Tuesday, 31 March 2009

bike blog

I was pointed towards this bike blog by Teri who's a triathelete. I know, I know, she'll come to her senses one of these days.

This particular post made me smile even though we're at the beginning of another season - enjoy!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

ditchling beacon and lower standean

Our plan to complete the last leg of the North Downs Way was called off due to some last minute calls from the estate agents.

Surprisingly two sets of people wanted viewings early Saturday morning and guess what? The agency didn't have the staff to show them around, so would we mind? Not willing to miss an opportunity we said we would and, if we sold it, we'd want a cut in the commission.

With the viewings out of the way we had a quick flick through some guide books and with one in hand headed off to Ditchling Beacon, on the South Downs. We left the car at the NT car park and headed west along the South Downs Way. There was an eye watering wind blowing from the north and dark scattered clouds headed southwards, underneath the darker ones veils of rain joined cloud to ground. We weren't going to get around the route without getting a soaking.

North Bottom

After a few metres past the trig point we headed south to Heathy Brow, from here we could see the sea (the guide book notes that during the summer it twinkles nicely, no such luck today). From Heathy Brow we dropped down into North Bottom, a picturesque dry valley. Along the bottom and past Lower Standean the route then climbs back up gently back up to the South Downs Way at New Barn Farm.

One of the windmills

The Way zigzags to a pair of windmills, and by this point we'd managed to avoid any of the rain, in fact the sun was beaming down. Back on the ridge the wind blew coldly and pushed darker and more wintry looking clouds towards us.

At Burnhouse dew pond we took shelter in the gorse and had lunch. At this point I was about to fill and test the Aquagear Travel Tap when the sun vanished and the skies opened up. Hailstones pinged and spinged about as we scrambled to get our kit away and waterproofs on. We set off back to the car at a spritely pace and nearing the beacon the sun reappeared.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

aquagear travel tap water filter

Ordered one of these up from Bob and Rose at backpackinglight as part of my kit for the trip to the Picos de Europa in July.

It looks like a standard sports water bottle, in fact with the filter removed it can be used as such. It comes supplied with an insulated pouch and shoulder strap which I'll probably not use. (I've already commandeered the strap for use with a Lowe Pro camera bag.)

Filter, bottle and cap

Use is straightforward; fill with water, prime and flush the filter, and drink clean bug and chemical free water. Or use to fill up your pan or bladder if using one. Simple and effective.

Like with the earlier model the inked on logo and instructions have started to wear off after just one use. As this is a no-brainer to use, I think I'll just finish the process and remove the remaining markings. The weight of the unit is 150g and as this includes the weight of a bottle it's a very lightweight solution for when water treatment is required.

I'm out at the weekend so will pack the Travel Tap and will try and hunt out cattle troughs or other sources of dodgy water to give it a try.

Cattle trough found

Of course there's no guarantee that you'll find water in one though!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

einzel kocher stoves

I've been having a bit of an email banter with Richard over at Einzel Kocher. Along with his various stoves he's also selling 100ml and 200ml fuel bottles - ideal as I was looking for a UK supplier of these sizes. The 100ml is ideal for day trips - I get three brews out of one of these when used with a Gnome. The 200ml is made from aluminium and looks just like a mini sigg bottle, and both came with flip and screw caps.

It's good to see someone giving it a go in the outdoor gear cottage industry, so pop along have browse and make a purchase. Go on Darren he's bound to have a stove that you must have for your collection :)

Sunday, 22 March 2009

trail baking - spotted dick

In the whole food shop in Guildford on Friday and found some gluten free vegetable suet, so I grabbed a bag, along with some dates.


Three heaped spoons of Dove's Farm self raising gluten free flour
One and a half spoons of suet
One teaspoon of caster sugar
Six dates, chopped

spotted dick - trail sized


Mix all the ingredients with cold water to form a batter, spoon into muffin cases and steam bake for fifteen minutes. Serve with Bird's instant custard. I used a green lexan GSI spoon for the above measurement, and the mix will make four mini suet puddings enough for two.

nicely turned out

news from the bird feeder

Over the last few weeks we've had a number of visitors to the fat balls hanging from the apple tree. Throughout the early spring blue tits, great tits and robins have made best use of the food on offer. With pairs of blackbird's scouring up any pickings that have dropped from above. Occasionally a green woodpecker would flit in for a brief peck or two. Wood pidgeons have taken their turn and marched stiltedly across the lawn looking for fat ball manna from heaven.

