Explore Autumn Issue 4

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EXPLORE I always find the changing seasons exciting, with new opportunities for adventures ahead. As cooler weather offers a more comfortable hiking experience, a route like St. Oswald’s Way (p.28) would be perfect for testing the legs. Or there’s the sea itself: good for the head as well as the heart, Carys Matthews has some great tips on how to stay safe when swimming in open water (p.58). This issue, we are also delighted to shine a light on the contribution of charities to our outdoor community. The work Bristol Inclusive Thrill Seekers do, and the sacrifice Mountain Rescue volunteers make is rightly recognised. On a personal note, we have been bowled over by the praise we have received for Explore – thank you! Hopefully, this issue continues to quench your thirst for adventure.

ellis-brigham.com For more inspirational content and ideas follow us on Facebook and Instagram and for a chance to win a £50 voucher share your adventures with us #livebreatheoutdoors #elevateyouroutdoors





Natalie Berry on the best spots to keep climbing in Autumn.






All the events you need to know about in the next few months.

The remarkable story of Bristol Inclusive Thrill Seekers, aka BITS.

A close look at this gamechanging range of footwear.

Our in-house experts pick out this season’s best models.

The key bits of kit you need to keep your crew safe.


Our selection of the best boots for your Autumn walks.

Our pick of this season’s best sport climbing gear.


The best backpacks and bags for longer trips abroad.

Wild swimming expert Carys Matthews shares her wisdom.

The best places to go when you need a brisk, bracing dip.

10. INTERVIEW: THE AMERICAN 26. HEAD FOR THE HILLS: BREAKING BRITISH RECORDS WALKING JACKETS John Kelly talks epic runs, endurance, and algorithms.

This autumn’s best models, as picked by Ellis Brigham’s experts.

46. RUBBER SOUL: HOW TO 64. OBJECTS OF DESIRE: THE CHOOSE YOUR CLIMBING SHOES BEST ACCESSORIES Everything you need to know to select your next pair.

All the greatest gear that you never knew you needed.





Everything you need for your own fell-running exploits.

Rudolf Abraham hikes one of the UK’s epic, but unsung, trails.

Matt Westby finds a lost world, with very few visitors.

EB Sales Assistant Jen Mansfield shares tips on where to go, when.



Join our staff participating at these events this autumn

he Dartmoor Way Circular 50 Miles

Saturday 20th August trailevents.co This beautiful 50-mile trail running challenge follows the ancient Dartmoor Way route and will test the toughest of trail runners. Entry from £75

Salomon Festival

Saturday 10th September salomonfestival.co.uk Billed as ‘THE end of summer festival for the running and outdoor community’, the Salomon Festival includes trail races, hiking challenges, workshops, yoga and talks, before live music and DJ’s take over as the sun sets.

Snowdonia Trail Running Challenge

Saturday 24th September trailevents.co Test your mental and physical strength in the heart of Snowdonia. Choose from four routes ranging from an Ultra at 52km to a more accessible 15km route. Entry ranges from £33 to £80 4


Whether it’s in our stores or outdoors, we are always looking to organise inspirational talks by adventurers, mountaineers and runners, as well as demo days where you can try out the latest gear. Here are our pick of the coming months’ events...

Red Paddle Demo Events Squeeze out the last of summer by joining us for a paddle this September and try out the latest Red Paddle Co boards – the demos are completely free but numbers are limited. 7th September, Salford Quays, Manchester 14th September, Clevedon Marine Lake, Bristol 28th September, Wimbledon Park, London

GORE-TEX Gear Tour:Love it for Longer We’ve teamed up with GORE-TEX to enable you to love your gear for longer. The tour is your opportunity to get your much loved piece of GORE-TEX cleaned, reproofed or repaired by our experts in-store. 16th October, Covent Garden, London 20th October, Deansgate, Manchester 22nd October, XSITE Braehead, Glasgow

Warren Smith Ski Academy Technique Lab Get advice and tips for improving your skiing technique using ski biomechanics and ski physiology from one of the country’s leading instructors: Warren Smith. 19th October, Clifton, Bristol 25th October, St Paul’s, London

Ortovox Off Piste Awareness Tour – Stores Nationwide We’re now in our 12th year of partnering with this series of talks delivered by Henry’s Avalanche Talk aimed at accident reduction for skiers and snowboarders wanting to go off piste or touring / splitboarding. Dates throughout November 2022 For more information, up-to-date listings and to book your place go to ellis-brigham.com/events

P U S TA HL O F O R W A R D N EARTH 22 The new limited edition Talon Earth 22 pack is a sustainably designed bluesign® product. Its technical features place it at home on the trail, on bike or around town.

SPOTLIGHT Words Matt Westby Photos Xxxxxxxx

HOW THE BITS CAME TOGETHER The remarkable story behind Bristol Inclusive Thrill Seekers —aka BITS—the community charity which helps young disabled people climb.

Words Ryan Snittendek “Lots of people are nervous about their bodies,” says Tom Stabbins. “I mean, being a young person growing up is difficult enough anyway, even if you’re able-bodied. But especially so if you look different to everyone else.” Stabbins, a rock climber with curly red hair and the Tigger-ish enthusiasm to match, is the co-founder of Bristol Inclusive Thrill Seekers (“we call it BITS for short,” he says) a non-profit which offers climbing lessons to disabled kids. But he’s not just talking in a professional capacity. As a child, he contracted osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. By the time he was 12, he’d had his left leg amputated above the knee. The experience was, fairly obviously, a transformative one. But it didn’t stop the teenage Stabbins, who’d always been an active kid, from throwing himself into sports. “I played wheelchair basketball for years,” he says, “and it was one of the best things I ever did,” with benefits that reached far beyond improved physical fitness. “For me, there was an element of having to mourn the loss of my leg. And just as people who are grieving might go and surround themselves with people who understand what that grief is like, going and surrounding yourself with people whose bodies are similarly impaired to yours is a really positive thing to do.” Yet as he grew up, moved out of home, and began—like all young adults—to feel a bit more comfortable in his own skin, Stabbins realised that there was something important missing from the world of accessible sports. “It was the only thing in my life that was sectioned off for people with disabilities. And sure, that sounds nice and inclusive, but actually, it ended up feeling ex-clusive from the rest of my life.” Most of his friends and partners were , he says, and the fact that his go-to regular exercise was something that they couldn’t really join in with meant that he ended up feeling a bit isolated. Wheelchair basketball just wasn’t something his able-bodied mates did—it would have felt odd, if not slightly patronising, if they had. Which is why, when he discovered rock climbing, it was such a revelation. Crucially, he realised very quickly that he could send all the same routes as


able-bodied climbers, and belay just as well as anyone else. With three points of contact on the wall instead of four, he’s had to adapt some techniques. “As I’m sure you can imagine, slab climbing is my absolute worst nightmare,” he says. But even that hasn’t proved beyond him. “I just have to do a bit of palming off foot holds.” Before long, Stabbins was a regular on Bristol’s walls, and began volunteering to help others with disabilities to climb. It was through this that he met his fellow disabled climber James Rudge. “He was there belaying kids, with one arm, using a GriGri like it was nothing”. Stabbins was impressed by Rudge’s dexterity. Rudge was impressed by Stabbins’ energy. And in a sort of Lennon-meets-McCartney moment, the pair helped each other improve, rapidly to the point where Rudge, an Ellis Brigham ambassador, is now part of the Team GB Paraclimbing squad. When the organisation they’d been volunteering with collapsed, they teamed up with Stabbins’ old school friend, Jessica Carter, and decided to launch their own.

Learning the ropes

Founded in 2018, BITS runs sessions open to kids with any and all kinds of disability once a week. The regularity is a key factor, explains Stabbins. “We’re not interested in doing open days. There are lots of places that say ‘oh, let’s have an open day and let the disabled kids in,’ but there are far fewer opportunities for disabled kids to get regular exercise.” Not only is exercising regularly important for physical health, it allows BITS to take on a social element—but there’s a key difference to many accessible sports. “We’ve always been very clear that although our sessions are for young disabled people, they’re also for young able-bodied people.” Stabbins says. “So just like how an able-bodied kid would be able to say ‘come along to my football practice one night and then come back to ours for tea,’ we want the same thing to happen here”. What they often find, Stabbins says, is that older kids will attend a few classes, then once they’ve got the skills, head off and climb in their own

“He realised he could send the same routes as able-bodied climbers” time with their own friends. But BITS also has regulars, and the effect on their wellbeing, both physical and mental, has been transformative. In an email, the mother of another young participant called Emily told Explore: “BITS has given Em such joy and freedom. She doesn’t make relationships outside of her family easily, and this for me is as important as getting her active.” Emily herself said simply: “Climbing just makes me happy. I am not sure why, but it does”—a sentiment that almost anyone who has ever put on a harness can surely relate to. So what’s next for BITS? Their decision to keep the name broad—it’s not Bristol Inclusive Climbers, for example—was deliberate. Pre-pandemic, they ran regular parkour sessions (a passion of Rudge’s, particularly), and they want to keep it open to other activities in the future. But as far as expanding geographically goes, Stabbins says it’s unlikely. “What we’re really interested in is community-focussed charity work,” he says. “We have zero interest in setting up a franchise”. Partly, this is a question of time. Tom, James and Jessica all have other jobs. But it’s also because Tom and James have such intimate knowledge of local needs in Bristol— knowledge which would be hard to replicate elsewhere. “We’re passionate about creating things that we missed when we were growing up,” Stabbins says. And in doing so, they’re changing other peoples’ lives for the better. Find out more about BITS and their work at club-bits.com






THE NORTH FACE SUMMIT SERIES FOOTWEAR LINE The Summit Series includes much of TNF's top end mountaineering clothing, but for a few years now it's not encompassed footwear. We spoke to TNF's Daniel Geraghty, to get the full rundown of the new range.

“The North Face Summit Series has always been about specialties," explains TNF's Daniel Geraghty, who does tech training for the brand. "It's the pinnacle iteration of our equipment and clothing line, geared towards somebody operating at the very top end of athleticism". For the past few seasons, it's not included boots or shoes, but that's about to change, thanks to this new four-model range of Summit Series footwear. And Geraghty is something of an expert. What makes the footwear so special? “These boots are a complete evolution from previous years," says Geraghty. "Not just an evolution in terms of what exists in the marketplace, but a step change in innovation.” The most technical of the new models is the TNF Summit Torre Egger FUTURELIGHT Boots, which are designed to be pure-play, technical mountaineering boots at the very cutting edge of fast and light alpinism. Built specially for cold conditions, the Torre Egger boots are a year-round technical climbing workhorse with unbeatable terrain and temperature adaptability. A low-cut inner bootie ensures ankle mobility when climbing and the waterproof shell outer delivers protection. Two interchangeable liners provide customisable temperature control. A rigid carbon-fibre footplate provides crampon compatibility while the EVA midsole delivers hiking comfort. The TNF Summit Cayesh FUTURELIGHT Boots are designed to widen the range's appeal. They're also mountain-focussed, but even lighter (a saving of more than 100 grams per boot), and designed with Alpine-style ridge climbs in warmer conditions in mind. The mid-cut boot allows extreme dexterity, while retaining many of the technical elements of the Torre Egger, including carbon-fibre 8

stiffening shank, Boa Fit system and FUTURELIGHT membrane enhanced with Spectra for durability. Our head footwear buyer at Ellis Brigham, Jez Stevens, is a particular fan. “The Summit Cayesh FL challenges our perceptions of what an alpine summer boot should be, fusing the agility of an approach shoe with the protection of a zipped gaiter." This, he says, "makes the Cayesh one of the most versatile summer alpine boots on the market.” Continuing down the range, the Breithorn boot is a light, comfortable and durable alpine trekking boot fully featured for glacier crossing and rocky terrain. A supportive mid-cut

"IT'S THE PINNACLE ITERATION OF OUR EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING LINE" construction provides protection and comfort for hiking while a semi-rigid footplate ensures semi-automatic crampon compatibility. The VIBRAM Litebase outsole is durable and grippy, even in cold, icy conditions. Last, but by no means least, the TNF Summit Cragstone Pro is a featherweight trail running/mountaineering hybrid approach shoe engineered for precision and responsivity on multi-functional adventures. It features a Spectra mesh upper for durability, and the distinctive Boa fastening as seen in the Cayesh and Torre Egger boots. A prominent heel loop is designed to be carabiner-compatible, allowing easy attachment to a harness while en route.

