Welcome to the new Mountainfeet website!

Well, it’s been a fraught few days since finding out our previously trouble free booking system had gone wrong! To cut a very long story short it was actually easier for me to completely re-write the whole site which has certain long term advantages anyway.

I’ve had to run this up in a hurry so it’s not the most creative piece of webwork you’ll have seen! But it needs to function robustly, be clear to read and be easy to use. Hopefully it’ll tick those boxes and also be viewable and useable on a wide range of today’s phones, PC’s and tablets.

If you’re one of those who don’t like the change then you have my sympathies because the old site, whilst archaic (see above image), did everything asked of it until last week.

But technology and times change so here we go. Hope you get to grips with it and the new improved booking system and we see you soon…

Don’t leave foot health checking till it’s too late!

If I had my way, the NHS would provide routine foot health checks on at least a five yearly basis but trust me when I say it ain’t going to happen! But if it did, so many people that present here at the Mountainfeet shop and clinic wouldn’t have such big and ongoing foot health related issues.

So if we’re not going to get attention on the NHS then what can we do? Well, having your foot health and structure checked by a qualified podiatrist or foot health practitioner doesn’t cost much in the scale of things and can identify early symptoms of many of the problems that affect us in later life. At the very best, we may tell you you’re one of the lucky few who won’t have issues but if so you’ll be in a tiny minority!
Poorly fitting footwear isn’t often solely responsible for deformities such as hallux valgus presentations (bunions) but they can exacerbate the issue in a big way. Often, the best solution we can provide for these problems is to have a good look at the shape, size and structure of the footwear a person uses and advise on replacement accordingly. It’s staggering how few people are actually wearing correctly fitting footwear or have a true idea of their shoe size. The foot changes state structurally through most people’s lives and this needs a good level of understanding in order for the changes not to cause long term joint and connective tissue damage.
So seriously, don’t leave this kind of routine check till tomorrow or when you start suffering. The earlier a problem is identified, the easier it is to prevent it developing into something that can interfere with the enjoyment of daily life.

And just in case you think I’m coming at this from a purely commercial angle, just consider that I’m still providing a free foot health appraisal with every footwear fit I do. No, this is largely because I have foot pain and congenital structural issues myself which could easily have been addressed years ago before they became a permanent and debilitating problem that is limiting my enjoyment of sport…

Three years on in Marsden…

Well, they say time flies when you’re enjoying yourself! Amazingly, it’s now three years since we opened the ‘new’ shop in Marsden and a new lease has just been signed for the next three.

It’s been hard work to build up and sustain the new business but we’ve definitely found our niche as is proved by the distances customers are travelling to see us. It’s very humbling to have folk turn up who’ve been driving for three or four hours but with the appointment booking system in full operation we can prepare for those visits to make sure no-ones time is wasted. Most people’s reaction seems one of initial shock at the small size of our village and premises quickly followed by the realisation that they’ve never experienced such expertise or attention in a retail environment before. Size isn’t everything!

We’ve worked and studied very hard to build this level of expertise over the years. The evolution of our fitting and appraisal methods began back at the old place in Oldham as we were getting to grips with the fact that the days of shops like ours were numbered. The internet and the outdoor warehouses have taken the majority of market share in an ever increasingly cut throat industry. When I first dabbled in outdoor retail many years ago, the atmosphere was expert and friendly. Most UK shops were independent and run by enthusiasts who valued lifestyle above profits. Today, an ever increasing number of stores are run by business magnates with little interest in sport or the customer. Their shareholders exert pressure on the management teams to perform and employees are disposable and thus not valued or nurtured.

I realised long ago that I wasn’t going to make much of a living out of retail. Therefore, if I was going to work in it five or six days a week at least I’d have to be happy doing it. Luckily, having previous careers meant that financial pressure wasn’t quite as great as it could have been. Even so, it’s taken time to bounce back from the debacle of Oldham town centre’s Metrolink development and every spare penny from the last three years in Marsden has gone into paying off the debts we incurred during the last year there.

