Friday, 5 May 2017

These boots were made for…

I went to the Arctic in March this year as part of a convoy of 2 Bailey of Bristol caravans and a Bailey motorhome. It was cold, as you’d expect. But not the kind of cold you get in the UK. That’s a grubby, unhappy and hysterical cold that’s usually accompanied by wind and rain and slush and traffic jams and a partial collapse of infrastructure. It’s not good when the cold bites in our little island. 

But in the Arctic, as I found out, the cold is crisp and clean and dry. It’s so cold that all the moisture turns to ice and falls as snow. There are no puddles or slushy hard shoulders, no black ice and no refrozen pavements.

The further north we drove, around the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea through Latvia, Estonia and Finland, the colder it got. In Latvia we found a beach where the edges of the sea were framed by a four foot high wall of frozen sea spume. Later, in Estonia, we encountered our first deep snows. But it wasn’t until we crossed over from Tallin to Helsinki that we woke up to whiteness.

That’s when the temperature plummeted and I needed to break out the big guns. I am talking big coats and snowboard pants (I loved my Patagonia over trousers and parka), woolly jumpers (knitted by a lady in Appledore) and layer upon layer of merino (Patagonia). And of course, something good to keep the tootsies warm.

Keeping feet warm is always a priority for me. As a surfer I have known cold, especially in my feet. They are the first thing to get chilly in the water - and on the ice - and always where the misery sets in fastest. Once my feet get cold I lose interest and can't concentrate on anything other than trying to get them warm again.

A few weeks before leaving I got a call from Hi-Tec. They were calling to see if I was interested in trying some of their walking boots. Always one to spot an opportunity I suggested they could support me on my Arctic Adventure with a pair of top end winter boots. Happily they obliged and sent me a pair of their Trail OX 200i Waterproof  Winter boots. All black, and looking every bit technical they certainly appeared to mean business. Only time would tell.

My standard walking boots had been warm enough until we got to Helsinki. But then I felt the cold creeping in. They are great boots but not designed for harsh winter conditions. We are talking minus 3 or 5 at the least, with some days dropping as low as minus 10.

It was time to test of the Hi-Tecs. I pulled them out of my kit bag and put them on the morning we woke up in deep drifts in near Oulu and headed out onto the ice road. Because we were filming there was a lot of waiting around standing on the ice. And that was a great time to try out the boots.

What can I say? Well, the difference was noticeable in the warmth my feet were enjoying. Or rather, they were not cold any more. And that’s important. The difference between comfort and discomfort is palpable and vast. And on the ice road the Michelin rubber soles felt stable and unslippy. Is that a good way to describe how a boot grips? Who knows! But I never fell over when I was wearing them. Okay so I sank up to my thighs in snow drifts, when I went for a walk along a frozen river in Ivalo, but I never slipped over. And that’s what matters.

So, the verdict? There’s a lot of technical detail about these boots that you can read at the end of this post. But at the end of the day the thing I wanted was comfy, happy feet. I got them.
So, you know, this is an official endorsement, from the proving grounds in the Arctic Circle, that these bad boys do the job down to minus 10. And at just £109, it ain’t going to cost the earth to get them.

And you won’t even fall over.


  • Leather upper combined with a tough ballistic leather protection, ensures durability and comfort
  • Thermo-Dri and 200g Thinsulate insulation traps heat and stays warm
  • i-shield repels water and dirt and is resistant to stains
  • Padded collar and tongue provides extreme comfort
  • Gusseted tongue keeps debris out
  • Micro-fleece moisture-wicking lining keeps the foot dry
  • Durable nylon and rustproof hardware ensures for a secure fit
  • Extended lacing system offers a more personal fit and greater adjustability
  • Molded heel chassis, offers additional stability, protection and durability
  • OrthoLite® Impressions insole with slow recovery foam delivers superior cushioning
  • Lightweight, durable ‘fork shank’ ensures stability and a controlled flex
  • Ultra impact-absorbing, high rebound XLR8>> CMEVA midsole ensures long lasting cushioning and comfort
  • High performance Michelin rubber outsole delivers multi surface traction and ensures stability and security in the toughest of conditions

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Arctic Adventure: days 14, 15 and 16

