Monday, 29 November 2010

chilterns, walk for wildlife part two

P1010799Still some colour on the the trees

Saturday morning started with a lot of talk about gear. I had packed the Scarp1, and was kept busy answering a string of questions about the tent. This didn’t matter too much because the day’s mileage wasn’t going to be excessive, and we were expecting a few more to turn up. I also had a chance to chat with Grant about his Big Agnes bivi bag and Terra Nova tarp combo. The wind had given his set up a battering and we chatted about the ways that tarps can be pitched to withstand the elements. In this case the tarp wasn’t big enough to be pitched in my favoured bad weather configuration – the cave or pyramid. Not that it was crucial, as the Big Agnes he was using gave full protection to him and his kit.

It became clear that once we started to break camp, that black and grease Golite rucksacks were the most popular by far. In fact there were only two rucksacks that weren’t, out of a group of about twenty people.


Spot the Golite rucksack...

The Walk for Wildlife weekend is unique. The Warburg Nature Reserve allows the BPC to stay (exclusive to the club) and each attendee makes a donation towards the reserve. Better yet Anne has a sponsor who matches pound for pound what she raises.

And it was towards Warburg we walked. The previous week’s windy weather had stripped much of the leaves from the beech trees that the Chilterns are known for but there was still a burnished colour to the hills. The Chilterns are also known for Red Kites that were re-introduced very successfully here about twenty or so years ago. We hadn’t left the campsite when one of these most graceful creatures circled above our heads.

The route was a pleasant ramble through woodland and up and down hill, with the occasional trot along a valley. And there were plenty of Kites to see along the way.

Arriving late afternoon we found spots to pitch our tents between the trees. With foresight I could have packed my tarp and hammock instead of the Scarp1, next time for them then.

The quiet magic of the Reserve was shattered by the solitary chatter of someone’s radio, so I pointed out that we were on a nature reserve and myself and others wanted to enjoy the dusk as nature intended. With the radio off I cooked supper listening to robins, and then the owls as the light faded.

The nearest pub was two miles away but as I was feeling fit the four mile round trip didn’t deter. Besides what else was I going to do with the rest of the evening? So a bunch of us set off on mass, and returned a couple of hours later. After having convinced the locals that we weren’t mad for camping out at this time of year; it was for charity see.

The night passed with a sweeping soundtrack of foxes, owls, pheasants and other creatures calling out. At one point I had a dream that I was struggling to hang my food from a tree in a bear bag whilst the wildlife circled my tent.

I’d learnt that the train service that I came up on was being replaced with buses. So being close to Henley on Thames I checked whether the service via Twyford to Reading, and back to Richmond from there was running. I was in luck, so Sunday morning I bailed out along the Oxfordshire Way to Henley; a stroke of luck. As I headed along the way I got offered my second lift of the weekend, so thanks to Roger I was able to catch the first train out of Henley. And I got back to Richmond before lunch.

Friday, 19 November 2010

chilterns, walk for wildlife part one

P1010803 The Oxfordshire Way

Friday morning, 10.30

“Jane has sent me an email about a trip to the Chilterns, shall we go?” I asked. “I can’t I’ve got 100 hours of reading to do… for this essay I’ve got to get in before Christmas. Why don’t you go on your own if you want to..”


Kit compiled. and I’m in the kitchen sorting food, needed a few more cereal bars but otherwise I was ready to stroll.


I’ve had lunch and I said my goodbyes, and was on my way to Marylebone to catch the 14.23 to Saunderton in the Chilterns.


Arrive Marylebone… the next train was at 15.23 so I took a train to High Wycombe having been told that there was a bus to Radnage from there.


Found bus station in High Wycombe and discovered that bus goes at 17.40. I returned to the rail station to catch the train to Saunderton, that was due in at 16.07.


I set off from the station and headed across fields to find the village. The weather had closed in and a drenching drizzle accompanied me all the way. Low cloud meant that it was getting dark earlier than it was meant to, so the head torch I’d dug out of my bag whilst on the train was put on. Despite the weather and the lack of light my navigation was spot on. Until, that was, I reached the end of a single track road and spotted a sign post that stated, Radnage 1/2 mile. I checked the map and the road did seem to lead to the village. After about twenty minutes there was no sign of the village, and the map didn’t seem to match what I could make out as I went along; buildings and road junctions that shouldn’t have been there. Whilst re-checking the map a white van pulled up along side and the driver asked whether I was looking for the Crown. This took me aback but I said, “yes”. “Ah,” he said,”Are you meeting some people there?” Again on the back foot, I told him I was as it was a club trip. He told me I was heading in the wrong direction and that the sign post at the single track had been twisted to point in the wrong way! He offered, and I took a lift from him. On the way to the pub he explained he’d had a chat with those in the pub and having been told that others were on the way he put two and two together when he saw me. American backpackers would call that trail magic I guess. Anyway I was due a break having just missed the train earlier.


In the Crown I caught up with Anne and Chris, had a drink and met some club members that I’d not met before. It also gave me the opportunity to dry out and wait for the rain to stop before heading to the camp site to pitch my tent and have supper.


