Philip Goddard in his element on Dartmoor. Note the single
walking stick. See here for some notes on
the advantages of this over a pair of trekking poles.
Grey Mountain Carpet moth (Entephria
caesiata) among heather near Fort William, Scottish Highlands
I present here a simple, no-frills listing for enthusiasts. These are big, hard walks, in
many cases much harder than their length on the map might suggest. So it would be wise not
to commit yourself to any of these without proper research and preparation. The weather
conditions on a few of my Dartmoor and Scottish mountain walks have made them potentially
life-threatening and required a steady nerve and clear thinking for me get out without
becoming an accident or even fatality statistic. You have been warned! ...But the rewards
that you can reap from going ahead are - shall we say? - out of this world...
Add to the adventure - hitch-hike!
The majority of these routes are notionally linear walks, which are much more satisfying
than the circular walks which most people feel tied to in order to return to their cars.
For the most part I get round the latter constraint by hitch-hiking out to the walk start
and hitch-hiking back to base afterwards - often a very long and demanding day. This is
relatively easy for me because I almost always go solo for my major walks, and I have no
partner or family at home to go worrying about me if I have a lengthy delay for the return
hitch-hike. One constraint that the hitch-hiking does place upon my routes is the choice
of starting and finishing points, for only certain places are really workable for
Long, long days...
For my South-West England hikes I typically set out at about 6.40 to 7.0 in the morning
after a filling breakfast, and can return home anything from 6.30 to 10.30 p.m. and just
occasionally later. My record epic return was from Tintagel in 2007, when I didn't get
back to my Exeter flat till 6.58 a.m. - something I'd be very happy never to have happen
Making the right signs - important!
For all hitch-hikes I use strong, well-made signs with the notional destination in thick
black lettering on white paper on a piece of hardboard, with another sign the other way up
on the other side, the lot sealed in with self-adhesive transparent film. These boards are
of a shape and size which fits very conveniently inside the back of my rucksack (protected
also by an old plastic carrier bag) so that they don't get bent or otherwise damaged while
not in use. See here
for notes on hitch-hiking between
Exeter and far Cornwall.
And then an end to my major hikes?
-- Not bloody likely! (at least, yet!)
Nothing is permanent. Having upped the length of my hikes in August and September 2006 to
my maximum again after a lessening in 2004, on a 21-mile hike from Mousehole to Cape
Cornwall on 23rd September I got hit by an arthritic development in my right knee.
I assumed throughout the winter of 2006/7 that I'd not be doing long hikes again. I
consoled myself by reminding myself that I'd had a good 'run for my money' considering the
weakness I knew I'd always got in my knees and ankles, and undoubtedly without the
Alexander Technique I'd have finished my hiking nearly 14 years sooner.
However, all was not lost. During the winter of 2006/7 I was restricted initially to
weekly 4-mile strolls on level ground from central Exeter down the river and canal to
Double Locks and retrace, but then started extending to the Swing Bridge and retrace
(making it a total of 5 miles). Then in early March 2007 I 'broke through' and walked the
8 miles down to Starcross without too serious objections from the gammy knee.
Since then my manageable mileage very slowly increased - this improvement accelerating
after I took on a set of very powerful daily practices and measures for self-healing and
rejuvenation in mid-May 2007, and has since been greatly reinforced by my further development of and expansion from those methods. The
positive effect of these on my life has been dramatic. On 24th July 2007 I walked the
hard-going 14 miles on the Cornish coast path from St Keverne to Lizard Point. Then on
30th July I walked the very strenuous 18 miles on Cornish coast path from Polzeath to
Tintagel, and on 4th August the also very strenuous 16 miles from Sidmouth to Lyme Regis.
On 11th August - just two days before I officially became a pensioner (i.e., age 65) - I
broke the 20-mile threshold in style, walking the 21 miles and over 1100 metres of ascent
from Exmouth to Beer. In fact on that occasion there were about two miles of extra road
walking in the outward hitch-hike, so my total for the day was about 23 miles.
Although it may look very impressive, that I'd effectively
cured a major attack of what was diagnosed as osteoarthritis, there was actually a lot
more to the situation, for that particular arthritis attack was actually little or nothing
to do with normal 'wear and tear' osteoarthritis that you could blame on my age - even
though my doctor believed that it was just that, because neither he nor I at the time knew
its true origin. I did, however, suspect that it was either caused or at least aggravated
by weakening of my non-physical aspects by severe attacks from the garbage (aka 'dark force', 'forces of darkness') that I experienced especially in early
September 2006, and that was sort of correct, but through a bit of detective work in late
2008 I found that there was a bit more to it than just that.
It actually looks as though a very complex and potentially lethal psychic attack
situation had been set up for me, culminating in a really
weird hike on Dartmoor on 9th September 2006, and was responsible for that
subsequent arthritic attack.
So, my healing of that arthritis was not so much a matter of reversal of normal
'ageing' - though a little bit of that could have been a factor - but more the healing of damage done to
my 'subtle' aspects in that psychic attack.
