a quarter of a circle, we get (2*π*10) * (90/360), which is 15.7 km.

Even in this artificially harsh example, the vertical component adds only just over half of the original distance.


Hopefully his goes towards indicating mathematically and practically that the vertical component of a walk has relatively little effect on the distance walked, if not the effort put in!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Francis Inquiry

I listened with horror to the details of the Francis Inquiry into the 400 to 1,200 extra deaths at Stafford Hospital due to failures in care. The inquiry appears to have been very thorough, and has exposed failings that strike at the heart of the NHS. Sadly, I have family for whom Stafford is their nearest hospital, and who have their own tales of its institutional failings.

After the publication of the report yesterday, politicians of all parties gave speeches about how terrible the events were, and how we should learn the lessons. Despite their fine and predictable words, I have more than a few doubts that anything will change. For on thing, many of the recommendations have been outlined in previous inquiries into failures in the NHS.

The solution? Politicians need to start acting like engineers.

It's quite simple. Give each of the 290 recommendations from the Francis inquiry a number. For each one, the government gives a detailed response within a month. This response can vary from 'already done' through 'planned', to 'not doing', although in more detail.

Then there is a publicly-visible website with each recommendation having a different section. This shows progress towards the fulfilment of each recommendation, and is updated regularly.

For example, take recommendation 204:
All healthcare providers and commissioning organisations should be required to have at least one executive director who is a registered nurse, and should be encouraged to consider recruiting nurses as non-executive directors.
On the face of it, this seems an eminently sensible and easy change. In an initial response, the government should say whether they agree that this change is needed. If so, then a plan should be set in place to ensure that it is met. This could be something like:
  1. All healthcare providers and commissioning organisations should give details of the current status with respect to this recommendation.
  2. The government sets a deadline for this to occur; for instance a year.
  3. By the deadline, each organisation gives an update, saying whether they have met the target. This is publicly available, so the public can see if their provider has met the recommendation.
Openness is key. Anything else allows the recommendations to be forgotten and for it all to happen again in a few years.

The recommendations can be found in Volume 3 at

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Coastwalk distances

On his website, Tommy B. claims that his walk around the coastline of Britain will be 7,000 miles. To me, that sounds on the long side.

So how long is the coastline? The first paper on fractals, a massively useful branch of mathematics, was entitled 'How long is the coastline of Britain?'. In the paper, Benoît Mandelbrot states that the length of the coast increases to infinity the closer you examine the detail. Measure it on a roadmap, and it would be shorter than if measured on a 1:50,000 map, which in turn is shorter than on a 1:25,000 map. On the ground, it would involve measuring around every pebble and rock; a near infinite length. The picture of Loch Ewe below shows the problem - the coast is never straight.

The Ordnance Survey claim that the length of the mainland (excluding islands) is 11,075 miles; the British Cartographic Survey come up with a similar figure, with more details. As it is often impossible to walk along the Mean High Water, what distance can we expect to walk?

Most people who have walked the coast have taken ferries, and that makes a journey of about 4,500 miles. This can be reduced by taking a few more ferries (for instance Ardrossan to Brodick, then Lochranza to Claonaig), but 4,500 seems the norm. Without taking ferries, and leaving out islands, it seems to be about 6,000 miles. I got up to near 6,300 miles only be doing a couple of island (Anglesey, Arran) and walking some tidal rivers further than the first crossing point.

In the book about his 1978 walk, John Merrill claims he walked 6,824 miles, measured using a pedometer. Whilst I was on my walk, I got a phone call from one of the other walkers that year, Graham. He had been using his GPS to measure distances, and noted that the distances in Merrill's book were large overestimates. I did the same test with my GPS, and came to the same conclusion.

Since then, I have done several walks with both pedometer and satellite navigation to see how they match up. Whilst on the level both correspond remarkably well with the distance measured on a map, whereas on hilly terrain the pedometer generally overestimates compared to the GPS and map.

The reason for the difference is simple: a pedometer relies on the concept of an average stride length. It is easy to maintain a similar stride length on the flat, but it is harder to do this on hills, where strides tend to shorten. Although a small effect, it adds up considerably over the course of a day, week or year,

Since my return, I measured my route electronically on the map, and think the figure of 6,200 to 6,300 miles is realistic for my route.

At the end of the day, the distance walked is somewhat irrelevant. Bragging about distance or speed is not the point of the walk: just achieving the feat should be enough. After all, under forty people have done the walk in one go; less people than have made it to the top of Everest in one day.

You are only competing against yourself, not others.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Another coastal walker

In a response to my previous post, Martin kindly informed me of another coastal walker who is about to set off on the trip.

Tommy B. is a young lad who plans to embark from Eastbourne sometime this week, walking clockwise. He is raising money for the Sussex Air Ambulance and is hoping to walk 7,000 miles. 

He has a very well-designed website - Shoelace Express (a great name, by the way, one I wish I'd thought of) - a Facebook page, and he can be found on Twitter at shoelaceexpress

Good luck to Tommy.

I don't know. You wait a year for a coastal walker to come along, and then two set off within a fortnight. As usual, I am very jealous. My list has 37 people completing the walk in one go (i.e. non-sectionally) since John Merrill completed in 1978; I am bound to have missed a few, but I wonder how long it will be before we reach 50? 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

More coastal walkers

I have news on three more coastal (or part-coastal) walkers:

On 26th January 2013, Craig Adams set off from Saltburn on a 6,500-7,000 miles clockwise walk around the coast. Already he's had to deal with deep snow on the Cleveland cliffs and ankle problems. He is trying to do the trip on very little money; he is taking a ukulele for busking, and would appreciate any offers of accommodation from folk living on the coast. He is raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

You can follow his progress on his Wordpress site or on Facebook.
Whilst not technically within the remit of this blog, it would be churlish of me not to mention Jannina Tredwell, who is starting a 3,500 mile walk around the coast of Ireland in February 2013, raising money for the Tusk charity. She completed the British coastal walk in 2006. You can follow her progress at her Wordpress site.

Finally, Nick Noakes is going to be walking the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts starting from Sutton Bridge on the 31st March. He is walking in memory of his son, who he lost last year.

Good luck to all three of them on their endeavours. I am rather jealous.