Recently a greater spotted woodpecker has been stopping by, a shy and nervous bird that will fly off at the slightest scare. The pick axe beak makes short work of the food balls creating tidbits for the ground feeding garden visitors.

A male and female pair of chaffinches have shown up this week prompting me to think that with the arrival of warmer weather they've migrated in from Europe to take their Summer in Surrey.

And some news from the pond... the frog spawn has hatched and the tadpoles having eaten their opaque former residences have now dispersed across the pond. No doubt as they grow they'll begin to attract the unwelcome attention of any passing herons. Question is, do I intervene and stretch some netting over the pond?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

thames path - richmond lock to hammersmith

Digging the bikes out seemed to be the best way of recovering from the previous day's activity. A gentle bike ride along the towpath in glorious spring weather. And an opportunity to tune my head into bike mode so that I can be biking to work now that the warmer weather is here.

We weren't alone with the idea pootling along the river; a myriad of joggers practicing for the marathon, ramblers and families on bikes were out in force. The river too seemed clogged with canoes and crews training for boat races. (Did we see the hopeful blues and varsity crews training against the tide?)

We passed a woman dragging a car tire. Pulling up level I asked, "North or south?" To which she replied - north. Good luck I said and peddled off remembering fellow climbing club member Catherine Hartley's training for the South Pole back in 1999.

Dropping on to Chiswick Mall the tide was at it's lowest I'd seen it for some time, it was low enough allow crossing to the tiny island without getting your feet wet. And several had taken advantage of making the crossing.

We stopped at the Old Ship for a glass of wine. We were in no hurry, the sun was shining and life was good.

We crossed over Hammersmith Bridge for the return leg along the south bank of the river. We cycled passed the woman single-mindedly dragging her tire. We wove in and out of the traffic crunching along as we went. At the water's edge herons, gulls and cormorants stood in waiting for food to drift by.

Approaching the lock my front tire started soften, the piece of 'leaf' that I'd watch spin round the last mile or so looked deeply suspect. Plucking at it the tire let out a sigh of relief from being impaled. No matter, home was just over the river.

the north downs way - oxted to otford

This was to be our attempt to complete the North Downs Way before Darren headed off up north. Midweek he suddenly realised that all those stoves that he's been buying along with a mountain of other kit, games consoles, DVD's and the alike needed safely packing in tea chests for his impending move. So he cried off opting shoot videos instead.

Getting to Oxted was an easy matter of catching a train into Clapham Junction and out again. From Oxted we picked up the unsigned Greensand Way to Oxted Downs about a mile or so before where we finished a few weeks previous. (The idea of catching a cab to Botley Hill was poo-pooed - a decision which would later turn around and bite us on the heals.)

I think we go this way...

The first thing that we noticed as we progressed along this section was that the change in the countryside, as we moved into Kent it became much more rural. From Titsey Place the path runs along the top of the chalk escarpment like the earlier sections such as between St Martha's Hill and Box Hill.

Snow drops

The motorway becomes less and less intrusive until you have to drop down to cross it at Morants Court Farm, when the path becomes sandwiched between a busy A road and the M25. Although this was at the tail end of our day it didn't spoil the preceding time on the trail. And unlike the previous section you manage to escape it as you head east.

Peacock butterfly

At Otford we stopped for refreshments and quick review of our plan. We hadn't gotten far enough along the way as we wanted to, mostly because I'd had a series of blood sugar crashes that kept slowing us down. Our chosen camping spot was still a couple hours off and I was struggling to keep going. A quick visit to the station settled it and we were on a train back to London.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

thermarest neo air

If you're after the 'one' then Bob over at backpackinglight is taking pre-orders, check the link here.

seal-a-meal vacuum packer

I spotted this device on one of Tinny's videos and was surprised to find that it's available in the UK via amazon.

For anyone who uses a dehydrator this is a great piece of complimentary kit. Simply because vacuum packed dried food keeps fresher longer, so there's no need to keep the stuff you've dried in the freezer. Sucking the air out also reduces bulk of the meals which means more room in your rucksack.

