Women’s Montane Air Jacket

A torrential day in Norway

 

I have owned the Air Jacket from Montane for well over a year now. In that time I have used it for keeping dry on various outdoor adventures; from hillwalking in the Cairngorms of Scotland and trekking across Sweden and Norway, to walking my dog in the woodlands of Kent.

  

When I was planning my St. Olavsleden trek, I realised that I was in need of a more technical waterproof jacket than the one I already owned, as I would be outside all day everyday in the elements. I wanted a jacket that would be completely waterproof and windproof, as well as lightweight and packable enough to carry on my back for 30 days if it wasn’t needed.

 

Hiking in the Cairngorms in Scotand
Hiking in the Cairngorms in Scotand

 

About Montane and The Air Jacket

Montane are a UK brand who make very high quality outdoor clothing and equipment. Their Air Jacket (retailing at around £220) is constructed from PERTEX® Shield AP fabric which promises to deliver optimum breathability whilst still being completely waterproof. Weighing just 300g, it is half the weight of my Berghaus Arisdale waterproof jacket, yet it still feels surprisingly durable in comparison to other lightweight jackets on the market. The pockets are large enough to carry a standard bottle of water or a map inside and they have waterproof zips to keep their contents dry. There is also a handy breast pocket which is easy to access, especially if wearing a backpack with a waist belt. If you are interested in knowing about the more technical details of this jacket, then visit the Montane website.

 

Layering up in Norway

 

My Review of the Montane Air Jacket

Most importantly, the jacket achieved its main purpose kept me dry on my trek, without adding too much weight to my pack. I wore it in some truly torrential downpours in Sweden and Norway (pictured above) and it didn’t disappoint. My favourite feature of the jacket is the stiff but pliable wired peak and the adjustable hood. This was really useful for allowing it to be adjusted and shaped to my needs, allowing me to see better in a downpour. This was something my previous jacket lacked. It has a nice slim fit but this causes it to hug my hips and bum, so if you are bigger on bottom than on top like me, you may need a larger size than anticipated.

 

It’s condition a year on…

After owning the jacket for a year, I began to notice some discolouration in different areas of the jacket. At first, I thought that these were blueberry stains. However that would mean I got them in while sitting in a forest in Sweden. Even though my memory is terrible, I don’t think that these would have gone unnoticed or unremembered months after that trip.

On closer inspection. After comparing them with the actual blueberry stains on my rucksack, they just didn’t look the same. They were also not on areas of the jacket that would have likely come into contact with the forest floor. When I held the jacket up to the light, they looked more opaque than other parts of the jacket, which was interesting, considering how dark they appeared on the outside.

 

 

Excellent Customer Service

I contacted Montane to see if they thought there was a fault with the fabric. Or to see if they could shed any light on how to get rid of these unsightly marks. At first they thought these may be oil related marks. They gave me some recommendations on how to try cleaning the jacket again. When this didn’t work, they agreed to inspect the jacket. After sending it by Royal Mail, they got in touch to tell me that the fabric had developed a fault.

Even though I had owned the jacket for a whole year already, they offered to replace it free of charge. As this jacket is really expensive to replace, I am really grateful to them for doing so. The only downside was that they didn’t have any in-stock in ‘Montbretia Orange’. I was offered one in the ‘Blue Ridge’ colour way instead. Despite the fact that I adored my orange jacket, I wasn’t too bothered. Overall I was just really pleased that they had been so helpful. And that I could have a replacement jacket without unsightly marks.

 

Blue Ride Montane Air Jacket
My new Blue Ridge version

 

Update: A year on from my replacement jacket

(Jan 2019)

I’ve owned my replacement jacket for a whole year. In that time I am pleased to say it hasn’t developed any faults like before. I continue to wear it whenever rain is forecast and I have absolutely no complaints. I would recommend it, or an equivalent from Montane to anyone looking for a good waterproof jacket to invest in.

My local outdoor shop (and old employer) Simply Hike very kindly kitted me out with the Montane Air Jacket, after recommending it to me when I contacted them for advice on buying a jacket for my trek. Despite being gifted the jacket, all of my opinions are my own. They are not influenced in any way by the receipt of this gift.

Berghaus Supalite II GTX Walking Boots

Never trust a clean pair of hiking boots (in a review)

The Berghaus Supalite II GTX Walking Boots retail for £155 and are described as being durable, lightweight, waterproof and comfortable. I have owned them for 4 years now, using them almost every day. Read on to see how they have performed…

  

These were my first ever pair of proper hillwalking boots. When I bought them, I really wanted to invest in a good pair of boots. I had become a dog owner and was walking him everyday, spending lots of time in the outdoors again, wearing down all my high-street boots quickly as a result.

I was working for an outdoor shop at the time and had received lots of product training, learning about the benefits of having a pair of quality walking boots. I wanted to begin hiking on more challenging terrain and maybe even climb my first mountain. It was time to make the investment.

aerial view of hiking boots on forest floor

Brasher to Berghaus

After researching the boots we sold in store at work, and trying a few pairs on with advice from a friend, I decided that I wanted to buy some GTX Supalite II’s. At the time, the boot was produced by Brasher, which has since merged with Berghaus (which is why my boots pictured here are branded ‘Brasher’) – the boot has remained the same, but now carries the Berghaus branding.

My new walking boots needed to keep my feet warm, dry and not feel too heavy to walk in, as I planned to use them daily. I also needed boots that I could wear on my first visits to the mountains, so something comfy with ankle support and good grip was essential.

