Stour Valley Path

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Across the Stour Valley
Across the Stour Valley

In order to test out all our new Lakes District hiking gear we went for a nice long walk last Saturday. Since we also had a desire to visit Colchester I combined the two by picking up a hire car and choosing part of the Stour Valley Path as our walking ground (just to the north of Colchester.)

Things kicked off on Friday night really, as we packed the core items into our packs. We were aiming to carry what we’ll be starting with on the Lakes expedition. This meant clothes for a week; actually just 2 changes of base layers, one change of a couple of mid layers, and a windshell. Trying to keep it light! Major weight factors are water (which diminishes through the day of course, I start out with 3.5kg of the stuff) and food (about 4kg), followed by tent (1kg), and sleeping bag (0.8kg.) In the end my pack weighed about 20kg. I did also carry my Asus EEE, which is more than a 1kg – I’ve almost decided that carrying a laptop through the Lakes would be really silly 🙂

We drove to the Rushbanks Farm campsite, which is near Wissington and right on the banks of the River Stour, and started walking pretty much straight away. Leaving assurances that we’ll be back in the evening to the somewhat bemused camp warden, or whatever you’d call him, who must have been wondering why we were trekking off with huge packs on. (Note on the Rushbanks Farm site: it is clean and well maintained, though because of its small size you’ll always be close to the neighbours. The price of camping there seems steep, it is based on the number of tents you have and is £9 per tent. Quite annoying given that we had two tiny ultralight tents, so would have paid twice what a family near us with a massive mansion of a multi-room tent would have paid.)

We walked solidly for about 4 hours, getting us along 15km of the Stour Valley Path. The path itself, this part at least (there’s 60 miles of it in total) was a little dull, with just a couple of short stretches actually near the river. In the map above you can see our route, most of what is north of the river is the Stour Valley path, the point where it crosses the river to the right is our 4-hour mark (halfway), where we sat on a small patch of grass for a rest.

Unfortunately, by this point I had the most appalling headache, and was feeling mildly nauseous. We can only put this down to me having had no caffeine for 24 hours, pretty typical withdrawal symptoms my sister tells me. Great, 24 hours without coffee leaves me in a state of debilitating pain (it was one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had.) As is probably obvious, I never go 24 hours without an espresso. So a couple of choices for the Lakes: take coffee, or go cold turkey. I haven’t made up my mind on this, but I have to admit I’m somewhat disturbed at the side-effects of this lack of coffee. Might need to reassess my coffee drinking habits (again.)

I grinned (well, grimaced) and bared it. No choice really, we still had to get back to the camp. For the route back I chose a quicker stroll along the Essex Way and some roads (including the amusingly named Burnt Dick Hill.) We rocked up back at the campsite at about 18:30, 8 hours after we’d set out. All up we’d covered just under 26km, or 14 miles (I prefer the sound of 26km personally!)

Setting up our tents was a snap, just a slight issue with the ground being very hard (held the pegs firm at least!) Then, while I rolled around in agony in a tent, Kat and Yaël wandered off to gather some dry sticks and twigs for dinner. The sticks and twigs feed our little Bush Cooker wood-gasification burner. The BC is a little beauty of a device, boiling our 600ml of water in a few minutes. Lit with a flint and steel and a bit of Hammaro paper (just half a segment is enough), a couple of big handfuls of sticks will boil a couple of rounds of water. Leaving nothing behind in the burner but the finest of white ash. Most impressed!

We ate our cous cous, had a hot chocolate, then headed to bed at about 10:00. Being in the middle of a field, it was still quite light even this late. Thanks to our walking I don’t think any of us had any real issues getting to sleep, despite the campsite being rather noisy.

Waking up was easy the next day, thanks to it getting light before 5. There had been a heavy dewfall but we were all dry inside our tents. The tent Kat and I were using had collected a lot of condensation inside the fly, not surprising a it is quite a small space for two. The inner tent was entirely dry however and protected us from brushing against the wet outer. We opened the tents up a bit in the hope that they’d dry out while we sorted out breakfast.

Our breakfast for the trip is a high-calorie muesli, eaten with milk reconstituted from a powder. Quite tasty actually, and on this morning I heated some water so we had warm milk with our muesli.

After breakfast we started packing our bags, leaving the tents until pretty much last. They were still quite damp though, ours especially was very wet on the inside of the fly. I wasn’t sure what to do about this and eventually resorted to wiping it down with one of our ultralight towels (basically a chamois), this seems to have worked quite well.

Backpacks all re-packed, we tossed them in the back of he car and drove off to visit Colchester! Anyone observing us over the previous 24 hours would have thought us quite bonkers.

There are a few items to think about coming out of the trip, the first is to not forget to bring the ibuprofen! The second, to remember my contacts. More seriously though, I need to consider what to do about my shoes. For a couple of years now I’ve been wearing an excellent pair of Scarpa boots, but the soles are nearly worn through and they have cracks in the sidewall where they flex at the toes. The primary problem with them is that, due to the cracks, they’re not at all waterproof. So I bought a new pair of Scarpas a month ago, which I have been wearing a lot since buying them. They didn’t treat me so well during our walk, they’re not exactly the same as the old ones (which are no longer in production) but are a very similar model. I’m certain there is less room around my toes though, and that this isn’t just my old boots being thoroughly worn in. I got a typical back-of-ankle blister on one foot, and blisters on my little toes on both feet (from my toes being compressed together) and a bruised big toe nail on one foot. Very far from ideal.

So, perhaps I’ll wear my old boots and hope it doesn’t rain too much. I could also try something totally different, such as the Innov8 shoes that seem to be all the rage in fell walking circles. There isn’t really any time left to wear-in a new pair of shoes though.

Food-wise I think we calculated pretty well, we could probably even cut back a little. But then we might feel different about that idea by the third day into our trek so will stick with what we have (there will be food around of course, it isn’t wilderness!)

Our Lakes walking will be far less of a forced march though, we’ll never cover 25km in one day (let alone 8 hours.) That said, the terrain will be very different. They may call it the Stour “Valley”, but you’d barely notice you were walking in and out of a valley without being told, it looks more like gently undulating countryside. In the lakes we’ll be covering a lot more vertical, so 10km may very well feel like our 25km! Still, we’ll take it easy and enjoy the scenery. I envisage a rough template of 3 x 3-hour walking stints through the day, with ample scenery-enjoyment between-times.