Tnf_F22_SS_FTW_Cayesh_Ellis_187x248_ESE.indd 2

08/07/22 12:07



RUN, RANDOM FOREST, RUN Interview Tristan Kennedy Photos Steve Ashworth, Artras Volanskis, Michael Nasralla, Paul Wilson

In his two years in the UK, American John Kelly, aka the Random Forest Runner, smashed a whole series of British fell running records. How and why did he get so good? Just a few miles into his first attempt at the Paddy Buckley Round — an epic 100km-plus challenge, which sees runners try to scale 47 summits in Snowdonia in less than 24 hours — John Kelly had a revelation about the realities of British fell running which he describes as “eye opening”. The American ultra runner was attempting something that had never been done before: linking the Paddy Buckley with the UK’s other two ‘Big Rounds,’ the Bob Graham, and the Ramsay, into one ‘Grand Round,’ by cycling between the starting points – from North Wales, to the Lake District, to the Scottish Highlands. He’d been training for months, and researching the routes for longer. But having only recently arrived in the UK, he was, by his own admission, something of a novice when it came to the kind of terrain and conditions he might face. “I turned to my support runners and said ‘hey, if there are lines that are a little bit further early on, that can allow me to keep my feet dry, then I’d definitely prefer those.’ They took one look at me, and they just laughed.” There is, he very quickly discovered, no way to avoid the bogs on a Paddy Buckley. Or the vagaries of the British weather on any of the classic rounds, for that matter. The storms that roll in from nowhere to batter the Lakeland fells, or blanket the peaks of Lochaber in thick fog, are unlike anything he’d ever encountered in his native Tennessee. But Kelly, who I speak to over the phone from the US, is not one to back down easily. “I have a very high amount of what I could refer to positively as ‘mental resilience,’ or more realistically,

as stubbornness,” he says, chuckling. Forced to quit part-way through the bike ride up to Scotland because of sheer exhaustion on that first attempt, he returned a year later and completed the Grand Round – running 300km, climbing more than 25,000 vertical metres, and cycling 645km, in just over 130 hours. As frankly insane as that feat is, it’s far from the only impressive record Kelly has set on these shores. In January 2020, he won the Montane Spine Race, widely recognised as one of the toughest endurance challenges anywhere in the world. In July of that same year, he set a new fastest known time [FKT] on the Pennine Way, which he then subsequently broke himself, in May 2021. And earlier this summer, he completed perhaps the toughest challenge of all, smashing the record for running “the Wainwrights” (all 214 of the peaks named in Alfred Wainwright’s 1955 Guide to the Lakeland Fells) set by British runner Sabrina Verjee (who we interviewed for our Autumn 2021 Issue). Verjee had completed the 525km course, which includes nearly 8,000m of vertical ascent, in just under six days. Kelly knocked 11 hours off her time, finishing in five days, 12 hours and 14 minutes. “I think I slept for somewhere around eight or nine hours” across all four nights, he remembers. Reading the raw numbers behind these achievements always begs the question of how, both physiologically and psychologically, such things are humanly possible. But in John Kelly’s case, perhaps the more interesting question is how and why an American became such a glutton for this peculiarly British form of punishment?


Photo by C. Ziegler


An extremely stable and versatile Moutain Running shoe. Ideal for trail, mountain and off-road running on all types of terrain. -320g (half pair) -10mm drop

Mutant JK for Ellis B.indd 1

08/08/2022 09:10:44


Much like the fell running challenges he now favours, John Kelly’s road to becoming an elite athlete was long, and not particularly straightforward. He competed in track and field at school, but was “a good, not a great runner,” he says. Instead, it was his interests in maths, computers and complex problem solving that he chose to pursue into college. There, he gained a degree in data science, a masters in machine learning, and a serious World of Warcraft habit. In his late 20s, however, while studying for his PhD, he signed himself up for a marathon, and rediscovered an itch he hadn’t realised needed scratching. “Things kind of snowballed from there,” he says, with a level of understatement that sounds almost British, despite his deep south accent. Within two years, he’d had his first crack at the Barkley Marathons, famously one of the toughest trail running challenges anywhere in the world. And by the time his day job — working for Envelop Risk Analytics, a data science start-up he’d co-founded — brought him and his family to live in the UK, he’d already made something of a name for himself by finishing first at the event. Dreamt up by the idiosyncratic ultra runner Gary “Laz” Cantrell, the Barkley Marathons consists of

running five times around a set course within 60 hours. It starts when Laz lights his ritual cigarette, and almost nobody finishes. In 2017, Kelly was just the 15th person ever to make it round the full five loops. No one else has done it since. “Laz calls [the course] a 100-miler,” says Kelly, “but realistically, it’s probably closer to 130 miles [210km], with around 70,000 feet [21,330m] of ascent. It’s almost entirely off trail, unmarked, and there’s no GPS. You’re only allowed a map and compass to navigate, and these are very, very dense forests where everything looks the same. You have no line of sight, and a lot of vegetation to battle with.” The skills needed to succeed in an event like this are as much mental as they are physical. Ultra runners must juggle the competing demands of pace and endurance; they often have to balance the need for nutrition with the weight of the food; and then there’s working out how little sleep they can have before it becomes dangerous, and how that will impact their overall time. All involve complex calculations, which must often be adjusted on the fly — the kind of complex calculations that John Kelly had learned to love tackling in his day job.


“Once you start moving into ultras, and especially multi-day things, the complexity really explodes,” he says. “It becomes like trying to solve a puzzle, with all of the different factors involved.” Kelly had always been something of a geek at heart. He once ran the Boston Marathon dressed as Link from Zelda; his Twitter handle @randomforestrunner, is “a play on the name of Random Forest, a machine learning algorithm”; and his pre-run ritual involves watching old episodes of Star Trek. For a period while he was studying, it seemed that running and computer science might be mutually exclusive. As the distances got greater, and the number of variables increased exponentially however, Kelly realised that his love of algorithms and his penchant for complex problem-solving were two of his biggest assets. “The longer the runs got, the more it allowed some of these skills to come into play,” he says. Which is why, as he eyed up the move across the Atlantic Ocean, he was undaunted by the idea of adding perhaps the ultimate variable into the equation: the British weather. During the two years John Kelly and his family spent living in Bristol, he experienced his fair share of inclement conditions. On his second, successful attempt at the Grand Round, for example, he had to contend with Storm Ellen. “It rolled in about a third of the way through the Ramsay, when I was already on the precipice, right on the edge of breaking,” he says. The following year, an unusually warm, wet period helped put paid to his first attempt at the Wainwrights record. Yet despite this continued exposure to the worst that these isles had to offer, he still sounds incredulous at just how difficult British weather made things. “It’s the volatility,” he explains. “You think it’s fine one minute, and the next minute you’re getting pelted in the face with 50mph winds and hail.” But if the weather was a complicating factor, running in the UK also came with an unexpected mitigating factor: one which helped tilt the equation in Kelly’s favour on several of his record attempts. “People [in the British scene] are so supportive of each other,” he says. “The first time I did the Grand Round, it was amazing to me. Here I was, this random guy deciding I wanted to do something that most people probably thought was absolutely crazy, and there were people showing up in horrible weather, at all hours of the day, in the mountains, to carry my food and help point me where to go.” It’s not that ultra runners in the US aren’t supportive of one another, Kelly says, but “the fell running scene [in the UK] definitely stands out”. For much of the time he was in Britain, Kelly battled with the British runner Damian Hall for the FKT on the 429km Pennine Way. But that didn’t stop Hall from acting as a pacer on his Grand Round attempts. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that both his bids for the 14

Wainwrights record were supported by Sabrina Verjee — the woman whose record he was intent on shattering — despite the fact that his first try was just a month after she’d set her record. (This support went both ways, with Kelly having previously run a leg alongside Verjee on one of her earlier, unsuccessful attempts). This willingness to pass the baton between would-be rivals gives a unique sense of collective endeavour to all of these individual triumphs, Kelly says. So much so that at times, he says, “I feel like I am the baton, just being passed between my support runners,” he laughs. “It means that things like the Wainwrights feel like a team achievement. [And] I really enjoy that.” In fact, having returned to the US shortly after bagging that record, it’s one of the things that Kelly says he misses most about the UK. The other thing he’ll miss, interestingly, is the freedom. “The public rights of way were amazing to me,” he says. “In the US, private land is private land. When I first arrived in the UK, I was following this footpath up someone’s drive, or next to their barn, and I’d nervously check my phone, thinking ‘this can’t be right can it? Someone’s gonna come out with a shotgun.’” As for what he’ll miss the least about the UK? Well, that’s easy, Kelly says. “It’s maybe a cop out to say this, but the weather”. Given how many times British conditions forced him to rethink his plans, the answer is not surprising. And yet, as we wrap up our call, I point out that it’s also not always been the case, because for the Random Forest Runner, planning for contingencies is all part of the fun—fuel for those parts of his brain that light up when calculating complex equations. With a trail running race in Colorado coming up next, and his family happily settled back in North Carolina, Kelly has no immediate plans to come back to the UK. But it’s hard to imagine that an ultra runner who’s driven as much by algorithms as by athleticism wouldn’t be tempted back at some point. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens when he returns.








When you’re going fast and light, a vest is best - but what if you need more storage? Enter the Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2in1 Vest, which combines a lightweight, fully featured race vest with a 10 litre removable pouch for larger items. Compression straps keep the load tight to your back to reduce bounce, and neat touches include pole mounts, room for a 2L water bladder, and a massive eight front pockets.


Weighing in at a minuscule 175 grams, TNF's First Dawn Packable Jacket offers essential wind and waterproofing for early starts and late finishes. Reflective detailing will be an added comfort in the latter case, and the waterproof, breathable and seam sealed DryVent 2L construction will add peace of mind whatever the weather. 16

INOV-8 WOMEN'S FULL ZIP WINDSHELL £90 The Inov-8 Women's Full Zip Windshell really crams in the features, with a rollaway hood and thumb loops to add extra defences when it’s wild, but with vents under arm and on the back to prevent steaming up. The windshell stows down into the zipped chest pocket too, making it extremely portable to boot.


