Monday 10 May 2021

#060 Peak District PSPO wildfire prevention order

On 16th April 2021 the High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) implemented a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to make the use of any flame generating device illegal within public areas of the Peak District National Park.

Link to HPBC PSPO Wildfires

This action has been prompted by an escalating incidence of wildfires which have been started by careless, ignorant or willfully destructive use of fireworks, disposable BBQ's and Chinese lanterns. These have been the most publicised and predominant causes of wildfires reported in the media, along with arson.

Credit: Peak District National Park

Over the years there have been many appeals and attempts to educate the public about the dangers and consequences of using disposable BBQ's on tinder dry moorland. At many entry points to access land there are conspicuous signs warning of the fire danger and stating no lighting of fires. Along with so many moorland fires in the past couple of years seen on television news, its hard to believe that anyone can be genuinely unaware of the causes of this problem.

Link to: BBC - Drone footage of moorland fire aftermath captured by Holme Valley MRT

Its an issue which has obvious consequences for wildlife and our natural environment. The grasses and sphagnum which grow on top of peat do suffer from drying in prolonged periods of drought. This spring, with the exception of a few very wet days, has been very dry. So when rain falls as a deluge rather than consistently, water flashes off the top before having time to soak into the underlying peat. 

This is where the real problems start for firefighters dealing with uncontrolled moorland fires. If the fire also burns downward into dry peat, then the fire can burn underground and unpredictably erupt in different locations. Even after the original area has been extinguished and dampened down.

Credit: Peak District National Park

There is also a financial cost to wildfires. Yes, the fire brigade is funded by public money. But every time they are called out to a moorland fire (either set by malicious intent or ignorance) it uses up this public money in time and equipment. As well as taking up resources which are better kept in readiness for saving people's lives. Manchester Evening News reporting in April 2019 on the Stalybridge fire:

"The National Trust, which provided a helicopter to dump water from above, at a cost of £2000 a day, believes that £360,000 which was spent to restoring a habitat on the moor has been lost"

Link to: Manchester Eveining News - The True Cost Of Moorland Fire

Then there's the cost of restoring the moorland. The most recent fire on Marsden Moor this April is estimated to have cost £200,000 in damage and resources. All due to the thoughtless use of a disposable BBQ.

Link to: The Oldham Times - Conservation chief fears a 'summer of hell'

Credit: Manchester Evening News

But, if there's no danger to life, homes or property, why not just let the fire burn itself out and save all that money on putting it out? 

What is perhaps not as well known is that blanket bog, the thin layer of vegetation on top of peat, is highly effective at extracting carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. As older plants are replaced with fresh growth, they decay into peat locking away the CO2. Scientific studies of blanket bog have shown that, for an equivalent area, it is more efficient than rainforest at holding CO2. But when it is set alight, the greenhouse gasses are released back into the atmosphere.

Therefore, this special but delicate environment is of crucial benefit to us all in buffering the effects of climate change resulting from the activities of a growing global population.

Link to: Peak District - Counting the climate change cost of moorland fires

"But, I'm a responsible person and only light my BBQ at the roadside"
"But, I only light my campfire on stony ground"
"But, I use a gas stove and always away from ignition sources"
"But, I would only use my device in wet, wintery, conditions"

While some of these may sound like reasonable exceptions. The PSPO includes all flame generating devices, including gas stoves. So, unfortunately, as is the way of the world and the law in the UK, the rest of us pay the price for the actions of the few. The price in this case is a fixed penalty notice of £100 for being in breach of the order. Or fine of £2000 of the case goes to court (ref: Derby Telegraph 29th April 2021 )

It seems like enforcement of the PSPO will be a case of being caught in the act. Or at least caught without a reasonable excuse of possession. Making it, absolutely rightly, extremely difficult to justify having a disposable BBQ or Chinese Lantern about one's person while walking up onto Kinder, for example. 

Link to: Wording of the PSPO

The devil is almost always in the detail. Section 4 b of the order states:

"...the following is prohibited: Using any article or object which causes a naked flame and thereby poses a risk of fire without the prior written consent of the Borough Council"

'Written consent '- if (however unlikely) written consent was given to use a regulated flame device such as a portable gas stove for example. It's safe to say the Borough Council wouldn't grant this without significant indemnity and insurance in case something went wrong and the cost of this ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Never mind the public vilification and ensuing reputational damage.

The PSPO is scheduled to remain in effect for 3 years, with the possibility of extending it beyond this period. It also remains in effect irrespective of season or ground conditions. 

How did we get to a situation where the law has to be applied as such a blunt tool? I've no doubt that the PSPO has the full support of the National Trust, Peak District National Park Authority and the Fire Brigade. For years, these agencies have been at the forefront of putting out and putting right the consequences of wildfires set by people. 

You only have to look back at this guidance poster from 2005, produced by Derbyshire Fire And Rescue Service to see how appeals for moderation and consideration have been long been ignored. But as Dominic Cummins' 30 mile drive to Barnard Castle (to test he was well enough to drive!) during Covid conspicuously illustrated; Human behaviour is very good at justifying how a particular rule doesn't apply because of special circumstances.

So, where do we go from here? I'm no doubt not the only person who is hoping that the PSPO brings about not just awareness, but compliance with respect to the usage disposable BBQ's and Lanterns. Such that they become unquestionably and universally seen as wholly inappropriate and unacceptable in the Peak District National Park. And all other fragile environments like SSSI's (Sites Of Special Scientific Interest) etc.

While being very conscious of being seen to bleating special circumstances. I don't know what the incidence of fires caused by small portable gas stoves is, although I venture to say that due to the device having a controllable, regulated flame (and semi-enclosed in the case of Jetboil types), it is far less than than open fire BBQ's. Perhaps a degree of tolerance and refinement of the PSPO wording regarding small portable gas stoves, used in appropriate context, may be officially forthcoming in time. So that Mountain Leaders and other hill professionals can lawfully train clients in hill skills. Thus, in the future, hill users can act with informed responsibility.

Meanwhile, what alternatives to portable gas stoves (such as Jetboil) are available to hikers wanting or needing some hot food on a long day's trek?

