Welcome to the
Country Walking gear reviews There’s an old adage that suggests an ounce on your foot is worth a pound in your pack. Whether that’s true or not we’re not sure, but we do enjoy cutting the weight of our footwear a little when conditions allow; so putting this little collection of light-yet-versatile shoes to the test was definitely no hardship. Read on to see which we thought were best. We’ve also been messing with our legwear a little this issue: could soft shell be the perfect fabric for walking trousers? Check out our Buyers’ Guide on page 76 to get the lowdown. And then there’s the ‘Gear Doctor’ slot: more questions, more answers and hopefully some more prizes to thank you for your efforts in writing in. We hope you like the newlook gear pages – let us know!
Walking shoes W
alking in shoes is about freedom: lighter feet can move with more speed and more precision using less effort. They also stay cooler – a real bonus in the warmer months. But this freedom comes at a price: boots offer better ankle support and usually have stiffer, more stable sole units; they also keep water out. So which is better? This depends on a number of variables: the kind of walking you’re doing, the conditions on the day, the weight in your pack and even your own strength and balance. Get it right and walking in shoes is liberating and thoroughly enjoyable. The caveat is that it’s important to choose a pair that is right for you and the type of walking you do. Walking shoes (or multi-activity shoes to give them their trade moniker) also offer another key advantage over boots: most of them look good enough – and are comfy enough – for year-round casual wear too.
Toe and Heel Protection Tom Hutton & Steph Duits Country Walking gear testers
contents Men’s shoes ..................................page 70 Women’s shoes ..........................page 72 Gear Doctor ...................................page 75 Soft shell trousers ...................page 76 CW Recommends ......................page 78
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Some reinforcement at the toe and heel will protect the foot from knocks on rough and loose ground.
What to look for... Fit A well-fitted walking shoe should feel snug around the whole foot and shouldn’t need too much breaking-in. Lace them firmly from the toes and check that your foot is held securely in place. Padding on the tongue and ankle cuff will make them feel great from the box but may mask a bad fit. It’s worth noting that different brands are made around different lasts (foot shapes), so some makes are likely to be wider, narrower or more volumous than others. No matter what features a shoe has, if it doesn’t fit, it is not the shoe for you.
Uppers Fabric uppers are light and breathable but need reinforcement for support. This is typically provided by leather, suede or nubuck panels. Some shoes feature waterproof membranes that obviously keep water out, great if you don’t like wet feet, but these also reduce breathability. Some walkers prefer their shoes without the membrane and just get used to walking with wet feet. It’s worth remembering that as shoes are cut quite low, the odds are that water will sneak in over the top anyway, and then the waterproof membrane will just trap it inside.
Midsole This is effectively a frame within the sole unit. Ideally it will be stiff enough laterally (side to side) to provide a firm and stable platform for walking on; yet not so stiff that it won’t flex a little front to back, as the lightweight upper and low-cut ankle cuff are unlikely to offer enough support to cope with anything too rigid.
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Photo: Tom Bailey
The depth and pattern of the tread and the materials used in the sole will determine how well a shoe grips on different terrain. Traction on dry and rocky ground is probably the most important thing. But in the UK, you’ll still almost certainly need to cross wet and soft ground from time to time, so some grip here will be useful too. A tread depth of around 3-4mm is about perfect.
total guide Mallorca
hen Errol Flynn washed up in Palma de Mallorca in the 1950s, blind drunk and looking for a good time, he couldn’t have known he would be only one of a long, slightly unsteady line of inebriated holidaymakers to stagger across the island over the next half-century. But behind the ghastly high-rise hotels and the Magaluf-shaped image lay a different Mallorca – the gorgeous northern coast, basking smugly in its easy tranquility, and sheltered from all the mayhem by the spectacular Serra de Tramuntana mountain range. Even as boozy Brits were swilling lager in the southern resorts, the poet Robert Graves and the surrealist artist Joan Miró were unravelling their creative genius under the Tramuntana’s serene blue skies. Of course, this ‘hidden’ Mallorca was always in plain sight for those who looked, and walkers especially have cottoned on to the beauty to be unlocked here. Hundreds of miles of waymarked paths now weave through the hills and along the seashore, echoing to the footsteps of the kind of holidaymakers who laugh in the face of flip-flops. It’s on one of these footpaths, at La Planicia in the northwestern foothills, that I find myself on my first morning in Mallorca. And while it may no longer be a secret, I can see that this stretch of country still holds its air of mystery and silence. I gaze out to sea from my vantage point above the coast, watching the morning mist cling inside the hollows and wrap around the steepling cliffs and coves, and gradually give way to the rising sun. It’s an intimate coastline, rugged, keeping history’s tales of piracy, smuggling and doomed love affairs close to its chest. The village where I’m staying, Banyalbufar, is every bit as enchanting. I drove there over the mountains last night, and Mallorca’s characteristic patchwork of sun-drenched citrus groves gradually gave way to terraced vineyards, as both the land and a fireball sunset slid away into the sea. Now, as my path picks up a road back down into the village, I can truly appreciate its charm. Its characterful sandy buildings are literally built into the mountainside, beside a grand staircase of terraces that the locals call the ‘Hanging Gardens of Banyalbufar.’ In the evening, big Francesc – our olive-skinned, laid-back host at the Hotel Mar i Vent – suggests a trip to a local tapas bar, C’as Batle Negre. Its owner, Toni, is one of the men responsible for producing Cornet wine, made from the island’s Marvasia grapes. After a glass (or two) of his crisp, dry white and a delectable spread of sardines, fried asparagus, spicy sausage and local cheese, Banyalbufar is seeping happily into my senses. The garrulous Francesc seems to know the entire English vocabulary backwards and strings his words together in a distinctly Spanish way, with rhythm and humour. Before dinner is over, he has told us the entire history of Mallorca – how the island has been casually passed between the Romans, Byzantines, North African Moors and Spanish Catholics, apparently without much fuss. “Whoever comes, we say okay, come,” says
Francesc with a shrug of the shoulders. “Anyone is welcome.” The next morning, I make the 40-minute drive east to Sóller, a town that ought to have a permanent “Walkers Welcome” sign hanging above the high street. Right in the heart of the Tramuntana, it simply loves us – and it is basecamp for the most popular hike on the island: an ascent on the famous Barranc de Biniaraix to the mountain of L’Ofre, which towers 1,090m above the coastal strip. That’s Snowdon, with a house on top. But I’ve been enticed by images of crystal-blue waters beyond the mountain, and my route today will shamefully bypass the summit itself in favour of a walk by the shore of Cúber Lake. Named after the impossibly beautiful hamlet at its foot, the Barranc de Biniaraix is an old pilgrims’ path, zig-zagging gently up the side of a steep gorge. Although I meet a steady stream of walkers coming down the other way, the immense scale of the mountainside dwarfs us all, and we’re far too absorbed in studying its tree-lined crags to worry about each other. At the umpteenth stop to admire the views, I get a little over-excited, and a puddle of spring-green grass opening up below me puts me in mind of Peru’s magical Machu Picchu. I might be getting carried away, but there’s no doubt this is a special place. What’s more, the head of the gorge proves even more special: all this landscape drama is set against the perfectly still air and the faint echo of distant voices. L’Ofre itself is a surprisingly reticent mountain considering its size, but when I emerge from some cool woods, it finally shows its face – a perfectly conical peak, lush-green and with an exposed, rocky summit. I haven’t climbed to the very top, but the views back from the pass below are rewardingly spectacular, scooping up Sóller and the glistening Mediterranean Sea. I begin to doubt my decision to snub the summit, especially when a group of oldsters breeze past, returning merrily from the scramble to the top. But the sight of Cúber Lake on the horizon has me pushing on. The mountains have opened out into a stark moonscape now, with the lake sitting pretty centre-stage, a solid oasis of dark blue. Every other walker seems to have turned around at L’Ofre, and I find myself alone with just the sound of tinkling sheep bells and the gentle lapping of the lake against the shore. With the Tramuntana Mountains still large in my mind and heavy in my legs, my final day is spent exploring the romantic hilltop towns of Valldemossa and Deià. Resting on the road between Sóller and Banyalbufar, these are the nearest the region gets to honeypots, slugging it out for the attentions of artists, writers and the rich. In truth, it’s hard to choose between them. Deià has its fairytale streets; Valldemossa its captivating monastery and art gallery. All I know is, I can’t wait to come back. And as I while away a final hour with the vivid paintings of Joan Miró in Valldemossa, the gallery steward tells me of the artist’s famous words to a friend visiting him on the island: “I invent nothing, it’s all here! That is why I have to live here!”
I find myself alone with just the sound of tinkling sheep bells and the lapping of the lake against the shore.
MALLORCA FOR WALKERS Walk 2
mallorca Walk 1 Map: Steven Hall
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Mallorca’s playground for walkers is the Serra de Tramuntana, the chain of silvery peaks that rise 1,445m (4,740ft) out of the ocean along the island’s north shore. The best hub for hiking is the town of Sóller, squeezed between the Med and the mountains and easily reached via a 30-minute drive from the main airport at Palma, or by using the atmospheric narrow-gauge railway over the hills. Once you’re there, a tracery of well-marked paths threads through the citrus groves, along the coast and into the hills. Several walking-holiday firms offer packages to the region, but it’s easy to plot an independent break using cheap flights, a good guidebook… and Country Walking’s complete planner. Turn the page to find out how…