Specifically designed for endurance running, the Women's Race Elite 3/4 Tight packs in everything you need on the move. A stretchy, flatlock seamed 3/4 length leg combined with a wide flat waistband with soft gripper tape keeps you comfortable, while the combination of a mesh pocket for gels and a zipped one for valuables or a phone rounds things off nicely.


Soft flasks are the distance runner's friend, collapsing as you drink to minimise annoying sloshing about in your vest pocket or pack. This 500ml BPA-free HydraPak UltraFlask Speed has a wide 42mm opening to aid fast-filling and can tolerate being frozen, as well as liquids heated to 60°C, making it great for all seasons.


If you’re talking lumens per buck, the rechargeable Swift RL packs a real punch, topping out at a bewilderingly bright 900 lumens on full charge. A single button toggles between modes, which include Petzl's Reactive Light setting. This patented system adjusts the beam automatically to suit the surrounding light conditions.


Looking after your feet is an essential skill, and Inov-8's twin pack of TrailFly Mid socks do exactly that. These 68% recycled material socks have cushioning sections in high-wear areas for maximum comfort and minimal hotspot creation, ventilated panels for breathability and a mid-height cuff for protection and warmth.


Super-low hassle, as well as superlight, these poles feature Leki's ingenious Trail Shark grip-straps—the first system to be developed purely with trail runners in mind. Streamlined air channels reduce weight, while the slim profile lets you click the strap into the poles and off again with just one finger.


A Buff is arguably the ultimate versatile piece of kit. Handy year round, the Buff Reflective DryFlx ups the ante by incorporating 360° reflectivity for low-light visibility, as well as being UPF 50 rated. The DryFlx fabric is a seamless tube for comfort, and the four-way Ultra Stretch delivers elasticity and flexibility too.


Nobody likes chafing, and these shorts combat the problem directly. The inner short is a snug fit with flatlock inner seams and Inov-8's ‘Get a Grip’ silicone print on the hem to prevent riding up. The lightweight outer has perforations for maximum airflow and an extra-wide waistband for added comfort. 17






The La Sportiva Mutant is a versatile trail shoe with an aggressive edge, thanks to the grippy FriXion XF sole and AT Grip Spikes. The standout feature is the ingenious SpyralTongue gaiter designed to keep debris out of the shoe, along with the FusionGate lacing system that keeps your foot stable and correctly positioned to tackle the roughest terrain.





Swiss engineering meets your favourite trail in the On Cloudventure WP, which now features 60% recycled polyester in the upper and a thinner, lighter 20% recycled waterproof membrane to boot. Designed around On’s rolling/rocker style motion, these incorporate a new Slingshot Speedboard to improve terrain feedback as well as a closed midsole channel to reduce stone pickup.


PRICE: £170 WEIGHT: 240g (M) The Tecton X continues Hoka’s tech-laden journey of acclaim through trail shoes, this time centering around carbon fibre plates running from heel to toe to maximise energy return. This is augmented by a deep ProFlyX midsole, and topped off by a grippy Vibram Megagrip Litebase sole, the latter studded with 4mm lugs.



PRICE: £125 WEIGHT: 280g (W)

PRICE: £115 WEIGHT: 265g (W)

Salomon’s popular Pulsar Trail features a bouncy Energy Surge midsole that’ll float you over the rough stuff with ease, aided and abetted by a TPU Energy Blade plate for propulsion and an All Terrain Contagrip outsole. Recycled materials also feature, while the EndoFit sleeve and Quicklace systems make a snug fit quick and easy every time.

Slick and minimalist both spring to mind to describe the Vectiv Eminus, which features TNF’s distinctive rocker shape, along with a new forefoot TPU Vectiv plate. Deep 5mm lugs stud a trail-specific Surface Control rubber sole, while the mesh upper is as breathable as you could wish for.

INOV-8 ROCLITE G 275 PRICE: £135 WEIGHT: 275g (M)

Inov-8’s well-regarded trail platform comes together with super-tough wonder-material Graphene in the sole of the G 275 to deliver trail-blazing performance on any terrain. A Meta-Plate fends off discomfort from sharp trail rocks, and the gaiter hooks are Race Ultra Gaiter-ready - a fast, light and effective package.


IN FOCUS Words Matt Westby Photos Xxxxxxxx

THE MOUNTING PRESSURE ON MOUNTAIN RESCUE The pandemic led to a huge increase in the popularity of outdoor sports. For the UK’s mountain rescue teams—whose job it is to pick up the pieces when things go wrong— the surge has created a whole new set of challenges. Words Tristan Kennedy Photos Courtesy of Lochaber & Derby Mountain Rescue


“Man Rescued from the Clutches of the Devil’s Arse,” read the local newspaper headline. It might have sounded like a particularly sensationalist piece of tabloid journalism—except that, if anything, the story underneath was weirder than the page lead. Crooner John Shuttleworth had been halfway through a concert at Peak Cavern, a cave at the bottom of a steep gorge known to locals as the Devil’s Arse, when the audience heard cries for help. Initially, some thought it was part of the show. Shuttleworth, after all, isn’t a real person, but a fictional character played by comedian Graham Fellows. But it quickly emerged that there was a real man in very real trouble—hanging desperately on to the edge of a cliff around 100 feet above their heads. The unnamed unfortunate had been following his phone to the concert, and failed to notice that Google Maps was leading him to the top of the gorge, rather than around to the normal entrance. Inevitably, the sheer strangeness of the story ensured that it made national news, and featured on an episode of Have I Got News

for You. But for the Edale Mountain Rescue team who responded to the incident—abseiling down and pulling the stricken man back up the cliff—this was just another night on the job. Every year, mountain rescue teams across the UK respond to thousands of similar incidents. Like an inland equivalent of the RNLI, the individual teams are made up entirely of volunteers, who spend their spare time pulling people out of sticky situations that police, firemen or ambulance crews can’t reach. During the jubilee celebrations this year, the Queen awarded all members of mountain rescue teams who’d served for more than five years a commemorative medal. Unfortunately, there’s no record of Her Majesty mentioning the Devil’s Arse rescue by name, but the recognition was richly deserved. Because over the past three years since the start of the pandemic, as more and more Brits have been discovering the delights of outdoor exercise, Mountain Rescue teams’ workloads have increased—significantly.

“The man had failed to notice that Google Maps was leading him off the edge of a cliff”



Data compiled by the Office for National Statistics last year— sourced from surveys and Google’s mobility data—suggested that between lockdowns, the number of Brits venturing into the countryside rose by as much as 46 percent compared to pre-pandemic years. Our own sales figures at Ellis Brigham hinted at a similar trend. Entry-level walking boots and waterproof jackets in particular were flying off the shelves, as more and more people tried hiking or hill-walking for the first time. But of course, this influx of newcomers had a knock-on effect on Mountain Rescue teams, too. “I became a full member in 2019, and when I was training, we had maybe 50 callouts a year,” says Dr Natalya Kennedy, a GP who volunteers with Derby Mountain Rescue. “Last year it was 79 callouts” — an increase of around 58 percent. Kennedy has also noticed a broadening of the demographics out in the mountains. “We’ve noticed there are more Brits from a wider variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds enjoying the peaks over the past couple of years”. She sees this influx of newcomers as a net positive. “It’s really cool—of course we want the outdoors to be welcoming to a wider section of the community,” and she hasn’t noticed a correlation between the rise in the number of novices and the number of people making silly mistakes. “The majority of people we get called out to are actually pretty well prepared for what they were trying to do,” she says. She also points out that novices aren’t necessarily more likely to get into trouble. Accidents can happen to anyone—even the most snobbish of seasoned pros. “I think the increase in call outs we see is really just a reflection of the fact that there are more people out there and enjoying the countryside,” Kennedy says.

Ellis Brigham store manager Simon Pitman

If these trends are obvious in Derby Mountain Rescue’s patch—which covers some popular parts of the Peak District, but by no means all of them—then they’re even more pronounced for the volunteers who work on Ben Nevis. Based in Fort William, Lochaber Mountain Rescue’s operational area technically covers everything from the Hebridean islands of Canna, Rùm and Eigg in the west, to Rannoch Moor in the east. “But in reality, something like 99 percent of our rescues are on the Ben,” says Simon Pitman. Pitman, who moved to Scotland to manage our very own Ellis Brigham store in Fort William, joined Lochaber Mountain Rescue just last year, but he has already seen some serious action. “The hardest job I’ve been on was in March this year. The conditions were deteriorating through the day, a number of different people had got themselves into difficulty, and one person had tragically died.” By the end of the day, Pitman and his colleagues, assisted by a group of soldiers who’d been climbing in the area, and Coastguard helicopters, had helped 23 people off the mountain.

“By the end of that day, Pitman and his colleagues had pulled 23 people off the mountain” 22

Things can get properly gnarly on Ben Nevis. The running joke among mountain guides is that, because of the changeable conditions, “the Himalayas are good training for Scotland”. But according to Pitman, the problem is less the weather itself, and more the fact that people fail to take it into account. “It is seen as a tourist attraction,” he says. “It is not seen as a day of mountaineering. If you look at Ben Nevis on TripAdvisor, there’s a lot of reviews, and people just don’t take it seriously.” He and his colleagues laugh at the ‘reviews’ of Ben Nevis, which include one which went viral last year, complaining that the mountain was “too high and too steep”. But the commodification of this dangerous mountain has a serious side too. It’s become a bucket list item, and while the pandemic might have stopped some international coach parties, it sent domestic tourist numbers skyrocketing last summer.


“When you’ve got a mountain that’s really busy, it’s the same as a road that’s really busy,” says Pitman. “You’re going to have a lot more accidents—it’s a numbers game”. At one point last summer, he and his team were up to seven or eight calls outs in a week. Like Natalya Kennedy from Derby Mountain Rescue, Pitman is keen to point out that novices aren’t necessarily more trouble— and that it’s never their role to judge based on kit or appearance. He remembers watching people walk past him as he was assisting a rescue in jeans and Ugg boots. “But 99 percent of the people who walk up dressed like that probably get down fine. And we are not there to tell people what they can and can’t do,” he says.

“It completely depends on circumstance,” agrees Kennedy. “I once walked up the Snowdon path in flip flops and trackie bottoms carrying a plastic bag. As it happens, I was going up to take jelly babies to a friend who was doing a triathlon—I was walking a short distance, on a nice weather day, on a route that I knew well. But if you’d looked at me, a young woman, by herself, in flip flops, you might have thought ‘holy crap, what’s she doing?’” At best, Pitman says, telling people to turn around might put people off venturing outdoors again. At worst, it might prevent someone from calling mountain rescue because they felt ashamed. “People should never be embarrassed to call us,” he says, “even if they’re just lost. We have talked people off the hill before, and they actually needed it.” Despite the increased workload, both Pitman and Kennedy remain evangelical about the benefits of getting outside. Both see the increase in footfall as a thin sliver of silver on the big black cloud of the past three years. Sure, they would like to see improved education about the dangers of the UK’s mountainous areas. Pitman in particular would like to see platforms like TripAdvisor do more to police potentially dangerous ‘reviews’. But overall they say, both their teams really welcome the increase in participation. Which is reassuring, because whether you’re a seasoned pro, or the kind of person who’d follow Google Maps blindy off a cliff, it’s nice to know that if you ever did end up falling down The Devil’s Arse—literally or figuratively—there are people like Mountain Rescue around, ready to pull you out. 23









It’s always a good idea to have a spare layer—even if only to eat your lunch in—especially in the cooler seasons or at higher elevations. One option is the Rab Cirrus, an insulator which brings serious warmth to the equation, and packs down small to boot. Synthetic 100% recycled Cirrus HL insulation and a recycled Pertex Quantum outer with DWR combine into a windproof, rain-resistant layer that can be worn either under or over a shell, and will keep you warm in the worst of weather.