I chose these boots because they were waterproof, made from quality leather and have sturdy Vibram soles. I also liked the classic brown leather styling, preferring this to some of the multi-coloured and more modern/sporty looking boots available.

Brasher seemed to me, a really good company to buy from. They took a lot of pride in the production of their products. I was told that each boot passed through 200 pairs of hands before it reached the shop, with all the raw materials being carefully sourced and selected for quality.

A good investment for your feet

Although retailing at £155, they are expected to last around 5 years with correct care and average usage, making them an affordable investment.

I’ve had my Supalites for 4 years now and they feel like a second pair of skin. I’ve always used a pair of Superfeet insoles in them. These may have contributed to helping the boot stay in good condition, as they reduce wear on the insole and keep the boot more rigid.

In this time they have been on daily dog walks along pavements and forest paths, they have taken me up my first mountains in Italy, Wales and Scotland. I’ve also worn them on hikes in Sweden, Norway and Finland and they have always looked after my feet, keeping them dry and protected.

Fresh out of the box, back in 2013

I have tried to take care of the boots, making sure to clean and treat them regularly with suitable leather treatments such as Nikwax leather polishes and waxes. It’s is only now, after all this time, that the boots are in need of some restoration or replacing, as the grip is worn away heavily underneath.

Resole or replace

Ideally (in the interests of being more eco-friendly, saving money and retaining comfort) as well as because I’m interested in the seeing results; I would like to send the boots off to see if they can be re-soled. I recently contacted Berghaus to enquire about re-soling and they gave me a contact for somewhere that can potentially restore the boots. This is expected to cost about £50 if they inspect the boots and deem them suitable for resoling (ie. not too worn out that replacement soling would be impossible).

If the boots cannot be resoled, then I would definitely consider re-buying the now Berghaus branded version. I’ve worn a variety of other boots and shoes over the past 4 years from time to time, such as Meindl Bhutan’s, Meindl X-SO 30 Lady GTX’s and Alfa Walk Queens and I can honestly say that these have been my favourite in terms of comfort. Though they can be a little soft for carrying a heavy pack on rocky terrain – you might want something sturdier for this.

They are not totally comparable with all of these, as they are designed for different applications; but they are my go-to pair, my old faithfuls and I would definitely recommend them to all ladies who want a lightweight, comfortable hiking boot for day hiking in forests and hills.

 

Update on resoling – Jan 2019

I didn’t resole my boots in the end. I continued to wear them until they were beyond repair. So I bought a new pair of the same boots, which I am wearing in well! Like the last pair, they became second-skin comfortable really quickly and I didn’t have any problems with blisters or rubbing. I recently used my new ones to walk part of the South Downs Way and it is clear that a sturdier boot is probably needed for carrying 18 kilograms on your back. However for a lightweight hillwalking boot, I can’t recommend them enough.

Green Pilgrimage in Kent

Many of you will have heard of the Camino, but did you know that across Europe there is a vast network of other pilgrim routes? This network stretches from the far north to the far south, including the collection of pilgrim trails that meander across Sweden, Norway and Denmark. This network includes St. Olavsleden – the path I walked last summer.

Here in my home county of Kent, we have several trails running through the county. The start of the Via Francigena pilgrim trail which runs through France, Switzerland and Italy. The Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury and the trail that runs partially parallel to it, the North Downs Way.

St Olavsleden in Norway
St Olavsleden in Norway

The Green Pilgrimage Project

I was recently invited by Explore Kent to attend the launch of the Interreg Europe Green Pilgrimage Project, which is an EU funded initiative aiming to support the development of pilgrim trails across Europe.

Green Pilgrimage is an innovative project which will show how growth and development policies can economically exploit AND protect natural and cultural heritage. Key to this is a focus on the power of pilgrimage. It’s recognised as one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, with over 300 million pilgrims every year.

The week long launch programme included talks and activities exploring the development of pilgrim routes across Europe, with representatives of long distance pilgrim routes from countries such as the UK, Norway, Latvia, Sweden, Italy and Spain in attendance. As part of the event, I attended the Green Pilgrimage Conference at Canterbury Cathedral.

Learning from the Camino

The conference discussed established long distance pilgrim routes such as The Way of St James to Santiago de Compostela. Its development has been a huge success in Spain. Over 277,000 walkers (both religious and non-religious) visited the trail in 2016, from all over the world; a huge increase from less than 3000 in its first year in 1986. This influx of pilgrim walkers has had positive impact on local communities along the trail and has boosted the local economy.

It’s clear from the booming success of the Camino and the surge in growth of smaller trails, that the development of pilgrim routes across Europe can positively impact the areas around them. These benefits include the creation of jobs, the protection of natural spaces, historical places and heritage sites for future generations, and the preservation of local culture. 

Angeliqa and Leanne at Trondheim (Nidaros) Cathedral, St Olavsleden
Angeliqa and I outside the Trondheim (Nidaros) Cathedral at the end of St Olavsleden

Reconnecting with people and places

As well as the positive impact on the local area and community, they also have a profound impact on people who use them. It was said during the conference that many people ‘start as hikers, but finish as pilgrims’. This does not mean that you become religious (nor do you have to be religious to start). But that it is rare, impossible even, to hike a long distance pilgrim trail and not be internally changed.

