Monday, 21 September 2009

tgo challenge 2010

The application form is sitting on my desk at work in an addressed envelope with a cheque for £30.00 enclosed and a two page résumé of my backpacking skills and achievements.

All that’s required, apart from a stamp, is Liam’s part of the application and his entry fee.

Over the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed listening to Bob Cartwright’s TGO Challenge podcasts so when Liam floated the idea at the last BPC London pub meet I said, “…Erm, yeah, well could do I suppose.” The thought of block booking two weeks leave required a little more consideration than a spontaneous answer at the time. With the consideration done the application was duly completed, and will be sent. What happens next is in the hands of the selectors.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

gluten free bannock

Success! I've just used Doves Farm gluten free self raising flour to make the best bannock bread yet. I followed Liam's approach for his rum and raisin bannock.

Three parts flour
One part dried milk powder
One teaspoon allspice
One teaspoon cinnamon
Two teaspoons of minced raisins
A dash of sunflower oil

I mixed the above with enough water to make a thick batter, and dropped a tablespoon of the mixture into the pan. I flipped the bread over once the underside was done and continued cooking until it sounds hollow when tapped with the spoon. Unfortunately I didn't have any rum knocking around the house but the result was delicious all the same! The above quantity will make two breads.

Friday, 18 September 2009

aquagear travel tap

I bought the Travel Tap back at the end of March primarily to use on the Picos de Europa trip in July. As it happened I didn’t need to use it that often as the water sources were sound. On the odd occasion I did I had to make sure the cap was screwed down ultra tight as there was some leakage. I thought nothing more of this because I assumed that’s how it was meant to be.

On the trip the weekend Liam had packed his Travel Tap and it was then I realised that he didn’t need to tighten the cap down quite as tightly as had to.

Monday morning I fired off an email to BPL and received a swift response from Rose who stated that she’d sent my email on to Giles at Aquagear. Not long after I got an email from Giles asking me to give him a call about the problem. I picked up the phone and explained what I’d experienced and he said that it sounded like the seal wasn’t working and would send me not one but two caps to see if that fixed the problem.

The following day two caps arrived by first class post. At home I swapped the cap and problem solved!

Exemplary customer service from Rose at BPL, and a swift and unfussy response to my problem from Giles at Aquagear. Great job guys :)

Thursday, 17 September 2009


He did mention that his boots had a Goretex lining whereas my trusty Inov8 Roclite 315 did not. I kind of wished that I put the Seal Skinz in my Talon 44 but as the weather was warm, clear and bright it didn’t matter that my feet stayed damp, sodden in fact, whilst we were away. The upside of having wet feet was that I stayed on them unlike my companion, Liam, who seemed to take great pleasure in diving into marshy bog grass and clumps of star moss at will. I could be mistaken but I thought at the time we were there to brush up on our crossing open country skills for next years TGO challenge not to get some training in for a bog snorkelling competition.

On the subject of the Challenge I was reminded on Friday morning that the dreaded midge loves my blood for breakfast. Liam asked me to stand next to him to distract the blighters whilst he ate his cereal bar, at a far too leisurely pace for my liking.

The great thing about the Carneddau is that, apart from the impromptu bog snorkelling practice opportunities the massif presents, there are fewer people about. Now this might just be down to the fact that everyone apart from us had figured out if you want bug free, firm footed walk you're better off across the A5 on the Glyders. And as we started our jaunt on a week day we only met one other bog trotter all day.

With a few ideas for possible wild camps from him we waded our way up to Gwaun y Garnedd the saddle between Carneddau Llewellyn and Foel Grach. Bog trotting across open countryside and going up hill was slow going and we frequently stopped to look back at the unfolding view. From Foel Grach we continued on to Garnedd Uchaf and then followed the ridge out to Drogsl before heading back to Bera Mawr to find a lumpy pitch large enough for our shelters and a guaranteed uncomfortable nights sleep. With the sun heading home for bed for the night we cooked supper and Liam baked some bannock.

Armed with cameras and mobile phones we squelched our way around to a suitable spot and snapped away as the sun set enjoying our first cloud inversion.

Despite packing my NeoAir the guaranteed uncomfortable night was duly had. The day dawned better than the previous day with more sun and little cloud but I wanted to get full value from the lumpy ground and was slow to rise. I’d used a zip lock washing machine on my socks the evening before and they were almost dry. Obviously they didn’t stay that way for long. Over breakfast we concocted a plan; we’d walk over Drogsl and down into Bethesda for a can of coke before heading back to the car.

Monday, 14 September 2009

bannock bread

A simple rum and raisin bread cooked on the trail.

The bread is mixed a plastic bag and the batter dropped into a non stick pan on a low heat. Handling the sticky mixture isn't easy.

Cook on a low heat flipping over once one side is cooked, do this a couple of times until the bread sounds 'hollow' when you tap it with your spork. The rum is put on just before serving.

Remarkably easy to do and very tasty too. This was not a gluten free recipe so I wasn't able to try it but Liam, the baker, assures me that it was.

mapledurham and the thames path

Took a drive up to Reading on Saturday before last to meet up with Jay. The Thames valley and the Chiltern Hills on the north bank of the river are her regular stomping grounds so Penny, Harry and I, were treated to a guided tour.

With one of Jay’s dogs, Cassie, a whuppet we set off towards Suleham Woods and from the valley side there were good views north to the Chilterns and up the valley to the Goring gap, where the villages of Goring and Streatley sit on opposite sides of the river.

