I’ve left it late, as I invariably do, but I’m in the early stages of breaking in a new pair of boots, which will take a while. I don’t much like boots, only wear them when really necessary – snow (which is sadly rare) and deep mud or boggy ground (somewhat less rare); but the sole on my old Hi-Tec Ascents is separating from the upper in a way that no amount of wax or dubbin is going to fix. I’ll hopefully see out the winter with them and, in the meantime,  gradually ease in the new pair with shorter walks on mostly level ground. Coincidentally, I’m not the only one breaking in new boots… see Alan Sloman’s blog.

I’m much more interested in the experimental pair of ‘trail’ shoes I’m trying out, and encouraged by first impressions. Having had mixed experiences with both Inov8 and Brasher (one good, one not so good in each case) I decided to go down the route of looking around for a pair of cross-country running shoes in a wide fitting and came across the New Balance 610 Version 4 at what seemed like an astonishingly good price. The price led me to suspect that a model change was imminent, which turned out to be true; the restyled but apparently similar under the skin V5 is now on sale, retailing at between £70 and £80.

Width fitting is an issue with me, particularly for my seemingly ever-spreading left foot and the discomfort it suffers from a too tight toe-box. Specifying ‘wide fit’ in an online search reduces the available options considerably; the 610s are a 4e width fitting and comfortable from first time on. Specifying cross-country was simply in the hope of finding something with improved grip – primarily for mud and wet rock, rather than snow and ice – although the lug pattern on the NB’s isn’t what I would describe as overly aggressive.

dscn1165First impressions are so far so good: the shoes have felt comfortable from the outset, grip is certainly good on muddy trails; as for durability only time will tell. The 4e width is a real blessing for me as I don’t have to go a half or even a full size bigger just to get a bit more room in the toe-box. The only real drawback is that the shoes have a Gore-tex liner, which I would happily have done without, but it doesn’t appear to add too much to the weight. Mostly I prefer unlined shoes because I find membranes can make my feet a bit too warm at times. On the plus side, they do mostly fall within my preferred colour range of very dark grey to black.



A walk with not much to look at…

“It’s foggy up here”. Perceptive, that’s me.

Admittedly, it had been perfectly clear when we left home – about 4 miles away as the crow flies and about 600 feet lower – but the change in conditions really didn’t need to be pointed out. “Nothing gets past you, does it?” I thought the sarcasm was uncalled for.

dsc_0003I actually don’t mind the occasional walk in foggy conditions, and admittedly it’s easier to be philosophical when the journey from home has only taken about 10 minutes and you’ve seen the views from these particular hills literally dozens of times before. Perhaps not quite so easy if you’ve driven a long distance to explore somewhere previously unvisited. And I suppose we half expected it to clear as the morning progressed and a little bit of sun and wind worked their magic.

So off we set on a familiar circuit, able to see very little beyond a couple of dozen yards in any direction, listening out for signs of the birds who seem to be gearing up for what should be – migrations aside – their most active period of the year.

dsc_0009Occasionally the shadowy but recognisable shape of a blackbird could be seen rummaging away in the leaf litter; and a few robins, confident and optimistic, shadowed our progress along the track. Meanwhile, the only variation in the visibility seemed to be in those places where it became noticeably worse.

There are two, three or four tops in the Clent Hills cluster, depending on your interpretation. Three of them are over 1,000 feet in height, although only one – Walton Hill – is designated as a Marilyn. Calcot Hill is sometimes dismissed as just another undulation on the ridge of Walton Hill; Wychbury is often disregarded, simply as a consequence of being separated from the others by the busy A456; Clent Hill is the most visited, the one with the café and other facilities, and the second highest. The whole area does seem somewhat susceptible to hill fogs and this was neither the first, nor the worst we have encountered. As we left and began to drop down the steep lane leading away from the car park, we were very quickly back into clear conditions.

One picture, twice…

Following a muddy path under trees showing just the first signs of new growth, we came across this confluence of minor river and tributary. Tributary, in this part of the forest, can be a euphemism for just about any gully running with water – sometimes their intended use is as a path rather than a watercourse. In this case, the stream joining from the left is always just that – a stream.

None of which actually matters that much; what had really caught our attention was the rather odd light as the path dropped down towards the level of the water. The sun, hitherto hidden by a steep bank, came into view as we rounded a corner, casting a late afternoon, watery yellow glow. The effect was amplified by flickering reflections from the surface of the water, itself running the yellowy brown it often takes from the heavy clay soils of the area. A single, still frame does inadequate justice to the properties of the light, obviously captures none of the movement, and yet somehow (we’ve been here before) turns out okay. Inaccurate, maybe, but okay…

dscn1154The same picture, photoshopped into monochrome, makes the day look considerably colder, more gloomy, and even less like the scene as I recall it. Then again, what is more subjective than memory?…

dscn1154_edited-1Not always the case, but the pictures – particularly the top one – benefit from being ‘clicked’ and expanded.