Pilgrim walking can give you the perfect combination of solitude, physical challenge and immersion in nature to reflect on your self and your place in the world. Interactions between pilgrim hikers and the local community are one of the most important and special aspects of making a pilgrimage. Walking a pilgrim trails can lead to social and spiritual growth. Nurturing the relationship we have with people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures.

The connection we have with the natural world is becoming weaker. We are in a time where adults and children are spending less time outdoors than ever before. This makes it evermore important to preserve our natural spaces and our access to them. Especially in England where true wilderness already no longer exists. Before we lose the opportunity to reconnect altogether.

Green Pilgrimage is about influencing the behaviour and attitudes of millions of pilgrims to care for the environment and reconnect with the natural world – both while on pilgrimage and also when they return home.

Over a million pounds of EU funding has been dedicated to encouraging the expansion of pilgrim tourism in Europe. Led by the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this funding will be used to develop the pilgrim paths of Kent, so that the county can benefit from the rise in popularity of both secular and religious pilgrimage.

Pilgrim trails in Kent

The trails we have here in Kent receive only a fraction of the amount of visitors that the Camino does; the Green Pilgrimage project hopes to change this. It aims to persuade local organisations, church leaders and business owners to invest in pilgrim tourism. It aims to do this in a sustainable way, addressing the challenges highlighted from the success of the Camino. Challenges such as over commercialisation and stress on local infrastructure.

North Downs Way National Trail Detling
The North Downs Way, Kent

Many of the challenges are environmental, so a focus on sustainability is very important. Wherever possible, efforts should be made to make eco-friendly adjustments to the ways in which trails maintained. This also includes the places which serve hikers along these trails. Accommodation, restaurants and churches need to provide green food choices and sensitive waste management. Other important areas of consideration are eco-friendly transport and land conversation. The overall aim is to lessen the overall carbon footprint of pilgrim tourism.

Its vision is that Pilgrims leave a positive footprint on the earth, and that pilgrim places become models of care for the environment.

This conference has left me excited for the future development of our trails here in Kent. Hopefully this will lead to more people from all over the world coming to enjoy our beautiful countryside.

Sailing along St Olav’s Waterway

To become a pilgrim is at first, to become a stranger, and to find yourself in a strange place with other strangers. In doing so, everything becomes open. You open yourself to meet with and share with others, be that through conversation, eating together or sleeping in the same room. Being adaptable to the people you meet and your surroundings is at the very essence of the pilgrim journey. Becoming a pilgrim and making a journey into the unknown has its obstacles, but these are also shared. Helping others (and receiving help it seems) is a natural and integral part of making a pilgrimage.

Back in June, I embarked on a mini pilgrimage across land and sea along the St Olav Waterway – a new pilgrim route aims to link Finland with the existing pilgrim routes of Sweden and Norway. Along with a group of journalists, photographers and bloggers, I spent a few days test sailing a small section of the new trail – beginning in Turku in Finland and ending among the Åland Islands between Finland and Sweden.

 

silhouetted man at sunset in Kökar, Åland Islands

 

St Olav Waterway – A pilgrimage across the sea

 

My mini pilgrimage began in England, taking two trains to Gatwick Airport and then flying to Stockholm where I would meet my fellow pilgrim hiker and good friend Angeliqa. Together we travelled via sea to Turku in Finland with Viking Line overnight, sleeping onboard the ferry in a small cosy cabin. Arriving in Turku bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to begin our adventure.

We travelled by bus to Nagu, an island in the Turku Archipelago. Small ferries transported us from island to island until we arrived at the marina. Albanus, a 30 year old two-masted schooner, was a sight to behold waiting for us next to the quay and it was to be our home for the next few days. We slowly gathered onboard, introducing ourselves and exploring below the deck. To my surprise I found that it housed twenty-one small cabin beds, a kitchen, toilets and dining area. Next to Albanus in the harbour, was the more modest but just as beautiful sailboat ‘Tjutt Tjutt’, which we would also travel on during the week, giving us a chance to test both options for the route.

Living among thirty others onboard a ship brings some unique challenges to the pilgrim journey; the first of which involves food. Cooking for 30 people is a big task, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself washing potatoes on deck with two of my fellow pilgrim sailors not long after boarding. Over the next few days we would all play our part in making the ship run smoothly, helping to cook, clean and sail under the expert eyes of our head chef and sailing crew.

On this first night I was to sleep on land due to our group being larger than the available beds on board Albanus. This gave me a chance to experience the types of accommodation that might be available to pilgrims along the trail, with Albanus being one of the more packaged experiences of the trail, providing accommodation, transport and food. A small part of me was glad of a proper bed, due to the travel fatigue that was creeping up on me from the past two days, however I was eager to experience sleeping on a ship in the days ahead.

washing potatoes

man looking out to sea

 

A misty morning onboard Tjutt Tjutt

 

In the morning, I awoke to a thick fog outside the window, hiding the surrounding islands. We boarded Albanus for a typical nordic breakfast of porridge, jam, breads, cheeses and ham. After a reading from a Bishop that was travelling with us on board, we prepared to set sail, which found me leaving Albanus again to spend my first day on Tjutt Tjutt.

 

Sailing navigation

 

This was the longest sailing day from Nagu to Kökar, so we were relying mainly on wind to power the boat, using the engine sparingly when needed. Tjutt Tjutt has only a small enclosed area that a man can lay down in, so it was important to wrap up warm for the foggy morning on the water. We put on our life jackets and hats and set off into the mist – soon the boat was surrounded by greyness and Albanus appeared and disappeared like a ghost ship as it overtook us.