Low cost and Duke of Edinburgh Award-approved, this bag offers emergency warmth and weather protection and weighs little. Packing down to a mere 10cm x 18cm x 3cm, it’s a super portable bit of emergency kit — nice and bright for easy visibility too.

PRICE: £35

You’ll find this Silva gracing the pockets of professionals and amateurs alike, and it’s got everything you need for navigation in the mountains. Map measuring scales on the full-size baseplate, luminous markings for night nav, and a bezel that works with gloves. Simple, effective - a classic.




Whatever the weather, and whatever the occasion, snacks taste better outdoors. The Chia Charge flapjack provides energy, but also packs in antioxidants and omega 3, as well as sea salt flakes to replace the electrolytes lost in high-activity sports. All snacks may taste better outside, but not all snacks taste this good.

A head torch and spare batteries are absolutely vital for almost any outdoor activity, and the BD Spot packs several key features into a compact package. A super-bright 400 lumen beam and a choice of rechargeable or AAA batteries pairs well with a range of lighting modes including an emergency strobe.

An excellent, potentially lifesaving, investment, the Lifesystems Ultralight Survival Shelter 2 features waterproof seating panels and an air vent, and will keep two people protected from the elements for as long as you need it to. Whether it’s a real emergency, or just a more pleasant lunch spot on a windy day, you’ll be glad you had one along for the ride.

PRICE: £1.75

PRICE: £40

PRICE: £70



If you’re venturing off the beaten track then medical help may be some distance away, which is when this complete first aid kit will be invaluable. With 52 items packed into it, there’s a wealth of vital equipment here, from a glowstick to basic painkillers, bandages, and blister plasters.

When you need to attract attention, a dedicated whistle is best, and this is one of the loudest on the market at a whopping 122 decibels. In addition, it’s made from durable plastic that floats, creates a wellcarrying tri-tone sound, and comes with a lanyard into the bargain.

PRICE: £40

PRICE: £5.50






Pertex Shield jackets are making waves for all the right reasons, thanks to the lightweight but breathable waterproof fabric that is perfect for packing down small as an emergency layer in milder conditions. This example from Rab ticks all those boxes, wrapping a stowable helmet-compatible hood as well as roomy hand pockets and pit zips too.



Jackets like the Shivling sit right at the top of the tree, offering an impressive combination of weather protection, low weight, and breathability. That premium billing extends right through the jacket, an alpine fit cutting down on the 3-layer, 40 denier fabric volume, and the detailing such as the pre-shaped articulated sleeves contributing to a technical and streamlined silhouette.




Lightweight, robust and with seam detailing you’ll struggle to better anywhere, the Beta LT radiates competence in every line. That’s no idle promise either, the 3-layer GORE-TEX shell delivers protection without bulk, while a helmet-compatible hood, underarm vents, and anatomic shaping give comfort for hiking and scrambling alike.

The Rab Kangri is a tried-and-tested waterproof that will serve you well in all seasons - however filthy the weather. Now with a 100% recycled face fabric that hasn’t compromised this shell’s legendary durability, there’s a solid storm flap guarding the front zip, reliable stash pockets, and a winter-ready wired peak hood. When you need proper weather armour, the Kangri is up to the job.

TNF’s take on the lightweight shell jacket involves a DryVent seam-sealed waterproof membrane and a 100% recycled, 75 denier polyester face fabric. There’s plenty of breathability built in, and the adjustable hood and generous pockets will see you comfortable in all weathers, and in all situations whether it's hiking a peak or riding through the city in the rain.

PRICE: £350


PRICE: £300

PRICE: £145


PRICE: £170

Simple, and stylish, but made with the attention to detail you'd expect from the brand, this classic Patagonia shell is not only eminently packable (into its own left pocket, no less), but a genuine all-rounder. Using the company’s proprietary 3-layer H2No Performance Standard technology, it delivers long-term waterproofing as well as durability.

When it’s due to be dry but you still want some protection from the elements, opt for a layer like the Abisko Light Trekking Jacket. Made from G-1000 Lite Eco, the waxed recycled polyester and organic cotton blend is breathable, quick-drying, and quiet – no more rustling as you move. Stretch fabric panels, gusseted underarms, and side vents boost comfort to make superb all-day wear. 27


PILGRIM’S PROGRESS WA L K I N G S T. O S WA L D ’ S WAY Once a popular route for religious pilgrims, St. Oswald’s Way is now one of the UK’s least-frequented long-distance hikes. But as Rudolf Abraham discovers, that only adds to its appeal.


Passing a lone wooden refuge box, perched on stiltlike legs among the vast tidal flats between this side of Holy Island and the Northumberland coast, I check the time. Still one hour of the safe crossing window left, which is good. I estimate that it should only take me another half an hour to reach the island. But the sands here can be fickle — firm and easy to walk on for the most part, and then suddenly softer and more slow-going — and the fast-encroaching waters have caught out many a pilgrim in the past. As I pick my way across the mud flats I’m careful to follow the line of wooden poles marking the way ahead. Shallow water channels snake across my path, oystercatchers wade across the landscape, and somewhere out over the North Sea, dark clouds are forming.


This is St. Oswald’s Way – a superb long-distance trail stretching just under 100 miles across from Heavenfield on Hadrian’s Wall, to Holy Island, a far-flung tidal islet on the north Northumberland coast, surrounded by windswept dunes and often cut off by the in-rushing tides. The route links various sites associated with the life of Saint Oswald, the 7th century Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria who was credited with the widespread introduction of Christianity in northern Britain — that is, before he was defeated in battle and his body was chopped into pieces, to be impaled on various different spikes. On its way, the trail takes in the beautifully rugged landscapes of Northumberland National Park, the stunning Simonside Hills, and almost the entire length of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, home to some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere in the British Isles. Usually broken down into six to eight stages, St. Oswald’s Way is a doddle to get to with public transport. And this being the north east, boasts some of the least crowded walking you’ll find. Technically speaking, I’m hiking the trail in reverse, at least according to the official route. But I’ve always found the idea of walking towards the sea rather irresistible. The first stage takes me along the line of Hadrian’s Wall, with bright sunlight that etches the Roman earthworks into sharp relief. It’s well signposted, and easy going on day one, although in one field I find myself wading through what feels like a sea of mud. Thankfully, it’s nothing my hiking boots can’t handle, and before long I’ve reached Cornhills Farmhouse B&B, where I’m staying overnight. This being England, wild camping is, of course, banned even within the National Park, and although there are a few scattered campsites along the route of St. Oswald’s Way, I’ve opted to stay in small guesthouses and inns, of which there are no shortage. It allows me to ditch the extra weight of a tent, and guarantees me a hearty meal each evening. 30


The following day, the trail continues north through Harwood Forest, a large plantation dating from the 1950s, criss-crossed by broad forestry tracks. On the far side, it bursts into the open, and I find myself on the edge of the great sprawl of heather moorland and blanket bog which covers this side of the Simonside Hills. Among the most beautiful spots in the National Park, the Simonside Hills are a place of wind-sculpted sandstone crags, ancient burial cairns, feral goats and rare butterflies. According to local mythology they’re also home to some less than pleasant little fairy-folk, known as the Duergar, who like nothing more than leading benighted travellers over a precipice. Managing to avoid their malicious attentions, I make a short detour round the eastern edge of the Simonside Ridge, heading up a flagstoned path to Simonside itself, its sandstone cliffs commanding stupendous views —across the Coquet Valley to the Northumberland coast in one direction, and to the Cheviot Hills in the other. Before heading down towards the Coquet Valley, I stop beside the boulders at Lordenshaws, their lichen-flecked surface etched with a patina of Neolithic rock art. The prehistoric daubings are strangely enigmatic things, known as cup-and-ring marks, although their meaning has still not been deciphered. From there I walk down into the old market town of Rothbury – and the promise of a pint at The Queen’s Head – with a full moon rising over the hills behind me.

“They’re home to fairy-folk who like leading benighted travellers over the precipice”

From Rothbury, St. Oswald’s Way follows the River Coquet, which meanders through the landscape flanked by patches of ancient woodland, to reach the coast at Warkworth. Coquet Island, home to puffins and roseate terns, and managed as an RSPB Reserve, is visible just offshore. Along the beach meanwhile, rows of concrete anti-tank blocks poke out above the sand—remnants of the system of coastal defences from the Second World War, built to withstand an invasion which never came. I soon reach Church Hill (not named for the wartime leader) which faces Alnmouth across the mouth of an estuary. It provides a good spot to reflect on the enormous power of the sea. In 1806 a massive storm blasted its way through the 31

sand dunes here permanently altering the course of the river Aln, causing the harbour to silt up and ending Alnmouth’s days as a port. The ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle lie scattered across a raised headland a short way to the north. It’s a ruggedlooking spot, ringed on one side by sheer whinstone cliffs where kittiwakes and razorbills screech around their nests. Oversized waves crash onto the rocks below, great fronds of bladderwrack heave in the swell, and the wind blasts clumps of spume up onto the pale grassland. It’s hard to believe such wildness lies less than an hour north of Newcastle.


But it’s not just the natural beauty that makes this part of the world special. Holy Island, or Lindisfarne to give it its medieval name, is home to one of the UK’s most stunning ruined priories, whose gothic splendour rivals that of Wordsworth’s Tintern. Founded in 635AD by an Irish monk, St. Aiden, who was invited here by Oswald himself, it became one of the most important centres of early Christianity in Britain. That first monastery was completely destroyed in Viking raids, and the ruins you see now date from the 12th century. But it’s easy to see why successive generations of monks believed this to be the perfect spot for a place of worship. Connected to the mainland by the umbilical cord of a causeway, the island is craggy, windswept, and dramatic. It can also be treacherous to get to. Safe crossing times can be checked online, and are clearly posted at the beginning of the causeway, but that doesn’t prevent several rescues being required each year, as drivers ignore the signs and end up submerged. Needless to say, leaving your car on the causeway


“Get the tides wrong you’ll quickly be in trouble” and wandering off, like the villains in the classic Roman Polanski film Cul-de-sac, is a very bad idea. Rather than take the road across, the wooden poles which mark the old pilgrim’s path take me out across the sand. It takes around an hour to reach Holy Island this way, but it’s worth it to splash barefoot through shallow patches of seawater, as eider ducks bob past. It would be lovely to dawdle, but the regular wooden refuge boxes, mounted on stilts, serve as a reminder that time is of the essence. Get the tides wrong, and you may find yourself facing a long, lonely vigil on top of one, waiting for the waters to subside. Having safely reached the ruins of the priory, I follow the waterfront out to Lindisfarne Castle. Once home to Edward Hudson—founder of the English country house bible, Country Life Magazine and owner of multiple spectacular properties, including two bought by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin—it was designed by Edward Lutyens. The castle’s Edwardian interiors and National Trust-curated art collection are well worth a visit, but after my walk, I’m in search of simpler pleasures. I wander beyond, to sit by the wide expanse of the North Sea, among carefully stacked cairns left by previous generations of pilgrims. Sitting here taking great lungfuls of fresh sea air, it’s hard to imagine why this long-distance trail isn’t more widely known. Once upon a time, those cairns suggest, this would have been a popular route. But on days like today, it feels like you have the whole, stunning stretch of coastline to yourself.




