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Eating your own dog food on the Slow Ways

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Darren is beaten by Moretonhamstead to Exeter, but what better way to test the goods?

The initial plan was to walk from Moretonhamstead to Exeter, staying overnight on the route. Little did we know how ambitious this was!

We should have taken it as a warning when the Dart bus from Exeter bus station didn’t show up, but instead we adjusted our plans and decided to walk out from Exeter. It was going to be further to our overnight stop and we’d wasted about 45 minutes waiting for the bus. So at about 3.30 we set off to walk the 20km Slow Way Morexe three in the reverse direction from Exeter. It was November so we knew light might be an issue and we wanted to get started.

I’d checked the reviews and compared the four route options and downloaded Morexe three to my phone; this was the one with the best reviews and our accommodation on the way. The forecast was good and the rain radar showed no sign of rain. We set off.

And then stopped. I couldn’t upload the gpx file for this route to the OS app as it simply said “Sorry, something went wrong”. Fortunately, the Komoot app accepted it and we could get on our way. I have a paid account with OS which would provide maps when there wasn’t an internet connection but I didn’t have the premium Komoot account.

On again, and we headed across the river Exe, through the outskirts of Exeter and out towards the fringes on Dartmoor. Worryingly the sun was already low in the sky. It was quite a hilly route and mostly uphill on this direction. We were walking on mostly quiet country roads rather than footpaths to begin with and high hedgerows on either side meant the views were limited.

We made good progress but after about 8km it was now getting pretty dark.

We had a break on top of the hills looking down over Exeter and I thought I’d double-check our progress on the Slow Ways website on my phone. To my horror it plotted us to be directly on Morexe four, a route significantly to the south.

I quick improvised a course to get us back on track and we headed on the back lanes to the north.

Within about an hour we were back on the correct Slow Way but it was completely dark and the ground was muddy. With all the phone use and navigation my phone charge was low but I felt confident to carry on. We were becoming accustomed to walking along the roads in the dark, well lit by the moonlight and accompanied by the hoot of distant owls.

We headed on the road past Church of St John the Baptist by Holcombe Burnell and started heading down a rapidly deteriorating track. It was very dark and pretty soon my walking companion fell over and cut their knee. I hadn’t packed our first aid kit. We only had one head torch between us too! After a rest we carried on down the track into the woods with the one headtorch between us. It was OK – it was pretty bright!

We crossed some stiles and then got to a spot in the woods with a three-way fingerpost. The sound of rushing water nearby was quite disconcerting; it was very muddy. I checked the Slow Ways website to find our route but there was now no longer any mobile signal. We started down a footpath but pretty soon we had to give up as it felt like the footpath had become a river. Even with the headtorch we couldn’t see the way marked ahead. We tried to find another footpath higher up that showed on the OS app but couldn’t find a way through the hedgerows in the dark. We ended up standing in the middle of a field trying to find our way out in the dark. The compass on my phone wasn’t reliably showing the right direction either. I felt disorientated and my companion was starting to despair. They were wondering if their long-held fear that we’d one day end up sleeping in a hedge was about to come true!

It took a few minutes to compose ourselves and then follow a hedgerow back down to the original fingerpost.

It was quite a relief to be back at a point we recognised. It was still only 7.30 so we sat down to make a plan. Fortunately it wasn’t raining and suprisingly mild for early November. We decided that without a compass and good light we weren’t going to make it through this section. We decided to abort this attempt and get a taxi back to Exeter.

We walked back up the track past the spot where my companion hurt their leg and were glad to see the church ahead, and at that point the internet returned and I phoned for a taxi. After only a 15-minute wait we were in the car and within 30 minutes safely wrapped up in our hotel room in Exeter. Although who knows what the hotel staff thought about the amount of mud on our boots!

With hindsight I realised that we might have stood more of a chance if we’d packed:

  • a first aid kit
  • a compass and possibly a paper map
  • one head torch per person

and made sure to:

  • always have an escape plan so that we knew how easy it would be to get out of the situation, and quickly
  • and have thought about the dark/visibility and reconsidered walking Slow Ways on footpaths or woods in the night time

Also there are a couple of issues that I need to fix with the Slow Ways website. I need to:

  • show the route option number on the popups and allow a route to be downloaded from there
  • speak to OS about why some of our gpx files don’t import into their site, or find a different platform which will import all gpx files
  • add a scale bar and the ability to add latitude and longitude and grid references to the search
  • take an iPhone with us so we can use the Slow Ways iOS app which works offline, and expedite the Slow Ways Android app

So, despite having walked over 40 Slow Ways and 375km there are still so many things to learn.

We’ll be back.

(Puzzled where the dog food fitted in? Thankfully it’s a metaphor!)

Walking for River: a journey from Ipswich to Bristol

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Walking the route of the air ambulance, using maps from charity shops

Three years on from the premature birth of her grandson, River, and his subsequent transferral from Ipswich to Bristol in the Children’s Air Ambulance, Annie embarked on the same journey by foot to raise money for the charities that helped her family.

What inspired you to walk from Bristol to Ipswich?

My story began three years ago when my grandson River was born ten weeks early in Ipswich Hospital. River was cared for in Ipswich for a few weeks until he was well enough to be transferred to St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol. He was able to make that journey in less than an hour thanks to the Children’s Air Ambulance.

During this stressful time, my son and I came up with a plan to fundraise for the Children’s Air Ambulance to say thank you, but also to distract us from the stress of the situation.

We also helped a charity called Cots for Tots in Bristol who provide accommodation near the hospital for the parents of premature and sick babies and children. Also for Bliss UK which campaigns for better care provision and research into causes of premature birth.

River’s quick journey from Ipswich to Bristol inspired me to take the same journey on foot and that’s how the Long Walk Home came to be. My plan to set off in April 2020 had to be postponed until April this year (2022), but it has meant I could practice lots, learn to read maps, plan a route and give up smoking!

This is the Slow Ways route for Ipswich to Bristol – a long old way on foot, or an hour in a helicopter! Annie’s route went a little further south

What were some of your favourite parts of the journey?