I used a combination of methods, including certain very powerful yogic practices (not
'ordinary' Yoga), use of programmed healing aids (Energy Egg, Guardian
Angel, Light-Sphere and Energy Stone, though nowadays all those are replaced by the Clarity-Sphere),
appropriate diet supplements (chosen according to indications from my energy testing), and aware
choice of foods. You can read more about my methods in Healing and Self-Actualization - The Safest and Quickest Way.
So, clearly I'm well back in business with the hiking outings. The tendency for slight
nagging pains in that knee very gradually decreased (with little ups and downs) till it
was hardly noticed at all, at least by 2008, and in any case my 'reading' since later in
2007 has been that what pains I was still getting then were not arthritis at all but
caused by another, much less serious weakness of that knee, which itself was very
... And, now in my 70s, I am still doing it, including Tintagel to Polzeath and Exmouth to Beer, still being almost always the overtaker rather than overtaken, at least as concerns other walkers.
So, I might yet encounter you on, say, Cornish or possibly Devon
coast path or on a hitch-hike (especially in Cornwall). Or indeed, you might like to
join me on one of my walks (if so, just get in touch)...
The hitch-hiker's nightmare...
Forewarned is forearmed, as they say - at least to some extent. Just as there can
occasionally be troublesome hitch-hikers who cause problems for the motorists who pick
them up, there can be thoughtless or indeed malevolent motorists who cause problems for
the hitch-hikers who they pick up. I have to say that overall I've been extremely
fortunate and haven't (yet) had anyone in a car seek to rob me (though in 2002 I refused
one lift in Penzance, where it looked to me as though that would have happened if I had
accepted that lift), nor to assault nor sexually molest me, though inevitably there have
been the odd ones who were driving more or less dangerously in one or more ways and so
gave me cause for concern. There have also been the very occasional obnoxious individuals
who sought to impose their particular religious beliefs (usually Christian) upon me. More
serious can be the misguided good intentions of particular motorists, who are sure they
know the best place to drop the poor unsuspecting hitch-hiker. Almost always they don't,
even if they say they themselves have hitch-hiked a lot and 'know for sure', and even if
they're well intentioned police officers wanting to get one out of some awkward spot.
All too often such people have dropped me at pretty hopeless places for getting picked up
- which can be particularly serious when returning home in the evening. Among such
hopeless places, Eggesford (on the old Barnstaple to Exeter road) and on the east side of
the Tamar Bridge near Plymouth (just beyond the toll booths) stand out in my memory as
having been particularly disastrous.
A related issue is the mental laziness of motorists using in-car sat navs. I find
increasingly that a motorist who picks me up actually doesn't know where he is going,
apart from the name and maybe postcode of their destination. That means that I can find
myself getting unexpectedly dropped at an unsuitable spot because the effing motorist is
simply relying on the sat nav, which has instructed him to take a different turning or
route to what one would reasonably expect.
But also, it can happen that a motorist simply chooses to 'dump' you...
On the evening of Saturday 27th June 2009 I ran into a new (to me) and potentially very
serious problem. I was hitch-hiking back to Exeter from Porthcothan on the north Cornwall
coast, and got quite soon to a suitable spot to get picked up about a mile outside
Padstow. I waited 35 minutes there, then got a lift to the roundabout on the A39 by
Wadebridge, still really in quite good time - just a bit after 6.0 p.m. I waited there
1½ hours (the longest I'd so far waited there, as I'd generally found it to be quite
a good spot), and the lift I got there was only to Davidstow Cross (the A395 turning on
the A39), where I waited a further quarter-hour. By this time the sun was getting low and
I was bracing myself to refuse any offer to drop me at Launceston, where previously I'd
had great trouble getting home in the evening. This time I was regarding Hallworthy on the
A395 as being my last sensible dropping-off point before Exeter (if dropped at Hallworthy
I'd then refuse offers of lifts that were not going as far as Exeter).
Anyway, when the lift came at Davidstow Cross I breathed a sigh of relief, because the
couple in the car (in their 60's, I think) said they would be passing Exeter, so they
could drop me off at the appropriate junction there. The husband (the driver) also told me
that they'd never picked up anyone before, but they thought I looked safe. It thus
appeared that all the day's hitch-hiking difficulties were over, and we continued towards
and then on the A30, passing Launceston. We had a little conversation, but I kept to
pretty basic and 'normal' topics about myself, and was careful not to say a great deal
about myself and my experiences, because I could sense that, although they had seemed
superficially quite welcoming, these were very 'ordinary' people with a very shallow level
of awareness, and were not at all the sort of people who I would really choose for
company, nor who would understand anything significant about my lifestyle, outlook and
life experiences. As we continued beyond Launceston the conversation petered out and we
were silent for some minutes.
Then, without a word, the driver pulled in at a lay-by on this fast stretch of trunk
route dual carriageway (though not all that busy at this particular time), got out of the
car, came round to the door beside me and opened it. "This is as far as we're taking you.