No UK adventure is safe from the threat of rain. A lightweight, breathable jacket is a must, and North Face’s Dryzzle FUTURELIGHT fits the bill, offering full water and wind protection from 100% recycled materials.



These indispensable heroes of the outdoors are vital ingredients of any good hiking trip. Fjällräven’s Övik features midweight warmth, hand pockets, a front zip, and G-1000 Eco panels on the elbows and pockets.



Hiking hut-to-hut, or in this case B&B requires a sturdy, comfortable backpack big enough to carry overnight essentials. Lowe Alpine’s Cholatse 42:47 offers plenty of space and excellent gear organisation.



For a touch more warmth on your walks opt for trousers with wind resistance. Rab’s Ascendor are highly durable, stretch trousers with a soft brushed backing and double weave fabric that’s tough but breathable.



Long distance walking demands a lot of your feet so whatever socks you put on them need to be up to the job. Smartwool’s Hike Light offer a sumptuous merino-nylon blend for warmth and maximum comfort.



Hiking in the autumn can be a soggy affair so we recommend waterproof boots to keep your feet dry. Scarpa’s Terra GTX are a firm favourite, with a reliable Gore-Tex liner paired with first-class stability and cushioning.







PRICE: £190 WEIGHT: 533g (M) Hoka’s hiking boots blend the brand’s experience in trail running with a solid commitment to sustainability. The Kaha 2 features Leather Working Group (LWG) Gold-rated nubuck, recycled textile and a PFC-free waterproofing treatment. A dual-density CMEVA midsole offers palatial levels of comfort, while the Vibram Megagrip outsole will grip anything that crosses your path.




PRICE: £180 WEIGHT: 380g (W) Lightweight and waterproof, the Cloudrock 2 WP offers plenty of support through the mid-ankle height, but without bulk or unnecessary drama. The Missiongrip rubber outsole is not only grippy but the huge lugs also serve to bite into softer surfaces, while the 360° mudguard fends off sharp stones and general debris too.




Plenty of design cues are visible in the Tonale that flag a mountain heritage. The toe rand in particular offers substantial protection, as does the suede and breathable mesh upper. The Variofix lacing system is designed to prevent heel lift, and the Vibram rubber sole will grip varied surfaces with ease.

The TX5 immediately looks like a technical boot, and there’s a good reason for that - it’s based on the brand’s lightweight mountain classic Trango boot. As well as being built to last, there’s a GORE-TEX membrane to keep things dry and a grippy Vibram Megagrip sole laced with hike-specific Impact Brake System lugs for better stopping power.

The deservedly popular Salomon Quest platform returns in the 4 GTX, a robust all-rounder that’ll eat up the trail miles with ease. A GORE-TEX membrane, nubuck outer and ADV-C 4D chassis combine into a comfortable but tough proposition that delivers oodles of energy return via the EnergyCell midsole.

PRICE: £225 WEIGHT: 530g (M)

PRICE: £180 WEIGHT: 525g (M)

PRICE: £184 WEIGHT: 535g (W)


The Free Hikers offer a lot of innovation in a streamlined package. From the knitted upper (usefully augmented with a GORE-TEX membrane) to the enormous energy return of the Boost midsole, shod in Continental Rubber, the original version broke new ground and has only been improved upon here.


CLIMBING Words Matt Westby Photos Xxxxxxxx

LAST OF THE SUMMER CLIMBS As the British summer comes to a close and the colder, wetter days begin to creep in, you might find yourself longing for a last dose of warm rock. Areas of southern Europe which would have been unbearably hot suddenly seem more appealing… Words Natalie Berry 36

Thanks to their geology, islands are perfect climbing destinations, especially if you’re looking for variety in discipline and setting. From sea cliffs to mountain crags and from one rock type to another, islands typically have dramatic landscapes and an abundance of history and culture to boot. What’s more, their popularity with tourists generally makes travel and accommodation easy to organise. Save some room for your climbing gear and guidebook alongside your swimwear and suncream and you’ll be well on your way. Here are five European islands in the Mediterranean, Balearic and Aegean where you can make the most of the sun, sea and sport climbing this autumn.



Ultra-lightweight and versatile, the rechargeable IKO CORE headlamp combines multiple technologies to offer 500 lumens of brightness at only 79 grams. Featuring a patented AIRFIT headband, an ultra-thin lamp body, and a hybrid energy compartment that is located in the back, this headlamp is practically imperceptible. petzl.com

“Mallorca boasts plentiful limestone and year-round sun”

Photo Emma Harrington

Mallorca, Spain

A popular holiday destination with plenty of cheap flight options for last-minute sun-rock trips, Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic islands and basks in 300 days of sun per year. The combination of plentiful limestone, good weather and beaches makes it a top pick for climbers. Sunbathe on the beach between accessible routes in the 6s at Cala Magraner (Ses tres Maries 6a+ is a classic), sample some shorter climbs at Santanyì (Colesterol Party 6a+ comes highly recommended) or

take the scenic drive to Sa Gubia in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, which offers longer and breezier climbs with spectacular views across the island (try the four-pitch 6b Via de los Bomberos). If you’re seeking a more adrenaline-filled adventure, Mallorca is also the birthplace of deep water soloing and is home to some of the world’s boldest climbs above the sea. Cala Barques offers an introduction to the discipline by way of lowlevel traverses in calmer waters.


“Gozo arguably has better climbing than Malta”

Photo Inigo Taylor

Malta and Gozo

The two main islands in the Maltese archipelago are off the beaten track for climbers, but the ongoing development of sport routes by a close-knit local community makes it a friendly and welcoming adventure holiday destination (and you get to tick off two islands for the price of one). Both islands have plentiful options for quickaccess sport climbing, deep water soloing and even some trad lines. Malta, the larger of the two, is home to Red Wall, an impressive and reasonably accessible sea cliff with a platform at the base and a 5c escape route. Għar Lapsi offers a range of angles in a scenic hillside location overlooking the sea, with steep caves and gentler slabs to the side. An enjoyable classic is the oddly-named ‘120212’ (6a+) or the harder Le Poseur (6c+). For more difficult, steeper routes in a perma-dry setting, try Mellieħa Cave, which is deep inside a sinkhole. Wied Babu is a narrow gorge with 40

low-grade sport and trad options, which ends in a fantastic swimming and sea-level-traverse spot with views across to the Blue Grotto. Once you’ve had your fill of Malta, take the ferry across to Gozo (25 minutes approximately) and you will sail past the Blue Lagoon of the virtually uninhabited Comino island. This is a popular swimming spot, and some low-level soloing on the rocks around the lagoon is possible if you take a ferry from either island to Comino. Gozo has a more rustic feel than Malta overall, but has arguably better climbing options. Wied il-Mielaħ has easy-access climbing above the sea on a natural rock arch. Try the 3-star classics 30 Minutes to Sunset (5c), or Outer Zone (6a). Mġarr ix-Xini is an inland crag in a peaceful canyon setting, with options for sun and shade at all angles and abilities. For harder fare, the imposing Sopu Tower has some long, high-quality 7as on fun tufas.

Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia offers something different from the other Mediterranean islands listed on these pages. Sea cliffs and spires are the highlight here: try climbing the striking needle of the 150m high Aguglia di Goloritzè via the popular four-pitch line Easy Gymnopedie (6b), which soars above the bay in the Baunei commune, or the 130m tall monolith of Pedra Longa (tall stone), with its wandering classic 7-pitch Marinaio di Foresta (6a+) climbing high on calcareousdolomitic rock above clear blue water (abseil or seatraverse approach). Inland on the east of the island, Ulassai is fast becoming a must-visit area for singlepitch routes, with sectors such as Su Casteddu giving technical routes on vertical faces with spectacular views across the island’s verdant hills. Cala Gonone is the most famous crag of the island, offering climbs off the beach in a relaxed (but often busy) setting. For a change of scene and rock, try the granite bouldering in the north of the island, at Capo Testa and Gallura. Be warned: it’s rough on the skin!

“Skjycg ewkycg kewyg ckyewg ewk ckljhwe lkxuh lwekuh cewewycgy wweu”

“Sea cliffs and spires are the highlights in Sardinia” 41

Sicily, Italy

Although not as established or well-travelled as Sardinia or Mallorca, the volcanic island of Sicily is slowly becoming a climbing hotspot due to its concentration of limestone and the variety of disciplines on offer. The sweeping coastal cliff of Scogliera di Salinella runs for 4.5 km along the west coast of the San Vito Lo Capo peninsula and offers lowgrade but athletic climbs on perfect orange tufas and pockets: try Red Necks (6b) at Grotta di Cala Mancina. To the east, crags nestled in the mountains preside over the cityscape of Palermo on Monte Pellegrino, which boasts single and multi-pitch routes. Ciocca Sciocca (6a) is a popular choice here. Bouldering on sandstone in the foothills of Mount Etna at Bosco Scorace is a refreshing and shady change from sun-soaked coastal climbs and gives stunning views of Europe’s highest active volcano, while Cala Firriato is a perfect spot for beginner-friendly lowlevel Deep Water Soloing. On rest days, the island’s natural hot springs enable post-climb recovery, while local Sicilian delicacies, rich culture and architecture add holiday value to any sun-rock trip.

“You can boulder in the shadow of Mount Etna” Photo Mark Glaister Photo Bridget Collier


Kalymnos, Greece

Sun, sea and stalactites: the Dodecanese island of Kalymnos is home to flowing orange limestone with some spectacular formations. Grottos drip with stalactites —many of which you can wrap yourself around for a no-hands rest —giving some reprieve from the steep cave walls. Rock arches frame the Aegean Sea and the streaked red and grey walls radiate the Greek sun. But be warned: it’s a victim of its popularity, so avoid the busiest weeks, usually in October. The iconic Grande Grotta cave (the lead image of this article) is a true test of strength and stamina — home to the overhanging classic route

DNA (7a) — but gentler, inclined slabs at Ghost Kitchen or Poets Sector offer a more relaxed outing. Massouri is the heart of the island’s climbing scene, largely thanks to the Glaros Snack Bar, a social post-climb hub. Rent a moped and explore both the crags and the island’s coastline, which is renowned for its natural sea sponge harvesting. To mix things up, escape the crowds, and tick off another island, take a ten-minute ferry to the neighbouring island of Telendos and sample more single and multi-pitch climbs, including the must-do 11-pitch Wings for Life (6a) in the Crescendo Cave.