After a couple of hours, we stopped on the tiny islet of Alenskär to stretch our legs. On a map, this snippet of land was miniscule. I wandered around with a feeling of awe at the beautiful terrain and plant life on the island; juniper, cloudberry plants and cotton flowers, surrounded by endless lichens and mosses.

To be on this tiny island conjured feelings of wonder. How many people have stepped foot on it? I would love to say that there was no trace of human life on it, but I was shocked to discover a large piece of thin black plastic washed up on its beach. I balled it up and took it back on board Tjutt Tjutt with me. This highlighted a terrible reality for me, that even uninhabited remote areas of land such as this are not immune to being littered with our rubbish.

 

Alenskär Åland Finland

sailing the Tjutt Tjutt

 

Back on Tjutt Tjutt we ate a lunch of cold smoked salmon with a delicious potato salad and in the meantime, the fog began to lift. The islands came into view again, reorienting us, giving us back our sense of place. The sea turned a deep shade of blue and as the sun shone down, we passed our time talking with each other, helping to sail, making tea with honey and looking out for birds and moose on the islands.

 

sailing in the baltic sea Åland

 

In the late afternoon we arrived at Kökar and re-boarded Albanus for another delicious meal. Life on Albanus gives a sense of luxury to the pilgrim experience for sure! Over dinner we shared stories from the day with our fellow pilgrims who travelled on the bigger ship. Afterward we made an excursion – a small hike to visit the traditional pilgrim accommodation being built on the island, and to visit a church and museum – situated on one of the most picturesque spots I have ever seen. We learned the history of the island and I discovered that many churches here have beautiful ships hanging from their ceilings, each with their own story. This ship is said to represent a Turkish pirate ship that hijacked a merchant vessel sailed by an islander named Olle in the 1700’s. He crafted the ship himself and gave it to the church.

 

Boat inside the church on Kökar

compass rock Kökar

enjoying the sun set on the jetty, Kökar

 

Wandering back to the beach, I thought that it looked like a great evening for a swim. As I entered the ice cold water I managed to slip on a rock and injure my foot (which I now know fractured it in two places!) so I limped back to shore for some first aid and ate Kanelbullar in the sun with Angeliqa instead. As the sun began to set (at almost 11pm) a lovely man from the campsite shop next to the shore offered Angeliqa and I some bikes so we could ride back to the magnificent spot by the church to catch the sunset (perfect transport for two injured hikers).

We raced to the church and (gingerly) walked up to the viewpoint, mesmerised by the view. Stefan, a fellow pilgrim was already there, silhouetted against the skyline and stood in quiet contemplation. After sundown, being eaten alive by mosquitos, we raced back to the boat and crept back on board where everyone else was already asleep. The late sunset was messing with my sense of time, it felt like 6pm but it was almost midnight!

 

sunset on Kökar

Angeliqa riding a bike on Kökar

church on Kökar

 

Sailing from Kökar to Sottunga on Albanus

 

The next day I awoke in my cabin bed next to the kitchen, porridge already bubbling on the stove and the breakfast crew for that morning already up, dressed and preparing food for everyone. It was much colder on the boat then I imagined so I made a mental note to layer up more for my second night and arose bleary-eyed to join everyone at the breakfast table.

 

making dinner on board albanus

 

Today was a hiking day and although probably not very wise, I popped a painkiller, re-bandaged my foot and laced up my hiking boots, determined to not miss what would surely be a beautiful hike across the island. A very kind fellow pilgrim gave me her walking poles so that I could take some weight off it, but as I walked my foot surprisingly loosened up a little and walking became easier.

 

St Olav Waterways Pilgrim Hikers Kökar

Site of historic huts on Kökar

 

We walked along bright red granite road, over rocky terrain, through trees and along open fields. Learning along the way the history of the islands and the people that live here, and the influence of Russia, of war and how this has shaped life here. We discovered the remains of seal hunters huts – just a few stones in a circle on the ground could be seen amongst the grass.

Part of the way through the walk, we came across a Cidery, where we sampled some delicious gooseberry cider and chatted to the owners about the pilgrim path and life on the island, before continuing on our way.

 

cidery on Kökar

salmon dinner onboard albanus

 

Albanus had sailed without us around the island, to meet us at the end of our hike, which is what it will offer to pilgrims when the path opens. We were back on the boat by lunchtime (after a quick stop in a ‘Loppis’ or second hand shop by the water) ready to sail in the afternoon to Sottunga while we were eating.

It’s surprising how quickly you fall into a rhythm as a pilgrim, on sea as you do on foot. You walk, you eat, you sleep, you make time for encounters as they happen. Being on board a ship gives more time to get to know each other, as you are all moving at the same pace and the experience becomes a unified one which you all share in. You leave the ship to walk together, board the ship again to sail, eat and sleep together and so the rhythm continues.

After dinner, we took turns in small groups to use the sauna located near the harbour. Us ladies collected young birch branches (‘vihta’) to whip ourselves with in the sauna – a finnish tradition to stimulate circulation and revitalise the body. I’ve experienced Swedish sauna before – so am accustomed to the nakedness, but the birch whipping was a new experience! It was messy but certainly did its job (and smelt amazing).

 

young birch for the sauna

forest on sottunga

beautiful moss on sottunga

sunset Sottunga

 

In the evening a few of us went for a short hike through the forest to the coast. The path was incredibly beautiful at dusk, with light filtering softly through the trees and the sounds of night creatures awakening.

