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Point made Times-style

I finally made it into the pages of The Times, just before Christmas in 2010, when a letter from a bureaucrat irritated me.

The story is told in clippings from the newspaper..

Leader, 15 December

Reader's letter 16 December

Reader's letter 18 December

My letter 20 December


Pennine Way mystery man

Back in 1973, I was foolish enough to set off to backpack the Pennine Way while wearing a pair of boots I had good reason to distrust.

After only four days and 70 miles, I retired at Gargrave, my feet raw and badly blistered.

I have never returned to the Pennine Way, but it continues to exert a pull on me, and one day, maybe...

I still retain very fond memories of a wild camp beside Crowden Great Brook on a magical summer evening, and another in an old quarry just before the White House pub, where I enjoyed a chicken-in-a-basket dinner.  (Remember chicken-in-a-basket?)

One of the most useful accounts of a successful solo backpacking completion of the walk appeared on Leeds University Union Hiking Club's website, but in 2010, I found it had disappeared.  Fortunately, I had downloaded the PDF documents on which it was presented, although they fail to identify the author.

These documents appear below - I hope that others will find them as interesting, entertaining and motivating as I do, and that the author will contact me so that I can properly credit him.

15 November 2011:  Thanks to Adam Connell and Stijn Vermeeren of Leeds University Hiking Club, the author has now been identified as Mark Anstiss.  Below left is Mark about to set off on the Pennine Way, possibly in 2006, and below right is his current pic on Facebook.

Pennine Way 1
Pennine Way 2
Pennine Way 3
Walking gear

Cattle catastrophes

Many walkers are nervous about encounters with cattle, and the occasional tragedy indicates that wariness can be wise.

One lady farmer told me: "Never take a dog with you, but always take a stick.  If a cow gets too close, just give it a good whack."

I have never had a problem with a bull - mainly because I try to steer well clear of them - but I have certainly seen an illustration of the effect of introducing a dog into a field of cows.

My wife and I had walked past a herd of perhaps 20 cows near Castleton, and they took little notice of us.  As we reached the field edge, however, a lady with a dog on a lead entered at the far side.

The cows began crowding her, and the situation looked very threatening - so much so that I went back into the field to brandish my stick and accompany the lady to the gate.  I was very, very pleased to leave that field.  

Dogs are domesticated wolves, and cattle instinctively regard them as predators.  If a walker with a dog is threatened by cattle, the advice is to release the dog from its lead.  The dog will be able to escape, and so will the walker.

I know from observation that it is also a mistake to try to herd cattle away from a walking party.  I have seen a walker attempt this, with frightening results.  The beasts picked up speed and ran in front of the group.  Had they gone off line, nothing would have stopped a herd of half-ton cows from trampling everything and everyone in their path.

I find that cows are generally content to steer clear of walkers, and take no interest in them, unless they perceive a threat to their calves.  Young beasts are often inquisitive, and will follow walkers, but they are easily deterred with a wave of a stick.  If cows are crowded round a stile, they will almost always edge away if a walker approaches confidently.

Do keep clear of a herd on the move, however.  We once sat down to have lunch next to a pond near Helmsley, when cows were released into the field.  They picked up speed as they headed for the water, and we picked up speed as we headed for the hedge. 

The National Farmers' Union says that walkers should be bold, and simply walk confidently, in which case a problem is unlikely to arise unless the cattle are startled.

Nikwax v dubbin

So many people have so many views on the relative merits of Nikwax and dubbin.  

"The man at the outdoor shop says Nikwax is useless and he always uses dubbin."

"Dubbin rots the stitching."

"Dubbin stops the leather breathing."

And so on.

As an experiment, when I acquired a new pair of Karrimor Coniston boots, I began treating the left one solely with Nikwax Leather Waterproofing Cream (as recommended by Karrimor) and the right one solely with Cherry Blossom dubbin.

I am told that modern dubbin bears little or no relation to the dubbin of old, with which we veterans used to treat our football boots.  This consisted, I believe, largely of rendered animal fat, whereas modern dubbin is wax-based.

I worked both products into the leather with my fingers, and found that the dubbin seemed to be absorbed much more easily. However, the dubbin residue was also very difficult to wash off skin, and it seems to act as a magnet to grit.

Although I did not aim to apply a specific amount of either product, each boot weighed about 5g more after application, which suggested that I was being fairly consistent.

Over a period of three months and several hundred miles (I walk two, three or four times a week, usually about ten miles and typically on moorland) there was little discernable difference between the boots in terms of appearance, softness or feel, and neither foot seemed to be hotter or sweatier than the other.

However, I have now abandoned the use of dubbin for two reasons.  

1 Although neither boot ever leaked, the dubbined boot appeared to absorb more water, as immediately after use in wet conditions, it weighed up to 30g more than the Nikwaxed boot, and took up to a day longer to dry at room temperature.

2 The bellows (the pliable strip that joins the tongue to the main part of the boot) began flaking quite seriously.

Sports Direct

The following is an email I sent to Karrimor, and copied to Sports Direct, on 1st October 2010.  The firm that actually has an obligation to me, as it was the vendor, is of course, Sports Direct, but as I don't feel much hope of making any progress with them, I thought I'd find out how much Karrimor cared about the way its retailers dealt with its products.  For the record, I have never heard of a walking boot seller refusing a refund on boots - either a local shop or a chain - that were returned in exactly the condition in which they were purchased, after reasonable testing in suitable conditions  proved them unsuitable. I am told that even TKMaxx refund with a smile in such circumstances. In this case, I even widened the scope by suggesting that the particular boots with which I had been supplied were not of merchantable quality, but to no avail. 
Dear Karrimor,

I am copying this letter to Sports Direct.

As a regular buyer of your boots - I keep two pairs of leather boots and two pairs of fabric ones available - I have purchased Coniston, Skye and Mount styles in the past two years alone.  I would willingly have bought  another pair of Coniston or Skye boots, if I could have found them in stock at a retailer.
This week however, I bought a pair of Orkney IV boots from my local Sports Direct in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, but after wearing them indoors for a couple of hours, my achilles tendon was being aggravated because of the profile and stiffness of the cuff on the left boot.
I returned them to the shop, where to my surprise, the manager politely but firmly refused to accept them for a refund on the grounds that in his opinion, there was no fault with them.  He said that if he did so, he would have to return them to you, and he offered me a gift voucher. 
My experience of walking many hundreds of miles a year in your products tells me that a boot that produces an effect of that nature has an inherent fault.
In any event, no reputable retailer of a specialised product such as a walking boot should adopt such an attitude, which inevitably reflects on consumer confidence in making a purchase decision in a particular brand.
In order to secure an acknowledgement of Sports Direct's obligation to me, I took the gift voucher under protest, while emphasising that I did not accept that the matter was closed, as the retailer was clearly trying to evade its obligations to me, having supplied an item that was not of merchantable quality.

Update: Eight days later, I received an email from Sports Direct, confirming that they never refund - a policy that makes it very unwise for anyone to buy serious walking footwear from them.


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