“Kalymnos is home to some spectacular formations”










A joy to handle, this supple rope is ideal for longer sport and trad routes at 80m, but the diameter is ideal for all-round use, and the quality is second to none. You'd expect nothing less from Edelrid, but it's an allimportant factor in choosing a climbing rope!


BLACK DIAMOND CAPITAN HELMET £70 The BD Capitan’s robust ABS shell will shrug off light scuffs and rucksack prangs with ease. It’s also UIAA approved for side and back impacts, and comfortable too, thanks to the vents and adjustable ‘suspension’ fit. Integrated headlamp clips make fitting a head torch simplicity itself.




Lightweight and comfortable, thanks to the wide waist and leg loops, and with a combination of rigid front and flexible rear gear loops, this is a perfect all-rounder harness for sport, trad and even mountaineering. Reinforced tie-in points offer resistance to rope friction


PETZL CONNECT ADJUST LANYARD £42 The ultimate attachment device for sport climbing, this provides a safer alternative to a sling for when you reach the top of a sport route with a solid ring anchor, as opposed to a carabiner. The pivot allows you to lengthen or shorten it easily with one hand.


DMM ALPHA SPORT QUICKDRAW 12CM £25 Intended for sport routes, the bottom 'biner’s bent gate will make for easier rope clips, while the top one hooks bolts with ease. The wider sling is designed so that it can be grabbed more comfortably if needed. 44


PETZL GRIGRI+ BELAY DEVICE £110 The GriGri+ is perhaps the ultimate device for smooth belaying in indoor and outdoor sport climbing settings, and particularly good for top-roping. An anti-panic handle adds extra security to an already top-quality device.



CLOTHING 3RD ROCK WOMEN'S LUNA BRA £43 Made from fast-drying recycled fabric (from repurposed fishing nets) this nonrestrictive yet supportive top provides medium impact support and all day comfort crossover straps. In a longer crop top style, it’s a bestseller that’s ready for any summer adventure.


These women's leggings from Mountain Equipment offer full-stretch nylon fabric and extreme comfort as a result, so they're ideal for climbing, a fact helped by the wide, flat waistband that is specifically designed to fit under a harness.

BLACK DIAMOND MEN'S CHALKED UP TEE £30 Much more than just a standard cotton t-shirt, the Chalked Up Tee is made from an organic cotton/elastane spandex blend that’s far more tactile and stretchy than cotton alone. This adds comfort and increases mobility for those tricky moves.



SCARPA CRUX APPROACH SHOE £125 A classic approach shoe, the Crux blends the precise to-the-toe lacing of hard wearing suede uppers with high rands for extra protection, and a Vibram Megagrip outsole for all-round grip.

Rising above the average short, the Anvil men's shorts sport a gusseted crotch to aid big moves, and a low profile internal belt that will sit comfortably under a harness. Finally, the zipped thigh pocket is big enough to stash a phone so it’s handy, but not in the way.




Climbing is all about footwork, so choosing a pair of climbing shoes may be the most important move you make. They should be a supportive, sticky second skin.

Wearing rock shoes, your feet are able to gain purchase on the very smallest edges, or smear to grip the surface, even where there are no edges at all. A good pair of

climbing shoes will help you climb to the maximum of your ability or ambition while leaving you free to enjoy every second on the rock or indoor wall.




The vast majority of modern climbing shoes are slip lasted. This means they are built around a foot shaped mould, and tend to be lighter and more sensitive than the more traditional boardlasted models. Many brands have an array of different lasts available from flat, straight profiles up to very downturned, asymmetric models. For easier climbs, a straight profile will be the most comfortable option while boulder problems and sport routes demand more extreme shapes.


Ankle to toe lacing gives you fine-tuned control, with the ability to tighten or loosen along the whole length of the shoe and therefore achieve the most comfortable and supportive fit.


A hook-and-loop system gives fast, efficient closure and opening. Particularly useful for bouldering, allowing you to get a good tight fit and then to remove them quickly when resting.


The kind of material used to make a climbing shoe is key in determining how it performs. As you climb and exert force through the shoes some materials will stretch. This is common with leather uppers, which are supple and breathable but can grow by around a size. To solve this, some brands will use a fabric lining or non-stretch synthetic materials, such as Lorica. Hybrid designs just use Lorica over the toes to prevent stretch in that crucial area.

Brands make careful choices on which rubber to use to achieve different performance characteristics. As a general rule it is a compromise between durability and friction. Beginners' shoes usually prioritise durability, so that the rubber lasts, even when scuffed regularly. Stickier rubber, used on advanced shoes, is more prone to wear and thinning around the toe, but will help you grip better— particularly useful on slabs or smaller holds.


Ideal for: Beginner climbers; multi-pitch climbs that take all day. Design: Flat and straight-lasted for comfort. They often use a very durable rubber. The midsole is usually medium-stiff to give a supportive platform. BOREAL JOKER LACE Fit: When starting out it’s important not to be seduced £80 into getting a tight ‘technical’ fit. Fit shoes so that your toes touch the end, slightly curled but not crammed in.


A badly fitting pair of rock shoes can really put you off climbing but getting the right fit is very difficult to do on the internet. We recommend you visit a store and try a range of different models to get the right shoe and size for your needs.

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Shoes made from unlined leather will stretch with use (up to a full size). Non-stretch synthetic materials or lined leathers should stay true to the original size.

Lacing gives precise adjustment down the length of the foot. Hookand-loop (e.g. Velcro) tabs are quicker and easier to adjust. Whether lace or Velcro, make sure there is scope for tighter adjustment, in case the uppers stretch over time.

Keep an open mind on size. You may need to go up or down from your usual street shoe size, depending on the brand and fit required. Feet swell slightly through the day, so try shoes in the afternoon or after a walk. Lots of people like to wear them without socks, too.

Ensure shoes are laced or fastened securely to eliminate dead space. Focus on the forefoot, but aim for a snug heel as well. Check that the shoe’s heel cup contours comfortably around the ankle bone and doesn’t dig into the Achilles.

Test shoes in-store. Stand on holds or edges using different parts of the foot, including the big toe, inside forefoot and outside forefoot.

Rock shoes perform best when fitted snugly, but remember the old Five Ten motto: Pain is Insane! Don’t fit them too tightly; modern rock shoes will give you the performance without the pain.


Ideal for: Improving climbers moving up the grades; multidiscipline all-rounders. Design: More asymmetric and sometimes slightly downturned. Angled heels load power onto the toe. Thinner, stickier rubber SCARPA VAPOR LACE and more flexible midsoles. Fit: Improving climbers will £140 appreciate the extra precision of snug fitting shoes with a crimped toe position.


Ideal for: Experienced climbers at the top grades. Design: Asymmetric and downturned, these put the foot in a ‘talon-like’ shape. Fit: Go for a precise fit that LA SPORTIVA SOLUTION COMP allows you to put maximum power on minimal holds. £155 Heel fit is also important, especially on boulder problems that call for heel-hooking.


The stunning blue waters of Laguna Cotatotani in Park Lauca


LOST IN LAUCA EXPLORING CHILE’S FORGOTTEN NORTH Post-pandemic, the tourist industry has yet to fully recover in the most chilled part of Chile. Which means visitors can have this stunning region all to themselves. Words Matt Westby Photos Matt Westby, iStock



One hour from the summit of Cerro Guaneguane, a 5,097m mountain in the far north of Chile, our guide cries out in agony and slumps against a rock. “It’s cramp,” says ‘Don’ Leo, as he likes to be known. Given he’s 62 years old, out of shape and has been chewing a small stone for hydration instead of drinking water (a custom passed down by his grandfather), it’s probably not a surprise that his muscles are giving in. He massages and stretches his legs before standing gingerly and starting to climb once more. At first he looks steady and pain-free - no sign of a limp - but after a few strides he winces and stops again. I give him water and force-feed him the chocolate biscuits and peanuts I’ve brought along, hoping the sugar and salt will revitalise him. Don Leo wolfs them hungrily


Alpacas graze the lake shore with the Parinacota volcano in the background Below The Church at Parinacota.

“We return to where we left our guide. Only he’s not there” 50

down and tries twice more to battle on, but it’s in vain. He eventually accepts defeat at the bottom of a 150m-high scree slope leading on to a wide, rocky ridge to the summit. I’m keen to keep going and turn back if things get precarious, but my girlfriend isn’t sure. “We don’t know the way and we can’t just leave him here,” she says. “He’ll be fine; it’s just cramp,” I reply. She reluctantly agrees to continue, Don Leo explains the rest of the route and we set off without him. We zigzag our way slowly up the scree slope under his watchful eye and then turn 90 degrees right on to the summit ridge and out of sight. There has been no discernible path since the start of the climb more than three hours ago, but the labyrinth of rugged rock and boulders ahead of us now is even harder to follow. I’m worried we won’t be able to find our way back and could descend off the wrong side of the mountain, so I start leaving water bottles, walking poles and other bits of kit on the ground as Hansel-and-Gretel-style route markers for our return. We reach the summit after 10 minutes or so of clambering upwards and find the altiplano of Parque Nacional Lauca laid out beneath us. It’s absolutely worth having taken the gamble to come up here guideless.


To the east we can see the snowy cones of the Parinacota and Pomerape volcanoes, side by side and both reaching over 6,000m. To the south are the indigo waters of Laguna Cotacotani and Laguna Chungará, separated by mounds of lava turned to jet-black rock. To the west is the icy, 5,860m-high summit of Volcán Taapacá. It’s a panorama of scarcely believable beauty. There’s no one else here, the weather is perfect and we could easily stay for hours, but we really should get moving to check on Don Leo. If his legs were cramping on the way up, the descent could be even worse and who knows what we’ll need to do to get him off the mountain. We follow our trail of kit back to the scree slope and then slalom down to where we left him. Only he’s not there. 51

A brief panic hits us, but after a few seconds of scanning the mountainside, we spot him 100 yards away and walking seemingly freely towards us. He tells us he’s feeling much better, so we continue down together and he’s able to make his way all the way back to the bottom with just an occasional stretch of the legs. I slump into the seats of our waiting car with a mix of elation at a beautiful climb completed and relief that things didn’t get considerably worse.


At this point you may be wondering why we hired Don Leo in the first place. The reality is he isn’t a guide at all. But he was the only local we could find who knew their way up the mountain. Parque Nacional Lauca’s tourism industry was already small, under-developed and fragile even before the pandemic. Bus tours occasionally came up from the coast, but its remote location meant travellers often bypassed it and ventured instead to nearby Peru, Bolivia and other parts of Chile. Then Covid-19 decimated Lauca’s tourism altogether, closing hotels and tour companies and forcing guides to find different jobs elsewhere. More famous Chilean attractions such as Patagonia and the Atacama Desert obviously suffered a similar hit, but while they are recovering well, and have almost returned to their pre-pandemic visitor levels (we visited the Atacama earlier on this trip and it was packed with tourists), Lauca’s 52

bounce-back has barely begun. Chile’s undiscovered north seems as forgotten as ever. Take our hotel. Located in the town of Putre at 3,400m, it was the only one open in the area during our visit and we were the only guests for our first two nights. When it then came to hiring a guide for Guaneguane, there were none in Lauca and we had to resort to knocking on the door of the only open national park office for help. And that’s when Don Leo’s name came up. He owns a small hostel in the hamlet of Parinacota - meaning ‘flamingo lake’ in the local Aymara language - which sits in a green meadow 4,400m up on the altiplano. Volcanoes tower over ramshackle houses while vicuñas – a smaller, slighter relative of the alpaca – graze on adjacent grassland split in half by a picturesque little stream. Don Leo has lived here all of his life and was one of only three people to remain when the pandemic arrived. While the other villagers left to find work down by the coast, he refused to go, and now passes his time repairing his home and occasionally welcoming tourists to his hostel. We spent a night there before climbing Guaneguane, and were his first guests in over three weeks. Despite the lack of visitors, Lauca is not short of attractions. Depending on which part you’re in, the park can be as spectacular as Torres del Paine, as serene as Chile’s Lake District, as dramatic as the Atacama or as plentiful as the Carretera Austral. It is without doubt one of the most stunning national parks in the world, let alone South America.