I loved the whole thing! Every day I found myself somewhere new, until the last day when I walked from Bath to Bristol which I had already done in a practice. The route in my head after lots of tweaking was as follows:

Ipswich – Sudbury – Braintree – Thaxted – Saffron Walden – Buntingford – Harpenden – Northall (Dunstable Downs) – Aylesbury – Chadlington – Chipping Norton – Stow on the Wold – Stowell Park – Tetbury – Bath – Bristol

It was more luck than judgement that I managed to walk across some of the most lovely countryside I have seen outside my native Somerset. I loved Thaxted, a beautiful Suffolk village, and the stunning view from the top of the Dunstable Downs, and the long Cotswold Way towards Bath taking in the old battle grounds of Landsdown. My favourite church was at Edlesborough and the best pub was The White Horse at Edwardstowe.

I should add that the vast amount of practice walks I have done in Somerset have revealed my life-long home to be more beautiful than I could otherwise have imagined. Suffolk is a close second.

You mostly used old second-hand printed maps that you found in charity shops?

I collected all the maps I needed. Mostly Ordnance Survey maps. I cut out the sections I needed and used highlighter pens to plot my route. It didn’t matter that some of the maps were old, as I didn’t need to look at main roads. The footpaths marked still existed in nearly all cases. I did make mistakes but I was always able to correct them. Explorer maps, the 1:25,000 scale, are the best. On my wall at home I have three very old maps showing my entire route.

Where did you stay along the way? Who did you stay with?

My overnight stays were arranged and rearranged with the help of my friendship group. Mostly I stayed with friends of friends, one very old friend of mine, and all the rest were strangers that I met through local Facebook groups. Every night was comfortable and relaxed, with a hearty meal, a bath or shower and a good night’s sleep in a comfy bed.

I stayed in two very grand houses, other more modest ones and one night in a camper van. In Bath, I stayed in a house that had been a safe haven for suffragettes after their hunger strikes! In Tetbury I was accommodated free by a local hotel after having dinner with the mayor and her husband there.

Any interesting or serendipitous encounters?

Yes! On day two staying in Sudbury I stayed with a morris dancer who happened to know another morris dancer due to put me up in Braintree! He also knew the lady who had given me lunch earlier in the day.

I found the memorial stone to a man called Michael Beard. Years ago when I was a nurse in the Taunton hospital I nursed this very man!

I visited many graveyards and churches; there was one in Aylesbury where I found the memorial stone to a man called Michael Beard, husband of Jenny. Now, years ago when I was a nurse in the Taunton hospital I nursed this very man! I know it’s the same person because he came into hospital, with no ID, having had a stroke. He kept trying to say the name of a man, who I found and messaged on Facebook. It was a friend of his in the Channel Islands who informed him of his wife’s address in Aylesbury. It’s a long story this one, but what are the chances of me finding myself in front of his tomb while eating my lunch 10 years later?

In Saffron Walden the lady I stayed with told me she had worked with Kaye Webb, founder of the Children’s Puffin Club from the 60s onwards. I had just listened to a documentary about her, as I was in the Puffin Club as a child. The two of us hit it off straight away with a shared love of children’s literature. These were the main serendipitous encounters.

Wait, one more! In Edlesborough I stopped to chat to a couple out walking, and the woman commented on my Bliss UK t-shirt. She turned out to be a retired special care baby nurse! They photographed my flyer and I later received a very generous donation from them.

Have you always enjoyed walking?

Oh yes! I enjoy walking to the point where if I can walk instead of drive I always will! It has been truly life-changing to realise how far I can get under my own steam.

What advice would you give to other people wanting to walk long distances?

Firstly, trust yourself. Your ability to travel and find your way will always be better than you think. If you struggle with technology then don’t bother with it; learn to read a compass instead. If you need shelter try a church. Walking by yourself is very peaceful, with the added bonus of being able to make your own decisions and your own mistakes.

Have you walked any Slow Ways?

I have not yet planned a walk using Slow Ways, but I really want to. I think I will always prefer using a paper map. I love the concept of Slow Ways, I plan to do more travelling this way.

Thank you Annie, and well done!

If you too prefer paper maps to downloading gpx files and navigating with a device, you are not alone! You can print out maps of any Slow Way route on the site by clicking on ‘More options’ under the map of the route, and then ‘Print via Inkatlas’. There’s a video guide to printing a map here. Or if you have an OS map you can draw the route onto it with a highlighter.

Explore Leicester on a guided Slow Ways walk

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As part of our autumn swarm, our volunteers Kelly Smith and Lynn Jackson will be leading Slow Ways walks to the Guildhall in Leicester on Nov 12th – join us!

Want to get involved in the Slow Ways swarm but don’t fancy walking alone? Come along to a led Slow Ways walk, meet new people, discover new pathways, and help verify routes in Leicestershire! All led walks are free to attend.

Syston to Leicester: walk led by Kelly on the Go

Join Smith on a seven-mile walk from Syston to Leicester. This route passes through expansive lakes, wildlife-rich nature reserves and the river Soar before ending in Leicester.

Narborough to Leicester: walk led by Lynn Jackson 

Join Lynn on an eight-mile walk from Narborough and Leicester. This route will take in open green spaces and stretches of the Grand Union canal before ending in Leicester.

Both walks will end at the Guildhall where you will be welcomed by the Slow Ways team, have the chance meet other walkers and enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee. You can stay on and join us for dinner too!

Slow Ways Leicester get-together and celebratory dinner

Join us for a special get-together in Leicester on Saturday 12th November, followed by a dinner in celebration of our collective achievements over the year! Or if you’re not anywhere near Leicester there’s more on the Slow Ways National Swarm here.

What is a proper bloke?

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Darren joined The Proper Blokes Club for an evening walk through London, and learned about their walks for mental health

Last week I went along to visit The Proper Blokes Club for a lovely walk from HMS Belfast near London Bridge along the Thames and through the regenerated wharfs to Surrey Quays.

A friend of mine asked me what a ‘proper bloke’ is these days, so here’s what I’d like to tell him!

The Proper Blokes Club is a charitable organisation set up during the July of lockdown.

It’s a walking meet-up group where men from all backgrounds meet up to walk and chat for mental health; it’s that simple!

Scott Oughton-Johnson set the group up on Facebook in 2020 and it has grown organically since then, picking up some nice media coverage along the way: The Guardian, Apple Podcasts, and Positive News.

