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Outdoor Life Reviews

Our ‘Outdoor Life’ reviews of books and CDs / DVDs cover a vast range of topics including countryside, wildlife, gardening and more.

Healthy Life – Mind, Body and Soul will concentrate on the wonderful countryside and other ‘outdoor life’ available to enjoy in Essex. Many of us like to travel in this country and abroad, and our reviews may cover more distant lands in the future

Please contact us if you would like us to review a product or service you offer.



No Nettles Required – The reassuring truth about wildlife gardening
By Ken Thompson

No Nettles Required – The reassuring truth about wildlife gardeningThere's no better way to introduce this fascinating book than to quote from the opening paragraph:

'We are all wildlife gardeners now. Like it or not you share your garden with hundreds, if not thousands, of different flies, beetles, spiders, bees, wasps and other creatures, not to mention a few mice and birds … This huge reservoir of biodiversity presents gardeners with a clear choice: You can assume that these creatures are all out to get you (or at least your cabbages or roses) and work to reduce their numbers … alternatively you can embrace, encourage and enjoy the wildlife in your garden. …. With just a little patience, anyone can learn to appreciate the living, breathing ecosystem right outside their back door. In fact I should warn you: wildlife watching can become addictive.'

The book gives lots of hints on how to enjoy and encourage wildlife in the garden -

  • No need for a large plot - even a tiny inner-city garden can attract wildlife
  • No need to have 'native' plants, just concentrate on a wide variety covering all seasons
  • To attract pollinators, grow blocks of plants with lots of different flower shapes and a long flowering season
  • Most wildlife isn't interested in flowers but loves long grass but we shouldn't overdo conifers, ferns and grasses
  • To encourage a range of wildlife you need different plants and different kinds of vegetation – ponds, compost heaps, hedges and walls
  • Wildlife hate lots of hard surfaces, tidiness and slug pellets
  • Home-made compost is one of the best soil improvers
  • Compost heaps and ponds are a uniquely valuable wildlife habitats.
  • No need to grow nettles to attract butterflies but nettles are just as good as comfrey as a nutrient-rich mulch or fertilizer
  • Bees and wasps are an important part of the diodiversity of the average garden and can be persuaded to nest if conditions are right

`And lots more …

Ken Thompson is a plant ecologist and a lecturer at the University of Sheffield. He's also a keen gardener. `No More Nettles' is subtitled `The Reassuring Truth About Wildlife Gardening' and is very different from other wildlife gardening books that you might have read because it is based on scientific research undertaken by the BUGS project in Sheffield. (

Available from paperback £5.99 Kindle £5.22

(Eileen Peck February 2013

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A View of Epping Forest
By Nicholas Hagger

How proud we are of our local 6,000 acres of ancient woodland and how pleased we feel when a book is released which aids enjoyment. People of all ages and from many walks of life will be familiar with the author, Nicholas Hagger, who was a pupil at Oaklands and Chigwell Schools and read English at Oxford. He lectured at universities in Iraq, was tutor to Prince Hitachi, Emperor Hirohito's son in Japan and was almost executed whilst teaching in Gaddafi's Libya. He was a leading light in Oaklands, Coopersale Hall and Normanhurst Schools and has written 30 books on diverse subjects, such as statecraft, philosophy and comparative religion.

In this book, he records many forest delights and also poses some interesting questions. Raised in the area, one of his favourite childhood recollections is visiting his dentist, who was Howard Carter's brother, and as he drilled, he told Nicholas exciting stories. "My brother entered the tomb of the great Pharaoh, Tutankhamen – open wide please, just a little more drilling – and saw wonderful things!" Hagger describes some local events, including his meeting with Winston Churchill in 1945 and recalls events which hit the national headlines, such as how the double police murderer, Harry Roberts, whilst living wild in the forest, burst into the Owl Inn public house to rob everyone at knifepoint. Celebrities are also mentioned, such as Rod Stewart who attended sports day at his school and Jane Goody's sons who attended the school before her untimely death. What wonderful memories!

The book escorts us from armoured elephants brought here by Claudius to pillow mounds at High Beach (possible ritual structures of funeral pyres of Romans killed in battle). Could Boudicca's last stand be at Amesbury Banks and could she have picked hemlock at Cobbin's Brook and died near Copped Hall? This wonderful possibility is presented! Other fascinating historical events are that the county of Essex claims descent from Woden and the Danish conquest gave it Danelaw. It did not escape the Great Plague and was involved in the Peasants' Revolt. Henry VIII created a deer park in Chingford and Dick Turpin lived a cave in the forest. There were medicinal springs in Chigwell Row and Tennyson visited his depressed brother, who was a voluntary patient at Fair Mead House asylum. A failed business caused a huge financial loss to Tennyson's family and resulted in him being too broke to marry. The poet John Clare is also remembered with the locations of his poems. The five stages of the building of Waltham Abbey are detailed and a suitable Abbey walk for visitors is provided. Chingford, Loughton, Buckhurst Hill, Epping, Chigwell and other villages of bygone eras are included. Copped Hall receives several pages, along with Hill House and Loughton Hall as is the sad story of the lady of Wanstead House.