Salar de Talar with spectacular volcanoes in the Atacama Desert

“Despite its lack of visitors, Lauca is not short of attractions” 53


After climbing Guaneguane, we spend the rest of our visit to Lauca exploring more of its little-known wonders. The next morning, we drive two and half hours south, passing a seemingly endless row of snowy volcanoes—and herd after herd of llamas—until we reach the 4,250m-high Salar de Surire, one of a dozen or so salt flats in this part of South America. The biggest, most famous and arguably most spectacular is the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Unfortunately, it’s also the most crowded and the chances of experiencing Uyuni in solitude are next to zero. But that’s not the case with Surire. Yes, it is regrettably home to a small salt factory tucked away in one corner, but otherwise we have the entire flat all to ourselves on the day we visit, the only other person there being the park ranger who signs us in. For four hours we drive around the perimeter of Surire, stopping every couple of kilometres to stroll the edges of the flat and take photos of its pristine white surface, set against a backdrop of 5,500m mountains, and an endless blue sky. At the far end, close to the border with Bolivia, the rock-hard salt is broken open by the steaming waters of the Termas de Polloquere. We park up, change into swimmers and spend half an hour luxuriating in the most scenic hot springs you could possibly imagine.

The following day, we’re back in the car to visit another of Lauca’s gems: the pyrotechnic massifs of Suriplaza. Rainbow Mountain in Peru is famed for its pastel hues, and there are parts of Iceland in which the colours of the hills feel like a trick of the eye, but neither come close to Suriplaza’s oranges, reds, yellows and whites. We hadn’t even heard of it until a local in Putre recommended it. Like Surire, it’s so remote that it requires a long and tricky drive to get there, but once again we have it completely to ourselves, this time with not even a park ranger to disturb us. Suriplaza is made up of four volcanoes split into three compact massifs, one of which is fiery red and orange, the other three of which mix whites, yellows and even lilacs. We sadly don’t have time to fully explore the steep slopes of the white/yellow volcanoes, but we hike as much as we can of the slightly less precipitous red/orange volcano, called Iquilla. Just like Guaneguane, there are no trails, so under an oven-hot sun we tramp our own way along a sprawling valley and then up on to a 5,000m-high ridge, before descending down from the Martian landscape and back to the real world. We leave Lauca the next morning, awe-struck at having discovered such a uniquely memorable place. One that has inexplicably been forgotten, all over again.

“It’s like the salt flats in Bolivia, but with no crowds”





The mountainous terrain of Chile demands supportive boots with a design that combats abrasion resistance. The Mescalito Trek are optimised for exactly this type of trip, with a full TPU rand keeping the suede upper intact.



Altitude brings with it increased risk of sun damage, so protect yourself with high SPF suncream and CAT 4 rated sunglasses. Julbo’s Explorer 2.0 also feature side shields to stop harmful rays sneaking in.



Lightweight protection and durability are essential when hiking in the mountains. We recommend Arc’teryx’ Gamma LT trousers which feature a stretch double weave fabric for defence against terrain and elements.



At 5000m you would be mad to not have a waterproof jacket stashed in your pack. Mountain Equipment’s fully featured Saltoro has a hybrid fabric that pairs abrasion resistance with lightweight materials.



As temps vary wildly between the base and peak of a mountain a lightweight insulator is a handy thing to have. Weighing only 284g, the Primaloft Gold filled Nano Puff from Patagonia is just the ticket.


TREKKING POLES The stunning backdrop of the Salar de Surire hot springs

Trekking poles aren’t just for the wonky of knee. In rough terrain they help distribute compressive load around the body and stabilise you. Leki’s Khumbu Lite AS poles pack up small and extend quickly.








The TNF Base Camp Duffel is ever-popular, and deservedly so. It features a rugged 1000 denier phthalate-free recycled PVC construction that’ll last you for decades, a zipped end compartment and an internal zipped mesh pocket. At 71 litres, it’ll swallow whatever gear you choose to throw in it, and it can handle a fair bit of abuse too.




The colourful design of this tiny but well-formed hip pack highlights a key ecological benefit - it’s made from leftover 100% repurposed nylon fabric from larger production runs. At three litres there’s enough room for daily essentials, and an internal fleece-lined sleeve is perfect for scratch-free sunglasses storage.

Navigating carry-on baggage regulations can be a stressful business, which is where this specifically-sized rucksack delivers. A decent 36-litre capacity is plenty for short trips, and the laptop sleeve, plethora of internal pockets and easy-access liquids pocket means this bag will smooth away many airport hassles all on its own.



A backpack that thinks it is a suitcase, the Fairview 70 is not only spacious, but lightweight. Its secret superpower is the removable 13L pack that keeps your valuables safe on the move, and can be used at your destination as a daypack. Side handles aid loading into luggage racks, making it perfect for long trips.


The retro appeal of the Kanken is no accident - it was originally created in 1978 - and the simple lines make it still deservedly popular today. A useful 16 litres of storage in an A4friendly rectangle shape make it easy to pack, and the durable Vinylon F fabric is as tough as they come.


Sometimes only a ‘wheely’ good bag will do for extended travel, and the Transporter 90 ticks all the boxes. Huge capacity, oversized wheels, an extendable main handle and extra side grab handles to aid lifting off luggage racks combine with lockable zips. It’s also made without harmful PFCs.

When you need distance, load carrying and comfort from a pack, the Aether 65 really delivers. A beefed up ventilated back system increases stability, while the torso length is adjustable to suit your back perfectly. With masses of pockets and attachment points, this is versatile and rugged to boot.




It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK, but wild swimming can still carry risks. Expert Carys Matthews talks you through how to minimise them.

Photos Pete Elliot


What could be more refreshing than a cold-water swim in a glistening freshwater lake, leafy river, or secret coastal lagoon? A natural tonic to the stresses and strains of modern life, wild swimming has surged in popularity in recent years—notably during the coronavirus pandemic—with more of us seeking the delights of a natural dip. In the UK you’re never very far from a wild swimming spot with hundreds of lakes, lochs, rivers, natural pools, and a beautiful coastline all waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a seasoned cold-water enthusiast or warm weather dipper, alfresco swimming is the perfect way to connect with nature, boost your physical and mental health – and have fun! Swimming is a great low-impact, cardiovascular workout, and cold-water swimming has added health benefits. Some studies suggest it could even help you live longer. A 2017 Swim England study found cold-water swimming can boost immunity, is good for heart health, improves circulation and reduces inflammation. The benefits aren’t

just physical either – wild swimming is also good for your mind. Researchers from the British Medical Journal found that regular outdoor swimming is effective in treating depressive disorders. If you experience a sense of wellbeing after a wild swim this is because cold water immersion can help to trigger a release of dopamine and serotonin, the body’s feel-good hormones. Further studies have found that ‘green exercise’ intensifies the mental health benefits, which explains why so many of us love to swim in nature. There’s real joy to be found in wild swimming, but before you take the plunge, here are six pieces of essential advice you need to know.

Assess your surroundings

As with any outdoor pursuit, wild swimming comes with an element of risk, so learning how to do it safely is vital. Each year, as the number of participants in the sport increase, so do the number of water-based injuries and fatalities. Following simple swim safety guidance will help you avoid hurting yourself. Avoid the temptation to leap straight in and take a moment to assess your surroundings. Create a quick mental checklist before you get in, including the following key questions: Can you easily enter and exit the water? Is there a current? Is there a hidden obstruction under the water which could cause injury? Be aware that water temperature and flow can vary considerably depending on the weather conditions. Open water is generally quite cold (even on a hot summer’s day) and can also be very deep, so you need to be confident staying afloat and swim within your abilities. The key piece of advice here is to make sure you always have an escape plan should you need to exit the water quickly.

Learn how to read currents

Coastal waters can be especially unpredictable with powerful undercurrents or riptides hidden from plain sight, but rivers or lakes can also have a strong current or ‘chop’ depending on the weather. Even the strongest swimmer can quickly find themselves in trouble. If a river or lake looks inviting, it is worth first checking the flow of the water by throwing a stick in and seeing how fast it moves. I learned how overconfidence can be dangerous during a choppy sea swim in Devon. It was a stretch of coast I regularly swim, but on this occasion the current was particularly strong and I got caught in a riptide which dragged me away from the shore. If you find yourself in a riptide, try to stay calm and float on your back. Don’t try and swim out of the rip, simply let the flow of the current push you to safety. I managed to navigate myself out of the riptide, but it gave me a fright, and I felt quite exhausted afterwards.


“THE CLUB HAS MORE THAN 30,000 MEMBERS AND JOINING IS FREE ” Take time to acclimatise

The body’s ability to acclimatise to cold water is quite incredible, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It is important to gradually build up your tolerance. You can do this in a number of ways – from braving a cold shower for a minute or two daily to taking regular cold-water dips and gradually increasing the time spent in the water. By the end of the summer, the water temperature is at its warmest, but it is still important to build up your acclimatisation steadily. I swim regularly in quarries which are very deep and cold even in the summer months. I usually find it bracing at the start of the season, but by swimming twice a week in the cold water I am always amazed at how my body adapts. It can sometimes be tempting to dive straight in, but this can cause a reaction known as cold-water shock, which can be dangerous – particularly for those with a heart condition or high blood pressure. Reduce the risk by slowly immersing yourself into the water, taking a few moments to adjust.

Don’t get too cold

Hypothermia comes on gradually and you may not immediately notice it. It often starts with a feeling of tiredness, and you may find your ability to make decisions impaired. Wearing a wetsuit can reduce the risk but it is still possible to get very cold even if you’re head to toe in neoprene. Be aware that cold water restricts blood flow to arms and legs to protect vital organs so it can become harder to swim the colder you get. If the 60

water is very chilly, make sure you leave yourself with enough energy to swim to safety. If you find yourself getting cold, then exit the water and warm-up by drying off and putting on several layers of clothes, including a hat. Try to keep moving by walking and sip a warm drink.

Swim with others

Joining a swimming club is a great way to swim safely outdoors and have fun socialising with other like-minded people. Many swim groups can help introduce you to new swimming spots safely and help build your water confidence. A simple search for wild swimming groups online is a good start. The Outdoor Swimming Society is worth joining too. It’s the biggest wild swimming group in the UK with more than 30,000 members and joining is free. One of my favourite wild swimming clubs is my local club at Farleigh Hungerford along the River Frome. It was founded in 1933 and is the oldest in the UK.