Anyway, no point dwelling on the past – if change is happening all around you have to change too and in a roundabout way, it’s all been for the best. We now have a respected facility here in Marsden which bridges an interesting gap between lifestyle and healthcare. One of my ambitions in coming here was to eventually open a foot health clinic within the shop – that was realised back in March with the assistance of podiatrist Matt Butters and put the icing on the shop cake!

Friendly and welcoming staff!

We discovered long ago that we’re only going to be able to help those that want to help themselves. Despite only charging recommended retail prices and offering free foot health appraisals during every fitting, we’re continually amazed by the number of people who neglect their well being for the sake of saving a few quid on the internet! Although we don’t welcome tyre kickers and hagglers, we always try to educate them as many people we eventually see have issues that could so easily have been prevented way back down the line.

Happily for us, although things will always be tight here, there seem to be enough discerning folk out there who value their sport and health for us to survive and continue evolving. It’s a fact though that if myself, Charlotte and Marcus weren’t passionate about what we do and value job satisfaction over money, there’d be no Mountainfeet. That I can promise you…

To that end, I’d like to thank hugely those that have hung with us over the years – we wouldn’t have survived without you. That thanks also extends to the ever growing tally of new customers who have found us – usually by recommendation from friends or via our informative website.

There were several figures within the outdoor retail industry who told me a footwear only outdoor shop couldn’t survive. And in most circumstances I’d agree. But we’ve proved that with a certain philosophy, a tactical relocation and the right blend of hard graft and mindless optimism, anything’s possible!

So all I’d say now is that we’re here in Marsden, hopefully to stay, and we’d welcome the chance to help you and your feet!

Here’s to the next three years…

Michael Taylor 1938-2014

From the speech given at Michael Taylor’s funeral on August 7th 2014

I need to tell you all about my fabulous Dad…

First important fact is this; Mum and Dad were married for 53 years and he adored her. No question about it. And the last time I saw him that love was still shining in his eyes.

Dad was brought up in a happy, traditional household with doting parents and relatives who instilled in him a love of normality and order, which later extended to our family life. He always loved having his parents close and devoted lots of time to them all through their lives.

He worked hard at school and progressed in his career with the Post Office as a telecommunication engineer. A two-year interruption to serve in the RAF on radar seemed no hardship and provided experiences for travel and sport albeit in the then volatile country of Cyprus!

His engineering background meant that Dad was precise about everything – almost to the point of obsession! We were in awe of Dad’s carpentry, engineering and building skills. A job was done perfectly or not at all. Unfortunately, in the case of fitting out our bedrooms, this nearly meant not at all!!! Buying a lamp unit with a built in shaving socket seemed over the top for a six year old but made more sense when it finally got installed nine years later!

We found out early how to motivate Dad. Want to go for a walk up a hill Dad? “No ta.” What about a mooch up Bleaklow to see the aircraft wreck? “I’ll get my coat son…!” Basically, if the carrot involved gadgets, technology or aeroplanes he’d go for it! Or cars – his interest stemming from his early pastime of rallying.

His technical side merged with a creative one in a lifelong interest in photography which even involved developing his own pictures in his
understairs darkroom. Ah well Mum, at least you knew where he was. And now, to Liz’s despair, she’s lost me to photography too – a chip off the old block! No darkroom though.

He absolutely loved dinghy sailing, which led to bigger boats and offshore trips to France and the Scottish Islands. We had lots of quality Dad time sailing although at the time we might not have fully appreciated it in the wet and the cold! And I think sailing and the associated camping might have tested Mum’s limits to the maximum.

After running an old AJS motorcycle in his youth he returned to Japanese motorbikes in his forties and took up voluntary work for the Auto Cycle Union to help others ride safely (including me and Ali!). Dad and I rode for many miles together including hammering around Europe although I didn’t share his enthusiasm for constantly cleaning his bike!

He started skiing after visiting me with Ali when I worked in France and somehow coerced Mum to try it too. There followed several holidays culminating in poor old Mum breaking her shoulder and going for a nice helicopter ride!

Dad’s disciplining of Ali and myself was fair, firm and occasionally painful! Messing around and fighting in the car, we got nearly all the way to Dukinfield Baths after an hours journey only for him to turn round in sight of them without a word and drive home. We didn’t pull THAT stunt again! The ‘wait till your father gets home’ speech had real effect, as we knew that meant BIG trouble and should be avoided!

