As a wildlife ranger I’d spend the vast majority of my working time outside, all year-round, whatever the weather. As autumn heads into winter, there’s a few additional things I rely on to make it easier to get out and do my job, and to make the most of adventures on beautifully crisp winter days.
I have several of these stretchy fabric tubes, and they’re some of the most useful things I own. For keeping my ears warm when it’s just not quite a hat day; stopping cold wind creeping down my neck; covering my face as I watch birds through my binoculars on a frosty morning; making sure my windswept hair under stays under control; or just wiping damp camera or phone lenses.
A food flask
After a long day outside in low temperatures, there’s nothing better than a hot, home-cooked meal. Well, perhaps something warm to eat to keep you going during the day, or as you sit out to watch the winter sun go down. I have a wide-mouthed Thermos food flask, which comes with a folding spoon and a large lid. Perfect for soup, stew or a curry.
A portable battery pack
It seems like the cold drains the life from my phone at a ridiculous rate. It’s part of my lone working policy to have a working phone to check-in through the day, and I’d never want to be caught out at the end of the day without a way to call for help if I get into trouble. Plus, I use the camera all the time, and wouldn’t want to miss a beautiful sunset sky.
I love my Houdini Sportswear insulated jacket, with primaloft insulation. It’s a perfect mid-layer between my branded ranger polo shirt and outer two-part coat (softshell inner and waterproof outer) for early mornings and late evenings when temperatures drops, and tucks away in its own pocket to stuff in my bag while I don’t need it.
Merino wrist warmers and gloves
I need to keep my hands warm while I’m using my binoculars or telescope to watch birds, but also be able to do little fiddly jobs like fastening zips or adjusting focus on my camera easily. So I layer my Rab knit gloves over a pair of merino wrist warmers from Finisterre. Both are fine enough that I could wear under my ski gloves if temperatures really drop, and the wrist warmers keep me warm and let me pick up shells and other strandline treasures from the beach without getting my gloves covered with sand.
In winter I upgrade my usual hiking trousers for a pair of softshell trousers, currently a pair of Craghoppers Kiwi Pro Stretch pants. The water resistant, windproof finish of the fabric makes a huge difference when you spend most of the day out on the coast, with the chance of drizzle, windblown sand, and low temperatures.
What kit can’t you do without when the weather starts to turn wintry?
Spring has been a transitional time for me over the past few years. My seasonal ranger contract on the Isle of Wight ends, as the overwintering birds I work on start their migration journey to the high Arctic, and I find something new to keep me occupied through the following months.
Where I’ve been:
After packing up my life on the Isle of Wight, and dropping things into storage, I flew out to Bilbao in northern Spain. I’d been selected to join the crew of the sail training tall ship Atyla as a watchleader, spending a couple of months on board as we sailed around Europe.
The first couple of weeks were dedicated to finishing winter maintenance, fitting and testing equipment that had been in storage, and provisioning for our upcoming voyages. We also completed extensive training, familiarisation with systems on board, and how to lead sailing evolutions with trainees, and also in teamwork and leading personal development activities.
Sanding and painting, splicing and whipping, tensioning the rig, caulking the deck; maintenance on a wooden ship is neverending.
Learning happens when you leave your comfort zone. Adventure pushes you to the edge of the danger zone, where the biggest lessons are learned.
Atyla runs coaching for trainees, so alongside working together to sail a ship, they tackle sessions on critical thinking, international collaboration, and environmental responsibility. Despite my initial reticence about taking part*, the coaching sessions were excellent, and it was awesome to witness the transformative effects on our trainees.
*I don’t have emotions.
As well as exploring Bilbao, our voyages took up across the Bay of Biscay (twice), around Brittany, through the channel to Belgium, then around the British and Irish Isles. We attended several maritime festivals, in Ostend and Calais, and a tall ships regatta from Liverpool to Dublin and Bordeaux. The final event was the Fête le Vin in Bordeaux, which ended with one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I’ve ever seen.
Sailing alongside other tall ships is awesome. On shore, you’re too far from the action, or the ships are tied up alongside and has a very different feel, and on board you’re just too close to everything, and perspective is limited. We spent a windless couple of days in the Irish Sea, drifting back and forwards by other vessels, then absolutely rocketed from Waterford, Ireland, across the Celtic Sea and into Biscay, towards Bordeaux.
What I’ve done:
Spring is the start of beach cleaning season, as winter storms have washed extra material up on the coast and people become more willing to spend a couple of hours outdoors picking up litter. With a couple of friends I organised a few small events on the Isle of Wight, filled several sacks with waste, met some brilliant people, and even discovered a new part of the island.
At the end of March I undertook a Day Skipper practical course, spending a week sailing around in the Solent in the pouring rain on a 36′ sailing yacht. I think we had only one dry day, where we spent several hours beating closehauled towards Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, getting nowhere beyond Newtown. But I passed the course, and am now the proud owner of an International Certificate of Competence, the basic level of qualification to charter my own yacht.
Racing cruise ships down the Western Solent. Very little chance of winning.
Chartwork and navigation is key part of the Day Skipper syllabus.
Before departing for Spain, I headed to Bristol for a training weekend with the team from Explorers Connect for an expedition leadership course. The sessions covered the theory of planning and organising an expedition, safety management and risk assessment, provisioning and sourcing equipment. It’s certainly given me plenty to think about for the rest of the year.
And finally, at the end of this season, I had an interview for a very exciting job to work in a place I’ve always wanted to visit. And to match the nature of the job, a very exciting interview process, involving several team building challenges, scenarios and exercises. Ultimately, I wasn’t successful this time, but I left with fantastic feedback from the team, and feel inspired to apply for the same job again in the future. Fingers crossed that next time it will be mine. Until then, I might just keep on messing about on boats.
My Spring Love List
What I read:We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen. An epic saga centred on the Danish port of Marstal, spanning several generations, two world wars, and circumnavigating the globe. I’ve had the book for ages, and been recommended it by so many people, so finally finding the time to read it has been so satisfying.
What I listened to: Black Hands, a true-crime podcast from New Zealand that delves into the murder of several members of a Dunedin family, and the subsequent trial that rocked the city of Dunedin. Like Serial, but a bit more fush and chups.
Film: A Plastic Ocean. A challenging but essential watch, highlighting the threats to the health of the ocean posed by microplastics. In this year alone every person on the planet will consume 136 kg of single-use plastic. How can a disposable product be made from an indestructible material?
Equipment: I’ve practically lived in my Helly Hansen sailing jacket and salopettes during my Day Skipper course, and to cross the Bay of Biscay. They’ve been pretty indispensable in keeping me warm and dry through wet nightwatches on Atyla.
Treats:Wine! There’s been plenty of good red wine this season; after work with a plate of pintxos in Bilbao, celebrating with the rest of the crew in Liverpool and Dublin, and while watching the most amazing fireworks at the Fête le Vin in Bordeaux. Though this Belgian waffle in Ostend was pretty awesome too.
Thanks for following the voyages of These Vagabond Shoes. I hope some of the things I’ve worked on over the winter are making a difference on the blog, and you enjoy what you find here.
You can also keep up to date with my adventures (or meanderings and rambling thoughts as it’s mainly been recently) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Let me know in the comments about what you’ve been up to this spring or your plans for the season ahead. I’d love to hear from you.