Would you please get out of the car now", he said, with no explanation. I was so surprised
and taken aback that I didn't think to challenge him on his lunatic behaviour till he had
already driven off. I simply meekly got out of the car, lamely saying to him that this was
putting me in a very difficult position and making things very awkward for me. In actual
fact this was downright dangerous, and indeed that idiot could potentially have indirectly
caused my death by dropping me there at that time, if I had indeed been stuck there all
It was dusk (the time then being 9.20 p.m.), and it was miles from anywhere with
'civilization' or indeed lights. Also, this lay-by was one of those that have a narrow
reservation separating them from the main carriageway, so that even in broad daylight they
are difficult for fast-travelling vehicles to slow down quickly in response to a
hitch-hiker in time to be able to enter the lay-by, and in the dark they are pretty well
useless, because motorists generally see the hitch-hiker at the last moment if at all, and
then it's always already too late to brake sufficiently to enter the lay-by safely.
I was soon getting a bit cold, and put on all my layers of extra clothing while I could
still see what I was doing - bracing myself for standing there all night in complete
darkness apart from the occasional dazzling headlight glare of vehicles racing past. At
least I had done what I could for visibility, for I was wearing a light blue windshirt on
top of my fleece jacket, and I had put on a scanty cyclist's reflective bib on top of
that, and of course I had my clear white EXETER sign with bold and clear computer-printed
Everything was rushing past, though very occasionally I would see a passing car just
start braking and then change mind and carry on - though actually anyone who had really
thought about it would have realized that they could continue braking quite safely, and
simply pull in at the far end of the lay-by. Anyway, after 1½ hours (by which time it
was getting on for fully dark) one determined and thoughtful motorist did just that,
pulling in at the far end and then reversing into the lay-by. She (yes, a youngish
woman, on her own!) was going past Exeter, and she actually diverted into the city
centre to drop me close to where I live, so I got back before 11.30 p.m. Was I relieved!
So, all ended well for me, but the irresponsible behaviour of the one motorist had put me
in potential real danger, for there had been nowhere to where I could simply and safely
walk in order to get out of that little 'spot', and the traffic comes racing past
routinely at 70 to 80 miles per hour, with some doing anything up to 120 mph (quite
illegally), and I have no doubt that on that occasion in that location I really did stand
a very good chance of being stuck there all night, and having to remain standing there
shivering in order to be as sure as possible of remaining alive.
Afterwards I used inner inquiry using a
particular mode of energy testing, to find
out something of what had been going of for that idiotic motorist, and I got clear
pointers to the problem not being anything specific that I'd said, nor the sweaty pong
from my rucksack (which needed washing), but simply his feeling uncomfortable about the
general sense of openness of outlook of mine, and my 'freedom vibes', which clashed with
his very closed outlook - coupled with a certain deeply ingrained (soul programmed) pattern of his, of lack of personal responsibility and
an inability to consider wider consequences of his actions. In fact, my 'reading' (via
energy testing) is suggestive that when he had decided to pick me up he was consciously
thinking right then that it would be okay to pick me up because if at any point he felt he
didn't like me, he could simply ditch me on the spot. And, what's more, if it hadn't been
for a plain consideration of keeping within the Law and also respecting the safety of
himself and his wife, he wouldn't even have waited for a lay-by at which to dump me.
These were the sort of superficially 'respectable' people who would happily flush an
unwanted pet down the lavatory (if it would fit, of course!) or dump refuse or any
unwanted items in the countryside. "I don't want it [/him], so I'm getting rid of it
[/him]!" - to these people I was not seen as a human being to whom they had taken on a
certain responsibility; I was just an eventually unwanted item that had looked at first
marginally interesting, but then had proved too interesting in the wrong way for them -
despite my having been careful not to say any of the specific sort of things that one
might have expected to put them off me - so I was for dumping just like the rubbish that
they might dump at a lay-by or indeed just throw out of the car window.
Having slept on this experience, I'm clearer now that if a similar thing happened to me
in the future I would endeavour to find out who the particular people were, at least
noting down their vehicle registration number if possible, and then would name and shame
them publicly on this site.
My understanding is that there is a huge number of such irresponsible motorists out
there, but the saving grace is that almost always that lack of responsibility of theirs
actually causes them not to give people lifts in the first place.
Just why the particular motorist chose to pick me up in the first place, I guess I'll
never know. On the face of it I could strongly suspect a bit of direct garbage (i.e.,'dark force')
interference and control, for there was one time in 2006 when a motorist ditched me on a hitch-hike (albeit
that being done sort-of responsibly, at a major junction) and indeed said exactly the
words "This is as far as we're taking you", without any explanation or apology. But on
that occasion there really were very weird and indeed sinister goings-on from the garbage towards me, and apparently the particular driver
was being manipulated to drop me at the particular place in order that I be manoeuvred
into doing an unscheduled and very long walk on Dartmoor.
In contrast, since then I had got clear of nearly all my garbage
interference, and this time weird and disruptive things were simply not happening for me
any more, and hadn't been so really since the first part of 2007.