Yet he and Mum gave us massive latitude in the beautiful area we lived in to develop our sense of adventure too. They’d grown up in wartime and were
determined that we wouldn’t suffer the same hardships.

Dad was phenomenally supportive of Ali and myself as we went our separate ways in sport and was especially proud of Ali’s athletic achievements, which he sowed the seeds for by taking us running as kids and impressing us with his prowess at long distance swimming. He never questioned the fairly random directions (and boy, were they random at first!) that we took career-wise either (or Ali’s green hair) and like Mum, was only concerned for our happiness.

Dad took a thoughtful but discreet interest in all that we did, inconspicuously supporting us with donated furniture for our first houses and gifting us money if we were in a tight spot. He knew not to give us a golden spoon to spoil our inherited work ethic – just a catch net if we fell hard.

Dad had a genuine desire through his life to help people. I voted for him as a Councillor because I knew he was sincere and would assist anybody in need. His politics were not my politics and although I grew up with them, he never pushed them at home and had respect for other people’s beliefs.

The loving bond he had with his kids was never broken despite a difficult period he endured where both Ali and me turned into stroppy teenagers. His dignified conduct was a major influence on us and taught us the lesson of thought before action and the impact of those actions on others. He was a great friend to both of us and a solid shoulder to lean on when things got tough.

He had a clever sense of humour and was witty and fond of jokes – particularly enjoying the sound of certain words. And he generally took it in good part when we ganged up and laughed at funny mannerisms of his.

He could be mischievous too. He’d often get in late from the pub or a council meeting with an illicit takeaway meal, which he always shared with me with a wink and the words, “don’t tell your mother!”

Dad gave us a real head start with the holidays we had. From early adults both Ali and I have been confident travelling and working abroad – a direct result of those fantastic family trips to so many amazing places.

After Mum and Dad retired, it was great to see them take to even more exotic holidaying and travelling. In fact Dad rang me up once and said in a mock grave voice that he’d spent my inheritance on a trip to China!

To sum up, Dad had time for everyone irrespective of colour or creed. He was a private and quiet man who could occasionally be overawed by more extrovert company. But those who knew him well all saw the generosity of spirit that made him such a faithful public servant and an amazing family man.

They may also have seen the sensitivity that existed in his gentle constitution and which meant that some days and situations were hard to face and needed courage to handle.

We love and miss our Dad – rest easy mate…

Born again sailing – getting back in after 20 years…

Sailing in South of France in the eighties

I sailed from the age of about 8 through to 14 with my Dad and then again in the mid eighties working for a sailing school in the South of France. Now, 20 odd years later, I’m the classic ‘born again’ dinghy sailor and am absolutely loving it.

I bought an elderly and slightly beaten up Laser 1 and refurbished it with some elbow grease and TLC. Then I went on the lookout for something new to learn more on. Here’s how it all happened…
My mate Mick fancied buying a sailing dinghy. He wanted a sport that he could do in all weathers and that’d compliment the other stuff he loved – paragliding, mountain biking etc. Like me, he’d done the obligatory crewing for Dad bit between about 8 and 16 and then stopped. Mick mentioned getting a boat and before I knew it he had a very tidy, second hand Laser 2000 which rapidly became his pride and joy. In fact he started spending so much time down at Bala in North Wales polishing and tweaking her that Kath thought he’d found another woman!!!
One sail in Mick’s 2000 convinced me that this was a really exciting sport and had moved on a lot in the 20 years since last being in a dinghy. A lot of the old favourite designs still abounded – Lasers, Merlin Rockets, 470’s, Mirrors and Enterprises but a real performance revolution had come about and even the so called family boats such as Mick’s Laser 2000 were capable of fantastic performance with asymmetric spinakers and trapeze options to make the boats absolutely fly downwind.
My 1979 vintage Laser

After sailing with Mick a couple of times I was convinced enough to want to get a boat but as I was skint, a Laser 2000 like his was out of the question for the time being. Plenty of single hand Laser One’s were around though but a decent one was still fetching £1,500 – out of my league.