Perhaps the easiest, cleanest and most environmentally conscious way is to take a decent flask that will keep water hot for several hours. Then, add it's contents to a dry rehydration type meal. There's obviously going to be an element of compromise here compared to freshly boiled water in that:
  • The rehydration time is likely to be longer
  • The resulting meal is not going to be as hot
  • Some meals / brands may work better than others, requiring experimentation
  • But, this might still be better than a cold cheese sandwich

Another method is to use a flameless chemical heater. These sometimes come with RTE (ready to eat meals). Simply place the RTE meal pouch inside the chemical heater pouch and add a quantity of water. A heat generating chemical reaction takes place, making steam inside the pouch and transferring energy into the meal. At least that is what's supposed to happen, but I have a rather hit-and-miss experience with these. They are good when they work but there are a number of downsides:
  • You need to use a very precise amount of water
  • Even then the reaction might not get properly going
  • The chemical and manufacture residue can't be particularly great for the environment
  • Increased potential for waste packaging on the moors if not taken home and properly disposed of
  • RTE meals have significantly fewer calories compared to dry rehydration meals ref my blog test: #018 Hill Food On Test

For all my Ranger Expeditions guided walks which include on-route refreshments (Peak District 3 Peaks Challenge / Edale Skyline / Kinder Scout Summer Sunrise Breakfast Special) we use flasks with  hot water (boiled remotely) along with pre-packaged sandwiches and other food. In our traditions of helping our clients journey with maximum enjoyment of their experience and the surrounding environment.

Also demonstrating our support for the Fire Service and Peak District National Part Authority in the mission to halt the blight of wildfires.

Monday 3 May 2021

#059 An East Africa trilogy

International travel in any form is still uncertain. At the time of writing Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania are all on the Covid red list. It seems the possibility of journeying in East Africa is still some way off. Indeed, I was surprised to see that Namibia, one of the least densely populated countries on earth, is on the list too.

If we can't go to East Africa then we shall continue to bring it home, to savour the flavours and evoke cherished happy memories.

I'm a big fan of my local Peak Bean coffee roasters

Recently the folks at Peak Bean have obtained several excellent new lines from East Africa to create single bean roasts. So, with a grind of the coffee mill, the heady aroma of my cafetiere and a swoosh of the Aeropress. We continue in the spirit of previous stories. 

Peak Bean single origin East Africa trio

Along the western boundary of Uganda, rise the Rwenzori mountains. The massif was formed by a mountain building up-thrust of the earth's crust three million years ago, creating peaks towering five thousand meters above sea level. From the Stanley Glacier you can see over a seemingly unbroken sea of broccoli green canopy into the Congo basin. Meltwater draining along wild montane rivers irrigates the lower slopes of the Rwenzoris, going on to feed the tributaries of the magnificent Nile and fill the great African lakes. 

In the foothills live the Bakonzo people. This is coffee country. The Rwenzori's are known as the rainmaker, which along with the equatorial climate, go to producing high quality coffee cherries. 
A few years ago I led a World Challenge school's expedition to Uganda. It wasn't my first time in the Rwenzori range, but the pleasure of returning to trek through this reservoir of biodiversity and abundance was undiminished. Our local guide introduced us to subsistence farmers who were spreading out their crop of coffee cherries to dry under the sun. At this stage, the coffee bean and its flavour is hidden away inside the fruit. Roasting comes much later in the process.

A few of us made a trip into town for supplies we could not source in Kilembe. Allowed me to revisit the Margherita Hotel and relax for a while on the sunbaked terrace with a maji ya tonic. The previous time I had sat there, on a different expedition, I had watched an electrical storm of such proportions it may have been sent by the Bakonzo deity Kithasama. 

The evening's golden light had been prematurely extinguished by ominous stacks of cloud. A bright flash, my irises rapidly contracted, silhouetting a marabou stork in a nearby tree. Then the briefest moment, before the hotel lights tripped out and a boom of thunder followed by a rolling rumble as Kithasamba beat his drum in anger. Large rain drops hammered the corrugated metal terrace roof with deafening ferocity, but I was none the less grateful for the shelter. And a cool bottle of Nile Special pilsner, while relaxing deep into a wicker chair.

The day starts early in East Africa. The the elliptical orbit of the earth and tilt of it's axis has little effect on sunrise and sunset times in equatorial regions. People are normally up and about at first light to make the most of the cool morning. Measurement of time on a Swahili clock reflects this consistent routine of life and tradition. 

The numbers on a Swahili clock are opposite to those shown on a English clock. Meaning Swahili time is 6 hours different. So, whereas in Britain we might wake up at 06:00 in the morning. In Kenya this is 00:00. Or, if we arise at 07:00, this would be 01:00 in Kenya. Although with sunrise in Kenya around 00:00 Swahili time, this might be considered to be wasting the light of the day.

My wristwatch alarm buzzed as the purple hues of morning tinted the light in of my room. As part of a acclimatisation build up to the Safaricom Marathon (now called the Lewa marathon) I was staying with a tour group in the Aberdare Country Club. I splashed some cool water on my face, pulled on my trainers and headed down to join the other runners. Biscuits, coffee and juice had been laid out for a little pre-training energy. 


Led by our local run guide, we did a few light stretches and set off at an easy jog. At around 2000 metres above sea level a slow start was necessary. Walking around the grounds I hadn't felt any difference, but now, moving with more purpose, the altitude was noticeable. The Country Club, originally built as a homestead, is now a heritage property. Set in it's own wildlife sanctuary, ungulates graze and browse on the vegetation enriched by the humid climate and volcanic soil. On mist free days, Mount Kenya is a dramatic presence on the horizon.

photo: Stu Westfield

The training run went well. We passed by a herd of grazing zebra, who raised their heads to see what we were before carrying on with their grazing. On the return, warmed up and pushing ourselves a little more now, several giraffe ran parallel to us. We kept a very safe distance away of course, as those legs looked awfully long, muscular and powerful from our much lower perspective. We could hardly believe what a treat this had been and animated conversation about the experience continued well into the morning. 

Later, enjoying my recovery, drinking a kahawa bila maziwa on the verandah, a family of warthog peacefully mowed the grass on the lawn, all in a line as if given instructions for the task.

Kilimanjaro, beloved by trekkers and Chaga coffee growers, is a superb mountain. It's also the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The region produces some of the finest beans, from which Peak Bean produce their Tanzania Yetu Tamu AA single bean roast. After the exertions of climbing Kili, why head to central Moshi and take a moment at the famous Union Cafe to watch the world go by. Perhaps accompanying your drink with a mandazi to replace some of those calories left on the hill. 