Nicholas Hagger provides a personal memoire, a fascinating history of the people, places and institutions of the Epping Forest area and a timeline that begins prior to the ice age. Add to this, selected poems, written by the author, and some interesting ancient maps, and you have an excellent book which will delight everyone of all ages.
Published by O-Books: ISBN: 978 1 84694 5878 £13.99 443 pages
Author website:

Wendy Stokes

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Island of Wildlife
By Laurie Forsyth

Island of WildlifeThis is the fascinating story of the development of Fingringhoe Wick, told by Laurie Forsyth who was its warden for 26 years. Laurie, a naturalist, conservationist and wildlife enthusiast, was also quite a visionary. When he took the role of warden at the Wick it was still swamped with a blanket of uncontrolled growth. He knew drastic action needed to be taken to achieve the desired results in a sensible time frame and called in the bulldozers and excavators – so often the agents of destruction!

Laurie not only recounts his ‘magical years’ at the Wick, but also provides in depth reports of the flora and fauna in the nature reserve, making this an ideal book for the nature enthusiast. .
ISBN 090476805-8 also available at Essex Wildlife Centres
(see the Healthy Life Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve and Visitor page)

(Healthy Life - Mind, Body & Soul Magazine issue 6. Spring 2007)

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Wild Essex
Compiled, edited and designed by Tony Gunton. Published jointly by Essex Wildlife Trust and Lopinga Books.

Wild EssexThere is a wealth of habitat in Essex and East London providing a rich diversity of wildlife. Wild Essex is a guide to over 170 nature reserves, greenspace and country parks that are available for you to explore without charge.

This guide is informative and attractively illustrated throughout. A quick guide advises where to go for different wildlife spectacles at different times. For each site a map is provided together with a brief description. A site summary provides important information such as directions by car and public transport, accessibility, the best times to visit, facilities/notes for the disabled, any specific warnings or guidance, and contact information if applicable.

If you enjoy walking and wildlife, this book is a little gem. Buy it and be amazed at some of the wonderful sites near you that you did not know existed!

Available at Essex Wildlife Visitor Centres, and all good bookshops.
ISBN 0-9530362-2-7

(Healthy Life - Mind, Body & Soul Magazine issue 4. Autumn 2006)

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Hi-Tec Auckland WP lifestyle shoe Field trial
Hi-Tec Auckland WP, lifestyle shoe

I do have a problem with the shoes and boots I receive from Hi-Tec. I am beginning to feel that they are designed especially for me so that I can do an excellent review!

My latest are a pair 0f.'Auckland WP lifestyle shoes' fully waterproof for the British summertime!
(Tech Stuff.. Waterproof seam-sealed suede leather/mesh upper, Moisture wicking lining, Protective abrasion/ resistant toe and heel, Rustproof eyelets lacing system, Athletic design, last and fit, Removable contoured EVA sockliner, Lightweight CMEVA midsole, Durable carbon rubber MDT outsole. Available in mens sizes 7-12's incl halves and womens 4-8's incl halves. (SRP £30)).

Now I may have mentioned before that I have rather odd feet – very wide at the front and narrow at the back. I hardly ever wear ‘normal’ shoes because they just do not fit properly. Most walking shoes and boots are much better because they have the support to allow for such variances in foot size, but the Auckland WP are quite extraordinary because they combine excellent support and grip with an incredible amount of flexibility. In a very short space of time they have moulded to the odd shape of my feet so that they feel snug but very comfortable. And although I confess to not having used them for any extreme sports, they really are very well suited to walking, running, and so much more.

A superb pair of shoes that feel great and, with their soft grey and pink trim finish, look lovely and girly too!

Reviewed: Summer 2008

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The Hi-Tec V-Lite Radar eVENT adventure sport shoe Field Trial
The Hi-Tec V-Lite Radar eVENT adventure sport shoe

The V-Lite Radar eVENT is an all round adventure sport shoe, and an ideal addition to the Hi-Tec range.