I woke before the sunrise at Sundsvall. I was very glad I did. We had parked the motorhome facing the view, so the minute the kettle went on I opened the blinds to check what the morning was threatening to bring. The timing was perfect. A deep and dark blue sky was giving way to an orange glow from the east, directly opposite our pitch. I got out of bed and walked carefully (it was very icy and steep) down to the water's edge to get a better view of the sun rising over the opposite side of the bay. There were huge chunks of ice floating in the water at the edge of the campsite, bobbing in the tiny swell. While I had recently walked on frozen lakes and rivers and been in a vehicle driving over an ice road to an island, it was still an inspiring experience to see chunks of ice in the sea. You should never get blase about sea ice. And while it was warmer than it had been, it was certainly pretty parky. Later on I actually regretted not stripping off and taking an icy dip. Which is all very well with hindsight I suppose.
The drive on day 14 brought us to Gothenburg, some 400 miles to the south. While there was still ice and snow in the city, it was warmer and the countryside became less and less white the further south we travelled. I began to miss it. Instead of bright white fields, frozen trees and snowy roads we returned to the greys of winter like we have at home. That was a bit of a come down. But it also meant our adventure was coming to an end.

Day 15 started unlike others in that we had an appointment with Volvo cars at their enormous plant in Gothenburg. After a quick press call outside the factory (the motorhome had to hang back on this occasion) we took a factory tour in a little train. Sadly we had been booked on a Swedish language version of the tour so, whole the tour guide was very nice, I, for one, understood nothing of it. So let me tell you that it's an enormous place where they don't allow cameras or phones. Around 30% of the workforce are women and there are lots of robots doing welding and putting things together. The plant is on a vast scale, very clean and ruthlessly efficient (or so it seemed) and a little bit frightening if I am honest. But that's the nature of the car biz.

Before the day was out we crossed the magnificent Oresund Bridge from Sweden into Denmark. It's an absolute cracker at 5 miles long. It also turns into a tunnel when it 'lands' on an artificial island and then goes underground for another 2 miles. I can't say I have ever crossed such a wonderful bridge and it was a real honour to be able to. Another remarkable experience on this once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Arctic.
The trip as a whole offered me some truly unique opportunities. While the driving was tough the moments between - meeting Santa, seeing reindeer, driving the ice road, crossing the bridge - will stay with me for a long, long time. The team were exceptional company and the vehicles and Bailey caravans and motorhome outstanding in that they were warm and comfortable and dry. And with a steady supply of jelly babies to keep us amused during the long hours at the wheel, we pretty much had it all.
The final day presented the biggest driving challenge of the trip. Around 500 miles to Hook of Holland for the ferry home to Harwich. We left at dawn and arrived at the port at around about 8pm. A real heavy duty day. But no matter. We were only 24 hours from home.

So. Who said you can't camp in winter? Not me.

Check out the arctic adventure on Bailey of Bristol's blog. It is inspiring stuff.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Arctic Adventure: Days 12 and 13

I had been in Sweden for a few hours when I enjoyed my first interaction with a Swedish person. I'll get to the point in a minute but need to tell you about how I got there first. My contact came on our first Swedish campsite, just across the border with Finland. The site was deep in snow, its glamping pods half buried in white, and the pitches cleared between deep drifts. We had arrived from Ivalo, having said a fond farewell to the film crew earlier in the day. Of course we would miss them - and their vegetarianism - but, on the plus side it meant that our group of hungry, carnivorous males could enjoy some meat. I promised them all a reindeer curry (ironically, honestly) once we arrived at our next overnight.

So that brought me to being in the kitchen block at the campsite, which just happened to be next to the sauna. Every campsite has a sauna. Did I neglect to mention that? Anyways, I was cooking the curry and needed to wash my hands so I went out into the changing rooms to do so. When I came out of the loo I almost bumped into a naked Swedish lady coming out of the sauna, presumably on her way to rolling about in the snow. I apologised in a very British way, as you do, and she said it was no problem before I dashed back to my curry. Why tell you this? I'm not one for stereotyping or for playing to them. But if you are going to have a cliche, you might as well make it one that celebrates life, fitness and a joy for living. Top marks Sweden! It certainly beats roast beef and umbrellas.

No Rudolfs were harmed during the making of this curry
Okay, let's stop the sniggering and get on with the story. The curry was fabulous, a beef rogan josh with home made pittas, spinach and garlic, and rice. Bart, who had joined us in Ivalo for the return leg, fished out a guitar and sang us a few ditties while we drank beer and enjoyed a relaxing night in a snowy campsite, somewhere near the arctic circle. Perfect.

The morning brought more snow, perhaps unsurprisingly. It also brought a change of scenery. Instead of the long straight roads through snow and forests of pine and birch, we hit bridges, fjords, the coast. We crossed rivers and cruised around bends, past open farmland with painted wooden barns in typical Nordic colours: ochre, battleship blues and cool, burnt yellows. It was a blessed relief to be honest, although the pines and birch forests were still pretty much omnipresent between the items of interest.