Mick came to the rescue by finding a 1979 boat that still had life in it and just needed a hole in the transom fixing and some TLC. After a week in my garage she looked fantastic and sailed really well despite me not doing!!! After loads of capsizes but a lot of laughs, I decided I was hooked again and the great thing was, I was still doing all the other sport I love. Because we were down at Mick’s place near Bala biking, climbing and flying most Sundays anyway, on the mankier weather and higher wind days, we’d get the boats out.
But by May 2007, it was time for something new – bye bye motorbike and hello dinghy…
Liz had now started getting into sailing but as she was probably not going to be a die hard, the boat needed to be single handleable yet perform well with a crew as well. We might end up wanting to race both one or two up, so easy and fun handling was vital too. I lusted after a trapeze and sail size options for maximum performance AND, as we hadn’t got heaps of money it needed to be at the cheaper end of the market. Fussy eh?
The only dinghy that ticked all those boxes and sounded like fun was the Laser Vago. After testing one on Rutland Water courtesy of Paul James at Laser, I was won over enough to take a step into even more debt to buy one! The guys at Laser were superb to deal with – I hope we give customers a similar level of friendliness and expertise…
The Laser Vago

After picking the Vago up complete with the two versions of sails to give it the right power for every occasion, I towed her down to Bala Sailing Club in North Wales. Over several Sundays, I’ve steadily got to grips with this fantastic and massively versatile boat. For those new to performance dinghies or just wanting big fun, the Vago should definitely be high up on their list. For the purist or those only interested in racing, then it’s not going to be as ideal a choice – certainly not until a few more appear at clubs and form a fleet. But if you want to sail with a nervous crew or novice one day, then get high speed planing with a mate on the trapeze in 15-20 knots and all three sails the next, then she’s perfect. And now I’ve tried the demanding skill of singlehanding her on the trapeze, I realise there’s loads of learning ahead and I’m very unlikely to get bored…

Postscript: Liz and I spent a week’s holiday in North Wales staying at Mick and Kath’s farmhouse and we took both boats down to Abersoch for 3 days in some really strong conditions. The Vago was in her element in the waves and gusty wind – just glad we’d taken the small sails as well as the XD kit. After some great windsurfing when the wind was too strong for dinghy sailing (safely anyway…), we had some exciting hours including a capsize a couple of miles off shore. The boat came up easily but we were glad we had the security of a good safety knife and a quick release trapeze hook just in case.
In the more gusty conditions we found the Laser 2000 a joy to sail as it’s much drier and more stable when things are getting hairy. But for excitement it’s got to be the Vago for me – you don’t go any faster most of the time but you feel like you’re in a performance boat that needs much more pro-action between helm and crew to stay upright, particulary with all three XD sails up!
December 2007: We spent a week at Neilson’s sailing centre in Dahab, Egypt, windsurfing, diving and most importantly, dinghy sailing. Neilson’s have 3 Laser Vago’s at the centre and despite Dahab being a fairly high wind destination for dinghies, we had a ball and Liz made massive progress on the trapeze.
May 2008: Back into the new sailing season and after some serious tweaking of the Vago we are enjoying her even more. It’s been breakthrough time for Liz on the trapeze and I have sussed out single handing using the trapeze and gennaker which has been a big learning curve.
Rigging the RS500

Mick changed his boat for an RS500 and found it a lot more exciting than the Laser 2000 but with a lot less forgiveness when things went wrong! I helmed and crewed the 500 and really liked it – not as much versatility as the Vago but faster and more powerful.

Later developments: Disaster struck in early August 2008 when a massive storm hit Abersoch and Vago 802 was totally destroyed along with several other boats stored there that week. Thanks to Noble Marine Insurance and Laser, two months later a replacement was delivered – Vago 1044. We carried on sailing her for a few months but my whistle was whetted for an RS500 like Mick’s so after a load of customs and shipping hassle, I managed to sell and freight 1044 to a guy called Kostis in Greece. And that’s a story in itself!
The lean lines of the RS500

Now we have RS500 707 and we love her. She’s a thoroughbred – fast and responsive. The Vago was good training for a boat like the RS and although they look similar on paper, the RS is in another league performance wise. But the Vago is way more versatile and miles tougher as a first trapeze boat. Bala is the perfect place for a boat like the RS whether racing or just razzing around as the steady but strong South Westerlies power the sails up to full potential. The feeling of reaching at top speed with the bows way out of the water and the crew out on the trapeze with me hanging off the transom is awesome!