There is a downside and that is cost; the device retails for £29.95 (postage was free) and the consumables (bags) are also costly. The bags are re-usable though but care would be needed when opening to ensure that they can be used more than few times.

I've bagged up the food for this weekend's trip along the North Downs Way and now have some dinky crushed looking meals like the noodle one below.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Sunday, 8 March 2009

mediterranean lentil salad

More inspiration from Sarah Kirkconnell with my take on one of her lentil salads.

Simmering the salad


50g dried brown lentils
20g sun dried vegetable mix
1/2 tsp dried lemon powder
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation notes

The lemon powder was made by thinly slicing three unwaxed lemons with a mandolin and drying on the dehydrator. The brittle slices were then powdered in a pestle and mortar. I dried the lentils (a can of ready cooked from Tesco's) at the same time. The sun dried vegetable mix is from Morrisons and I used a pair of scissors to cut the veg into smaller pieces.


Simply add the dried ingredients to a pan and cover with boiling water and stir. You now have the option to simmer the mix or place the pan in a cosy. Either way leave until the water has been absorbed (five or so minutes). Add the olive oil and season to taste and stir.

Additions or variations

This dish is greatly enhanced by the addition of garlic, I added some crushed fresh garlic after first tasting the dish. I need to source some salt free dried garlic granules that can be added to mix before bagging up (or dry some crushed fresh garlic). Cumin is a worthy addition that acts as a foil to the lemon. And lastly, add 50g of cooked dried rice or quinoa to make a complete meal (you'd need to adjust the amount of water added if you do this). The above quantity makes enough for lunch for one.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

agg fuel bottle mod

I bought a couple of these when I bought the AGG Pepsi can stove a while ago. The stove comes with a handy measuring cup, which snugly fits inside. Unfortunately the same doesn't apply to the Gnome. Now as the Gnome uses an ounce of fuel to boil a pint of water (notice shift to imperial measurement!) I came up with the following modification as a way of loading the stove with the right amount of meths. I stuck a strip of tape up the side of the bottle and, with it empty, I put an ounce of fuel in at a time marking it as I went. Crude but effective.

Incidentally if you use a clear or white opaque fuel bottle you could follow the same idea but rather than use tape score the side of the bottle instead. You can then use a soft (4B) pencil to make the score stand out as a line by gently shading along the line.

coffee bags

I found these in the same shop as the Silly Feet silicon muffin cases. Originally intended for making bouquet garni, the bags can also be used for making herbal teas. Or in my case coffee.

Reuse not recycle

They come in packs of four and each bag weighs a miserly 2g. I put a tablespoon of cafetiere grade ground coffee in each bag, enough for that morning caffeine kick. When finished with the bags can be turned inside out and rinsed out. I enjoy a morning coffee when out on the hills so I'll just take a bag for each day I'm out, which is a much lighter option than a mug mate and a container of coffee.

Friday, 6 March 2009

richmond park

With the evenings beginning to get lighter and the day's a little warmer I decided to walk home via Richmond Park yesterday. This is now safe to do so now that the annual deer cull has been completed.

I've already written about this so I won't repeat myself here so have posted a few photo's instead.

Sunset over Ham

Half moon (not Putney)

On the Capital Ring heading to the Dysart

I'm planning to walk home through the park more often so will carry my camera to capture the changes as the seasons unfold.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

mini bull designs gnome stove

A while ago I was considering options for cooking on the trip to the Picos de Europa in July and I've convinced myself that I want to take my Bush Buddy Ultra - I am an addict after all. But I wanted to add in a small meths burner for when I can't find any or enough wood for my needs.

I've an AGG Pepsi can stove but as it has side jets the flames are too wide for the Snow Peak 900 that I'll be packing the Bush Buddy in. So I had a look around for a top burning stove that would work with the pot support from the Bush Buddy.

I've been impressed with the Gnome stove on the times that Darren packed one on our jaunts along the North Downs Way. And at 11g it's not going to break my back (nor at $10 my bank balance) if I pack it and it doesn't get much, if any, use.

Gnome with pot stand and windshield

The stove comes with a pot stand that a Snow Peak 600 mug sits happily on, so with that combo I have an ultra light solo cook set which is an added bonus. And the height of it isn't much different from that of the pan support on the Bush Buddy. One concern is the narrowness of the base, it's only 34mm across, which might give rise to stability issues. A flat, level piece of ground to site it on is essential then, although admittedly it doesn't have to be a very wide piece! The stove is spill proof which is handy given the above.