Where are the walks

There are now six weekly regional walks in London and a seventh on a Sunday, with about 12-15 men joining each group each week. You can join a walk in Sutton, Southwark, Woolwich, Finchley, Wallington and Greenwich, with more walks being added all the time.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, or even if I had anything to add. I’d had a good day and was feeling good and wasn’t sure if I’d want to open up to a group of strangers.

Last Thursday Slow Ways’ tech chief Darren joined a group of 12 guys and had a sunset stroll along the Thames
The woodland of Russia Docks

We ambled through areas I wouldn’t usually visit, like the old docks and wharfs of Canada Quays and Russia Dock which is now a reclaimed woodland, and my trip was enriched by a man who had actually worked in the docklands before it was all closed down.

I kept having the Specials Ghost Town lyrics in my head:

This place is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country

Poignant, but it gave me a lovely feeling gaining insights to an area that I wouldn’t normally have, straight from somebody with real lived experience. I felt inspired by my Slow Ways colleague Saira who always seems to manage to get the lowdown.

What is there to talk about?

The great thing about walking and talking is that there is always something to talk about, even to complete strangers, and the group dynamics kept changing as different people chatted to each other as we wound our way alongside the historic Thames.

Towards the end of the trip I stopped to take a photo and wondered what the passersby thought of us, a group of 12 men walking together. We all stopped to talk about about our place in the world and how we hoped we’d be considered a force for good.

Unsurprisingly, although it is not necessarily an essential part of the walk, we ended up in the pub at the end and we chatted about beer, food and our home lives.

It reminded me of a question I was asked when I joined a dads’ group when I was looking after my young children: What on earth do you all talk about? I bet it’s all football, isn’t it?

Well, it was just like talking to anyone else. Sure, there was a little football banter, but also there was real genuine interest and compassion about each other’s lives. And that’s what counts, to understand you are not alone and you will always have somebody to talk to. Even if these people on the walk are the only people you speak to that day.

Who is the group for?

So, returning to the question posed by my friend: What is a proper bloke?

A proper bloke is someone going through a divorce, somebody who has been unemployed for three months, a retired person whose spouse has died and is feeling lonely, a person who is struggling with his health, somebody who is struggling with work, and a person who is having problems with their partner. 

Or just a person having a bad day.

He’s the person you walk past in the street who you think is OK; he’s all of us.

And he isn’t always OK.

As I started to say goodbye to everyone I knew that I was one of them too, and so are you.

The Proper Blokes Club meet for group walks at various times of the week in locations across London, with intentions of spreading outside London too, in the next few years. For more info join their Facebook group or have a look at their website.

Leicester get-together and celebratory dinner

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Join us for a special November get-together in Leicester, followed by a dinner in celebration of our collective achievements over the year!

The Slow Ways team would like to invite you to this special get-together in central Leicester taking place on Saturday 12th November to celebrate how far the network has come this year.

Over the weekend we are inviting people to see how many of the city-region’s Slow Ways we can walk, review and verify in one go. As part of our autumn National Swarm Weekend, our challenge is to edge closer to having a verified national walking network that connects all the towns, cities and national parks in GB. Add to the collective total and be part of the buzz as we tick off as many as we can!

There will also be free guided Slow Ways walks taking in Leicestershire. Join Kelly on a walk from Syston or Lynn on a walk from Narborough.

The get-together at Guildhall

Start or end your walk at our basecamp. We’ll be at the beautiful Guildhall for the day (11-5:45pm) ready to welcome you!

  • Meet the Slow Ways team
  • Connect with people and celebrate walking lots of Slow Ways together
  • Drink tea and coffee
  • Go on a guided tour of the Guildhall (tours will run at 11:30am and 1pm)
  • Buy a unique Slow Ways map!
  • Hear some short inspiring talks
  • See an exhibition of beautiful risograph artworks inspired by Slow Ways journeys

Dinner at Prana Cafe

At the end of the day, join us at the pretty Prana Cafe (6-8pm) for a special celebratory meal for our amazing volunteers and supporters! That’s you!

The dinner will be hosted by Prana Cafe closeby to the Guildhall, 10 Horsefair St, Leicester LE1 5BN

If you have any specific dietary or accessibility requirements, please let us know (by emailing Saira at saira@slowways.org)

Spaces to the dinner are limited! Book in advance to avoid disappointment.

Slow Ways is a grassroots initiative to create a national network of walking routes that connect all of Great Britain’s towns and cities. This will make it easier for people to imagine, plan and enjoy walking and wheeling journeys between places.

So far 8,000 walking routes have been suggested by volunteers. Our next challenge is to check them all. That means walking and reviewing 120,000km of routes that span every county in Great Britain. It’s a big challenge, but totally doable with enough people.

You can help with the National Slow Ways Swarm by walking and reviewing one or more routes. Share your adventures with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @SlowWaysUK #SlowWays.

You can take part in the swarm wherever you are – you don’t have to come to Leicester! Find out more and register for the National Swarm here.

Slow Ways: Leicester Get-Together and Celebratory Dinner image

Slow Ways has kindly received support from the National Lottery Community Fund.

Free

Join the autumn Slow Ways National Swarm, 12-13th November

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How far can we walk in a weekend? Join the autumn swarm, give a hike, and find out!

We would love for you to get involved in our next National Slow Ways Swarm weekend, taking place on the 12-13th November, 2022.

On your own or in a group, long routes or short routes, urban or rural: add your walk(s) to the collective total and be part of the buzz as we tick off as many as we can! There will be a special get-together in Leicester on Saturday 12th November to celebrate too.

Swarms really work!

Over two weekends, back in March and May, we invited people from across Great Britain to walk and review as many Slow Ways walking routes as possible in a single weekend as part of our pilot swarm. See some of the swarm stories here.

From Bradford to Brighton, Aberystwyth to Alnwick, people undertook exciting Slow Ways journeys alone, with friends or in groups. Along the way new connections were made, areas discovered, and pathways traversed. The swarms were a big success!

How do we get involved? Just give a hike!