Overlooked by her bigger sister, in any other location Mount Meru would be top of the bucket list must do experience. Just sixty-something kilometers apart, from each peak on a clear dawn, you can see the other. Standing at 4556m Meru is lower in altitude, but it's still a big mountain, with several distinct ecological zones to trek through on the way to the summit.

Being just that bit taller, Kili is one of the trilogy of glaciated African peaks (Mounts Stanley and Kenya being the other two). All are losing their glaciers at a rapid rate due to climate change and this is impacting the coffee growers with less consistent water run off and unreliable seasons. (ref: BBC report: The people under threat from a melting glacier )

With the current rate of loss, it's predicted that in only a few decades time there will be none of Hemmingway's Snows Of Kilimanjaro left to see.

Kilimanjaro summit & the remnants of the southern ice field

Both Mount Meru and Kili were created as the plates of eastern branch Great Rift Valley separated. The further north you travel the more recent the volcanoes have been formed. Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Masai Mountain Of God, having had a recent eruptive phase, casting a fresh layer of fertilising ash across the Ngorongoro Conservation area.

Mount Meru, the attractive bridesmaid to Kili, missed out being been a lyric in a 1980's chart topping pop song. Although, sorry folks, Kilimanjaro doesn't actually rise above the plains of the Serengeti. The nearest savannah is in Kenya. But then 'Kilimanjaro rising above the plains of the Amboseli' isn't quite such iconic a reference. If you're looking for a mountain which does overlook the Serengeti, then Loolmalasin, in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, is a closer candidate. But it doesn't trip of the tongue nearly as well. So I guess we'll have to forgive Toto in taking a few geographical liberties for the sake of their art.

On expedition, the coffee you'll probably become acquainted with is instant Africafe. It's an acquired taste, a much more bitter offering what you may be used to. But at at least it doesn't taste like gravy browning like the instant coffees in the UK. Some of the stuff on supermarket shelves should be presented as evidence at the Old Bailey for crimes against coffee!


Mount Meru is a complete African mountain experience in a nutshell. Its slopes lay within the Arusha National Park which is locally known as Little Serengeti. Our trek in through savannah was accompanied by an armed ranger as buffalo are commonly sighted along with zebra and giraffe. Leopard are rumoured to be resident too, but they are shy and elusive. We saw thousands of pink flamingo feeding upon cyanobacteria algae at the Momela soda lakes. Up higher, the vegetation is dominated by forest, home to colobus and blue monkey. Then transitions to upland heath, before saving the best until last.

Mount Meru summit - photo: Stu Westfield

For me, summit day on Mount Meru is one of the finest trekking routes in the world. Around 7800 years ago the summit collapsed, sending lahar mud flows as far as Kilimanjaro. This left Meru a broken caldera, with a magnificent ridge trek to the summit. Below ancient lava flows cover the floor of the caldera and a ash cone, 'son of Meru', is nature's finale in this most epic of landscapes.

Safari njema

Stu Westfield
Expedition Leader

Are you considering or planning to trek Kilimanjaro, Mount Meru or more widely in East Africa when global Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted? Ranger Expeditions UK guided challenge walks are excellent training for steady paced, full days on the trail.
I have also guided expeditions, worked with NGO's and travelled in many areas of East Africa.

Ranger Expeditions weblinks to....

Friday 12 March 2021

#058 Covid, conditioning and a little bit of history.

As I write this blog edition, the Government have announced the pathway to exiting the third Covid lockdown. In just a few weeks the stay at home rule will be lifted and once again we can enjoy the freedom of our outdoor spaces. At least that's the plan! It still feels like we're a long way from being completely comfortable and there is talk of a fourth wave. 

Ray Mears, during one if his excellent Extreme Survival TV series, one of his Belarusian guests speaks of a Russian proverb, which still holds true for many different contexts: 

If you keep one eye on the past you are blind in one eye. But if you forget the past, you are blind in both eyes. 

Image credit:
Image credit:

Despite lockdowns, tiers and other efforts, Covid has played out similarly to the 1919 pandemic with successive waves. A recently screened documentary revealed that people were still being infected into the following winter of 1920.

But after personally shielding my wife (who's health conditions make her particularly vulnerable) for the past 12 months, the thought of the freedoms that the vaccine offers are very welcome. It's refreshing just to have something positive to look forwards to.

That said, I've tried to use the past months productively. I've enjoyed reducing the height of the 'must get around to reading' book pile. I'm a big fan of Neil Oliver, one little gem that's been entertaining is his Amazing Tales For Making Men Out Of Boys. In a ripping-yarns style which he pays tribute to many epics of courage in the face of often insurmountable odds.

I love a bit of history as well as inspirational stories of endurance. I also like throwing a few of these into my training courses. For instance, when talking about the weather folks often use evocative adjectives like brutal and treacherous. As if the conditions have a personality or a will of its own. In truth, the weather has no consciousness and is not out to get you. It simply exists.

It's a sentiment embodied by Freddy Spencer Chapman in the title of his book The Jungle Is Neutral

Often isolated, working behind enemy lines in the Malayan jungle during the 1940's, Spencer Chapman and a handful of men waged a guerilla warfare campaign of disruption. Their success was far beyond what the enemy considered possible for a band of their size, who thought there was a whole battalion of saboteurs hidden in the jungle. Spencer Chapman attributed a proportion of their repute to his team's ability to work with nature and accepting what it provided, good and bad.

Neil Oliver offers a similar insight into the success of the Royal Navy, under Nelson, at the battle of Trafalgar. Prior to the battle, the British fleet had been blockading the port of Cadiz. For several months, they had visibly patrolled the waters outside the port, sailing north-to-south, south-to-north without making landfall. By comparison, the combined Napoleonic fleet of French and Spanish sailors had a easier time with access to shore leave. The rationale of the Emperor was that when his navy eventually made their break-out, his sailors would be fresh and the British would already be exhausted. The reality was entirely different. When the two fleets met in battle, despite their unimaginable courage, the Napoleonic crews found themselves outgunned with a rate of fire of three to one. 