Also, my understanding, based on extensive energy testing, is that the couple who ditched
me on that occasion in 2006 had a fair amount of awareness and had been 'open' enough to
hear the garbage manifesting to
them as a voice giving them instructions (hence their looking as though they had seen a
ghost when they dropped me), whereas this time we're talking of a couple with much soul
programming and very shallow awareness, and my understanding is that such people cannot be
directly interfered or communicated with by the garbage
- all their garbage
interference comes indirectly (and not in real time) from their soul programming.
Nonetheless, I'm still a bit puzzled and suspicious about the use of those exactly same
words on both occasions: "This is as far as we're taking you", without a single peep of
explanation, excuse or apology. Peculiar...
Making your hiking still more of a self-actualization / healing
Hiking is in itself an important self-actualization / self-healing practice, but you can
make it much more so still by doing part of your walking in Self-Power
Walking mode. Self-Power Walking is a special walking meditation or
yogic practice that has many powerful healing and self-actualization effects, including
the progressive dissolution of emotional stresses and traumas, and of all manner of ties
and attachments that are weakening you and holding you back in your life.
I give a full description of and guide to Self-Power Walking in Some
Potent Self-Actualization / Healing Practices.
Use of light walking sticks and trekking
It has become fashionable for people to use a pair of trekking poles when
hiking, so I want to clarify about the costs and benefits of the different options.
The ratings I give for the different options are made on the basis of relatively
ordinary people who are not actively attending to their own self-realization process.
For those (currently rare) people who are doing so, the best
option is NOT to use even one stick or pole at all for most walks, but to have a
single stick always on the pack in case of some
specific need and to ensure that one has the stick available for particularly rough
terrain, such as high Dartmoor off the main tracks, certain stretches of the Cornish
coast path on the Land's End peninsula and the east side of the Lizard peninsula, and
the rougher true mountain terrain.
The reason for this is that you are then cultivating effective proprioception in the
feet, ankles and legs, helping yourself to have natural balance and poise, so minimizing
any tendency to stumble, and thus minimizing any perceived need for a stick in the first
place. This is also greatly helped by wearing light, flexible footwear - indeed shoes
rather than boots wherever possible. It is also greatly helped by the use of really effective self-healing / self-actualization methods.
No stick or pole at all
- Pro - If you walk in the optimum manner, which most people don't
but you would learn if you took up the Alexander Technique,
with your hands unoccupied you would have optimum efficiency in your walking, with
no interference to your body's light and loose co-ordination caused by holding onto
anything. For optimum walking, both arms and hands need to be hanging loosely and
swinging freely. Mechanical energy is conserved through that loose arm swinging.
- Con - On uneven ground you would have no protection if you
stumble or twist an ankle, and walking down steep gradients is very stressful on the
knees and in some cases is prone to instability, requiring great care, especially
when descending on steep and loose ground.
(the latter rating for when shoes and a really effective self-actualization strategy are being
Pair of trekking poles (each with ski-pole type of handle)
- Pro - Maximum protection against imbalance and for the knees
during steep descents. Looks fashionable and also looks as though you're putting a
lot of work into your walking, which can impress one's peers.
- Con - Walking with these poles looks as though you're putting a
lot of work into your walking because you are! Although they can take stress off the
knees as compared with normal (i.e., bad) walking technique without the poles, they
commit you to having both your arms working instead of loosely hanging and swinging,
so there is none of the energy conservation brought about by the loose swinging of
Also, if you are using your arms and hands like that, you cannot walk in the better
way that you would learn from using the Alexander Technique, because optimum poise,
balance and looseness is a whole-body issue and if you are trying to walk in the
optimum, most efficient way but with your hands and arms tensed up in held
positions, it cannot work properly. That looser mode of walking (and indeed the AT
altogether) holistically promotes health, both physical and non-physical, so you are
losing out a lot by not taking that route and instead 'bludgeoning' your way through
with a pair of poles.
Further, walking like that interferes with your natural system of stability and
balance, so you become more dependent on the sticks.
Single walking stick (with a walking-stick type of handle, with a
In my view this is a workable compromise and is my own choice when a stick is needed.
- You have a 'third leg' available to support you in moments of imbalance, albeit
not with the same degree of support that a pair of poles gives.
- Although holding even one walking stick does interfere a bit in good walking
technique, that interference isn't very much if the stick length is set so that with
the point on the ground the wrist is reasonably straight (pointing obliquely
downwards) while holding the cross-piece of the handle (and it is this that should
be held rather than trying to treat it like a ski- or trekking pole), and that arm
is kept as loose and relaxed as possible, only lightly holding the stick handle
cross piece except for some specific purpose or incident.
- I find it helpful to periodically change the stick from hand to hand, so that both
arms have time for hanging and swinging freely.
- Using the optimum walking method that you learn in the Alexander Technique takes
much stress off your knees (except on steep descents), so if you walk well like this
you do not have all the knee stress in the first place to warrant use of a pair of
- The stick is very useful for testing ground just ahead where I am walking on boggy
or potentially marshy ground.