On your own or as a group you could:

  • walk a single Slow Way to a neighbouring town
  • walk as many routes as you can over the weekend
  • walk to a distant place by combining multiple routes
  • be a pioneer: If you are looking for inspiration on which Slow Ways to walk, it would be useful to look at routes which haven’t been reviewed yet. Filling some of those gaps will really connect up the network nationally. Pioneering a route that has not been walked before will give people who follow in your footsteps more confidence to try the route too.
  • go snail bagging: Bagging a snail means being the person to award a route its fully verified status, by giving it its third positive review. You can help to fully verify routes and ‘bag snails’ on your own or as part of a group – each person’s review counts.
  • pledge to walk a route: if you like the look of a particular route you can click the pledge button below it. Other people will know you’ve got your eye on it, and it will be saved as a waylist called ‘My pledges’. Keep track of your dreams! Why not have a browse now and see what you might pledge for the swarm week?
  • use our routing tool to invent a long trail just for you! Enter any two settlements in GB and the routing tool will string together the most direct series of Slow Ways to get you there. A bespoke national trail from your door!

The easiest routes are short 5km urban walks. The most challenging are over 40km and go through remote and rugged terrain. The average Slow Ways route is about 15km and most will connect places with public transport.

Many of the Slow Ways routes are untested and some may even be dangerous. It’s really important that you only walk routes that are within your experience. You will be entirely responsible for your own happiness and safety.

If that’s fine with you, we’d love to have your help with this pilot swarm. Simply sign-up below.

Taking part is as easy as going for a walk

To take part simply follow these three steps:

1. Choose a Slow Ways route. In the panel on this map you can choose to show just the green unverified routes, or just the purple verified routes, to help you to target your efforts

2. Walk it: Walk the route on your own or in a group

3. Review it: Make sure you share a review to add your walk to the total (and help out the next person to walk that way, of course!)

We’ll be adding a totaliser to our homepage so that we can see our collective achievements over the weekend.

Spread the word: Are you on social media? If so, please help to spread the word about what you are doing using the hashtag #SlowWays. We are @SlowWaysUK on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Between Arundel and Findon in West Sussex

Blisters: too much information

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All the blister questions answered: what are they, how to get rid of them, wtf are all those different plasters for, and most of all – to pop or not?

Many a good walk was spoiled by a blister. And since we have many, many good walks on offer it seems only fair that we engage in diminishing those blisters! Read on, and on and on, for far more blister info than you ever wanted to know…

In brief, what is a blister?

Blisters are protective bubbles that form between layers of skin. When shoe, skin and bone are all moving at different rates, the layers of skin stretch different amounts. The layers of skin can then tear away from each other. This creates space that fills with fluid to cushion the sore spot and give it a chance to heal. 

Because the layers of skin aren’t anchored to each other any more, the blister can balloon out. New skin grows underneath, and when it’s strong enough the fluid is reabsorbed into the body and the top layer of blister skin dries and falls off.

What is a blood blister, then?

Also a protective bubble. Blood blisters just mean that the original damage caused some bleeding so the fluid is blood rather than plasma. Often caused by a pinch right through all lower layers of skin, they’re a bit more sore than normal blisters, and they look badass.

What shall I do about my blister?

You could give it a chance to heal. This means not continuing to do the thing that made the blister in the first place. If that thing was walking or running, you might want to:

  • Stop walking or running for a bit! (Blisters heal in three to seven days)
  • Keep it uncovered or loosely covered so it can breathe and heal
  • Make use of the pledge button or the routing functionality to keep track of your Slow Ways walking dreams from your blister convalescence!

What if I don’t want to stop walking? How to stop my blister getting worse?

If you have to or want to keep going, you could try to keep the blister intact by lessening the rub:

  • Change shoes
  • Wear thick socks or even better two pairs of socks (the socks rub against each other and save the friction on your foot)
  • Dust your feet with a little bit of talcum powder so they’re not so sweaty (but don’t go overboard. Talc absorbs moisture, so a sock full of damp talcum powder can increase friction)
  • OR vaseline works too. Anything to lessen the rub. The very day I wrote this article I accidentally did two and a half Slow Ways (this one and this one and half of this one) in flipflops, and lip balm saved the day
  • Put a doughnut-shaped piece of moleskin around the blister to lessen the pressure on the blister itself
  • Put a blister plaster over the place. There’s too much information on types of plasters below

How to keep going despite a blister

Try not to limp! Walking funny to avoid putting pressure on a sore blister can quickly cause all sorts of other aches and pains as you use your body lopsidedly. If you have to keep walking, try to walk as evenly as possible despite the pain.

You might want to pop the blister if it is making it hard to walk. Read on!

Should I pop my blister?

It’s obviously best not to pop a blister, as an intact blister is sterile and clean inside, exactly as it means to be! But if you are on a multi-day hike with one pair of shoes, and the blister is making walking hard, you might need to pop it in order to keep going. 

In that case, piercing it cleanly to let the fluid out and putting a plaster on is better than letting it burst raggedly in your germy shoe.

Do it as cleanly as you can in your circumstances. Sterilise a needle or blade with the hot blue part of a flame, iodine, alcohol or boiling water. Popped blisters like to heal themselves and fill back up, so make several big needle holes, or cut a slit.

Don’t peel the saggy empty blister skin off – leave it in place to protect the tender skin beneath.

What about threading blisters?

If your blister fills back up every day, one option is to sew a short length of thread in one side and out the other. The fluid can then continue to drain along the thread. It can be sore to start with, as the thread and blister ‘roof’ are in contact with the tender inside layer of new skin. It can also be an infection risk – it’s hard to sterilise a whole needle, near impossible to sterilise thread, and leaving the thread in place can introduce infection later. 

Some people advise against it; many people do it regularly without any negative effects. I wouldn’t have made it from The Hague to Brussels in new shoes otherwise.

There are lots of different blister plasters – which do I need if any?

Hydrocolloidal plasters

Compeed is the most famous brand name, and many other brands have a similar product. Hydrocolloidal means a substance that forms a gel in the presence of water, and these plasters are not for preventing blisters but for treating them. If the top skin of your blister has come off and the raw skin beneath is showing, that is the time for these plasters. It creates a new top layer of skin, and allows the healing to carry on underneath. 

These plasters are quite thick in order to cushion the sore place, which means that putting them on a full blister just doubles the pressure. Also, because they fuse to the blister, they’ll generally take the protective top of a full blister with them when you peel them off, which you don’t want.

