Churches and Cemeteries: When I hiked through Germany I always looked for churches and cemeteries. Why is that? German cemeteries almost always have a free and easily accessible water tap because people have to water the plants and flowers on the graves. And now the bad news for the UK: British cemeteries generally do not have water taps - because they graves are usually just plain tombstones with no plants.... So what about churches? In Germany I used them to recharge my electronic equipment while having lunch outside. In the UK this strategy showed mixed results: In most areas, especially in Scotland and Northern England I found that almost all churches were locked. But when I had almost given up hope I found that many churches on Offa's Dyke Path were extremely hiker friendly! Not only were they open and had electrical outlets, they also offered free tea-making facilities! That is something that should definitely be exported to Germany....
Animals: The UK is definitely a dog country. Nowhere else in the world have I encountered so many dogs. Usually I am very afraid of dogs and have had some unpleasant experiences with them. But to my big surprise I never had any bad experiences on my JoGLE hike. I hardly ever saw a stray dog - almost all dogs are out with their owners. Although they are still dogs and have selective hearing I was never attacked or even felt threatened. Due to the dog density "No Fouling" signs are ubiquitous - as are they little dog doo doo plastic bags that are now littering the countrysides.... I have mentioned unpleasant cow encounters several times and indeed did I feel very threatened by cattle, especially after having read a magazine article about several hikers who had died in cow attacks. But I want to put this into perspective: All fatal cow attacks were connected with free running dogs. The dog attacks the cow who in turn wanted to protect its calf and went for the dog. Unfortunately, the dog owner then got between the cow and the dog - and got trampled to death. As I was hiking without a dog and trying to give the cows a wide berth I probably never was in any serious danger - although it felt very differently.... I liked sheep best: They always run away from you, do not make much noise and leave very little poo!
Clouds and sea on the SWCP
Weather: This hike proved that what we learnt in our English lessons at school really is true: British are obsessed with their weather! It really is the most favourite topic for small talk and countless times I was greeted with "Lovely day, isn't it?" - even if the whole day has been miserable and the sun had just come out for 2 minutes. Two things really surprised me about British weather: I did not expect such a tremendous difference between the weather up North and down South. Although I was hiking into from summer into fall instead of getting colder it got warmer and warmer because I walked from North to South. Although this can partly be attributed to an unusual weather pattern this year this huge range of climate should be taken into consideration when planning a hike - as should the probability of rain. It seems to rain almost every day and Brits think they are in drought when it has not rained for three days - I am quoting a native here. But the good news is that the rain usually does not last very long: Very often I would hike in sunshine with very little clouds, that became more and more within 15 minutes, then dumped a 4 minutes shower on me only to disappear and let me dry my now wet stuff in brilliant sunshine again. For me wind has been the biggest problem - not rain.
TT Rainbow in the Scottish Highlands
Equipment: I do not want to go through my whole gear list here - I was carrying pretty much what I am usually using on a long hiking trail. But I want to point out two pieces of equipment that posed a certain problem for me but worked out extremely well in the end. The first item was the tent: My default tent was a Tarptent Contrail but this has proved to be not very wind stable on my last trips. As I knew that I would be camping in very exposed terrain most of the time I had to bring something more robust and therefore I decided on a Tarptent Rainbow - which was even donated to me! And this tent worked out remarkably well. Only slightly heavier than the Contrail it was even roomier, very easy to set up and worked resisted the wind pretty good. It still is not a Hilleberg expedition tent, but is a very good compromise between weight and stability. I will definitely take it again on a similar trip. The next concern was my sleeping bag. Although I had always used down bags before I realised that this would be a trip in very damp conditions with little opportunity to dry stuff in the sun. As down's warming capacity deteriorates rapidly when damp I decided to bring the BPL synthetic quilt. It worked surprisingly well, too: When temperatures dropped below zero Celsius I was still pretty warm in it - although I had to wear all my clothes. But still: it fared much better than expected and will probably become my standard bag from now on.