The Emperor and his Admirals had made a critical miscalculation. They had not factored for the effect of conditioning. During all those weeks and months, patrolling the sea just off Cadiz. The British captains had maintained discipline and countered boredom with drills and practice. When they finally engaged their foe, they were hardened to the rigours of their mission.

As I read this, there's an easy analogy with preparation for challenging ultra-running events. In particular, iconic expedition style races such as the Pennine Bridleway Ultra Challenge or The Spine Race. Of course there's the reassurance for participants that they're unlikely to face a volley of cannon shot. 

But the lesson from history can still be drawn: That prior conditioning, time on the trail, in the same conditions as will be encountered during the race (darkness, fatigue, weather, terrain) will bring the participant to the start line in the best possible shape for the adventure ahead. 

Here's a progressive build up plan which offers structure to race and expedition preparation, yet allows the necessary flexibility to develop individual strategies...

  • Research - Take time to find out the things you didn't know you needed to know. Unexpected surprises in the days before the event, or even on the day, can be extremely unsettling. You need all your energy focused upon good outcomes. 
  • Evaluate - Having found out what skills and aptitudes are required for the event, give yourself an honest appraisal of each one. I like to formalise this into a skills wheel. Each skill is a spoke on the wheel and you can score each out of five. So you end up with a star chart. 
  • Develop - Trail races like the PB-UC or The Spine do not demand that you are an expert at all the skills in the wheel. But at the very least, you must be competent. Your star chart score will help you keep a track of your progress. It will also give you focus. For instance, being absolutely great at 9 out of 10 skills is not a bad thing, until you find that that one other skill you've been quietly ignoring is about to derail your whole race plan. In my ten years on the Spine Safety Team, I've seen really good athletes not finish because of one aspect of their skill set which has let them down. Because skills do not function in insolation, there's a cascading effect which eats into the ability to function in other areas and then 'the wheels fall off!' In extreme, or poor, weather its very difficult to recover and come back from such a scenario. The need to develop these race specific aptitudes is applicable to the whole field, from elite front runner to the back markers. But do bear in mind that the strategy or solution adopted by someone racing for a podium finish will be different from the participant who's focus is upon completing.
  • Test - As with Nelson's sailors, there's no substitute for getting out there and getting stuck into the conditions you're likely to encounter. This doesn't have to start with an all-in morale breaking epic. Nor does it necessarily have to be in the actual geographic location of the event. Think progressively and maybe at first just focus on one or two aspects of your skills wheel. 
  • The Recce - Not everyone can make it to recce the Pennine Bridleway or Pennine Way. Indeed, for overseas races, the first time a participant may actually see the terrain is on race day. I recall in year four of The Spine, several participants invested enormous amounts of time in recce-ing the route. This of course, had some conditioning benefits in terms of time on feet. But a recce in the summer months has little context for the winter race conditions (14 hours of darkness, snow or mud underfoot for most of the way, biting wind chill etc). Unless it's torrential rain and freezing cold - there's a certain irony here! If you can't recce the course and your local terrain doesn't provide a realistic simulation, then it becomes increasingly useful to listen and learn from the experiences of others, with directly relevant race / expedition specific experience. There may be some useful ideas for your personal strategy.
  • Review - Practicing each skill and then adding them together contributes towards incremental gains and allows you to see where weaknesses lie. Being honest with yourself gives valuable experiential learning experience to build and improve on. These days, failure is seen as a virtue but I don't completely hold with this sentiment. As a former aerospace engineer, it's better to see the ducks lining up in a row before the unsatisfactory outcome occurs.
  • Adapt - The above process feeds improvement back into your skills set. It also gives awareness and knowledge to build a personal race-finishing strategy. With the aim to become comfortable in your chosen environment for longer durations. Enabling you to adapt and overcome any challenges that occur both during training as well as the race itself. Including absorbing those curve balls outside of the race training bubble that tend to happen in everyday life.
  • Putting It All Together - If you're scoring higher, as you should do, around your skills wheel then you can expect to journey with greater efficiency and further than you would have done at the start of the process. Naturally there is an element of good luck and a following wind which is always welcome too. But if the weather chips are throwing down a greater challenge, then your conditioning will help you stay in good shape for longer. 
Standing on the start line, knowing you've put the effort into preparing as best you can, gives a type of confidence which brings its own luck. And if this kind of thing floats your boat, your own adventure can be inspired by the sprit of Shackleton, Amundsen, Cherry-Garrard and other legends of exploration, endurance and fortitude. Who all made it home to share their stories.

Stu Westfield
March 2021

Ranger Ultras - Pennine Bridleway 270km in 100 hours Ultra Challenge

Thursday 4 February 2021

#057 The Vikings - from Bronze Age origins to the Urnes Style

In this blog, I explore aspects of Scandinavian culture which have captured my interest and curiosity over the past few months. The stories I have read and listened to feature connections and threads which endure over millennia. From vague school recollections to the the latest archaeology and history. It's been a reminder that Scandinavia has been a formative influence on the British Isles.

In his book and television series, historian Neil Oliver describes the origins of the culture and imagery which readily comes to mind when we mention the Vikings.

"Connections between Denmark and Jutland and the rest of Scandinavia are not only revealed by the trade goods. Especially evocative are the numerous rock carvings - made during the second millennium BC - of what can only be described at long ships. 

Such imagery is common in southern Sweden, but also found in Denmark and Norway. The creation of rock art there seems to have been a preoccupation for hundreds of years and subjects include, people, animals, weapons, unidentified symbols and shallow circular depressions known as cup marks. 

The wheel is a recurring design, here with cup marks. Bornholm, Denmark.

Most common, however, are depictions of seagoing vessels with high prows and sterns, crewed by a score and more rowers. They appear again and again, pecked into outcrops of bedrock - sometimes single ships but often entire flotillas.

Rock art in Tanum, Sweden

By between 4000 and 3000 years ago, then, the ship was already deeply rooted in the psyche of the men who would be vikings".

Inspired by these icons of Bronze Age Scandinavian explorers. I have created these original and decorative objects, hand crafted in Hayfield. 

In total there are thousands of images called the Tanum petroglyphs, on about 600 panels within the World Heritage Area. These are concentrated in distinct areas along a 25 km stretch. While the region was on the coastline when the drawings were made, it is now at an elevation of 25m. (Ref: Douglas Price, Theron (2015). Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings. Oxford University Press. p. 196. ISBN 978-0190231972.