Hydrocolloidal plasters don’t stay on very well by themselves, so it’s worth using tape or ordinary plasters to hold it in place. Tape around the edges but leave the middle tape-free because the clever hydrocolloidalness lets gas escape from the blister as it heals underneath. You also need to keep an eye on the blister underneath the plaster. If it’s not weeping too much and looks like it’s healing, you can leave the hydrocolloidal faux-blister in place for up to a week.

Take your socks on and off carefully to avoid tearing the plaster off.

Liquid skin

Many brands offer liquid ‘skin’ that can be brushed or sprayed over to protect and prevent blisters. It’s good for crannies that are hard to put plasters on, but can sting on broken skin. 

Moleskin tape

Not too thick, not too expensive, water-resistant, long-lasting: moleskin is a good idea in a walker’s first-aid kit. You can cut it to shape, or snip out your own bespoke doughnut shapes to relieve the pressure if you don’t want to put it directly on the blister, 

Zinc oxide tape

Zinc oxide tape is hardwearing, antiseptic, and promotes healing. The zinc draws cells towards it and enhances blood flow. It sticks on really firmly, and is best for preventing blisters. 

Use it on hotspots or places that often blister, around the back of your heel, your toes and instep. But apply carefully so as not to get wrinkles that might lead to worse rubbing. You can also use it to keep a hydrocolloidal plaster in place. It’ll stay in place for a few days, and likely need soaking to get it off.

You can put it right onto a blister too if need be – it lets air get to the wound, dries it out, and is antimicrobial, but there’s no chance of peeling it off without taking the blister with it, so it’s a bit all or nothing. (Incidentally, zinc oxide is the active ingredient in nappy rash cream. See below for more on nappying up your foot).

Other tapes

There’s also medical tape, micropore tape, athletic tape, kinesiology tape, but even this TMI blister roundup is running out of puff! In brief, if the tape is very firm and sticky don’t put it on an existing blister unless you have no alternative, in which case don’t expect to take it off again for a long time. Whether taped or not keep an eye on the place for cleanliness and healing – if it’s not getting better it might be getting infected. See below.

… and how to get tape off?

Different tapes have different adhesives. Some will loosen on soaking in warm water, others with an alcohol wipe, some with baby oil, and you can buy a lanolin-based spray made exclusively for removing athletic tape.

Or for something completely different: PTFE patches

ENGO is the best-known brand name. These differ from all the plasters above because you put them on your shoe rather than on your foot. They’re made of PTFE, which plumbers will know all about, and is also the basis of non-stick saucepan coating Teflon – a super-slippery substance. The patches are super thin so they don’t change the fit of your shoe, and the slipperiness lasts for hundreds of miles. You put them just in the places that usually cause blisters, so that your socks slither smoothly over those bits as you walk. If you blister easily or always in the same places, these can be a game-changer.

What to do with an infected blister?

Is the fluid in your blister cloudy and green or yellow? Maybe the skin around the blister is red, hot and tender? It could be smelly or weeping (yuck!). If any of these things, your blister might be infected. Blisters can get infected by bacteria, viruses or fungus. 

If you have an infected blister:

  • Wash your hands before touching it
  • Give your stinky blister a good clean, massaging it well but gently with soap and running a warm tap over it for several minutes. Do this twice a day if you can
  • Make a saline solution of one teaspoon of salt per cup of warm water, and give your empty blister a good soak
  • Put some antiseptic ointment on the blister if you have any
  • If you need to put a plaster over it to protect it and keep walking, change the plaster regularly – refer above for what plasters to use when
  • Keep an eye on the blister. The vast majority get better quickly on their own. Go to the doctor if it doesn’t heal though, and go to the hospital quickly if you notice red streaks heading up your leg – this could be a sign of a skin infection becoming a blood or lymph infection which could be serious

How to avoid getting a blister in the first place

  • Ease new shoes in by wearing them for short walks first
  • Buy new shoes later in the day. Feet expand throughout the day with heat and pressure, so buy shoes that fit your feet at their largest!
  • Consider cushioned insoles. Badly fitting insoles will cause blisters though
  • Keep your feet as dry as possible – choose sports socks made from a material that wicks the sweat away from your feet. Bamboo, merino wool and silk are good natural fibres, but synthetic fibres such as nylon, lycra spandex and polyester are good too. Buy socks in a blend of fibres to balance wicking and longevity. Ingeo is a corn-based eco-friendly polyester alternative. Cotton is the worst! It loves moisture (hydrophilic) and absorbs sweat into its fibres. Cotton makes good bath towels for the same reason it makes bad socks. Rather than absorbing, wicking fabrics pass moisture along the fibre to a place that it can evaporate into the air
  • If you suspect you’ll get a blister you can preemptively tape up the area, stick a plaster on the place, or put on some talc or vaseline – anything that lessens the friction directly on the surface of the skin
  • Keep vigilant for hot, sore areas appearing as you walk and take one of these pre-emptive measures as soon as you notice a blister even thinking about it.
  • Toughen up your feet over time. Keep your callouses – they are protecting the bits that habitually rub. But moisturise rough skin that is at risk of cracking, and moisturise the bits between soft and hard skin as rubs can occur there

And some more out-there tips – we couldn’t possibly comment (but you can, in the comments below!)

  • Soak your feet in tea! Or 10% tannic acid (from the tannic acid shop?!)
  • No talc where you are? Cornstarch will also do the trick
  • Some people slather on the nappy rash cream to lessen friction
  • Spray your feet with antiperspirant if they get very sweaty
  • No blister plasters, ordinary plasters, moleskin, tape or bandage to hand? Some people are enthusiastic about duct tape! Of course they are
  • Give up the fags! People who use tobacco products are apparently more susceptible to blisters
  • Some people swear by toe socks – could be worth a try. If it doesn’t work and you just have to keep them as house socks, they sure look cute

Tell me more! Why are some blisters huge bubbles, and some deep but sore?

Here’s the science! Friction blisters are a result of shear stress between layers of skin. Shear stress, since you ask, is the force that causes deformation of a material by slippage along a plane parallel to the imposed stress! Ie, two planes (two layers of skin), shearing apart from each other as the result of stress (rubbing). 

This shear usually happens at the fourth layer of the skin (known as the spinous or prickle layer). Where it tears from the layer below, plasma leaks into the ruptured space, where it assists the cells in dividing and becoming new layers of skin and connective tissues. 