Mountainfeet – the evolvement so far… (Part One)

Mountainfeet has now been resident for over two years in Marsden and we seem to have carved our own niche alongside the other more established businesses in the area. But people often ask the question – how did the business get to where it is now?

Well, truth is, most of it happened by accident.

The shop itself started life as Paul Braithwaite Outdoor Sports nearly forty years ago in Oldham after the great man himself had returned from the epic 1975 South West Face of Everest expedition which put Dougal Haston and Doug Scott on the summit. For many years, Paul was the figurehead of a very successful independent outdoor shop selling everything from skis to tent pegs. At one point in the eighties, he even opened up second and third branches in Warrington and Rochdale.

But times change and so does the economy and the shopping habits of the people…

By 1999 the shop was ailing and Paul was diverting lots of energy into his roped access company which was growing fast. It seemed time for a change of ownership and in stepped Garry Smith who had managed the shop under Paul for a couple of years.

Garry injected much needed cash, expertise and enthusiasm into what was by that time a tired enterprise and turned it around through hard graft and being highly organised. During this time, I was working at IBM earning decent money but hating the job so when Garry asked me to give him a hand in the shop and ski workshop I jumped at the chance to break the monotony. We rubbed along very well and enjoyed mountain biking and climbing with each other outside of work too.

In 2001, I watched Garry’s business investment and hard work fall apart during the mismanaged horror of the foot and mouth epidemic. Together, we thrashed out a method of keeping the shop going where Garry reluctantly admitted he would need investment to survive and go forward. On that basis, I bought a share of the shop and a heavy dose of responsibility! Garry and I worked well together although I often sensed that a business partner was an uneasy acquisition for a very independent person like Garry and that we were chalk and cheese.

Even at that early time, we had decided that footwear and expert fitting could be the key to survival and although we didn’t have the medical and biomechanical skills present today we still prided ourselves on our service. I have to admit that I used to find selling boots quite intimidating and where possible would leave it to Garry – hard to imagine that feeling now!

For another three years we worked on together in relative harmony but I think Garry reached a point where the unintended sharing of his brainchild had maybe become untenable and he was ready to return to his previous career in the NHS. It was a shock to find out I would have to go it alone and also find the money to buy Garry out but it was eventually accomplished and Garry was amazingly supportive which made the handover as easy as possible.

The one advantage of a single hand on the tiller is that there doesn’t have to be any compromise. The shop’s business model was changed – the first of several that had to be implemented over the next eight years to survive in a rapidly changing and increasingly aggressive market place. But as the financial challenges became harder I started to feel that I was getting trapped in a downward spiral and each change was only putting off the inevitable…

One constant nightmare for any small business owner is finding good staff and delegating responsibility. In 2002 we were looking for a sales assistant and placed an advert in the Oldham Chronicle which elicited a handful of replies. One was from a tall, skinny young climber with red streaks in long hair which was shaved at the side. Garry wasn’t keen and I didn’t jump for joy either but we were caught between a rock and a hard place and reluctantly offered him the job. Marcus has been an integral part of the business ever since and instead of the grungy appearance of 2002 he now looks more like a lawyer although in reality he’s training as a radiographer!

A year later, a self confessed uni dropout who’d spent the previous summer dossing in the Alps joined the team – his appointment caused us more stress as he seemed to prefer opening boxes and stacking shelves rather than engaging with customers! And so Phil came on board – again to turn out to be an indispensable member of the team and to ultimately train and qualify as a podiatrist…

One matter was niggling me by 2006 – the name of the business. I wasn’t happy with the previous eponymous title of the shop because Paul had ceased all involvement with it years earlier. But what to call it instead?