On entering the woods we startled a deer, no white rump marks so it could have been a muntjack. The deer more agile than the dogs soon vanished.

Across a few fields we passed through Purley on Thames heading towards the river. After the second world war a row of holiday bungalow cottages were built on the flood plain on stilts and a few still survive today in various states however the plots of land where the bungalows once stood now are home to a variety of new build houses. For some reason a few of the older new builds didn’t take on board the essential design feature of stilts and suffered a number floodings that meant they had to be replaced this time with raised ground floors and entrances.

Holiday bungalow, Purley on Thames

We picked up the Thames Path and headed towards Mapledurham Lock. As soon as the river bank dropped low enough Harry and Cassie wasted no time and went for a dip. Approaching the lock Mapledurham House appeared through the trees, unfortunately you can’t cross the river here so we backtracked along the Thames Path to Pangbourne and crossed the river via the toll bridge to Whitchurch on Thames. From here we followed a track that ran parallel to the Thames towards Hardwicke House and Mapledurham village. Just outside Whitchurch we stopped for a break and brew. I’d packed my Bush Buddy (bush baby, as Jay christened it) and after gathering a few sticks and twigs we had fire going and a pan of water on for a boil much to Jay’s amusement.

Mapledurham Lock

This was the first time we’d been out for a walk with Jay and we chatted about food, gear, the places we’d walked, and canoeing. This last topic is currently a hot one for me and I was pleased to find out that her and her husband, Robert, owned a kayak and a three person Canadian – it was a bit obvious as they were hanging from the roof of the carport!

Mapledurham House

The hedgerow along the path to Mapledurham village was heavy with blackberries, sloes, and dotted hereabouts a few Mirabelle plum trees full of ripe golden fruit. We helped ourselves to mouthfuls of fruit as we walked along. As it was getting late we cut the walk short and Jay arranged for Robert to pick us up from Pangbourne.

Whitchurch on Thames

Jay later informed me that we’d covered 13 miles that afternoon, a bit of a surprise but when the conversation is flowing, the company easy going and the ground underfoot sound it comes as no surprise.

Looks like we’ll be meeting up again in early October on a Backpackers Club trip in the Vale of Pewsey, she may even convince her daughter to join us. Either way I’m looking forward to our next trip.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

south downs way - winchester to buriton

The best ideas are simple ones. The plan was to take the train to Winchester and start down the the South Downs Way. The Hampshire end has few campsites and, as it is mostly farmland, the opportunities for a discreet wild camp are few and far between. And despite the farming, water is also hard to find. And those cattle troughs I did spot were guarded better than the gold in Fort Knox.

we were undeterred by this. The section between Winchester and Exton was reminiscent of the first leg of the North Downs Way; flat, sometimes slightly rolling farmland. And the path like other sections is mostly bridleway which made for easy walking. Despite a late start we made good progress and found ourselves in Exton at six just as the pub was opening. We grabbed the now obligatory orange juice and soda, peanuts and crisps and asked about camping. We were in luck, there was a farm nearby that did camping. We grabbed a bottle of wine and headed off to the site. In retrospect we should have taken up the offer to be picked up as the site was about a mile and a half off route and much of that was along a busy B road. Arriving at the farm the site owner explained that the official site was being dug up, but we could pitch our tent in the walled garden where the swimming pool was!

The grass was short and the site level which was a surprise however it was next to the road. The tent was soon up and we made use of the pool side furniture to cook and eat our evening meal. Dark looming cloud and spots of rain had us clearing up and retreating into the tent as night fell. The Wasabi is a great little tent and we were able to pass the time happily finishing off the wine and listening to the rain patter harmlessly on the fly.

The day dawned bright and cool. The sun failed to reach our enclosure and as the rain overnight gave way to clear skies the tent was damp with rain and condensation. After an early breakfast we broke camp and headed back to Exton and picked up the South Downs Way. Despite a good nights sleep - I played the joker and used ear plugs that muffled the traffic on the road - I found it hard going. Initially it was over similar terrain but as the route began to roll higher and higher I found it harder going with no power in my legs. I was also suffering from an excitable tummy. We stopped for a extended break at the top of Old Winchester Hill, an Iron Age Fort.

And it's easy to see why they made this very obvious spot a fort; it has commanding views in all directions. We could easily make out the Isle of Wight. With the sun shining and a good breeze blowing across the top we dried and aired the tent and our sleeping bags; good backpacking housekeeping. I even inflated my NeoAir and took a ten minute snooze in the (vain) hope that it might help. Progress was slow; various detours and switch backs seemed to hinder our advance along this section. We stopped at the Sustainability Centre for a drink and a now frequent visit to the loo for me. Some more road walking lead to the familiar downland ridge walking that the Way is known for. Dropping down from the ridge the route crosses the A3 at gap in the ridge.

At the information centre we grabbed more refreshments and made use of the facilities. Enquiries were made at the desk about camping nearby but we'd past the one farm about a mile and a half back, and off route that were happy to allow backpackers to camp. I wasn't happy about backtracking even less so when we were told that the facilities were minimal and only open when the farm was. Or there was a bus back to Petersfield in less than half an hour from where we could get a train back to Guildford. It was really no choice and we grabbed the bus and was home in little under an hour.

On reflection having a gyppy tummy isn't pleasant, on a trail even less so. Importantly there is the issue of dehydration and, the fact that what you do eat you don't get the full benefit from, will effect your performance even over easy ground.