Get the gear

Of course, you can take the plunge with just a swimsuit, towel and possibly a pair of goggles. However, the right gear will make the experience much more comfortable and if you want to swim in the colder months or for longer periods of time, a wetsuit and neoprene boots, gloves and the other gear listed on this page are a must. A brightly coloured swim hat or tow-float is also a good idea if you’re swimming in large bodies of open water for safety as it makes you easier to spot should you get into difficulty.

ZONE3 SWIM SAFETY BUOY/ DRY BAG 28L £33 This Swim Safety Buoy ticks all the boxes - providing extra visibility, an emergency float in case of tiredness or cramp, and incorporating a dry bag for your car keys or a phone. It’s also specifically designed to be leashed out of stroke range, so it won’t hinder progress.






DRYROBE ADVANCE COLOUR LONG SLEEVE £160 A real touch of luxury for open water swimming is a nice warm, fleecy robe to snuggle into and get changed underneath, adding comfort and decorum into an otherwise tricky manoeuvre. The outer shell is also windproof, rainproof and breathable for those mixed weather days.






Adding warmth as well as buoyancy, the Agile wetsuit makes ingenious use of different neoprene thicknesses - 2mm, 3mm and 4mm panels - to create a more streamlined profile. The material is also derived from limestone and scrap rubber tyres, scoring serious sustainability points.

They might look a little silly on dry land, but swimming caps are simple, effective, and essential for open water swimming. They make you vastly more visible and safe, while adding barely any weight or cost, and reducing drag. Designed for a comfort fit, this is one to keep in the kit bag at all times.

A quiet stroke of genius, the Vapour Goggles are not only super comfortable, but feature photochromatic lenses, which darken in bright conditions and remain clear in low light, so you can see in either. They also offer wide-angle lenses, and 100% UVA/UVB protection too.

Swim socks can make a huge difference to comfort levels in the off-season months, and these really pack a punch thanks to the titanium lining, which reflects body heat to boost warmth. The main material is 3.5mm neoprene, which is good for most months of the year in the UK, if you’re staying active.

When temperatures drop, gloves are your friend, alongside swimming socks. These 2mm-thick, long wristed versions will keep the cold off beautifully by covering the wrist too. A grippy palm covering combined with natural, non-webbed fingers means safety isn’t compromised.



Photos Pete Elliot


Pack your swimwear and your sense of adventure ready for a stroll to a beautiful natural swimming spot. Here Carys Matthews shares six of her favourite wild swimming walks.


It is hard to beat the wild beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast with its rugged cliffs, marine wildlife and secret coves. This coastal walk takes you to the spectacular Abereiddi Blue Lagoon. Set in a former slate quarry, the water is an enticing bright blue on a sunny day making it a dramatic spot for a wild swim. The walk starts and finishes in the pretty fishing harbour of Porthgain, at the south corner of the harbour. Climb a set of steep steps and follow signs for the coastal path. From here it’s a leisurely 35/40 minute walk to the pebbly Abereiddi beach.


Plunge into the mighty waters of the River Dart at the tranquil Sharrah Pool. It’s a pleasant forest walk to reach this hidden spot and should take around an hour. Starting at New Bridge car park, cross the bridge and head into Holne Woods. Follow the winding forest path down towards the riverbank. Continue along the southern side of the river to cross a waterfall, carrying on until you see several large flat granite rocks and small sandy beaches which offer easy entry to the deep gin-clear water and the perfect sunbathing spot. The best thing to do in Dartmoor on a hot day.





Set in the lush Somerset countryside, Warleigh Weir is a magical swimming spot near the city of Bath in an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. Cool off in the deep green water, splash around in the shallower pools or take a longer swim along the river. Owned by the Warleigh Weir Project, access to the weir is permitted via private land. The weir can only be reached on foot or by bicycle making the journey to the water all part of the experience. Starting at Dundas Aqueduct follow the footpath towards Claverton and head along the canal path towards the pumping station.

The sprawling white sandy Findhorn beach stretches for 7 miles along the dramatic Moray Firth coastline. With the unique Culbin Sands Nature Reserve and coastal forest at one end of the beach and a pretty harbour inland, it is a picturesque spot for a beach walk and swim. Take a leisurely stroll along the beach to discover former World War II pillboxes, while keeping an eye out for harbour seals—which often haul out along the shore—before taking an invigorating dip in the crystal-clear waters. Just don’t be surprised if a seal pops up to say hello!

Explore Wales’ waterfall country and immerse yourself in the large plunge pool of Sgwd Gwladys (also known as Lady Falls) in the Brecon Beacons. Starting in the small village of Pontneddfechan follow the Elidir Trail along the Nedd Fechan river for approximately 30 minutes. You’ll pass several waterfalls along the way before before reaching the epic Sgwd Gwladys falls and plunge pool, created by the Afon Pyrddin dropping 10m overhead. You can even walk behind the waterfall. It’s a magical spot to spend an afternoon clambering over stepping-stones.

With lakes, rivers and even a coastline, it doesn’t get much better for walks and wild swims than the Lake District. Some of the larger lakes can be busy with boat traffic, so for a more peaceful swim head to the idyllic Black Moss Pot in the Langstrath Valley. With a mountain backdrop this dark turquoise plunge pool sits in a rugged, craggy bowl and is one of the most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK. Starting in Stonethwaite village it’s a scenic two-mile walk to this hidden swim spot, and it passes the pretty Fairy Glen and Galleny Force waterfall if you fancy a splash first.


Osprey Talon Earth 22 £160 The Talon Earth 22 is made from 100% recycled fabrics inside and out, is bluesign approved, and even features plastic hardware made from certifiedrenewable natural gas. The design is one of Osprey’s most popular, ideal for hiking but also ready for city dwellers and office commuters too, thanks to the useful pockets, laptop sleeve and ‘LidLock’ bike helmet attachment point.



Black Diamond Storm 500-R Head Torch £65 The BD Storm ticks all the boxes for a reliable head torch for all occasions, from camping to multi-pitch climbing. A 500 lumen beam, rechargeable Lithium battery and an IP67 (immersion proof) rating, combined with a range of lighting modes will see you right in all outdoor night-time situations.

Ruffwear Palisades Pack £190 Lightening your load by drafting in the dog sounds like a winning scheme, and this pack is not only comfortable, with a cross-load compression system, but spacious thanks to the two saddlebags. There are three sizes to suit different dogs, the set comes with two collapsible 1-litre hydration bladders and the harness detaches for everyday use too.

Y & Y Vertical Triangle Fingerboard £45 Train those crimping skills almost anywhere with the Triangle training aid - designed to allow gentle warmups before that big project send, the soft-touch sustainably sourced recycled rubber wood surface is skin friendly. There are four grips: mono, 15mm, 20mm and 25mm which can be switched around by rotating the triangle. 64

Leki Cressida FX Carbon £190 Leki’s carbon poles are a work of art in themselves, and these women’s specific folding hiking poles are no exception. The Aergon Air Compact grips are sized for smaller hands, and specific geometry aids comfort and placement. The collapsed size of 40cms means they will also fit nicely in your hand luggage.

ellis-brigham.com Katadyn BeFree Soft Flask With Filter 1L £50 Soft Flasks are particularly useful for runners, as they stop water sloshing around, but they also work really well for hikers and climbers too as they take up minimal space in a pack. This one litre bottle is a good size, lightweight, and includes a filter in the cap to remove microorganisms, such as bacteria, cysts, and sediment.

The North Face Summit Cayesh FUTURELIGHT Boots £450 Right on the cutting edge of modern mountain boots, the Summit Cayesh links several technologies together into an impressive package. The breathable and waterproof FUTURELIGHT technology is mated with ludicrously strong Spectra yarn, with a carbon fibre shank for lightweight stiffness too. With an inbuilt gaiter, Vibram outsole and semi-automatic crampon fittings, these will go wherever you need them to - with ease.

Jetboil Stash Stove £140 Lighter and more compact than ever, the Stash does exactly what Jetboil is famous for - boiling water fast but efficiently (2:30mins). This is down to the 800ml FluxRing pot that transfers heat from the lightweight titanium burner as efficiently as possible. Nested together, it’s a compact kit for general backpacking and a particular godsend for coffee lovers.

Helinox Chair Zero High Back £160 A backpacking chair might sound ludicrous, but that’s exactly the magic trick that Helinox have pulled off, and with a max load of 120kg this is no fragile wallflower. The DAC frame and ingenious design are the main reasons behind this, making a compact package that unfurls into a proper high-backed chair in seconds.

Nemo Disco 15 £300 A spacious three-season sleeping bag for backpackers, the Disco is designed for side-sleepers, so offers extra room as well as warmth - it is comfort rated down to -4°C. Packed with responsibly-sourced hydrophobic 650-fill down, the zipped ‘Thermo Gills’ allow you to vent body heat without letting draughts in for a really comfortable night’s sleep. 65



Ellis Brigham’s sales assistant Jen Mansfield shares recommendations around her home in Chester and in the nearby Snowdonia National Park. Name: Jen Mansfield Stores: Chester & Capel Curig Main activities: Trail running, climbing, hiking, wild camping & paddle boarding Part of the EB family for: 4 Years


With Snowdonia National Park just an hour away from Chester, this is where you will find me on my days off. The RAC boulders offer options for all abilities, so it’s a great place to develop your skills. There’s easy parking on the side of the road and a one minute walk to the boulders. If you have had a great day out walking/ adventuring, and aren’t quite ready to head home, this is such a fun way to round things off.


This is my go to when I’m in Chester and don’t have much time, but want get trail running. There are plenty of little routes to explore around here, and you can easily link up Helsby Hill with nearby Frodsham Hill, just 10 minutes away. In the colder months it can get pretty muddy and churned up, but this adds to the fun (and effort) if you don’t mind wet feet. 66


A favourite for paddleboarding, the Dee runs through Chester. The best place to launch is Eccleston Ferry, just a short drive from the town centre. In the summer there is usually a little coffee van in the car park so you can get your morning fix before your paddle. Head towards Aldford and you’ll hit more fun bends in the river. Another bonus is that the river is free access, so no permit needed.


This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty sits between Chester and the Snowdonia National Park. It’s perfect for a day walk, fell run or mountain bike, with plenty of trails and forest paths to enjoy. From the top of Moel Fammau on a clear day, you can see Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in one direction and the Lake District in the other. Finish at The Loggerheads for a pint and dinner.

BUFF® is a registered trademark property of Original Buff, S.A. (Spain)

I AM THE TRUE ORIGINAL The most versatile accessory ever. Soft on the skin, easy to stretch. Made from recycled plastic bottles, delivering UPF 50 sun protection and wearable in more than 12 different ways. Created for the outdoors, designed for everyday life. The Original. ELLIS-BRIGHAM.COM/BUFF



The Aeon Ultra is the ultimate all-conditions pack for fast hikers and mountain runners. Stable and secure with a body-hugging harness, and volume for long distance tests of endurance, it’s ideal for quests over challenging terrain. Weather resistant with taped seams and on-the-go equipment access, the Aeon Ultra is built for no-nonsense ascents, for those who get out and get it done. WWW.ELLIS-BRIGHAM.COM/RAB

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