The deeper the layers of skin that shear apart from each other, the closer the blister is to the nerve endings, and therefore the more painful.

This fascinating blister expert says that the shear is rarely a result of rubbing between foot and sock/shoe at all, but is the result of the bones of the foot moving – rubbing from inside! 

Are some people more susceptible to blisters than others?

Blisters are not caused by movement between the shoe and the skin as most people think, but between the outer skin layers and the inner skin layers. As the bones inside the foot move, the skin doesn’t immediately follow, and that’s when shear happens between the layers. There’s loads about this here.

This means that it’s not (just) your shoes to blame, but that everything to do with how you move plays a part. Everyone moves differently, and so everyone will be differently susceptible to blistering. 

Some studies show that women are more susceptible, as are younger people, less fit people, people with a lower body mass index, less hiking experience, and less fitness. There’s also some research suggesting that light coloured skin blisters worse than dark coloured skin. But another in-depth article from podiatrist Rebecca Rushton shows that there is conflicting science over gender, weight, ethnicity, age, fitness, and experience, so the jury is really out.

What do you think? What works for you? Got any good/bad/ugly blister stories? Tell us on social media. Our hashtag is #SlowWays and we’re @SlowWaysUK on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Also, of course, show your blisters to a doctor if they are particularly debilitating, not healing, grimly recurrent, or otherwise spoiling your day.

Help scientists, economists and academics learn more about how trees make you feel

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Choose one of eight woodland walks with Go Jauntly as part of an ambitious cross-disciplinary research project

A £10m, large-scale programme is afoot which aims to understand benefits of trees to the environment and to people. Environmental scientists, social scientists, economists, and arts and humanities researchers are collaborating in ambitious research projects.

As part of one of the programme’s projects, Connected Treescapes, the walking app Go Jauntly and their Treefest are inviting people who live near the National Forest to walk one of six tree-filled walks, answering some questions before and after. Do this before the end of October and stand to win prizes too!

Here’s Professor Miles Richardson with more about the Connected Treescapes project:

How did the project come about and why?

We know that being connected with nature in general is good for us, but there’s still more research to be done – and that includes understanding more about the benefits of trees. This is especially important with the plans to plant millions of trees by 2050.

The Connected Treescapes project will explore the value of trees, including the benefits for people’s wellbeing, cultural heritage and wildlife. We can then use this data to create tools and knowledge to inform the design of future treescapes, that are best suited to climate warming and provide the best benefits for future generations – and the rest of the natural world.

The Treefest part focusses on how various types of trees, woodlands and forests benefit wellbeing.

“We can use this data to inform the design of future treescapes, that are best suited to climate warming and provide the best benefits for future generations”

What is the most enjoyable part of your work?

Like my other projects on the relationship between people and nature, Connected Treescapes aims to make a difference. Focussing on a critical global issue naturally feels worthwhile, but the nature of that work is enjoyable too – I find a great deal of hope working with people working towards a more sustainable future.

What are your earliest childhood memories involving trees?

I was fortunate to grow up with a garden that had several trees, one being a Prunus with deep coppery red leaves. An early memory is being told at school that trees don’t have red leaves. Play often revolved around the trees in the garden and also the small woodland at the end of the road. I spent many, many hours in the company of trees.

Do you have a favourite individual tree?

Several over the years, from the spindly ash tree that stood on the furthest horizon visible from my childhood home, to a part fallen oak, that snaked like serpent through a hidden corner of ancient woodland nearby. Now, it’s perhaps the 100-year-old walnut tree we’re fortunate to have in our garden. It provides a place to sit, shade in the summer and enough walnuts to send the squirrels crazy every other year!

Tell us about a Go Jauntly Treefest walk you’ve been on?

I’ve planned two of the walks and checked out a third, the Dunstall walk – which I really enjoyed. Much of it is familiar, a location I discovered in 2011 and returned to many times. It’s close to where people live, but it’s quiet and quite varied with pockets of older woodland and new plantations. It is also on the Needwood plateau, and even that modest height allows some views over the distant Trent valley.

There’s also history, the area was part of the ancient woodland and wood pasture of the Needwood Forest, largely lost at the end of the 18th century. So, a great location to visit to help inform future woodlands and forests in the UK.

How can people get involved in Treefest?

Easily! The project involves eight walks accessed via the walking app Go Jauntly. Through walking the walks those that take part will provide data which will allow us to calculate how various types of trees, woodlands and forests benefit wellbeing. 

If you live near the National Forest, download the Go Jauntly app on your iPhone or android device and head out to one of our research walks. Answer a few simple questions before and after your walk. Researchers will then study this data to see how various treescapes relate to wellbeing.

In addition to making your own contribution to the future treescapes, as a huge thanks for taking the time to participate in this research study, we’ll enter all those who take part in the walks by 23:59 on 31st October 2022 into a prize draw to win one of twenty £100 gift vouchers.

Thanks so much Professor Miles! If you want to learn more, or find a research walk to embark on near the National Forest, click here.

Miles Richardson

Miles Richardson is a professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness and founded the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby. The focus of this research is on understanding and improving connection with nature, given the wellbeing and environmental benefits. The group works closely with Natural England and its work has been adopted by many organisations, including the National Trust, RSPB and 2021 Mental Health Awareness week. The group won the institutional award for research impact at the 2021 Green Gown Awards. Miles is also a lead author on ‘Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) global transformative change assessment.

Film: The Forgiving Path

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Filmmaker David Mathias was inspired to make a film showing just a few of the ways that walking makes people feel better. We think it’s beautiful

Last year filmmaker David Mathias got in touch to ask if we’d like a film promoting Slow Ways and walking in general. Of course we would! We think you’ll agree that the finished product, weaving poetry alongside three stories all filmed on Slow Ways around Bristol, is a lovely work of art. Sit back and allow yourself to be lulled by this truly beautiful piece of work. Thank you David!

What about Slow Ways inspired you to make The Forgiving Path?

Slow Ways’ ambitious proposals of creating a cultural shift in people’s hearts and minds regarding the landscape really excited me as an idea.

I contacted the team to offer a short film to help promote the project. They were keen, and gave me a very open brief, artistically. We agreed it should be focussed on strong personal stories shown in an authentic way.

