Ask the Experts: Autumn 2012
Whether you’ve got a question on gear, gadgets, hiking or health, walk’s panel of resident experts are here to help…
I’d like to walk from Land’s End to John o’Groats before I turn 60. How should I prepare for it? Rosie Marie Crookes
Andrew McCloy: One of the reasons this route is so popular is that, quite apart from being a fantastic journey, it’s also eminently achievable – so long as you’re fit and well prepared. There isn’t one prescribed route, rather a range of options depending on where you want to go and how challenging you want it to be. So choose your route and set a realistic daily distance, work out your accommodation, then see how your emerging timetable (and budget) shapes up. Since you’ll be walking for up to two months, training is essential. Go out beforehand and walk a longish trail with a full pack, and make sure your footwear, in particular, is spot-on.
For specific route ideas, read The End to End Trail by Andy Robinson (£15, Cicerone, ISBN 978 1852845124) and The Land’s End to John o’Groats Walk by a certain Andrew McCloy (£9.99, Cordee, ISBN 978 1871890594). LEJOG is a terrific adventure and a great achievement – go on, do it!
Is it safe for young children to walk long distances, when their bones are still developing? Vanessa Beardmore
Dr Helen Crawley: The NHS currently suggests that children under five who can walk spend at least three hours exercising every day, including light activities and more energetic pursuits. Light activity includes walking at a gentle pace, and moderate activity includes walking briskly enough to raise the heart beat. For those between five and 18, the recommendation is at least 60 minutes of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every day. A study linking body mass index (BMI) to walking looked at how many steps children aged six to 12 should take every day to avoid becoming overweight. It found that girls needed at least 12,000 steps every day, and boys 15,000. So by all means encourage your children to walk and engage in other physical activity. If your child has hip problems, walking will make them worse, and some hip problems can be difficult to diagnose. If your children start to limp or complain of hip, leg or knee pain, seek medical advice. Otherwise, carry on walking!
I have a Mediterranean complexion and didn’t suffer from sunburn when I was younger, although I did use sunscreen. Now I’m in my 60s I find I have to be more careful. Does skin become more sensitive as we age? Veronica Piekosz
Dr Helen Crawley: Young children and those over 60 do seem to be more sensitive to sunburn. In addition, older skin often becomes drier, so you may feel more uncomfortable after walking on a sunny day. If you are taking medication – including some antibiotics, heart tablets, antidepressants and cancer treatments – this can also increase your sensitivity to sunlight. Ask your pharmacist for advice on this. Whatever your age, though, you should be careful to avoid skin damage from sunshine. There is little evidence that sunscreens reduce the risks of the most serious skin cancer, malignant melanoma, although they may help prevent other forms of skin damage. Use a sunscreen with a high SPF, and make sure your cream is in date and protects against both UVA and UVB. Apply thickly every couple of hours – most people do not use enough. But the best way to protect your skin is to avoid the sun, especially between 11am and 3pm. If you are walking in the middle of the day, cover up with sun-blocking clothes and wear a hat and sunglasses.
Can you recommend walking footwear for my flat-footed partner? Kate Ladd
Minnie Burlton: It’s difficult to recommend specific footwear without assessing your partner’s foot. However, flat-footed people normally need increased support, which can come from a combination of the footwear and an ‘off the shelf’ orthotic footbed. It is important that the footwear fits well and offers good support – a specialist retailer should be able to help. As for footbeds, there’s a good range available that you can trim to fit, such as those by Superfeet (www.superfeet.com) or Sorbothane (www.sorbothane.co.uk). Another option is to get the boots and footbeds custom made. Alt-berg (www.altberg.co.uk) offers a range of hiking boots in five widths and footbeds – both measured and tailored to fit your feet.
I’m going on a walking holiday in Cambodia this autumn. What clothing and equipment will I need to cope with the Cambodian climate and insects? Steve Dores
Minnie Burlton: The weather in Cambodia generally falls into two categories: the wet season (May to October) and the dry season (November to April), so it’s likely you will have a mix of hot, humid and wet weather. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing is a good choice, and if you are travelling through rural areas and into the hills, long-sleeved tops and trousers will offer better protection against bugs and insects. Mosquito repellent is essential, and a lightweight waterproof jacket, hat and sunglasses are useful, too. When visiting outdoor temples, including Angkor Wat (above), shorts and T-shirts are acceptable. Shoes and hats are generally removed at the entrance to pagodas. For visits to the Silver Pagoda, which is within the Royal Palace grounds, visitors are asked to dress more formally (i.e. men are required to wear long trousers and women should wear long trousers or long skirts and keep their shoulders covered). Royal Robbins (www.royalrobbins.co.uk) and Rohan (www.rohan.co.uk) offer an excellent range of clothing especially designed for hot climates, and both would be happy to offer further advice. Bon voyage!
Do I have to have permission to use a metal detector on a public footpath? Rose Janes
Emily Shaw: Users of rights of way can have a ‘usual accompaniment’ with them, but there is no exhaustive list of these. So whether a metal detector comes within this definition would be a matter for a court. But regardless of whether it does or not, actually using one is a different matter: there is no right in law, it can be an offence to damage the surface of a public path, and anything found probably belongs to the landowner anyway. I suggest you speak to the landowner to gain their permission before carrying and using the metal detector on any paths.
Win a pair of performance socks by Wigwam
The writers of these letters all win a pair of performance socks by Wigwam. Merino-wool softness, odour resistance, non-shrink and no itch makes for a wonderfully comfortable sock. They also offer a foot-hugging fit, are fully cushioned, and have a stay-put leg and top with a seamless toe closure. £14 per pair. For more information and stockists visit www.wigwam.com