The name Mountainfeet popped into my head one day and I kind of liked it. It’s ironic that it now fits the bill perfectly but people warned me that it sounded like it referred to footwear only even though we sold all manner of kit. So we trialled it for a year or so on our website before ‘rebranding’ the shop in 2008. Of course there were many people to who we’d always be Braithwaites but gradually the name caught on and the shop gained a new identity.

We’d played around with expansion of the Oldham premises and at one stage opened up on a second floor to provide a large tent showroom. BAD MOVE!!! This coincided exactly with the explosion of online shops and all that happened is we became the place to try a tent before buying it cheap off the internet. Bye, bye tent showroom and hello again to the engine room of the shop – our footwear department…

I wasn’t happy with the regular method of buying footwear at all. The business of walking into a shop and asking for a boot in what the customer assumed was his size and then being given a bewildering number of random pairs to try seemed crazy. Surely we should be guiding people to the correct choice with much more expertise and cutting out the guesswork? And so the idea for a highly specialised, footwear specific retail facility staffed by foot health experts was born…

Part Two coming soon – how Mountainfeet was nearly bankrupted by the Oldham Metrolink development and why we landed in Marsden…

One year on in Marsden…

Mountainfeet Marsden
Mountainfeet in Marsden was one year old on the first of February! It’s been a necessary and thankfully successful move from Oldham despite some tough times, 20 hour days and much soul searching as to whether we were doing the right thing. It’s a good job that I was in an optimistic mood the day I first saw the damp, cold shell that we now call home or I’d have walked away quickstyle…
The six weeks of intensive stripping out and refurbishment was not an experience I’d like to go through again although myself, Rich, Adele and Liz never had a cross word between us despite being dog-tired and freezing cold most of the time! There’s nothing like pulling a building apart and rebuilding it for feeling bonded to the place and with help from others like Billy, Ali, Sedbo and Doc Sydney, we were able to open the doors on schedule.
Well into the build
Now, one year on, several hundred customers have visited our friendly, chilled out premises and enjoyed top quality footwear fitting from passionate staff. We’ve solved many varied and several unique problems, identified potentially disabling medical issues, provided referrals to our expert network of professional podiatrists and generally strived to educate folk about the necessity of correctly fitting and supporting footwear. We treat each person individually with respect and provide a unique biomechanical appraisal backed up by mine and Phil’s academic knowledge and practical experience. We understand that not everyone wants to discuss their feet in detail and are reluctant for them to be examined but are finding more and more that customers are relieved to find sympathetic staff that can explain issues that may have troubled them for years.
Our website is a continuous work in progress with masses of information about the services we provide and plenty of detail about the ins and outs of quality footwear fitting. The next mission is to create a Marsden Village section where we can post details of the amenties available locally and allow people to download resources such as walking routes and local geocaches.

First screen of new app

For this year, I’ve devised an app which if the customer wishes can record their biomechanical profile and size details for comparing in subsequent visits. This provides useful historical data for helping preserve a customer’s foot health and is kept private and secure. (We are Data Protection registered for the purposes of storing this information). We also use the same iPad device to record and interpret a range of gait scan angles which can be of great interest.

On the academic side of things, Phil is about to qualify as a podiatrist after four years of study and I’m shortly about to finish a diploma in Foot Health Care. Marcus hasn’t been idle either and is well in to his first year of a radiography degree whilst still fitting in some part time work here at the shop. Finally, as another of our efforts to gain more credentials I’ve also recently qualified as a member of the Society of Shoe Fitters via a fairly rigorous and technically challenging entrance exam.

We’ve recently forged a great relationship with the esteemed UK boot manufacturers Alt-Berg in Richmond and offer their Tethera and Fremington boots together with a  fitting service second to none. The plan is to invest more into their range as finances allow and so far the take up of their product has been very encouraging. And on the subject of positive relationships, it’s only fair to thank our mentoring podiatrist Tony Gavin who’s been highly supportive both as a friend and medical professional and always had faith in what we were aiming to do.