Walking through a particularly fairytale-esque part of the forest almost brought tears to my eyes. White moss was everywhere, the trees gnarled – romantically covered in lichens in an abundance that you just don’t find in my part of the world. I always feel a little sad when I visit somewhere so beautiful, knowing the moment wont last forever, and that I may never revisit the same place again in my lifetime. On reaching the coast, we sat for a few moments in silence to watch the sun over the water. A small sundog was visible, reflected in the water and in the distance you could hear the call of a seabird.

It was difficult to tear myself away from the view, but the promise of another beautiful walk back through the forest helped. As we arrived back at the ship, we heard sounds of singing in Swedish, laughter and the jovial sound of an accordion being played. It was a wonderful way to end the evening.

 

singing onboard albanus

 

Sottunga to Långnäs to Mariehamn – saying goodbye

 

In the morning we attended a short meeting in the church on Sottunga, learning about the history of this island before our walk across it. Much of the walk was along the trademark red granite roads of Åland, in beautiful sunshine, stopping along the way to to view a midsommer pole and a potential pilgrim accommodation on the island, complete with shop and hen houses.

We refreshed ourselves with an icecream from the shop – I chose a Finnish favourite of salty-sweet Lakris (Liquorice).

 

man gardening on sottunga

rowing out to albanus

 

When we reached the water again, we had the fun experience of rowing out to Albanus, who was waiting for us in deeper water off shore. After a hearty lunch of rice soup and bread, as much time as possible needed to be spent soaking in our last few hours of sailing before we all said goodbye.

At the beginning of this post I talked about what it is like to become a pilgrim. You become like a family in a short space of time, sharing in everything – meeting as strangers, parting as friends. It was sad to say goodbye.

Most of our fellow pilgrims disembarked at Långnäs before we continued on to Mariehamn. The remaining few of us on board felt the emptiness for the remainder of the journey as the trip was drawing to a close. We landed at Mariehamn in the evening and wandered a little in the city together, resting in a warm pub for a few hours before our last night sleeping on board Albanus in the harbour.

 

sailor onboard albanus

sailing to mariehamn on albanus

albanus shed

 

Pilgrim Sailing vs Pilgrim Hiking

 

Having spent thirty days along a pilgrim trail last summer, I was unsure of how a pilgrimage that was partially via boat would alter the pilgrim experience. Especially when many of us think of pilgrim trails as long, possibly arduous walks, not relaxing moments on board beautiful ships. It is important to remember that this experience was only a taster of the full route and we experienced just a few travel options from a test perspective, but the key things I remember from walking a pilgrim trail were still there.

Most importantly, the meetings with strangers. These meetings are less fleeting than those along a walking trail, due to the nature of sailing together as a group on a boat – which, for someone who hates saying goodbye, is a good thing. The notion of helping each other and receiving help was present still, in the lending of walking poles, cooking each other dinner and helping with other tasks on board the ship.

Another thing that St Olav Waterway offers due to parts being by boat, was that the sailing enabled you to rest while still making progress and still journeying. Spending time with others but still having room for contemplation, was good for the body and the mind. This aspect made me think back to when I walked St. Olavsleden last year and I hurt my foot, so had to skip some sections by taking the bus.

At the time you feel like that’s cheating, that you’re not completing the trail and that you’re a failure in some way. When actually that isn’t the case at all. This highlighted for me that it is about the experience as a whole – you cannot single out the act of walking it all as the thing that makes it complete. And, if it wasn’t for my bad foot, I wouldn’t have experienced as much of the kindness that I did along the trail. It’s the human interaction that transforms the experience from a hike to a pilgrimage. Walking in solitude, walking together, sailing, cycling, sleeping in a tent every night, having a warm bed – there is no right way.

 

man playing accordion on boat

 

St Olav Waterway FAQ’s

 

When does the St Olav Waterway trail open?

The St Olav Waterway trail is due to open officially on the 24th of May 2019. You can hike it now but information about the trail is limited and more work is currently underway along the route to make it ready.

How long is St Olav Waterway?

The full St Olav Waterway route will take you from Turku in Finland, through the Åland Archipelago and over to Hudiksvall in Sweden (625km) where you will be able to connect with other pilgrim routes to Trondheim in Norway (1200km).

What modes of transport can be used along the St Olav Waterway trail?

You can hike the journey and use ferries to cross between islands. You can also cycle, kayak or take one of the beautiful ships discussed in this post to make the crossings between islands. Although named St Olav Waterway, there will still be plenty of walking or cycling along the way.

 

St Olav Waterways Pilgrim Hikers Kökar

 

Do I have to be religious to travel along St Olav Waterway?

‘A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance’ according to the reliable sources that inform wikipedia. I have talked with many about this and the general consensus is that you do not have to be religious to use a pilgrim route.

People start walking for different reasons; some to get some distance from every day life, to escape life, to challenge themselves, to learn something or just to experience the world from a different perspective. These are all perfectly okay reasons to start along a pilgrim trail. You don’t even need a reason to start, but when you finish, you will have developed yourself in some way, which can only be a good thing. This said, the framework around pilgrim trails is usually connected with faith and religion. You will probably encounter people of faith, religious history and places of worship. There is a lot to be gained from respecting and embracing all that the trail gives you.