Single walking stick for particularly rough stretches and sustained steep
descents; otherwise no stick or pole.
- You get the best of both worlds, being able to greatly speed your progress on
difficult terrain, while enabling the maintenance of a natural, free and balanced
walking style for as much of the time as possible. For me in South-West England my
stick is reserved for certain coast path stretches on the Land's End peninsula and
east side of the Lizard peninsula, the Seaton landslip (Devon), and also Dartmoor
when I'm off main tracks and on seriously tussocky, hummocky, peat-haggy or boggy
terrain. Elsewhere I still carry my stick on my pack in case of need (perhaps if I
did twist an ankle, for example) but actually don't use it.
Ditto, with use of Alexander Technique
and my self-actualization methodology as outlined in Healing
and Self-Realization - The Safest and Quickest Way.
- Now, that's really living!!
There is one particular serious hazard about using such walking sticks or trekking poles.
I well know how convenient they are, 'telescoping' into a short length for putting on
one's pack when not in use. However, in my experience there has been a particular section
of each stick that I've used which would gradually work loose during each walk using it
and so required periodic re-tightening. I have got into the way of checking and
re-tightening without waiting for the stick to unexpectedly shorten when I put weight on
it. It is thus clear that there is a risk that sooner or later a stick will give way when
you put weight on it in a critical situation.
Yes, you can avoid that happening by ensuring that all sections are fully tightened
before you do anything 'critical' with the stick or pole - but if you are using it more or
less continuously on a long walk, are you really always going to remember to periodically
re-tighten, and particularly, to re-tighten all sections when you are about to use the
stick in any 'critical' way that would result in an accident for you if the stick suddenly
gave way? Also, if you are depending on your stick or poles in a particular rugged
location in difficult conditions, and somehow you lose it / them while you're out there
(maybe they got dropped or blown over a cliff) - what then? One mountain walker told me
how, high up on the rugged Scottish mountain An Teallach, he had felt obliged to urgently
throw away his pair of trekking poles because a thundery shower was coming over and his
poles had started 'singing' because of electrical 'corona' discharge - undoubtedly a
I have tried one of these walking sticks with locking sections instead of the good
old-fashioned screw tightening. On the face of it, that appears to be an ideal solution,
but I found otherwise and actually reverted to a stick with screw-tightening sections. The
locking arrangement adds significant weight to the stick, and I found that the sections
came loose anyway over one or two long hikes. Then, when that happened, I couldn't just
quickly screw-tighten the particular section join, but had to stop, take off my pack, get
at my purse to get a coin out of it, and use the coin to tighten up the relevant small
Maybe depending on such sticks or poles for one's regular walking or hiking isn't so
clever after all...
Some myths and false gods
Some visitors will probably have been searching on this page for mention of the name
'Munro', so here it is. I get a more satisfying range of hill and mountain walks through
not restricting myself to hills designated as 'Munros'. To me, whether or not a mountain
is over the arbitrary value of 3,000 feet in height and thus listed as a 'Munro' is not in
itself of any interest. My own consideration when choosing walking routes has always been,
"Will this make a satisfying and inspiring walk?" The height of mountains most certainly
does come into this, but it isn't the only consideration. There are the odd so-called
Munros well within my Highlands 'home territory', which I've never been on, because I
could not make particularly satisfactory walks out of them, as compared with so many other
available routes. By the same token, some of my regularly repeated 'gem' walks are on
mountains that are not classed as Munros and therefore are shunned by the hordes, who much
prefer a relatively dull walk in order to 'do' another Munro and tick it off on their
list. Actually I write this not to attack those people who operate in that way (they have
every right to their particular choice), but rather to encourage other people to adopt
what in my experience appears to be a more aware and rewarding approach to walking in the
"If you go onto the mountains or similar rough terrain you need to
wear stout boots that give ankle support"
I had lived this MYTH throughout my hiking, up to my starting
to break that belief as a result of actual experience in 1999 onwards. It had seemed
perfectly reasonable and 'watertight', the notion that on very uneven terrain you need
some sort of firmness around your ankles to stop them turning over when they shouldn't be
doing so. And I had increasingly weak and unstable ankles, so such 'support' was evidently
doubly or trebly necessary.
Or was it? I frequently turned an ankle, and even sometimes got a strain or mild sprain,
despite* my wearing boots, and as my ankles got more
unstable, this happened more, and I occasionally got more significant (though still not
severe) sprains, and then had the additional problem of ankle pain developing during
walks, caused by scar tissue or other long-term after-effects of the healing of the
sprains. And this was in spite of my starting to use a light walking stick, which no doubt
did help reduce the number of ankle-turn accidents and especially any resultant falls.
* It never occurred to me then, that actually there might be
an element of 'because of' about it!