The Vikings were supremely successful in their feats of exploration and conquest. Their culture revolved around acquisition of wealth, highly valued silver and other finery. Social bonds and alliances were cemented by the giving and receiving of gifts. To be redeemed for favours, warriors' services and reinforcement in times of dispute, conflict and acquisition. 

Archaeological artefacts show Viking trade network and influence extended as far as the middle east, perhaps even China. Swedish 'Rus' Vikings plied trade and exerted their power along Baltic routes and were the genesis of the Russian nation. Danish and Norwegian Viking raids on the coastal settlements of western Europe were feared at a time already characterised by brutality. Their influence also penetrated the heartlands of the continent. Vikings' seafaring consolidated their place as founders of Icelandic culture. For a time they even farmed in Greenland. 

Five hundred years before Columbus, a daring band of Vikings led by Leif Eriksson set foot in North America and established a settlement. A feat which continues to inspire: A favourite contemporary author, Michael Ridpath, weaves this into The Wanderer and the modern saga of Icelandic detective, Magnus Jonson.

My Urnes Hound insipred carving is featured in Halcyon - a Ranger Expeditions short film. 

The Urnes (c1040 - 1150) style is the last phase of Viking art. It takes its name from the remarkable carved wooden doors of the stave church at Urnes, Norway. The style is a refinement of the Ringerike style and depends upon interplay of gracefully curving lines for its effect. The animals are still curvaceous and one or more snakes are included with the quadrupeds. The spiral hip is still used, but it is not as large as in the Mammen and Ringerike styles. The animals have large almond-shaped eyes and often bite one another. Ref:

One cannot talk about the vikings for long without acknowledging their contribution to the literary arts. The sagas of Icelanders are narratives mostly based on historical events that took place in Iceland in the ninth, tenth, and early eleventh centuries, during the so-called Saga Age. Originally passed down as oral history, they were recorded around 300 years later, by unknown authors, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries

The sagas focus on genealogical and family history. They reflect the struggle and conflict that arose within the societies of the early generations of Icelandic settlers. Classics like Njals Saga make for engaging listening in unabridged audiobook format. 

The vegvísir (Icelandic for sign post or wayfinder) is an Icelandic magical stave intended to help the bearer find their way through rough weather. The symbol is attested in the Huld Manuscript, collected in Iceland by Geir Vigfusson in 1880 (but consisting of material of earlier origin). A leaf of the manuscript provides an image of the vegvísir, gives its name, and, in prose, declares that 

"if this sign is carried, one will never lose one's way in storms or bad weather, even when the way is not known"

The vegvisir is mentioned in two sources, the Huld Manuscript compiled by Geir Vigfusson in Akureyri in 1860 and The Galdrabok, a magical grimoire.

Viking icons are still strongly evocative in our modern lives. The Highland Park whisky distillery in Kirkwall draws on Orkney's enduring viking cultural references for its marketing.
Leif Erikson, the Urnes Hound and other Norse iconography have all featured on Highland Park single malt bottles. The archipelago is also the subject of it's very own written saga - The Orkneyinga Saga (also known as the Earls Of Orkney), which shares character connections  with Njals saga.

The success of the Vikings was not just a result of pillaging and raiding. Where they settled, they assimilated themselves into local culture. They even forsake paganism and converted to Christianity. Not out of revelation for the teachings, but with motivation to gain access to fresh lucrative markets and trade. 

Many history texts conveniently cite 1066 and the Battle Of Hastings as the end of the Viking era. The vikings of this period were vastly changed from their early cultural roots in the Bronze Age. The more subtle reality is that by they gradually became different. So when the raiding stopped, Norsemen continued to live in Iceland and the north countries. They had become something else at the same time as leaving their legacy among us. And in this respect they remain unconquered.

Link to more Crafted In Hayfield

Stu Westfield

Ranger Expeditions

Tuesday 2 February 2021

#056 Spine Race Footwear Survey 2020 - Part 2

We continue the 2020 Spine Race footwear survey with a focus on the full distance race.
My sincere thanks to all respondents.

If you haven't read Part 1, I recommend a brief look, so that there's no need to repeat the introductory notes and overall survey aims again.

  • 42 respondents from the Full Spine
  • Spine 2020 conditions included heavy rain, saturated muddy trails, wind chill. In summary typical January fayre, with a few days and nights of wild weather thrown in.
I'll hand over to Alan Cormack at this point, to share his boots-on-the-ground Spiner's perspective from CP2 to Kirk Yetholm in 2020.

After leaving CP2, it was raining a bit, but as I climbed higher up Great Shunner, quite a bit of snow was lying about, especially on the north side and the decent was horrible, water flowing down the path, sunken slab, very unpleasant.

Slow going to Thwaite, we pushed on but decided to get a rest at Keld in the Village hall, got a few minutes sleep and a brew, warmed up beside the fire before pushing on towards Tan Hill, don't remember or think that there was any snow, the path was very wet in places, got an hour at the pub and left. Immediately leaving Tan Hill, it's all bog and rough grass, very wet, some snow lying, cold but it wasn't raining or snowing.

Wasn't too bad getting to Middleton, sun came up and was quite a nice day. Left Middleton and had to use the road diversion until we reached the original path, cold but the path here is quite good underfoot.
Made it to Cauldron although it was very cold. On to High cup Nick, no snow, cold but no rain, down into Dufton. Leaving the CP it was sunny, no rain but as we climbed up to Great Dun fell and Cross fell, snow and very, very, high winds, bloody horrible.

A stop at Gregs Hut, no snow but heavy rain, on reaching Garrigill  I was socked through and got very cold. We pushed on. Very wet fields and rain. Stopped at Alston, leaving muddy fields, very wet and rain. Made a coffee in a barn at Slaggyford, mist and rain, very wet underfoot until we reached Greenhead, wasn't raining at this point. 

Pushed on to the wall, no bad weather, went through the forest before Horneystead, not too bad at all until Bellingham. Left very early morning, cold. I remember putting on another layer a few miles north, very cold and the path became covered in ice, I put on my spikes well before I took the wrong path missing Padon hill. It was sunny as I came into Bryness.