(Tech Stuff.. V-Lite design & Build technology, Lightweight PU/ nylon upper, Dual density EVA midsole, fully equipped for all outdoor adventures with a waterproof/ breathable membrane and an exclusive vibram outsole. A one-piece, seamless upper ensures blisters are a thing of a the past! The plastic loop on the back of the shoe ensure you can remove them off your feet quickly and efficiently after a long day on the trail! Available in mens sizes 7-12's incl halves and womens 4-8's incl halves. (SRP £60))

My first concern with this shoe was the fit. When I first put them on I felt than the heels were continually slipping, but after a short while the shoes seemed to mould themselves to my feet and the slipping stopped. One of the innovations on this shoe is the 'Exo-Skeletal TPU Support'. An excellent external support system that 'does exactly what it says on the tin', although the clear plastic outer tends to cheapen the look of the shoe.

For todays modern adventure sports this is an ideal working shoe.

Reviewed: Summer 2008

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Hi-Tec V-Lite Quik Zip Walking Boots Field Trial

Hi-Tec V-Lite Quik Zip Walking BootsI had already tried the Hi-Tec V-Lite walking boots & shoes and been very impressed, but these new boots are a real innovation. No more messing about with muddy laces, just unzip, zip-up, and you still have the laces tied for your comfort.

There are two styles; Quik Zip & Quik Zip Deluxe. The Deluxe version is full grain leather with a waterproof and breathable membrane, and the standard version has a suede leather and Nylon upper. Both styles have CMEVA midsoles, durable carbon rubber outsoles and the new Easy on/off construction.

Jill and I have now worn these boots on several treks, and visits to Country Parks & Reserves like Fingeringhoe Wick, to take our photographs for the magazine and website. We are both very pleased with them.

These boots follow the high comfort and durability standards expected from the hi-Tec V-Lite range and I can heartily recommend them.
I am now looking forward to wearing them on forthcoming Spring walks, (maybe around our next featured Country Park!)
Happy Walking.

(Healthy Life - Mind, Body & Soul Magazine issue 6. Spring 2007

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Hi-Tec V-Lite Low, Walking shoes Field trial

Hi-Tec V-Lite Low, Walking shoeI had already tried the Hi-Tec V-Lite walking boots (field tested earlier) and had been extremely pleased with them. Like their big brother, the V-Lite Low is an extremely light and comfortable shoe. They have suede leather uppers with breathable mesh underlay; Comfort-tec removable sockliner and drilex moisture wicking lining; cushioned underfoot with antibacterial and shock absorbing qualities; and a durable rubber outer sole. These shoes are very similar to the walking boot, but obviously much lower – so they are even lighter! How is it possible to make such sturdy shoes so light? I have found them so comfortable that they have become my “everyday casual shoe” of choice. They work perfectly well with jeans and combat trousers.

As for walking, they are extremely comfortable and very sturdy. However, by their very nature they have very little ankle support, so I would personally avoid wearing them when the terrain is too rough, preferring to choose the boot alternative.

My only real criticism is that Hi-Tec do not supply the boots with cleaning and re-proofing instructions.
I can thoroughly recommend them as a general walking and leisure shoe, and look forward to many enjoyable walks in them throughout the coming summer months.

(Healthy Life - Mind, Body & Soul Magazine issue 3. Summer 2006)

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Hi-Tec V-Lite Sierra V-Lite WP walking boot Field trial

Hi-Tec V-Lite Sierra V-Lite WP walking bootI love walking, particularly during the warm sunny months (plenty of sunscreen and a hat of course!), but what to put on my feet is often a problem. I am not a shoe person; I am always bare-footed at home and in summertime mostly wear sandals. Certainly not appropriate for walking. Even in the dry weather and our mostly flat terrain, good support is essential if you are walking in the woods, along the river banks, or anywhere there is not a purpose-built walking path.

I was a little apprehensive when asked to trial some lightweight walking boots for Hi-Tec. Not going to suit me I thought. How wrong could I be! The “Lite Hiking” boots arrived in a soft beige finish that, by chance, perfectly matched my favourite walking trousers/shorts. A good start anyway. I took them out of the box. Wow – very light is an understatement. I read all the info. Lightweight, breathable, waterproof, cushioned underfoot with antibacterial and shock absorbing qualities, and durable rubber outersole.

Not that I need an excuse to go walking, but I had to put these shoes to the test. They looked good, were supremely comfortable right from the start and, although my feet and ankles were appropriately supported, they really did feel so very, very light. Several walks later and I am still very pleased and very impressed. I think I am being converted to wearing boots in the summertime!

(Healthy Life - Mind, Body & Soul Magazine issue 1. Autumn 2005)

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