I had an experience in 1990 on the Grey Corries ridge (near Ben Nevis), which made quite
an impression on me. On that occasion my solitude was very much sullied by a major
mountain marathon running event, and here and there on the ridge I was being passed by
hordes of very fast-moving fit individuals, who were ALL wearing special purpose very
light and flimsy-looking shoes. I was perplexed at this. These people must be
absolutely crazy, I told myself, because this ridge was mostly of a very unpleasant and
potentially injurious light grey to whitish quartzite, which fractured to give sharp
edges, and all the scree and outcrops of this rock, which the runners were having to
negotiate, were all angular and sharp-edged.
What gave me real pause for thought about those mountain runners was that those who I
spoke with were completely unconcerned about the sharp rock and the apparent great danger
of serious injury in those flimsy little shoes - and indeed, nowhere along that ridge did
I see even one person nursing an injury - even a common or garden scratch, abrasion or
bruise! What had they got that I hadn't?
So opinionated I was on the issue of mountain footwear, that none of this got me
suspecting that wearing boots itself was problematical for me, but I did occasionally read
in the excellent The Great
Outdoors (TGO) magazine articles by individuals who claimed that boots
actually prevented our natural ankle stability mechanism from working properly, and that
actually relatively light and flexible shoes were much preferable for mountain and similar
terrain, where not contra-indicated because of snow / ice conditions. That made sort-of
sense to me, but with all the stability problems I'd been having (leading me to suspect
that I'd soon have to stop all walks on significantly uneven ground), I shuddered in fear
at the thought of me wearing shoes out on the mountains at all.
However, I had another ankle problem slowly and inexorably increasing, which was greatly
disenchanting me with boots - sensitivity of the soft tissue over my malleoli ('ankle
bones') to the pressure and movement of the ankle cuffs of boots, which was increasingly
causing me to have to curtail walks, and was eventually almost always causing me to be in
significant pain by the end of my walks. This was getting to be a real threat for my
Scottish Highlands trips, because when I got such malleoli aggravation it generally needed
at least a week to settle down, because going out walking in the boots again sooner tended
to get an almost immediate flare-up of the aggro. So, what was I going to do about my
Scottish Highlands trips, when for a bit over two weeks I wanted to be walking on
mountains more or less every day when the weather was reasonably clement?
In response to this situation I started taking with me a pair of stout hiking shoes for
using on relatively easy low-level walking and, at a pinch, on the odd hill or mountain
with relatively gentle terrain (the latter such as the round of Beinn Dorain to Beinn a'
Chreachain). Initially this didn't inspire a great deal of confidence because my first
pair of such shoes actually didn't hold the back of my ankle snugly and actually
accentuated my ankle instability.
However, things changed on my May 1999 Scottish Highlands trip, when I took with me a
pair of the very stout (and heavy) Scarpa Lunana shoes. To my amazement, my seemingly
crazy choice to use them for an ascent of Glen Coe's Bidean nam Bian - one of the British
mainland's roughest and steepest mountains, which always previously had been a real ankle
twister and boot grazer for me - worked out a treat, and for the first time I experienced
the greater freedom and accuracy of placement of my feet on all the rocks and lumps. True,
I was extremely nervous and so extra-cautious that time about where I was putting my feet,
but the fact was that the shoes allowed me to have that awareness of foot positioning in a
way that just wasn't possible in boots. And although the shoes did get a little abrasion
of stitching in one place, overall they got a lot less abrasion than my boots had had on
my various previous Bidean nam Bian excursions, because it was so much easier to place my
feet so that the shoes weren't repeatedly scraping against bits of rock.
On my Scottish Highlands trip in May the following year - my last such trip so far - I
used those shoes again, on the much famed Liathach, which was again one of the mountains
on which I'd least expected to 'survive' in shoes. But again the shoes simply made for
greater precision in foot placement, so I wasn't going twisting or indeed grazing ankles.
In 2004 I finally decided that enough was enough of finishing every booted walk in pain,
and so I chose from then on to limit my walking to what I could do in hiking shoes. This
largely ruled out Dartmoor, apart from during the odd very long summer dry spell - not
because of unevenness of the terrain but simply to avoid walking with soggy feet.
Basically, from then on I was walking mostly on coast path. But some of my favourite coast
path stretches were pretty well as uneven and rocky as many a Scottish Highland mountain
route - particularly on the Land's End peninsula and the east side of the Lizard
peninsula. Again I found that shoes actually gave me more freedom and precision.
I now have much better ankle stability and almost never turn an ankle on any walk, never
mind how rough the terrain. I've no doubt that my move to the use of shoes on uneven
ground helped rebuild my ankle stability mechanism (relating to strength and
control of muscles in the lower leg), though the underlying cause of this very positive
change was most likely ongoing healing (what people commonly though misguidedly call
'spiritual' healing) that I'd been using on myself from late 1998 onwards with increasing
So, nowadays I recommend to everyone to use hiking shoes rather
than boots, wherever it is workable to do so. By the latter I mean that I'm not
seriously suggesting that shoes would necessarily be sensible for major Alpine or
Himalayan-style mountaineering, or even British mountaingoing in full winter conditions,
for then of course you have issues like keeping snow out of the footwear, protecting from
cold, and having sufficient stiffness for the particular climbing methods and equipment
used. I doubt, for one thing, whether you'd find many models of shoe to which crampons
could be usefully fitted - though I have read in TGO magazine that advances have been made
in this direction, with the introduction of new, more flexible types of crampon.