How did you find the three contributors?

From the start, I always had in mind that three contributors would give a good variety. It was important to find people with strong and interesting stories that the audience could connect and relate to.

Hazel is my partner and the surprising thing was that neither of us expected her to be in the film originally. I wanted to test the idea of merging some footage along with the poem to see if it was going to work as an idea. We went to The Downs one afternoon and just casually walked around whilst I practiced filming and asking some questions as we went. The conversation just flowed to her talking about her accident which happened before we met and was a rough point in her life. I knew about it of course, but it wasn’t on our minds beforehand. When she mentioned it, that was a lightbulb moment of realising the intrinsic relationship and appreciation she had with walking from that time onwards.

“Hazel is my partner, and neither of us expected her to be in the film originally, but the conversation just flowed to her talking about her accident which was a rough point in her life”

I originally came across Sophie through social media concerning her group Bristol Steppin Sistas. The original plan was to focus on her individual walking story, but so much of that is based on encouraging other women that it became natural to extend the focus to the group. It was a pleasure joining one of their walks around Kings Weston House and seeing the huge enjoyment of the members, while helping break down barriers and anxieties.

Some of the conversations with the women have stayed with me, in particular one lady who had joined for the first time that afternoon and said she’d thought that a walk like that wasn’t open to her previously. Already she could see herself going on similar walks with just her daughter.

I was keeping my eyes open for a third person and this happened at FareShare where both Bertie and I volunteered. On one of our breaks, Bertie mentioned trying to go for a walk each morning. He was very open to the benefits for his spiritual and mental health, and honest in talking about his life and journey.

We’ve met as a group to do other walks since and aim to go each month to catch up and explore routes.

Is walking and connecting to nature important to you personally?

I love walking and am lucky to live near the wonderful Badock’s Wood – I regularly go for a circuit before beginning work. Heading up to Blaise Castle is also a favourite route and feels a real achievement, looking back towards Bristol. No walk is ever the same and there’s usually a nice surprise. I’d never seen a kingfisher but have now I’ve seen two flying by on Bristol river journeys in the autumn.

Walking is a natural antidote to staring at the computer screen and de-stressing during busy periods, and I share Bertie’s appreciation of smiling and connecting with passers-by.

Who is the poem in the film by?

I’ve known Penny for a number of years since we both had an art studio in the same community. She’s a poet and installation artist now based in Dorset. She has a passion for history and archaeology, a very enquiring mind which searches to understand different layers of the past and how that’s all connected.

“Penny’s poem adds a beautiful layer of pacing and imagination to the film and I love how it flows through the piece like a meandering river”

I’ve admired her poetry for a long time; it always has a candidness and rich observation. I knew I wanted to collaborate with her when I had this early notion of poetry linking the stories. We felt this could help transport people in their minds to potential imaginary routes and also to the fond memories of routes travelled from our childhoods. I think Penny’s poem adds a beautiful layer of pacing and imagination to the film and I love how it flows through the piece like a meandering river.

Since talking to David The Forgiving Path has been selected for the Adventure Uncovered film festival, and World Trails film festival in Skiathos, Greece, and Goodfest in Cornwall. Nice work!

David Mathias

David Mathias is a Bristol-based filmmaker. He started out taking footage and creating summary videos of actions by environmental groups. He was asked by the campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) to help edit a 35-minute documentary about stopping the expansion of Bristol Airport. Filming numerous interviews and editing a lot of historical information made this a very challenging project but he felt this was an important film as it showed what can be achieved when local people join together to make a difference. Through his documentaries, David seeks to give a voice to people who feel they don’t have one. Commercially, his focus is towards promoting independent businesses that have an ethical and sustainable ethos.

Slow Wades

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Join photographer Finn Hopson as he swims from Southwick to Brighton in this mesmerising photo essay, past millionaires’ houses, lugworm fishermen and the mysterious hot water pipe

by Finn Hopson

How many ways can you look at the same thing? How many times can you make the same journey or visit the same place and see something different? 

I find myself thinking about this a lot. Since 2014 I have been lucky enough to have a small gallery on Brighton beach, selling my photographs which are inspired by the coastal landscape around me. It is a wonderful place to work, but being in such a well-known part of the world brings the creative challenge of trying to capture familiar places in unfamiliar ways, hoping to surprise people with new ways to see something that they may already know well. 

One of the ways I’ve found to meet this challenge is to embark on more and more elaborate and long-winded ways to travel to and from the beach each day via the most interesting or varied routes I can find. I think of this process as connecting the dots. Finding new physical links between places, but also collecting ideas and themes for future work, and occasionally discovering something that sparks a new direction entirely. I’ve lived and worked here most of my life, but there is still a lifetime of things to discover in my own backyard. 

With this in mind, I decided to adapt a section of Slow Ways route Soubri One, which connects busy, bustling central Brighton with sleepier, suburban Southwick. It is a journey that manages to go far beyond the quintessential British seaside stroll via a surprisingly diverse and less well-trodden part of the coast. Over three miles it takes in regency splendour, the full length of the promenade, beach huts, mansions, industrial monoliths, a nudist beach, a working harbour and reassuringly regular cafes. 

Low tide means a very shallow sea. My first few attempts to start swimming are embarrassingly close to just sitting down in a puddle

To embrace the idea of discovering new perspectives I decided to do the route in both directions. The westerly direction would be on foot, via a section of the official Slow Ways route from the West Pier to the harbour locks at Southwick, but I decided to begin by heading east, getting into the sea early in the morning beneath Shoreham Power Station chimney and swimming along to my gallery on the rising tide. The sea is the unifying element throughout this route, and the people and places encountered along the way are all there to make use of the sea or enjoy it in some way – what better place to begin.

My theory about an incoming spring tide sweeping me along the coast was a good one; the reality was that my swim would begin as a very long wade (a slow wade if you will). Below the steeply banked pebbles is an expanse of flat sand, so low tide means a very shallow sea. My first few attempts to start swimming are embarrassingly close to just sitting down in a puddle.

A tern perched on a buoy looks on in pity. Beyond the buoy I reach waist-deep water and finally float my feet off the ground, intending to not put them down again until I reach the West Pier. I begin, with a bit of kicking, to drift west. 