Hard going getting up the hill leaving Bryness, could hardly get up the hill because of the mud, but once on to the plateau it was quite nice, fairly dry and sunny, got to Hut 1 but getting to Hut 2 the wheels fell off. Again very cold, thick ice, no rain or snow, remember another runner falling through ice, difficult to move, I fell a few times and broke a pole, slipped and slide all the way to KY.

I'm sure you'll agree Alan's experience certainly paints a picture of the epic nature of  The Spine. He also superbly illustrates the day-on-day challenges every racer must meet and overcome. Many thanks Alan and proper well done on a thoroughly well earned Spine finish. 


1) What are the most common shoe types used in January 2020?

Note 1: The number of shoe variants here will not tally with the number of respondents as some respondents changed shoe model and type during the race. 
Note 2: It is possible that the numbers of GTX and Mid variants are underreported. The questionnaire asks for Make and Model. However some models are available in GTX/non GTX and/or Low/Mid types. Where a manufacturer is advertising these variants for a specific model online, but the respondent has not stated GTX or Mid, then their shoe type has been counted as non-GTX and Low.

7 Inov-8 low sided variants: 275, 315, 350, X-Talon, unspecified
5 Inov-8 mid sided variants: 320GTX, 335, 345GTX
4 Hoka low sided variants: Speedgoat 3, Torrent, Mafate
6 Hoka mind/high sided variants: Speedgoat, Tor Speed, Tor Ultra
2 Altra low sided variants: Olympus, MT King
7 Altra mid sided variant: Lone Peak 
2 Salomon low sided variants: X-Ultra GTX, Speedcross
3 Salomon mid sided variants: S-Lab Alpine, 4d GTX, GTX 
2 La Sportiva low sided variants: Mutant, Ultra Raptor GTX
2 La Sportiva mid sided variants: Blade GTX, Crossover GTX
3 VJ Sports low variant: Maxx
2 Merrell mid variant: Thermo Rogue
1 Merrell low variant: Other
2 Scott low variant: Kinablau Supertrak, Ultra RC
2 Columbia low variant: Custom, Mountain Mutant
1 Decathlon low variant: Kalenji MT2
1 New Balance low variant: KOM
1 Altberg high variant: Sneeker Aqua

Analysis: As with the Challenger results, compared to 2014, the 2020 Full Spine respondents uptake on wide variations of footwear is remarkable. There's little to separate the top 3 manufacturers in terms of numbers. Inov-8 claims the top spot, Hoka a close second and Altra third. Having held the top spot in 2014 when 50% of respondents wore Salomon, the brand now slips to a definite fourth place.

Generally there is also a greater uptake in Mid/High sided models across nearly all brands. This is also associated with respondents selecting GTX mid-higher sided footwear. Manufactures have certainly reacted to increased demand for lightweight all weather footwear driven by market growth in ultra-expedition, winter trail and fast-packing activities. 
  • Total low sided: 27 (51%)
  • Total mid/high sided: 26 (49%)
Greater choice means more shoe types to fit a wider range of foot shape. However, having personally tested several promising Mid type trail shoes, I'm still seeking the perfect Holy Grail (a lengthy and financially challenging process for participants who are not sponsored):
  • Salomon Sky Ultra Mid (no longer available): Nice wide fit and comfortable out of the box. Ideal last width to allow foot expansion over prolonged trail days. But, the lack of grip was like wearing slicks in anything other than dry conditions.
  • Salomon X-Ultra Mid (normal and wide fittings): Not as comfortable as the Sky Ultra. The wide fitting is certainly more comfortable for multi-day use. Rubbish grip in the wet. 
  • Hoka Tor Speed Mid: First impressions were comfortable and noticeably (visually and by feel) cushioned underfoot. All was well with these until around 30 miles when they showed their major design fault. Now I've hardly got Hobbit feet, but the toe box is so narrow on the Tor Speed that they might have well been designed for a ballerina. I suspect that the last used in manufacture was one set up for the far-east market, where sizing specification tends to be smaller that western markets. When a GTX liner is added, with no upsizing of the last to account for the extra layer in the structure, then the shoe ends up being an even tighter fit.
  • Altra Lone Peak Mid: I'm encouraged by the wide fit to box, but discouraged by the zero drop.
In summary: Personally, I'd like to see a Mid-GTX with decent grip, generous toe box and not-zero drop, offered by manufactures.

2) Shoe type worn at Start vs Finish / Point of DNF

52% of respondents finished in the same shoe which they started (without changing).

Of the respondents which went up in size;

  • 6 went up a 1/2 size
  • 6 went up one full size
The most common point at which respondents chose to change their shoe was CP2.
However, many also changed at CP1

Significantly fewer respondents changed shoe after CP2
This is perhaps because the weather conditions were so poor (very wet and cold) in the early stages of the race. Hence, a change up in size was necessary due to oedema (swelling) combined with taping required for early environmental foot attrition. 

3) Point of DNF:

Of the 42 respondents: 21 (50%) DNF and 21 (50%) Finished

Most DNFs occurred by CP1. In 2020 the early rough weather certainly contributed to this figure.
With a steady base rate of attrition up to CP4
However, as we normally see in each edition of the Spine. With the odd very unfortunate exception, most participants that make it out of CP4 go on to finish the race.

4) DNF reasons given by respondents
  • Fatigue (5)
  • Head not in the game (3)
  • Sleep deprivation (2)
  • Foot problems (5)
  • Sickness (3)
  • Injury (6)
  • Hypothermia (1)
5) What respondents would do differently next time
  • Better grip shoes (3)
  • Larger shoe size at start / or sooner (3)
  • More supportive shoes (1)
  • Use a Mid/High shoe (1)
  • Different shoes (1)
  • Less running in walking boots (1)
  • Tape feet at start / sooner (3)
  • Better type / use earlier, waterproof socks (3)
  • Spare straps for gaiters (1)
  • More sleep (3)
  • More efficient in CP (1)
  • Go slower to CP1 (1)
  • Go solo, not buddying up (1)
  • Worry less about nutrition (1)
  • Better food on the move (1)
  • Better wet kit (1)
  • Longer / more conditioning for race build up (3)
As with the Challenger, the fine details of why participant's race ended are varied. Several elements can be attributed to conditioning. Several racers allude to requiring more time on the trail in the build up period. Time becoming accustomed to self-management, efficient journeying, good bivvy craft and personal admin, is essential preparation for good execution of strategy. 