The best quote I have heard on this subject is that ‘people start as hikers but finish as pilgrims’ and in short, this sums up my experience of when I hiked my first pilgrim trail exactly. This does not mean that I became religious, but it does mean that the trail was more than just a walk for me. It changed me. It gave me space reflect and taught me much in the process – about the world, about others and about myself. Things that I didn’t expect.

Where can I find out more about St Olav Waterway?

Visit the St Olav Waterway website st-olav.com and use the google translate browser extension if the site is unavailable in your preferred language. Also, feel free to ask me any questions using the comments box below and I will do my best to help you! You can also keep up to date with developments on the St Olav Waterway Facebook Page, Twitter and Instagram!

Thanks for reading and let me know if you plan to hike and sail St Olav Waterway!

Kayaking from Limehouse to Crate Brewery, London

London probably isn’t the first kayaking destination that comes to mind when you fancy a paddle, but luckily for those of us who live or work in the city, you can still find outdoor adventure even in the midst of skyscrapers.

Last year for Steve’s birthday, I booked a surprise kayak adventure in London with Secret Adventures, which would end with pizza on a boat at the Crate Brewery. I met Steve at Limehouse station where he was completely unaware of what awaited him when he got there (proof that you can rock up and kayak straight from work – no excuses!).

After a quick briefing, we walked down to the water, jumped into our two person kayaks and began our 6km paddle along London’s oldest canal. Along the journey we craned our necks to take in the skyscraper skyline and the lights of the city began to twinkle to life. It was lovely to experience a rare viewpoint of the city and catch glimpses of its seemingly nonexistent wildlife. Swans, ducks and moorhens a plenty swam tranquilly along the canal.

Occasionally we found ourselves almost alone as people paddled at their own speed along the canal and found peace on the water, re-grouping at points along the way. The most fun part was piling into a lock together and rising as it filled with water.

We held on to each others kayaks for stability as the water swished around us before we were released to continue on our way. Upon reaching Crate Brewery, the sun was setting and we promptly jumped out of the kayaks with an audience of people drinking beer at wooden tables by the water. How’s that for arrival in style?

The adventure ended with us all boarding a small boat next to the brewery where we were served freshly baked pizzas (with amazing flavour combinations – mango chutney and daal on pizza? SO GOOD) and drank cider as the night drew in.

I had lugged a large homemade chocolate chip birthday cake all the way from Kent with me, which arrived safely thanks to the Secret Adventures/Moo Canoes team. We shared it with our fellow adventurers after a cheerful round of ‘Happy Birthday’, complete with backing music thanks to the Crate Brewery bar staff.

Afterwards we took the long ride home by train to Kent, feeling full and fulfilled after a weekday evening well spent. Adventure isn’t just for the weekend!

Read about other adventures with Secret Adventures here.

St. Olavsleden Interview with Hannah Outside

Last month the lovely Hannah from Hannah Outside, interviewed me for her Women Outdoors series about my hike along St. Olav’s Path through Sweden and Norway. I really enjoyed reminiscing about the hike and digging out all my photographs from the trip, not to mention I was really flattered to be featured alongside some extremely admirable women in the series.

She asked me about planning the trip, what I took with me in terms of equipment, how much money we budgeted daily, how safe it felt to hike across the two countries, as well as giving an overview of the history of Saint Olav and the trail.

You can read the full interview here alongside some other brilliant Women Outdoors interviews.

 

 

Image of the article on Hannah Outside

Foraging and Wild Food Cooking with Carol Hunt

This weekend I combined my love of being outdoors with my love of food and cooking. I signed up for a day course introduction to foraging and wild cooking. I’ve wanted to do this for awhile, as i’ve become increasingly interested in growing my own food and making use of food found in nature.

During my hike across Scandinavia, I noticed an abundance of edible berries. There were wild blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and lingonberries growing along the trail. The locals make good use of all of these in everyday cooking. I became aware that many of the meals I had in Sweden and Norway included foraged foods. My favourites including lingonberry and chanterelle mushrooms, which I had on several occasions. These foods would be really expensive to buy from a supermarket and a real luxury. I found myself wishing that all of these things could be found so readily in the woodlands back home. Whilst i’m unlikely to come across a wild lingonberry in England, I am aware that there are foods to be found (and more than just the trusty blackberry).

Image looking up at the sky through woodland trees

Booking a Foraging Course

So, I finally decided to take a positive step forward in learning about what we have here in our forests. I decided to book onto an introductory course to learn about foraging for wild foods. I searched online and surprisingly, there were a lot of courses to choose from. I booked through Meetup onto the ‘Foraging and Wild Food Cooking’ course with Carol Hunt & Natural Pathways.

I’ve done a little foraging over the past couple of years, just things like sloes, rosehip, blackberry (of course) and apples, but have wanted to learn more. I’m trying to shift my food consumption habits to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. Learning about the diverse, free, wild foods out there is only a good thing for that. I’m becoming frustrated with supermarket packaging, and the wastage and damage caused by the commercial nature of how we get our food today.

On the Day

The day started by meeting the group in a beautiful woodland that i’ve never been to before, about a 35 minute drive from my house. We spoke a little about why we were interested in foraging and Carol answered some of our questions. Next she gave us an introduction into some of the do’s and don’t of gathering wild foods. This included recognising areas to avoid and the limitations of the law.

Image of mushrooms being shown to a group of people

We walked off together into the woods, looking for fungi and interesting plants to discuss. She identified any we were curious about and showed us some edible plants she could find. She gave us an idea of the ways in which each can be prepared. She also encouraged us to smell and taste the plants, using as many senses as possible to develop our ‘food memories’. This was so that we could better assess these for ourselves in the future, if we found them whilst on a foray.

