Monday, 31 August 2009

gluten free bannock bread

My on going search for a suitable piece of cooking kit to make pan bread may have come to an end. Whilst out and about in Guildford I popped into Lakeland to buy some zip lock bags and found a mini non-stick bake tray. And for a little more than three quid it was worth a gamble.

To test the tray I mixed the following;

Three parts gram flour
One part polenta
One teaspoon of baking powder
A few raisins
A sprinkling of brown sugar
One teaspoon of ground cinnamon
One part oil

I added water little by little stirring until I had a smooth batter.

The tray was placed on the Coleman F1 Lite stove which was then lit and held on a very low flame. It didn't take long for the tray to heat up and I dropped a tablespoon of the batter in the middle of the tray. After a few minutes holes started to appear in the bread at this point I flipped it over and let it cook for another few minutes.

The result was very tasty. And not really bannock bread but a cinnamon and raisin drop scone in fact.

Will the idea work on the trail? The baking tray is heavy at nearly 200g and it needs a pot holder. The dry ingredients can be mixed at home and made into a batter by adding water to the bag and massaging it. And keeping a low flame on the stove may be difficult in windy weather. Another consideration is the stove, the F1 Lite is a very efficient burner, so the lazier flame of a Gnome might be a better option. I'd like to tinker around with different flour mixes and flavourings too.

canoe aspirations

I always leave the car at the Millbrook car park and on the way back I took the scenic route back along the river. Crossing over the bridge by the lock I spotted a guy sitting with two inflatable canoes on the river bank. I've been toying with the idea of getting one so I stopped and had a long chat about the pros and cons of having one of these instead of a rigid one.

The big advantage is the space saved. I was told that this particular model was no bigger than a large suitcase when packed, so no roof rack is needed as they will fit in the boot of a car. Inflation takes about twenty minutes and this is down to the order in which the canoe needs to be blown up. Floor partial inflated, then the sides, more air in the sides, etc. An important point made was that as the canoe skin is material it needs to be fully dry before packing away. This will undoubtedly mean that if you've had to pack it back into the boot of the car you'll need to re-inflate it back at home.

In use the canoeist reckoned that he needed to paddle 20% harder with these than he would with a rigid one. And that's a lot more work.

I was glad I had a chat with him as it gave me answers to a number of questions about inflatable canoes. Personally I like the idea of a Canadian style canoe rather than a kayak as it's more the romantic image of paddling to my mind.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

osprey talon 44

A while ago I was deliberating on the purchase of another rucksack. A long drawn out process of weighing pros and cons, whys and wherefores, and of course, weight and cost.

The Exos has been a brilliant piece of kit and, as I've the long back version, something of a cavern when it comes to the capacity. Fine for week, winter or longer trips where the packed weight is north of 12kgs or when the kit is bulkier than the summer stuff but a bit overkill for summer weekend trips or an overnighter.

Working on the fact that I could fit my summer overnight kit into a 35l rucksack, a bag of 40l or so capacity would be ample when food and water are included. With the bank holiday looming and with it the opportunity to get out for a couple of days I needed no more justification to buy one.

The Exos owes a lot to the Talon series. There are a number of features that are common to both; the shoulder and hip belt are made from mesh and die cut foam to allow airflow, the shoulder strap pockets (two on the Talon; one on the Exos), a stretchy front bucket pocket, a floating lid with a zippered mesh pocket, stretchy side pockets and compression straps, and the floating lid retainer and a rope retainer/compression strap. Where they differ is that the Exos has mesh for the hip and side pockets and the compression strap webbing is thinner than the Talon. In fact the bags are a similar weight despite the difference in size, this is in part due to the weight saving of the thinner webbing and use of mesh on the Exos. And the Talon has an adjustable back system which adds to its weight but at 1100g it's still 400 to 600g lighter than comparable sized models from Berghaus or Lowe Alpine.

The hip belt pockets are big enough to hold a couple of cereal bars and other bits and pieces. The side pockets are deep enough to hold a water bottle but careful choice of bottle is needed as getting the bottle in and out isn't easy. In use I had a Nalgene hip flask (sadly not filled with a decent single malt) that I was able to push up and pull out. There is a U shaped flexible stay that transfers weight to the hip belt that the smaller capacity models don't have. I loaded the bag with about 10.5kg of kit, food and water and it handled that weight without fuss. I'm not sure what the top limit is with this but I'd guess about 12-13kg would be about right.

There's an external bladder pocket and hanger, although it not strictly speaking external as the slot is between the back sheet and main compartment, and the material separating the two is bellowed to accommodate a bladder. I'm using a Source 1.5l bladder and this hangs happily from the tab provided, in use it was necessary to partial unpack the bag for the bladder to settle in place.