Written here in plain text, this seems intuitive, logical and perfectly sensible. But even now, 10 years into The Spine, with the huge range of blogs and shared experience in the public domain, as well as the excellent Spine Training event resource: It is astonishing how many participants arrive at the start line with minimal preparation. 

The optimum time to start preparing for your Spine Race is 12 months in advance. 

6) Respondents next Spine Race
  • Return to Winter Spine (26) - It's addictive. Of which 17 respondents would like to return and put the race to bed after DNF. We look forward to helping you on the road to the finish at the Spine Training events.
  • Summer Spine (2) - You get to see where you're going, saving a small fortune on batteries and the sun always shines (!)
  • MRT Challenger (1) - Short course fun, running for a great cause.
  • Maybe (8) - We look forward to welcoming you again in the future.
  • No (4) 
7) Yes (23) Interest in future Official Spine Training Events


Stu Westfield BEng (Hons) FRGS
  • 10 years progression as in the field team member, team leader, control room manager of the Spine Safety Team. Spine Training events Coordinator.
  • 10 year Ranger Expeditions guided treks and hill skills training.
  • 6 years Ranger Ultras  trail running event organiser.
  • Creator of the 'Complete Racer' training course format.
  • Former holder Peak District Boundary FKT
  • Spine Race Flare finisher
  • GS Stella cycling team
Ranger Ultras' trail running series offers an ideal preparation pathway for both aspirant and returning Spiners and Challengers. Many of the courses are in Pennine Way country and include mini-recce sections on the Pennine Way itself. As well as being excellent race days in their own right,

Including the new Ranger Ultras' 

#055 Spine Race Footwear Survey 2020 - Part 1

In a rare quiet moment on the SST HQ afternoon shift during the January 2020 Winter Spine. I thought it would be interesting to see how participants footwear selection had changed in the 6 years since my original Spine footwear survey.

Stu's 2014 Spine Footwear Survey

During the intervening years, the Spine has grown in numbers and international diversity of participants. A trend which is matched by the increasing popularity of expedition style races. Trail running manufacturers have responded by developing a wide range of footwear solutions for this market.

The general aim of the 2020 survey is to analyse how Spiners and Challengers have adopted the latest footwear choices and review them in the context of the race. The survey questionnaire was publicised on the Official Spine Facebook Group. I'm delighted to report that a total of 97 Spiners, Challengers and MRT Challengers responded. Thank you all for your contribution, it's very much appreciated.

Unfortunately, during the period when the completed surveys were coming in, Covid-19 arrived. Plunging us into a succession of lockdown, shielding, not lockdown, tiers, escalation of tiers, more shielding, another lockdown etc etc. The effect of this on race organisation, was adjusting to constantly moving goalposts, repeated re-working of plans, schedules, risk assessments and bookings. Alas for event organisers all over the country, this tsunami of additional admin work came to naught. Meanwhile, by necessity, our lives remain frozen in lockdown limbo.

Consequently, the results of the 2020 survey have been delayed far longer than I would have wished for. But, best foot forward! Spiners and Challengers entered in winter 2021 and beyond will a least have the benefit of these insights.

For our 2014 survey there were 37 respondents
This was greatly exceeded in 2020 with 97 respondents:
  • 10 MRT Challenger
  • 38 Challenger
  • 42 Full Spine
Note 1: Full disclosure. The survey and analysis was undertaken in my own time and is not commissioned by the Spine Race organisation. The survey sample is from the January 2020 Winter Spine Race. Therefore, any views, opinions, interpretations, conclusions and errors are mine alone.

Note 2: The online survey tool I used allows a maximum number of 90 entries to be interrogated in detail. To analyse the other 7 entries would mean subscribing to the commercial level of functionality at a cost of £300. Hence, I chose not to do this. 

I will split the survey report into two parts:
  • Part 1: MRT Challenger & Challenger. I've combined these to give a meaningful base of 48 respondents. The same race distance allows a direct comparison, but I am mindful of minor distinctions in the results. 
  • Part 2: Full Spine
Note 3: For the second half of the survey, I widened the scope beyond footwear. Offering respondents the opportunity to also comment on kit choices and their own race experience.

Note 4: It's important to bear in mind that even with the excellent response, the data set is small. Any results and conclusions are not presented as the only, or one size fts all, solution. Indeed, to read them as other than a starting point for your own ideas and inspiration, would be a mistake. The aspirant Spiner and Challenger should explore, test and refine these ideas to suit their own race strategy.

The 2020 January Winter edition was acknowledged by participants and members of the Spine Team to be particularly rigorous with heavy precipitation, strong wind, extreme wind chill and saturated ground underfoot.


1) What are the most common shoe types used in January 2020?

20 Inov-8 low sided variants: 250, 260, 275, 290, 300, 305, 370
3 Inov-8 mid sided variants: 325, 335
7 Hoka low sided variants: Speedgoat 2/3/4, Challenger, Mafate
4 Hoka mid sided variants: Tor
6 Salomon low sided variants: Speedcross 4/5, Ultra Pro
4 Altra low sided variants: Olympus, King
4 Altra mid sided variants: Lone Peak
4 La Sportiva low sided variants: Helios, Mutant, Raptor
1 La Sportiva mid sided variant: Uragano
1 Keen mid sided variant: Targhee
1 Scott low sided variant: Supertrac 

Analysis: In contrast to 2014 where 30% of Challengers wore Salomon Speedcross, there is now a huge diversity in footwear makes and models. Inov-8 also previously featured well. However the brand now dominates the overall numbers. 
The wide sample spread gives us no distinct trend in specific models of any brand. What we can say is that low sided variants are still the most popular choice in both starting and finishing footwear.

I did not ask what sock choices accompanied MRT Challenger / Challenger footwear. Anecdotally, there are recurrent threads of discussion on the Official Spine Facebook page and several mentions of waterproof socks in the 2020 questionnaire respondents comments. So what we can say is that waterproof socks were used in conjunction with low sided footwear by, at the very least, several Challengers. 

Thus, Challengers relied upon the waterproofness of their sock rather than footwear to protect and preserve the condition of their feet in the testing winter conditions. This is not unexpected, as the merits of low sided Gore-Tex (or other waterproofing) shoes is debatable, given the saturation of the ground, streams in spate and torrential precipitation. All quickly transforming low sided GTX footwear into buckets. Non GTX, being free(er) draining.