Know your Mushrooms

Foraging edible mushrooms is a complicated business. You really should study in depth before you even think about eating a foraged mushroom. Carol has over ten years of experience but even she is not confident about eating every edible mushroom out there. As she taught us, it is so easy to mistake a poisonous mushroom for one you can eat. We didn’t gather any mushrooms, the edible ones were too old, though we did gather chestnuts to take back and roast on the fire.

Image of a basket carrying foraged chestnuts and a pinecone

At the end of our walk, we headed back to camp to try some baked pastry goods that Carol had brought with her. Ingredients included Hogweed Seed, Chestnut, Acorn, Apple, Rose hip, Sloes and Burdock root. We also had a little tipple of Nocino (Walnut Brandy) and Sloe Gin.

Wild Cooking

Next we had a go at making Carols vegan burgers made from Chickpeas, chestnuts, re-hydrated acorn meal, hogweed seeds, thyme and onion. We also made a Burdock root stir fry using chilli, garlic, ginger, burdock root, oyster mushrooms, soy sauce, chestnuts and horse radish leaf. The bulk of ingredients foraged with a few larder staples. This opened my eyes to how we can supplement our diets with free found foods. Even if it’s just a seed to add a little intrigue and flavour. Both were delicious.

Image of outdoor cooking of a stirfry with wild foods

Books are your friend

Carol and Hannah provided us with some recipes to take home. They also recommended some good books to study from. If you have an interest in learning how to forage, Carol recommends using and comparing several books, rather than relying on one for information. Buy up-to-date copies of the books, because the information is changeable. It can also become diluted as time goes by. Notable authors include Roger Philips, Richard Maybe and Micheal Jordan.

I learnt so much from the day that I didn’t expect. I can now appreciate thousands of years of accumulated knowledge available and think of food and medicine more as one. Recognising the way in which foods affect our body and can work with and against modern medicines. Plants can used as both food and remedy.

Image of mushrooms growing on a mossy tree

This was a very simple introduction, so i’m no expert yet. If you have an interest in learning how to forage, I recommend an introduction like this. This way you get to observe the plants where they grow. You get to smell, taste and touch them, and put them into context by learning how to use them in a dish. I’m looking forward to getting some books, spending more time out in nature, looking for and learning about plants. I hope that i’ll become confident enough to find, identify and use wild foods in my cooking.

Hiking St.Olavsleden : Sundsvall/Selanger to Matfors 

Beginning our journey

This morning (19/08) we left the vandrahem after a typically swedish breakfast of boiled eggs and prawn caviar, making our way to Selånger to begin our hike. Our packs were heavy and our spirits high as we reached the the local church, where we had been invited to meet pastor Helene and her colleagues, before starting our pilgrimage.

We were welcomed warmly and were showed around the grounds of the church while Helene told us its history. We then received our first stamp in our pilgrim passports officially marking the beginning of our pilgrimage. Helene walked with us for our first few steps, helping us begin our walk along St. Olavsleden in a joyful and ceremonious way.

Sweden – land of cake

About two kilometres in, the heavens opened. So when we came across a farmhouse with a sign for an outdoor cafe, we took the opportunity to have a break from the rain under a gazebo.

Unfortunately the outdoor cafè itself was closed, dashing our hopes of a warm drink. However, out of the farmhouse came 15 year old Selina, who said she would give us coffee and cake anyway. After some delicious cookies and a farm yard tour from Selena, we said our goodbyes and headed back into the downpour.

It wasn’t long before we were stopped by a car driving past. It was Tommy, a man who regularly offers free Fika (a Swedish cake and tea break) to passing pilgrims. He said he had some cake for us to have when we reached his house along the way. Two offers of cake breaks in two kilometres – this is my kind of place! We eventually reached a house with a sign outside and knew we’d arrived at his house.

He invited us in to his home, where we had tea and sandwiches with him and his wife. A little later, two other pilgrims – Norwegian sisters, arrived and joined us for fika. One of them would become Pilgrim 100 to pass this year so Tommy celebrated by handing her a sign he had made. I then discovered that I am number 99 – and only the 3rd from the UK to pass this year. We sat together and chatted for awhile before continuing on to Matfors.

Wrong turns

We eventually reached Matfors, extremely tired after taking a wrong turn and having to double back on ourselves. Our host for the night Rania (who lives next to the trail) came to find us in her campervan and took us back to her home.

Angeliqa and Rania were acquainted through social media. So when Rania learned that we would be walking past her home, she offered to have us stay with her for the night. She and Andreas cooked us dinner while we cuddled with the 8 day old kittens living in her bedroom. At dinner we made plans for the next two days where Rania would be hiking with us.

Kindness of strangers

Only a day in, I am already overwhelmed by the warm welcome we have received from everyone have met along the trail so far. This journey is by far the most challenging thing I have ever decided to do, so it is so nice to know that there are people here who want to support you along the way.

Hiking St.Olavsleden : England to Sundsvall

Today, Angeliqa and I finally arrived in Sundsvall ready to begin our 564km hike from Sweden to Norway along the St. Olav’s Way. It feels especially good because today has been such a long and exhausting day with numerous things going wrong.