Our campsite on day 13 was in Sundsvall, a town on the Baltic coast about half way down Sweden's east coast. We arrived late, as usual, and then dashed into town for food before bunking down for the night. It wasn't until the next morning that we were able to appreciate the full beauty of the location. But that's for another day.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Arctic Adventure: Days 10 and 11

After our visit to Santa we schlepped through the snow and ice to Ivalo, our final destination in Lapland. Ivalo is home to Milbrook’s Arctic Testing Station, a place where winter tyres are tested to their limits in serious conditions. It was much the same with us. On arrival we met up with the team from The Caravan and Motorhome Club, the PR company and a couple of journalists. For us, the core team of drivers and crew, it was a chance to drink some pop, eat some good food and let rip. So it was all back to the motorhome after dinner to raid the drinks cabinet, play some tunes and party into the arctic night. It wasn’t pretty.
We were a bit late getting to Milbrook the next day. And a bit cold. One of our Volvos lost all power so we had to drive there with no heating, windscreen blower or lights, which made for a very uncomfortable few miles from the campsite to the testing station. The temperature was minus 8 degrees.
Once at Milbrook we were invited into a gorgeous round, wooden Lappish Hut for a briefing. Then the team’s drivers headed out to do some braking testing with the caravans and cars. As it turned out the results were better for the cars with caravans when the brakes worked than for the cars themselves. Who’d have thought? After lunch the team got to play about in the snow on the test track, which was exciting… it’s not often you get the chance to play about like Top Gear in the Arctic!

That evening we ate a magnificent Lappish meal in another Lappish hut. It consisted of reindeer, mushrooms, salmon and salads… there was something really earthy and of the forest about it and everyone loved it. That night we also saw a lunar ring, a phenomenon where by the light of the moon passing through ice crystals in the air creates a halo effect.

Saturday was adventure day for most of the team, and for me too. While the crew went out on a skidoo safari I went shopping for ingredients to cook a seafood chowder over a fire for lunch. It was a big challenge for me as I haven’t cooked for that many people (18) and in that kind of extremes before. The team pulled together to help me get the fire lit, prepare salads and get it all ready, so by the time lunch time came around we had chilli pasta, a seafood chowder cooked in my Kotlich over a fire and a whole range of salads ready to go. Using the Kotlich pan is a bit of a showpiece but everyone seemed to love it – and the chowder tasted great!

 That evening we ate at a hotel and then took to the wild to chase down the northern lights. While we shivered in a layby at the side of the main road (it was minus something ridiculous) that consitiuted the wilds we caught glimpses of the ‘merry dancers’ between the clouds. At first we could only capture them on camera but after a while we caught a long streak of green as it flickered across the sky. It wasn’t the best aurora that has ever been seen but it was ours to treasure.
A great moment and an ambition fulfilled.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Arctic Adventure: Day 8 and 9

We woke up at Kuopio camping to more deep snow. It had snowed overnight and the skies were still leaden with the weight of more. It wasn’t a heavy day as far as driving was concerned as we had a crew to pick up from Bailey and Truma, the heating people. They arrived at Oulu airport and met us at the airport hotel where we had lunch before heading out to Finland’s longest ice road. It crosses the Baltic sea to an island and is 15 kilometers long. We parked up the vehicles by the ferry port and prepped the vehicles and film crew before the first caravan headed out onto the ice. The ice is apparently 50 centimeters thick and can carry weights up to 3.5 tonnes, which is about the weight of a Volvo plus fully laden caravan. So prepping the vans simply meant lobbing everyone’s luggage out onto the ice.

I went over in the motorhome with Bernie for the journey out and then back with Niall, from Practical Caravan Magazine. It was one of those experiences that sounds more exciting than it probably was, simply because of the fact that you are driving on ice. The driving itself was straightforward: don’t go too fast, don’t stop and don’t be too heavy. Ice being ice there were a few cracks, some with water bubbling through them, but we didn’t stop to find out if it was dangerous.
The locals seemed pretty blasé about it and we were overtaken once, which seemed to be pretty stupid. But hey, if they can overtake on blind bends and summits, why should an ice road be any different?
That evening, after trekking on to Ranua Zoo camping, the closest all year camp site to the Arctic Circle, we pitched up in the dark to the sound of howling wolves from the zoo. That was a bit weird. There were a couple of other motorhomes staying on the site, which is always nice to see. We aren’t the only ones daft enough to camp in minus temperatures!
The morning brought more snow and lovely thin light. Perfect for taking our first steps into the Arctic circle, just 50 miles to the north. We set off. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I understood that we were heading to Santa World on the circle itself and had to hurry because we had a private audience with him before they opened for business. To be honest I was expecting a line of white painted stones on a lonely stretch of tundra. Some things just don’t turn out that way though do they?