Other features include double ice axe loops and bungee holders, bed roll holders, a LED bike light patch, additional tie off points and zipped entry to the bottom of the bag. The bag has a floating lid which means the bed roll holders are superfluous, and will no doubt meet the scissors in the near future.

Osprey pack sizing is on the generous side so the 44l capacity was more than enough for the kit that I'd selected, and a couple of days food.

Given that I think the Exos is a great piece of kit, it's no surprise that I've taken to the Talon. I'd prefer a fixed back to save some weight, mesh side pockets that are easier to use, and larger mesh hip belt pockets but I can live with these shortcomings.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

gsi telescopic foon

I've been hunting around for a spoon or a fork that's small enough to stash in my Snow Peak 600. I've a folding spork from Alpkit that fits but I've never used because it's the same material as the mug but I'm worried that it will scratch and cause damage. The Light my Fire spork doesn't fit either, and I've even had a stab at modifying one but the handle was too short to be practical.

mentioned the GSI telescopic foon in his kit list for the Via Alpina and my curiosity was piqued so off I went to Google. GSI make all sorts of camping stuff some of which is available here but not the really interesting stuff like this camp cutlery. I bought mine from fellow blogger Sarah Kirkconnell in the States.

I've used the foon a couple of times now and it works. It slides down neatly to fit in the mug, there's a catch to keep it from collapsing on itself which initially was stiff to use, the handle long enough for use with the 600, and the bowl large enough for a decent mouthful. The prongs handled noodles fairly well too. The only downside that I can foresee is the longevity of the catch and sliding mechanism.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

lumix tz4 photo fun

Over the weekend I spent some time trying out a few of the TZ4's functions. I’d decided against packing the filter system so set myself the task to test the exposure bracketing that you can do with the camera in manual mode. The camera also has a range of presets, called Scenes, that I’ve not bothered with since it’s purchase.

I’ve always been a fan of monochrome photography and have thought about buying some red and green filters at some point. In the Picos I had the camera set to take monochrome in the manual mode and the results were fairly successful.

Here are four shots of the same sunset.

Monochrome with no compensation

This time two stops down

In colour with no compensation

In sunset Scene mode

A truly versatile little camera that I've bearly began to scratch the functionality surface of.

south downs way – lewes to upper beeding

Easy going downland track

We left the car in Kingston near Lewes and after a short, sharp haul up the side of the south downs ridge we were on the Way.

There was a stiff southerly breeze blowing across the ridge and the sky was threatening rain that fortunately failed to materialise. Although my hands became clammy from the moisture laden air. The path is well marked and well worn, and was busy with other walkers and mountain bikers. This section is all bridleway, and much of it wide enough for walkers and bikers to pass easily but some is single track which made for some interesting occasions. Only one twat sliding down a gravel single failing to brake had us jumping out of the way, which spoilt what was up until then, a happy co-existence between us and two wheeled users of the Way.

Jack, or is it Jill Mill?

Rolling down land passed easily under our feet as we headed west. And the views from the whale back ridge north and south were expansive; the south coast and sea on our left, and the Weald and North Downs in the distance on our right.

The National Trails website lists a pub at Pyecombe that has basic camping and this was where we hoped to pitch up. Unfortunately as we got closer to the pub the noise of the road began increase; it became very clear that any hope of a peaceful nights camping wasn’t going to be had. There were a couple of water points ahead and potential wild pitches so we pressed on. The sun was starting to set as we neared the hostel in Truleigh Hill so we knocked on the door to see if they’d let us pitch in the grounds, a gruff voice answered the intercom and told us that they ‘were not operating.’ When asked about alternatives or suggestions we got the brush off. A jarring irony when taken in contrast to the original plaque that stated the YHA mission to provide a welcome to all travellers… At least the tap was working so we filled up and headed back to where we’d seen a potential pitch by the telecom tower. Not the best location, so we dropped down and found a small flattish spot with a bench and a view across the Weald and along the Fulking Escarpment. After a meatball supper and half a bottle of wine we turned in.

Sunset over Truleigh Hill

I woke early and put on a brew. We wasted no time in getting the tent down and the gear stowed away but we lingered on the spot as the sun crept over the downs. Across the Weald pockets of mist and fog covered the land and in the distance a lonely church spire stood as if on an island in a white sea.

Damn fine mug of coffee

By the telecom tower we found that a couple of guys had pitched a tent on the spot that we’d surveyed the evening before, after a brief chat we headed west along the Way stopping at the hostel for water and to dump our rubbish. The route runs on a road from here past Beeding Hill before dropping down a enclosed single track to the road. A couple of early morning mountain bikers pedalled up in low gear past us without incident.