There is a perception that the Challenger race duration is too short for participants to suffer serious trench foot or other debilitating / race-stopping foot conditions. Given that, again anecdotally, most of the serious foot issues are seen from around CP2 onwards, there is a general truth to this statement. But, this is no reason for Challengers not to be vigilant with foot care. As there have been participants which have had to DNF with immersion foot. Which is highly likely to have been exacerbated by cold conditions. 

We shall talk more on this subject in the context of Spine racers and their footwear choices in Part 2.

2) Shoe type worn at the Start vs Finish / Point of DNF

Most (66%) of respondents started and finished (or DNF'd) in the same shoe they started off wearing. 
Of the 12 respondents which chose to go up a shoe size (at CP1 because this is the only drop bag access point for MRT Challenger & Challengers):
  • 7 went up a 1/2 UK size
  • 3 went up a full UK size
  • 2 went up two full UK sizes
3) Point of DNF
  • 4 MRT Challenger respondents DNF'd: All at or near CP1
  • 10 Challenger respondents DNF'd: 4 at CP1. 6 at CP1.5
  • Of the Challenger DNFs at CP1.5: 3 had changed up a shoe size at CP1
4) DNF reasons given by respondents
  • Hypothermia (3) 
  • Injury (3) - all injuries were to lower limbs
  • Respiratory (2)
  • Stomach upset (1)
  • Head not in the game (1)
  • Missed cut-off (1)
  • Broken kit (1)
  • Other (1)
The Spine Races are often described as a head, feet and eating game. While this is broadly correct, the respondents answers give a greater nuance to the range of factors which may combine in a less than satisfactory outcome.

5) What respondents would do differently next time
  • Use waterproof socks (1)
  • More changes of socks (4)
  • Bigger shoe size (2)
  • Better grip shoes (1) - Hoka respondent reported little traction on steep grass & mud
  • GTX footwear to prevent grit ingress (1)
  • Better foot care /tape feet (4)
  • More robust waterproof jacket (2)
  • More spare dry clothes (2)
  • Waterproof trousers from the start (1) - ref context of weather conditions
  • Lighter pack (2)
  • Better goggles (1) - Race HQ/SST received multiple DNF reports of blindness / vision impairment due to high velocity wind and driven rain. Many race participants delayed until too late or chose not to use goggles from compulsory kit at item was not accessible in rucksack. Some participants did not use the strap accompanying min-standard Bolle goggles and so the goggle did not make an effective seal around eye sockets.
  • Add knee support to kit (1)
  • Use more anti-chaffing cream (1)
  • Sleep less & more efficient CP turnaround (1)
  • More rest at CP1 (1)
  • Slower pace (1)
  • Eat more / more dried food meals (3)
The respondents answers here do tend to focus on feet and footwear, as the questionnaire leads in this respect. However, the selection of other answers given does indicate the many varied challenges that participants have to manage, absorb or overcome. Some of the things that participants might do next time are personal, such as go slower, or sleep less. Which may contradict, but not negate, another participants thoughts to go faster and sleep more.

6) Spine & Challenger Training 

You can also see how the above list easily fits with our opening slide at the Spine Training Session and 'Complete Racer' courses. Where we talk about working on your 'skills wheel'

The emphasis here is, as always, to use the information available and experience shared. Keep an open mind, take what is useful and develop it to suit your personal strategy. 

An interesting point to make: Feedback from a recent Spine Training weekend was that participants wanted less information about the 'elite' end of the race. This came as a surprise to the course instructors and guest speakers. As the throughout the weekend there was a strong emphasis that all the skills and tips were to help participants develop a personal finishing strategy. The course content was definitely not to make race winners. Perhaps this is a question of perception. In that when folks new to the race see the skills set that finishers have to deploy (all the way back to the celebrated lanterne rouge) and they think of this as just for the elites. 

Here we return to a thread which had been ongoing for almost as long as the Spine: 

New participants not knowing what is needed to know in order to maximise the potential to finish. And the relatively poor uptake (versus much higher rate of DNF in the Challenger and Full Spine) of the Official Spine Training sessions. Despite many, many, previous Spine Training Weekend participants advocating they would still be 'faffing at CP1' or the 'invaluable focus' the TW gave them for their Spine build up. 

Of course the Spine Training sessions will not guarantee you a finish, but what it certain is that participants who have attended have participated with greater confidence enjoyment and generally much further that they would have otherwise done so. Looking at it from another perspective, the Spine Training Sessions should be thought of as a planned investment in yourself, equal to that in kit and equipment.

The Official Spine TW's represent excellent value for money and an superb 'fast track' to Spine wisdom, shared by long-standing members of the Spine Team and experienced guest speakers, in an engaging, informative and inclusive environment. Where there's not such thing as a silly question. And new, returning and aspirant Spiners/Challengers are all welcome.

7) Respondents next Spine race
  • Return to MRT Challenger (5) - three returning to put the DNF to bed
  • Return to Challenger (4) - putting the DNF to bed 
  • Winter Full Spine (24) - most finishers now looking to step up to the full race
  • Summer Fusion (2) - long summer daylight and guaranteed idyllic weather (!)
  • Maybe (10) - Hopefully returning after a rest in January 2021
  • No (1) - Finished and done it.
9) Interest in Official Spine Training events
  • Yes (24) MRT Challenger & Challenger
We look forward to welcoming you to Open Group Official Spine Training or one-2-one bespoke Spine Skills days.


Stu Westfield BEng (Hons) FRGS
  • 10 years progression as in the field team member, team leader, control room manager of the Spine Safety Team. Spine Training events Coordinator.
  • 10 year Ranger Expeditions guided treks and hill skills training.
  • 6 years Ranger Ultras  trail running event organiser.
  • Former holder Peak District Boundary FKT
  • Spine Race Flare finisher
  • GS Stella cycling team
Part 2: Analysis of Full Spine Race questionnaire responses.

Ranger Ultras' trail running series offers an ideal preparation pathway for both aspirant and returning Spiners and Challengers. Many of the courses are in Pennine Way country and include mini-recce sections on the Pennine Way itself. As well as being excellent race days in their own right,

Including the new Ranger Ultras'