We met Santa alright, just before he went on shift at the Santa World theme park. As theme parks go it wasn’t bad. There were reindeer and skidoos and huskies and lots of pointy hatted elves with bells on. I was frightened. But, of course, when we met Santa (the queuing system was very impressive) he was a very jolly fellow with red cheeks and woollen boots and a lovely Finnish accent. What more could you expect? It was, honestly, one of the most enjoyably bizarre experiences of my life. I felt like a kid and a grumpy old bugger all at the same time, filled with wonder and a touch of cynicism. It really made the trip for me.
We had our picture taken with the big fella and then were ushered out because his shift was about to begin. The punters were getting frisky outside.

It’s always Christmas in Lapland!

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Arctic Adventure: Day 6 and 7

 The city campsite in Helsinki was surprisingly busy, considering there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Most were motorhomes, perhaps city workers, and a couple of families. We pitched up after 11 and then left early, but not before I had cooked up a full breakfast for all our team. Who said you can't feed 10 out of a van?! So we were in Finland at last! We still had a long way to go. A relatively late start (10 am) saw us weave our way out of the city and out onto the highways. Temperatures were around minus 2 degrees so there was a lot of sow and ice, but relatively little on the road surfaces. Until we got further north, that is. We drove another long day, arriving at a beautiful lakeside campsite late in the evening. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of the convoy by the side of a frozen lake. I walked out onto the ice to get a good view of the landscape. The causeway across the lake was a good place for the film crew to grab some aerial shots so we drove over it in convoy. The results are stunning.

That evening I cooked again. This time a rice dish for 10 hungry campers. I actually really enjoyed it as it gave me some head space outside of driving. Cooking can be a calming experience sometimes.

The following day saw the worst driving yet, especially in the evening after another long stint on the road. The wind blew flurries of snow across the road and the caravan in front of us (we took the spot at the rear of the convoy) blew up vast could of white. Visibility was terrible at times. When trucks came past it was virtually a whiteout. All you could do was hold on and keep the thing in a straight line. I was very glad to be in Bernie's company as he is a very experienced driver and kept me calm. he also did a lot of the driving as I wad doing the cooking. A fair trade I thought.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Arctic Adventure: Day 4 and 5

Being in Poland was like being in a film. It felt familiar, and yet not, like you'd seen it somewhere but couldn't place it. We passed wide open fields, forests of pine and birch, brown fields, frozen lakes and tumbledown wooden  shacks and farm houses. We passed through industrial towns with chemical plants, disused railways and blocks of depressing flats. But we also passed picture perfect shacks, beautiful lakes and rows upon rows of well tended allotments, each with tiny homes, sheds or summer houses. A place to call your own when you live cheek by jowl with your neighbour in a Post Soviet block? Perhaps.

Our route, from Torun to Vilnius, took us across country, which meant it was slow and long. But a stop by a lake for lunch turned out to be a highlight. I cooked pasta for everyone, which we ate in a wooden pavillion over looking the lake. It was a restful place during a hectic driving day.
We arrived in Vilnius after dark and parked up outside a city centre hostel. By the time we got there (and partly due to the time difference between Poland and Lithuania) it was way past tea time so we hit the hay for an early start. So please don't ask me what Vilnius was like. I have no idea. The hostel was nice but the traffic was bad when we set off at 7 on day 5. What we did see was a lot of modern architecture along with soviet era trams and buildings - a real mix of styles. There is wealth here, but also more villages of humble allotments.

The road to Latvia was easier by a long way. We did a stretch on a motorway then more on good single carriageway roads. Almost as soon as we got into Latvia we hit snow, a fresh dump from last night. The road was icy and windy and we all had a bit of a wake up call. If the road was like this for the next thousand miles we'd be in trouble. Going was slow and nervous, and it looked like more snow was on the way. But, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the blanket of white faded away and the heavy grey sky was replaced by blue.
We made another stop for lunch, this time where the road skirted the coast. I cooked another lunch and then went for a walk on the beach - my first view of the Baltic. There was a wall of ice at the high tide line and the sand was frozen solid. The strangest beach experience I have ever had. But the stop was another chance to take a break from the monotony of fields and forests of pine and birch for miles and miles on end.

So where are we now? We made it to Tallin and on to the ferry to Helsinki (via the cheap alcohol warehouse at the port). With stage one complete we camp in Helsinki tonight and then head further north tomorrow.

The Caravan and Motorhom Club, who are sponsoring the trip, have a comp running at the moment in which you can win a motorhome trip to the USA. Check our to keep up with our journey and win a trip on Route 66.