Gyp and the precious things of the shop

Despite making the decision to stock and concentrate on quality footwear only, we’ve maintained accounts with most of the popular outdoor gear and clothing manufacturers and can order in on a two day turn around basis. This is proving popular with customers who can consult us first on the best kit for their needs and as we’re not sitting on stock we can be competitive on price too.

To the unenlightened, losing the big shop in Oldham and setting up in tiny premises out in the sticks might have seemed like a retrograde step but that’s not seeing the proper picture or understanding what’s being offered. As many of our friends and loyal customers know, there can be massive benefits to a visit here and we have some glowing testimonials from far and wide in the UK to prove it.

Another big plus point as far as I’m concerned is that Marsden is a fantastic and friendly village to visit for a walk, a meal, a pint or just a mooch about. And as friends already know, there’s always a brew on here if you call in for a chat together with a chance to play with our charismatic sheepdog Gyp, the new pretender to the Oldham shops irreplaceable Cap.

A comfortable place to work and visit

Financially, things are still very tough and although the new shop is just about standing on its own feet (pardon the pun!), the legacy and debt from the last disastrous year in Oldham will mean hardship for some time yet. I spent most of the last two years grafting to pay everybody but myself and that’s going to have to change in the next twelve months! But at least Mountainfeet is looking forward and we have more up our sleeve yet! Better half full in Marsden than half empty in Oldham!

So, here’s to the next year and beyond – myself, Phil and Marcus want to offer our massive gratitude to all who’ve supported us and had faith in my vision of how outdoor footwear should be sold and fitted…

THANK YOU SO MUCH…

Short ski films from my last trip

A few short video clips from our trip to St Martin de Belleville in the Three Valleys, French Alps. Nothing particularly exciting steepness wise as I had a very sore back and a week earlier couldn’t even walk properly! But we found some nice deep stuff and had three great days skiing with Spiny who works out in Courchevel for Ski Supreme ski school.
There are some funny out takes on the last video…!!!

Si and Spiny go paragliding in Spain!

Got to apologise as once again I’m struggling to post new stuff ‘cos of time and also the fact that I haven’t done much sport for ages due to work and other commitments. So I’ve rooted out yet another article from years ago which might be of interest to those who paraglide and are thinking of travelling further afield to find some decent weather.

Me and my mate Spiny used to make an annual paragliding pilgrimage
to Andalucia, Spain. We enjoyed classic flying conditions most of the time and even
squeezed some climbing in on the odd occasion when the weather wasn’t flyable.

Our mates Baz and Samantha live out in Algodonales near to Ronda, only a 3
hour EasyJet flight away from Liverpool. It’s a cracking place for cross country flights and only one hours drive from El Chorro and some fantastic sport
climbing in the spectacular gorge there. This is a short account of a trip from way back in 2002 to give a flavour of the sport on offer over there…

Nova Carbon – a great wing in 2002!

“With two top gliders to
fly, a Nova Carbon and an Ozone Octane, me and Spiny were buzzing about this
latest trip to Algodonales because until this year we’ve rarely had equal
performance kit. Now we had a good chance of starting and finishing a cross
country flight together provided we got lucky with the thermals and the
experience of gaggle flying with other people is fantastic. We had to ballast up
with six litres of water apiece as for the first (and probably last!) time in
our lives we’d each lost a bit of weight – cheers to Mick at Lifestyles Gym for
that one!!! With flight decks included the total weight of the glider bags we
were carrying was over 28 kilos – no wonder EasyJet gave us a load of hassle
when we flew out to Malaga…

Banked up in a thermal

Overall, the weather was pretty good with six flyable days out of nine
and a reasonably high cloudbase for the time of year. This made it
possible to get several flights in of up to 30 kilometres in distance and
heights of 1,600 feet above take off (4,600 feet above sea level). Climbs of 600
to 800 feet per minute were the norm although in high summer you could probably
double that at times! It was a normal occurrence to find yourself 3,000 feet or more above the ground when we were over the flatlands and it took a bit of getting used
to compared to the two or three hundred feet of space that you usually get in
the UK at this time of year!