Mobile phones - the 'safety' myth
Whatever their good points, these are an absolute pestilence in the countryside and
wilderness. People are rapidly forgetting the very meaning and point of the wilderness
experience and harmony with nature. Quite apart from whether or not it's okay for people
to go having conversations with colleagues in the office while on, say Bidean nam Bian
summit and 'bringing down' everyone around them in the process, there is a widespread
misapprehension of the supposed safety benefits of carrying one of those phones. Yes, of
course it's true that if you have an accident out in the wilds it's easier to call for
help if you can just use your mobile. But does carrying one therefore actually make you
Sorry, no, it doesn't!
-- Here's why. When you take a mobile out with you, you feel safer. True. And
that's the catch. You feel safer, and therefore in difficult or precarious situations your
decisions will tend to be just that little bit less cautious and well thought out. When I
go walking, I have a commitment to myself to take full responsibility for myself. That
ensures that I take maximum care to see that I don't have an accident or get seriously
lost in the first place.
"Don't you think it a bit unwise to go walking alone on the
Ha-ha, I've had that one fired at me on and off over the years, often with an admonishing
finger waved at me. But it's the ill-thought-out words of ignorant people - 'armchair
critics' and all that. If you actually pay attention to the sorts of people who get
reported as being rescued from the mountains and moors you'd discover something
significant - most of the people who get into trouble are not solo walkers but in pairs
or, more particularly, in groups. Of course there do exist plenty of people with no
mountain sense, who would therefore be a menace to themselves if they went out on the
mountains alone, but in fact most people who choose to do so are not in that category.
In fact, in an important sense going alone is actually safer than going
accompanied. And it is for exactly the same reason as to why it is actually
safer to go hiking without a mobile phone. On your own, you know that your life is in your
hands and nobody else's. Therefore you make the best possible decisions from moment to
moment, based on what your body is telling you and what you know you can manage. Rather
than having somebody with you who might be able to get help, it's actually safer to make
better decisions and thus not have that accident in the first place.
Feeling safe isn't cool!
Our supposedly civilized cultures have a number of materialistic fixations that are born
in ignorance and fear, and which divert people from the underlying purpose of their lives.
Comfort, safety and predictability are all made into gods and primary aims in life. But
actually you can't escape danger, and ultimately neither can you escape discomfort, except
by facing it and where appropriate resolving its underlying causes - though many people do
their damnedest to anaesthetize themselves and avoid facing it.
Of course the sort of outings that I've outlined on this page are dangerous. So, dear
friends, in their different ways, are getting out of bed, crossing a busy road, doing your
regular shopping, driving, sitting for hours in front of a television... Nowhere in
everyday life is there total safety. You have to decide all the time what levels and types
of risk are acceptable to you in each situation. When you become aware that your current
situation is tricky, you can recognise the fact and take appropriately more care, such as
when driving in a confusion of heavy traffic. Similarly, on the odd rare occasions I've
got into what was for me a rather scary scrape high up on particular mountains. Does that
mean that I was actually in great danger?
Well, actually both yes and no. By recognising the precariousness of my situation and
responding with due thought and care, I was able to extricate myself without mishap. The implication is
that because I was able to respond appropriately to the particular hazards, those
particular walks had overall not endangered me materially more than any of the others.
"Going out hiking in those places is unfair on the people in the
rescue services, and is a drain on the Taxpayer. Hikers and mountaineers should be made to
pay for the rescue services."
That old chestnut is another bit of ill-thought-out, ignorant hot air. The situation is
that the British mountain and Dartmoor Rescue groups are voluntary
groups of enthusiasts, who wish to support the whole activity of walking and climbing in
wild places, and they greatly enjoy their work, though naturally the groups do need some
voluntary donations to cover their overheads. They are certainly not so pleased when
walkers come to grief because they weren't properly prepared or equipped, and they are no
doubt greatly frustrated when they get frivolous call-outs from certain ignorant walkers
who routinely expect their mobile phones to bale them out of any little difficulty or
inconvenience that they encounter while out in the wilds. Also, in general, helicopter
call-outs, while expensive, are simply part of the training of the crew involved, so
actually for the most part the occasional helicopter rescues of hikers or mountaineers are
at no extra cost at all to that curiously inscrutable entity known as The Taxpayer.
"Motorists aren't as willing to pick up hitch-hikers as they used to
So many people, including particularly motorists who have picked me up on my
hitch-hikes, have repeated the above statement to me. But where have they got that
information from? Have they conducted a survey? Are they repeating what somebody's said on
television or radio? It's pretty clear to me that they actually have no knowledge at all
of the actual situation; it's just another bit of so-called 'received wisdom'. Some
motorists who've given me rides have made a comment that was probably much nearer the mark
- that they don't see hitch-hikers regularly as they used to. That might indeed be the
case, and in that event there would inevitably be less pick-ups, but that doesn't
necessarily mean that motorists are necessarily really less willing to pick up those
hitch-hikers who are out there.