I've seen this stove in action so I know what to expect. I'll just do a couple of try outs with the pots and stands mentioned above, and make a windshield for the solo cook set. And it's job done.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

ramen recipes

I wanted to create an alternative to pot or super noodles that would be gluten free, lower in sodium, with less additives in, and that would taste better.

Miso noodles

Two sachets of Sanchi miso soup
Half a packet of whitworth's dried vegetable mix
50g portion of 100% brown rice noodles

Put 300ml (or thereabouts) of water in a pan, add the dried veg mix and break the noodles to fit, add the soup powder and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil stirring occasional to prevent noodles from sticking. Simmer for four or five minutes until noodles and veg are soft. Alternatively once on the boil place in a cosy.

Chicken Noodles

One Kallo lower sodium chicken stock cube
Half a packet of whitworth's dried vegetable mix
50g portion of 100% brown rice noodles

Follow the same cooking instruction as above. Note - more stirring will be required to help dissolve the stock cube.


If you have your own dehydrator make your own veg mix; an oriental mix of dried veg would be ideal with the miso dish. I use 100% brown rice noodles as these are a direct gluten free replacement of standard wheat ones. Any type of quick cook noodle or spaghetti could be used just adjust simmer/cosy time accordingly. Shredded chicken could be added to either dish.


Monday, 2 March 2009

trail baking

I'm indebted to Sarah Kirkconnell for her video about trail baking. This aspect of outdoor cuisine is very much a North American thing but like all good backpacking ideas, cosy use and Bush Buddies to name a few, UK backpackers are slowly beginning to dabble with trail baking. You only have to listen to Podcast Bob's Cape Wrath Trail ditty on bannock to realise what we've been missing.

Sarah's neat trick was to use a silicon muffin case that has legs. Designed for fun in mind the legs have an interesting other use. In a cook pot the muffin case, it's feet in water, becomes a mini Bain Marie.

Muffin case in an AGG 3 cup pan

Ingenious! The muffin case is very heat resistant, lightweight and non stick, a very simple alternative to proprietary steam bake devices available across the pond. The only downside was that I was having trouble finding a UK supplier, until the weekend when I found a shop just off Chiswick High Street that sells them - details here. (NB only currently available in store or by email/telephone order.)

Muffin cases with mix before cooking

First up was a simple mix of flour, oil and water. I used 30g of Doves Farm gluten free self raising flour, 15ml of oil and added enough water to make a fairly stiff-ish batter. The batter was spooned into the muffin cases and their feet covered with boiling water. The pan was set on a very low heat and covered. Sarah recommends a cooking time of approx 15 minutes.

Cooking nicely

The muffin breads turned out to be quite palatable (despite the colour and lack of flavourings). They reminded me of mini steam puds so I immediately thought of adding chopped dates to make spotted dick or pouring some golden syrup in the bottom of the case before adding the batter to make a syrup pudding (obviously!) Of course they could be given a savory flavour by adding sun dried tomatoes or olives, rosemary and garlic.

One thing that I didn't test was how much fuel was used in the process, something I'll look at when I start to experiment with different flour mixes, and flavour combinations.

north downs way - redhill to titsey place

There's a sense of incoherence to this section of the North Downs Way because it crosses a number of motorways and main roads. No fault of the route planners; they had to do the best they could with limited options. And the amount of road walking that this section has compared to previous sections bears this out. Although there are a few picturesque spots along the way (technical issues with camera prevented capture of some unfortunately).


A walk is not always about the scenery and over these last couple of trips the three of us have settled into an amiable, fun, gentle leg pulling camaraderie. This easy going approach suits me just fine. With Darren shouldering his proposed gear selection for this year's challenge the idea started to take seed in my mind about doing next years with him, well may be, just may be.

Trig point near Chaldon

South of Woldingham the path drops to within a couple of hundred metres of the M25 along the foot of Oxted Downs to circumnavigate a quarry. Even with the east bound carriage way at a virtual standstill the monotonous moan of the motorway made these last few kilometres a headache inducing experience. I was glad when the path headed up and away past Titsey Place to the car park at Botley Hill where we'd left our car.