Climbing with Baz

The three unflyable days
were still nice by comparison with the weather at home and so with Baz and Bill
we headed for El Chorro to do a few routes. For a guy who owns a climbing shop
to be leading on a tatty fifteen year old rope is a sad state of affairs but at
least I know where it’s been… It’s a bit sad that the infamous Camino del Rey
walkway around the cliffs has been made inaccessible by removing the first 30
feet or so at the start but apparently the Spanish are fed up with people
falling off it and killing themselves!!! Me and Baz had teetered around the crazy and often lethal ledges a couple of years earlier and scared the hell out of ourselves so consider the box well and truly ticked… We did several routes in the Los Cotos
area – enough to wave two fingers at Marcus who thinks I never go climbing any
more!

Me, Mick and vulture on another trip

The other couple of unflyable days were spent trying to learn kitesurfing
and doing a bit of mountain biking on the nine year old Saracen hardtail I left
out in Spain two years ago. There was also time to chill out in the village and
sample a few cracking bars and restaurants.


Then it was back to some
class flying in fantastic surroundings and in really close company with the ever
present Griffon Vultures. If you ever saw Steve Leonards’ ‘Extreme Animals’ programme
on BBC1 you’ll have seen the bit where he was tandem flying a paraglider in the
Himalayas with pilot Bob Drury. Well, you don’t need to go as far as Nepal to see
exactly the same amazing bird as they’re prevalent in Andalucia too! You can join them in thermals and follow them
around and despite their huge size and fearsome appearance they’re really
sociable and can show you the best lift and when to leave it. We’ve never had any problems flying with them despite being only six
or seven feet away from them at times and there being flocks of vultures thirty plus strong!

Typical Spanish terrain

The flying around Algodonales is superb with flights away from the take
off mountain (Lijar) being frequently possible. The terrain around the area is a
mixture of cultivated fields, olive groves and tree covered hillsides which
provide plenty of places to land
provided you plan early. Thermal triggers abound and you can catch real ‘late
saves’ from as low as two hundred feet off the ground – if you don’t believe me
then check out the GPS height profile graph below! Samantha is the world’s best
retrieve driver and you’re never on your own in the middle of nowhere for too
long – she knows where all the best tapas bars are too! Baz is one of the areas
top XC pilots on hang glider and paraglider so if you get chance to follow him
you should do great things…

One of the joys of this trip was being able to log the longer
flights on our GPS’s and then analyse them afterwards. My unit was a Magellan
SporTrak Pro which together with the MapSend software provides an exact plot of
the flight distance and height profile. The example below is one flight only and
the units on the graph are miles flown along the horizontal axis and height
gains in feet on the vertical axis.

Read out from one flight of about 25 miles

As far as I’m concerned, flying doesn’t get better than when you’re locked into a thermal going up at a rate of knots with your mate on his wing just metres away from you. If he drops out or loses height, you try to talk him back up over the radio and he does the same if you’re in trouble. It’s a brilliant experience and you can keep an eye out for each other if there’s any bother.


2002’s visit to Andalucia was finished with a chilled one hour
flight in smooth(ish) evening air above Lijar in company with about 20 Griffons
and after landing at the Bull Ring, me and Spiny had the mother of all
waterfights with the remaining ballast!!! 



Cheers to Baz and Sam at the
Andalucian
Experience
, Bill, Rene, Rick and Denise, Mark and Anders for a lot
of fun amongst all the frightening bits!!! And of course to Spiny – another top flying trip with the old boy – can’t wait
to go back if Lizzie lets me…”


Rare shot of UK flying!
POSTSCRIPT:
Since 2002, Spiny and me have been out many times to fly in Southern Spain with Baz and Sam and had more amazing flying as our knowledge of the area has developed and the gliders have improved year by year. The big problem with UK paragliding has been the increasingly bad weather which makes the number of flyable days very low.

Without the opportunity to fly abroad, a lot of us would be climbing the walls with frustration but luckily Europe offers stunning and exciting flying in a huge variety of terrain and temperatures.

One of these days I’ll write a new blog about more recent flying trips – maybe in the Alps and illustrate it with photos from the new crop of wide angle cameras like the Go Pro which give brilliant results when carried on a glider – see the grab opposite from a video when scratching around on Pule Hill above our village.