For the record, I have been regularly hitch-hiking to and from my hikes from 1981
onwards, and if anything my fortunes have slightly improved over the years. That, however,
should not be taken as an indication of the general situation, for I cannot be counted as
an average hitch-hiker. I use very well made and clear destination signs, I stand very
upright (especially since I took up the Alexander Technique), and don't look scruffy and
dishevelled in the way that many hitch-hikers do, and I've progressively become more
confident and skillful in the hitch-hiking. I'm also much older than most hitch-hikers.
Also, the 'vibes' that I give out as an enlightened no-soul person and healer tend to draw to me motorists
who are relatively open and aware themselves (very often with some healing connection),
while many others would no doubt be repelled by those particular characteristics.
"You do of course tell someone where you're going or leave a route
card with somebody...?"
'Ere we go
confounded safety issue. No, I don't do any such thing, at least for my local walks. Note
- I live on my own and have no partner nor family living with or near me.
- I don't know when I might return, especially with all the hitch-hiking delays. This
would lead to people unnecessarily worrying about me and even calling out the
appropriate rescue service. Quite apart from not wanting unnecessary emergency service
call-outs, it would be a considerable imposition on the neighbour or whoever I left the
route details with.
- If I felt safer because supposedly somebody's going to get me rescued if I ran into
difficulties, then, as explained in notes above, I would actually be less safe and more
likely to get into difficulties. I am actually safest in the situation of knowing that I
have total responsibility for my safety.
- If I did leave with somebody the details of where I intended to go, then I would be
committed to doing that particular walk or simply returning home. That would deny me the
opportunity of changing plans to take advantage of a particular lift that I was offered
on the outward hitch-hike. It would also render me less safe on some occasions, because
for greatest safety I need the freedom to change my route in whole or part according to
the conditions of the terrain, the weather and my own body.
When I stayed with friends in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, what I did was tell
them in broad terms what I expected to do, including mentioning likely
alternatives. With one exception I never left precise route details, just
indicating which mountain group I was aiming for and where I would most likely (but not
certainly) come out to the road. Those particular friends were very good in that they
didn't worry about me even when I got back pretty late, for they had a great trust in my
self-preservation ability and mountain sense. I think there was only one occasion when
they said they had just started wondering whether to do anything - though their first
action would have been to drive to where I was expected to come out on the road, to see if
I was simply stranded by a failed hitch-hike.
The one walk for which I did leave an actual route card was the Ben Alder route, because
that was so long and remote, with so little in terms of escape route, and I was a little
nervous at my boldness in doing that - especially in view of certain weaknesses in my
knees and ankles.
of the reasons why a driver is a menace when under the influence of alcohol is that
(s)he feels more safe that way...
Why such a restricted selection of photos for these
I have to admit to having made a sad blunder some years ago. I did have a huge collection
of high quality colour transparency photos taken on my hikes. I ceased photography in
1990, so in any case I had no coverage for the Kintail area, which I didn't start visiting
till after then. In the late 1990s I decided to find new homes for my slide collection, as
it was hogging space in my small flat and the only use I was finding for the slides was
for very infrequent slide talks that I gave to local organizations, which earned me too
little money even to cover my overheads. It wasn't till about 1999 that I finally woke up
to the fact that I could really do with some such photos for my website, but it was then
too late. I had indeed given away all my Scottish Highlands scenery slides to somebody
whose name and location I didn't even know and so cannot trace to ask to borrow selected
slides for scanning.
Although I did get a small digital camera in 2000 to enable me to get some photos for
this site, I have not had funds to go back to the Highlands and get photos again from my
'old faithful' routes.
I did, however manage to salvage a very small selection of the lost Highlands photos, by
scanning cheap prints that I'd had done from some of the slides in 1979-81, and it's these
I've used here. That accounts for the rather poor quality of most of them. Indeed, most of
the prints don't come out well enough as scanned images for me to use at all.
Want to bring lightness and ease to your own
Take a leaf from my book and incorporate the Alexander Technique
into your everyday life! Just before I took up the AT at the end of 1992 at the age of
50, I was on the point of quitting serious hiking because of all the interfering
physical problems, but the AT saved the day, and a few months later I walked my full
Ben Alder route for the second time, on that occasion including Beinn Bheoil.
In the event my regular hikes have continued largely undiminished, with a
lightness and ease that few younger people could emulate without recourse to the AT.
Yack, yack, yack! That's the 'sheep'
version of hiking - not very peaceful, don't you think!
...But, if, like me, you prefer to be walking more or less alone, you could then
actually be properly taking notice of your beautiful and inspiring surroundings,
and getting so much more out of the hiking and wild places experience!