The long way home

Crossing the main road we picked up the Downs Link into Shoreham. I stood on the path, a disused railway line, looking north and thought, just thirty miles along this track was home. But that’s for another day and turned south to Shoreham where we picked up the train back to Lewes.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

look what we found – fragrant thai chicken curry

Now if they only did cartons of Singha beer

The meals come in pouches weighing approx 300g, that don’t need refrigeration and just require re-heating. If your pan is big enough you can do the boil in the bag method, the same as a Wayfarers meal. Otherwise you can tear open the bag and dump the contents in a pan and heat through.

A good number of the meals in the range are gluten free, in fact they are free of the usual flavour enhancers and other additives that are prevalent in packet meals. Big plus points from my point of view. The nutritional breakdown for the curry states that the amount of carbohydrate in the meal is 21g, which is light despite the addition of some rice. Like many backpackers I cram carbs in the evening to replace the glycogen that I use up during the days activity. If I don’t I’d be next to useless on the trail the following day - I know I’ve found out the hard way! So adding more carbohydrate is required, and as this was a Thai meal I went for rice noodles.

This was easy enough to prepare; a portion of thin rice noodles were snapped in half and steeped in boiling water whilst the curry was being heated through. The noodles were then drained and added to the curry.

The curry had some nice chunks of chicken and some veggies in it. It wasn’t very chilli hot and had a slight sweet taste; not bold or brash just a bit reserved. And none of that after taste that you get with other packet meals.

A pouch is enough for one serving with added rice or noodles, and as part of an evening meal I’d want to add a dessert too.

picos de europa kit

A brief overview of kit performance or not. We had a surprisingly high amount of kit malfunction on this trip.

The first to go was my Karrimor Kiwi sandals Bought for £25 from Blacks about three years ago. I’ve tramped a number of miles in these and the soles were looking worn. Due to be replaced, I’d hoped that they’d last the summer but unfortunately one of them came apart on day three; the flip flops flopped. Luckily I’ve managed to buy a pair of Teva Terra Fi2’s at 30% off in a mid season sale.

Then there was that seeping feeling. One of the Platys we were using sprang a small leak in that spot at the neck, where no matter what you use or how you try to fix it you know it’ll start sprinkling before you’ve uttered the word incontinence. Fortunately we had packed a 1l platy which took it’s place. I’ve now bought a Source 1.5l bladder to try out.

Camera battery – not really a fault of the camera. I had the opportunity to charge it several times on the trip but I had neglected to take a very important piece of kit in order to do so. Lesson learnt; I will be buying a spare lithium ion battery for future trips.

Cokin camera filter holder - This was a suggestion from George over at Londonbackpacker. You can buy a filter holder that fits compact digital cameras that have a socket for mounting on a tripod. Jessops were having a sale of filters and I was able to pick up a polariser, and a ND2 and 4 graduated filters at half price. In use the filters tame bright skies so that they don't turn out overexposed; a common problem with landscape shots. Although the TZ4 allows bracketing of exposure it needs to be used with a tripod to keep a consistent shot, and I don't own one of these (yet). In use it's a bit fiddly and you cant leave it in place but the results outweigh these minor disadvantages. And as the landscape isn't going to run away you've time to set the holder up.

filter holder with polariser in place

Inov8 Roclite 315 trainers – I cant praise these shoes enough! With a pair of Superfeet insoles (blue ones) replacing the ones supplied, my feet like they were in one of those comfy bucket seats that I once fitted in my Mini. The toe rand meant that I didn’t suffer a stubbed toe and the overly aggressive tread meant that I didn’t once find myself sitting on scree or a wet polished limestone boulder. As an added bonus they also colour co-ordinated nicely with my Exos.

Sea to Summit silnylon shopping bag – a versatile piece of kit that’s compact and only weighs 30g. We used it for shopping, carrying filled platy’s from the tap/spring, as laundry basket and as shoulder bag in the evening.

Sea to Summit bag in stuff sack

Nuun hydration tablets, kona cola flavour - I got these as a freebie when ordering some kit online. I cant state whether they helped or not and not my choice of flavour but as they do a lemon and lime one, I'd think about packing some as a citrus flavour makes a refreshing change to plain water.

The last piece of kit to malfunction was self inflicted. Whilst refilling the Gnome stove the fuel self ignited, not a problem as I’ve had similar with a Trangia before now. On this occasion the fuel bottle (an AGG 300ml one) caught light and started to burn melting the other bottle in the process. Luckily I was able to douse the flames and stop the second bottle from complete melt down.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Somethings make me so happy... here's one of those moments.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

picos de europa – sotres to espinama

After yesterdays efforts we didn’t hurry our departure from Sotres. I felt fit and unfazed by yesterdays trek, no doubt due to the huge amount of carbohydrate I tucked away the previous evening.The route was straightforward; we were going to take the track through the Valle de Duje, a gorge that runs south to Espinama where there was a possibility of catching a bus to back to Potes or beyond.