Norwegian Air would not check in my bag at 5.47am this morning because I was 2 minutes too late, despite the fact this was due to a long queue with only 2 people on the desk. My only option was to purchase another ticket, board a later flight, and rebook the train tickets from Stockholm. This flight was then delayed by 2 hours and I almost missed the train connection from Stockholm. Then, I arrived on the train to find my seat had been double booked and I had nowhere to sit.

So after all of this stress and anxiety, running on under 4 hours sleep, I am finally here and in bed at Gaffelbyns Vandrahem, ready to wake up early and start walking.

The past few weeks have gone by so fast and I’ve been overwhelmed by preparations for the trip alongside everyday life – it feels so strange to be finally here. I was so preoccupied with all the bad stuff today it took me a while to settle on the train journey, but the sights of the beautiful forests, lakes and little red houses of Sweden were a good antidote, as well as having a good catch up with Angeliqa who I haven’t seen for months.

Once we arrived at Sundsvall, we walked to a supermarket and bought all of the essentials for TacoTorsdag! Thursday’s version of Tacofredag (Taco Friday) – a very Swedish tradition. We then walked to our accommodation to cook and lay out plans for tomorrow.

I’m looking forward to seeing Sundsvall with a fresh head tomorrow and taking in all the sights of this pretty seaside city as we make our way to the start of our pilgrimage in Selånger, when we will then trek 16km to Matfors.

 

Hiking from Sweden to Norway along St. Olav’s Trail

Image of Leanne Downs Hiking in the Scottish Mountains

This morning I received my flight confirmation. It now feels real – I am going to be spending most of August and September hiking from the west coast of Sweden to the east coast of Norway! Anyone who knows me will appreciate how much of a dream come true this is for me, to be spending a month in Scandinavia. This is the place that has captured my imagination for most of my teenage and adult life so far. Now I will be seeing it the best possible way; slow paced immersion via walking along St Olav’s Path.

On the 18th August I will fly to Stockholm and meet my lovely friend Angeliqa. Then we will travel to Sundsvall ready to begin our walk at the start of the trail in Selanger on August 19th.

We will be walking for 28 days across the country, over the Swedish/Norwegian border into Norway where we will finish in the middle of September in Trondheim. A 564km coast to coast hike, carrying almost everything we need on our backs. The plan is to camp most nights, but we have also arranged some pilgrim accommodation along the way. Some kind people along the trail have also offered us a place to sleep in their garden or home during our walk.

I’ve been dreaming about this for months now, waiting to find out for sure that it was really going to happen. Dreaming of pine forests, mountains, lakes and little red wooden houses (and lots of elk and reindeer!). I almost feel the need to keep pinching myself now that it has all finally fallen into place.

St Olavsleden and some of our hosts along the trail are very kindly helping to support us on our walk, which has made it all the more possible. The plan is for me and Angeliqa to keep a daily diary while hiking along the way and produce content to help promote the trail to a wider audience. The trail is currently very newly completed, with only 150-300 people making the journey each year – mostly Swedish and Norwegian nationals. Only a handful of hikers from the UK have walked the trail so far, but it has aspirations to become to nordic version of the Camino. A trail which attracts thousands of walkers every year from all over the world.

I now have the overpackers worst nightmare of packing my rucksack with a very Swedish mantra in mind; ‘Lagom’ – which means ‘just enough’. The lighter the pack, the more enjoyment possible out on the trail. It’s a hard task when you’re a photographer and your camera gear weighs almost half your recommended pack weight. It means no room for luxuries and little room for necessities. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

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Blean Woods: New Years Day Walk

Leanne Downs and Magnus the Samoyed in a Bushcraft Shelter, Blean Woods

On new years day, Steve and I visited Blean Woods near Canterbury for a chilly winter walk with Magnus. The perfect start to the new year!

Afterwards we went to the Blean Tavern nearby, with a very muddy dog in tow, and had a delicious pub lunch. The food (and service) here is amazing if you’re ever in the area. The menu has an amazing mix of pub favourites, such as fish or steak with chips, as well as the most beautifully presented and authentic Japanese food such as katsu curry.

Samoyed on some logs in a forest

Leanne Downs and Stephen Meadows

Postcards : France Road Trip

In September, we travelled to the south of France for a weeks holiday in the sun to celebrate Steve’s mum’s 50th birthday. We drove down in the Capri which took 4 days worth of driving in total to get there and back, staying in Dijon on the way there and Reims on the way back. It was my first time driving outside of the UK and my first real experience of driving the Capri, after Steve finally gave in to letting me drive.

It was a lovely week and we stayed in a beautiful villa a little outside of Nice. I never actually ventured to Nice itself which in hindsight I regret slightly but we did visit some cute villages and towns around, as well as take a hiking trip to the Parc Du Mercantour and to a sandy beach near Cannes.

I’m not normally much of a beach or pool holiday person but it was nice to relax in the warmth and eat lots of barbecue food every night with no other commitments. I’d been through a bit of a stressful time before the holiday and felt at quite a low point in the couple of months before so it was just nice to unwind before going home and back to the third week of my new job.

I just wanted to post a few photos from the trip, so they don’t forever dwell in the depths of my hardrive.

Doorway in Nice
Dog in Nice, France
couple in Nice, France
Girl wearing a Fjallraven Kanken in France
Leanne and Steve in France
Nice, France
View in Nice France French Window   Maritime Alps France  Stephen in France   French Market
French Town    BBQ at the villa  BBQ Food
Ford Capri in Cannes, France
Cannes Sunset
Parc Du Mercantour
Dover Cliffs