The views for the first one and a half miles of this route are entirely industrial with not a beach hut or a parasol in sight. Wind turbines and warehouses sit behind sections of shingle and sea walls. But despite the rather inhuman appearance of the architecture, there are joggers, dog walkers and metal detectorists on the beach already, each intent on their morning routines.

The Shoreham ‘hot pipe’ actually does pump out hot water and I swim through several minutes of glorious warmth whilst trying not to worry about whether this is entirely safe

I am passed by a couple on paddleboards who ask what I’m doing and are amused by the answer ‘photography’. The highlight of this part of the swim is discovering that the Shoreham ‘hot pipe’ (a well-known local surf spot) actually does pump out hot water and I swim through several minutes of glorious warmth whilst trying not to worry about whether this is entirely safe to swim in. On the far side of the pipe the sound of fishermen sucking lugworms from the sand drifts over the water. 

The boundary between port and promenade is passed at ‘Millionaires Row’, an incongruous collection of mini mansions that sit just behind their own private sections of beach. Fatboy Slim is the most famous resident, alongside a host of other well-known names. The low tide means the private beach is temporarily public down on the sand, and dog walkers wander along in front of the houses. The water is still shallow but the tide is picking up and I realise I no longer have to swim to travel west, although I am travelling no faster than 1mph. 

From this point in the journey I will be parallel with Hove promenade. The city is waking up and I see groups of swimmers entering the water with accompanying shrieks and laughter; it’s a joyful sound. Beach huts stud the skyline. Looking out to sea I can see that the alternative Brighton rush hour is underway. A continuous stream of paddleboards head east or west along the horizon. One has a little speaker on it blasting out something energetic; the sound of a bin lorry emptying glass recycling on the prom adds a little percussion. The buildings start to get a little taller and as I look back they appear almost like an island above the waves.

The final stretch of the swim is more familiar to me. Regency terraces, art deco blocks and sixties concrete begin to pile up behind the beach and I can see the end of this leg of the journey. The West Pier, still beautiful in its demise, is my cue to put my feet down and set off back to where I came from.

It has taken me about three hours to cover three miles, the slowest of slow ways. But this preview of the route as seen from the sea has been an excellent reminder of how much variety there is to experience along the way, and that I shouldn’t be in too much of a rush to get back to the start. 

The first part of the return leg can either be along the beach or the promenade. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable times to walk this route would be on a very low tide, missing out the shingle entirely and walking all the way to Southwick on glorious flat sand. Given that the tide is now on the way in, and the pebbles can be fairly hard going, I opt to start on the prom, setting out from the shade of the Upside Down House towards the ornate and beautiful bandstand.

As the prom opens out at the boundary between Brighton and Hove, it’s impossible not to imagine the Victorians taking the sea air in all their finery. Today it all seems a little grubbier and there is something incongruous about such a wide expanse of tarmac right next to the sea, but it makes for easy walking. The view out to sea is matched by the elaborate old buildings behind Hove lawns and the vibrant colours of the beach huts, each one different to the last. There is much fun to be had peeking into any open huts and enjoying the unique ways people set up their little empires for a day in the sunshine. 

At the end of the widest section of the prom I pass the King Alfred Leisure Centre. It wasn’t a particularly attractive building when I learned to swim there in the 1980s and it hasn’t really improved since. It is oddly fascinating to find something so bleak on such a well-to-do part of Hove beach, surrounded by layers of fencing, roads and a sizeable concrete carpark. Enjoy it while it lasts, this won’t escape developers for much longer. 

The promenade ends at Hove Lagoon, as does public access to a short stretch of beach. A man sunbathes as close as he possibly can to the Private Beach sign. Being on foot here takes you around to the other side of these houses, and it becomes apparent that luxurious as they are, these homes are located right on top of the access road to Shoreham harbour. It seems a huge difference from one side to the other and I wonder how peaceful it is to live down here.

I find myself on a nudist beach, proof that there is always something new and surprising to be discovered

Following the road eventually takes me back towards the sea, and I decide to walk this section of the route on the beach. Clambering up one of the sea defences I find myself on a nudist beach, proof that there is always something new and surprising to be discovered. I decide against taking any pictures or taking my clothes off on this occasion and re-join the road for a while.

For much of this part of the walk one side of the road is a continuous concrete seawall, the other a mixture of warehouses and dockside access roads. Despite this being a dead-end for motor vehicles, a steady stream of cyclists, joggers and walkers reminds me that there is something worth getting to at the end. The buildings and machinery are brimming with industry and purpose, but I am totally baffled as to what that purpose might be. Occasional zebra crossings encourage me to cross the largely empty road from time to time for a slightly different view of it all. The stripes of sun-bleached colour on the warehouses are faint echoes of the beach huts I’ve left behind. 

The sea wall ends, and the water comes back into view opposite a sewage treatment plant. The intricate pipes and metalwork are a little reminiscent of the King Alfred, as is the smell. I climb up onto the beach again and on the far side of the wooden sea defences I discover a gallery of driftwood art. There is no indication of who made it or why this is here, but I’m pleased to find a picture of the West Pier to remind me where I have come from.

The road, the beach, and my journey end as I reach Shoreham Power Station and Southwick beach. After a quiet mile or so, this is a surprisingly busy spot, a well-kept secret for the locals. Passing by on the busy A259, just the other side of the harbour, there is no clue that this little seaside cul-de-sac exists. I notice a Swimming Only sign on the beach where I began, whilst another signpost indicates that the England Coast Path continues from here, hinting at further exploration another time. On the other side of locks is the new Port Kitchen café where I finish my walk with a coffee and a pain-au-raisin the size of my head. 

I have been travelling this route one way or another for many years, most often as part of a bike ride or a commute to work. Before today I would have said that I knew it pretty well, but over the course of a few hours of slower travel I have discovered more than I could have imagined and seen a familiar place in a completely new way.

Tantalisingly, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface, and I know I will be back again to explore it in different seasons and weathers. Some dots are joined, the outlines are there, but I need to come back to fill in some details. 

Photos and text: Finn Hopson

Finn Hopson

Finn Hopson is a photographer from Brighton. Having grown up between the beach and the South Downs, he now spends his time exploring and photographing the places he knows best. In between photography, bike riding and sea swimming, you'll find him at his gallery on Brighton beach.