The track as far as Vegas del Toro is pretty much usable as a road and part way down was a small parking spot for climbers. The crags weren’t roadside ones, there was a considerable hike up the valley side to the base of the ones mentioned on the information board; like those approaches to crags along the Llanberis Pass but on a much larger scale. Dotted along the valley were meadows where teams of two or more farm workers were using scythes to cut the grass.

We were passed by a number of four by fours heading up to Hotel-Ref Odriozola; this refugio had a bar and bizarrely the passengers, scrubbed up and in their Sunday best, were driving up to take lunch there.

About halfway down the valley there’s a fork in the track below the peak of Prao Cortes. The right hand lead to the hotel the other more directly to our destination. We found a flat spot and had lunch and spotted a couple of vultures feeding on a carcass high on the side of the valley. There were also a number of black birds scavenging on the meadow, I thought they were jackdaws but a closer look revealed that they had red beaks, checking a wildlife book on my return I discovered they were red beaked choughs and close relatives to jackdaws.

We carried on the left hand path, deciding against the detour to the hotel, crossing a wide alpine meadow with grazing sheep, cows and horses. Rock finches flitted amongst the thistles as we approached.

Passing Santluca de Alvia, a seemingly remote church at 1466m, the track starts to improve no doubt to allow access to the church by car. From this point the track begins to decent slowly at first to the Portillas del Boqeron, and then more steeply zig-zagging down though woodland to Espinama.

On this last part of the track we met three guys and a handful of kids. Each of them had natty pairs of walking boots, the obligatory walking cane and a little rucksack on each of their backs. It was very refreshing see kids out on a trek, and more impressive were the adults, apart from huge backpacks they were shouldering they also had sacks full of rubbish lashed to their packs. I’ve never seen that level of responsibility to the environment in the UK sadly. One had a tiny frying pan dangling from his pack, I pointed at it and smiled, and he indicated that it was a necessary bit of kit when camping with kids. I nodded an acknowledgement and headed off. Arriving Espinama we grabbed a well deserved cold beer, and found out that we had about an half an hour wait for the bus.

Our trip around the Picos had come to an end and I was reluctant to leave, especially as Espinama has a micro climate similar to the Mediterranean. Sadly on this occasion the bus actually turned up and whisked us away.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


I fell in love with this dish whilst away in the Picos, and on my return I wanted to have a stab at creating my own. Here's my take on the dish, now if only I could make it trail friendly!


Olive oil
Small onion, roughly chopped
Six cloves of garlic, crushed
one carrot, quartered
one stick of celery quartered
four rashers of streaky bacon, quartered
150g diced chorizo
Six quality sausages
250g dried white kidney beans
One bay leaf
One tsp of smoked paprika
Black pepper
Half a tsp of turmeric (use saffron if you have it)
One litre of stock (low salt chicken or vegetable)


The diced chorizo is the hard cooking stuff, sliced wouldn't work with this dish. Low salt stock is essential as the chorizo will make the dish salty enough. I used Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Toulouse sausages for this dish, any quality sausages of this type will suffice. You will need patience preparation and cooking time is circa 30 hours (not all of it over a hot stove, though!) A heavy cast iron or heavy bottomed pan with lid is an ideal vessel for the cooking of this dish. This makes more than enough for two, to serve four use 500g beans and before serving quarter the sausages.

What to do

Soak the kidney beans in enough water to cover overnight, they will swell considerably so make sure they stay covered. Rinse and change the water once or twice.

Heat the olive oil in the pan on a medium heat and add the onion and garlic, stirring until softened and slightly coloured. Add the chorizo and continue stirring until the fat and colour starts to run. Add all the other ingredients, give it a stir to mix them together and bring to the boil. Turn down to the lowest heat and cover with lid.

Check the stew every half hour or so and give it a stir. The beans should remain covered whilst cooking, so you might need to top up the level a bit. After about an hour and a half the beans should be softening nicely. If preparing this dish in advance (a good idea to do this anyway) you can turn off the stew at this point.

There will be about 30 minutes more cooking time left. Pulses are notoriously difficult to estimate cooking times for; the age of the beans, how long they get soaked for affect cooking time. You may need up to two and a half hours to cook this. Only way of knowing is to check the beans. they should be smooth skinned, plump and have a bit of bite to them. If the texture is floury then they aren't cooked yet!

On the run up to serving simmer with the lid off to reduce the liquid, you want a nice thick consistency. Ladle into large bowls and eat with some rustic type bread.