I was back in the pub, obviously…

pea and leek pasta sauce

I created this simple sauce yesterday afternoon as a way of ringing the changes for my charges; a non tomato based pasta sauce. I used fresh ingredients but there’s no reason why dried ones can't be substituted to turn this into a backpacking meal hence it’s inclusion here.

Three leeks, thinly sliced
One celery stalk, thinly sliced
A handful of frozen petit pois
Two cloves of garlic, crushed
Small bunch flat parsley, roughly chopped
Olive oil
A knob of butter
Whole milk

Heat the oil and butter in a pan, and when the butter starts to froth add the leek, celery and garlic. Cover and sauté until the vegetables are soft. Add the peas, parsley and milk to barely cover the mix. Put the lid back to allow the peas to steam for a few minutes. Remove lid to allow milk to reduce as you don’t want this runny! Adjust seasoning and stir into cooked pasta.

You can add grated parmesan cheese to this or replace the milk with cream for a richer sauce. And if you over did the milk make a paste with a tablespoon of cornflour and some of the milk and stir that in.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

buxton to roaches – gear review

Edelrid Opilio

The stove performed as expected, great stability on tufty grass and the ability to invert meant I was able to milk the very last puff of gas vapour from a couple of nearly empty canisters.

Mountain Hardware Helion 2

Disappointed that the groundsheet seeped. I hadn’t noticed this before as I’d always put the mats between the groundsheet and the ground. As it wasn’t particularly cold I hadn’t packed the full length CFC mat that I use to bolster the NeoAir. I’ve chopped up an orange bivi bag to use as a footprint. It’s sleek shape and extra guying options meant that it was untroubled by the wind on Friday evening, one of it’s many plus points. Shame then that the groundsheet material doesn’t make the mark.

Corrugated cardboard

It’s doesn’t need me to point out how well this works as an insulator, just have a look at what a homeless person is sitting on next time you’re in town…

Rab Microlight Alpine jacket

A down jacket with a hood is the best option when you’re standing around on chilly campsite whilst weighing up options and plans for the rest of the day.

Golite Jam 2010

I never really doubted that this pack would deliver. The pack is deeper than the Peak (that’s how it gets it’s extra volume) so the side pockets are larger than the Peak’s equals more space to put poles, cereal bars, water bottle and a bag of trail mix. Not having a frame is a bonus too, with the bag unpacked I stuck it at the bottom of the tent to keep my heels of the ground.

Quick cook polenta

This stuff is like a blank canvas on which you can paint your own flavours. It doesn’t require a lot of cooking so is very fuel efficient, and it’s got a better carbohydrate load than instant mash. A bit like couscous then but much better because it’s gluten free.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

buxton to roaches

P1010778 The Dane Valley

This has been an annual trip of mine for the last few years. The drive up to Buxton took longer than it should have done, due to several sets of road works, but we still managed to get there before dark, which was what we were aiming to do.

With spectacular timing the rain started to lash down as I stepped out of the car, driven by gusts of high wind. The campsite was already sodden so I squished about looking for a level and least damp spot on which to pitch the tent.

With the tent up I started to blow up my NeoAir, back from the car with her rucksack Penny asked whether I’d packed her Thermarest… Back into the car she drove into Buxton to arrive five minutes after Jo Royle’s had shut. Time to improvise. Wasting no time she raided the local supermarket and grabbed half a dozen corrugated cardboard boxes.

Back at the campsite I made another uncomfortable discovery whilst kneeling in the tent the groundsheet started to seep. Not good.

The tent was taking a hammering from the wind which had changed direction in the twenty minutes since I pitched it. So out I got and repositioned it, reset the guys to the rear of the tent, used my trekking poles as extra pegs, and dug my tent peg toilet trowel in as another anchor for good measure.

The rest of the evening passed without further incident. Apart from the minor fact that my Petzl e*lite was putting out as much light as a burnt out tea light. I was reluctant to use the spares in case I needed them for my blood monitoring machine.

The missing mat meant a change of plan for the morning so along with Geoff, who’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the local bus routes saved the weekend, we walked into Buxton and went to the gear shop to buy a CFC mat. I tried to convince Penny that she needed a NeoAir but given she can get a good night’s sleep on cardboard the expense didn’t seem worth it.

With a mat and batteries bought we had enough time to enjoy a proper coffee before catching the bus to the Cat and Fiddle. This turned out to be a better way of starting the walk as we missed the bitty circumnavigation of Buxton, stepping off the bus straight on to a good path to Three Shire’s Heads.

P1010777 The path to Three Shire’s Heads

The weather was dry but drafty however we soon lost the breeze once we descended into the Dane valley proper. We arrived at Three Shire’s Heads in time for lunch, and in time to meet Christine Roche who had planned to find us there. This is a great picnic spot and, due to the good weather, was the busiest I’ve ever seen it. As Christine was only about for the afternoon she accompanied part of the way until having to return by another route back to her car. She was then going to meet us at the Roaches Tea Room, everyone who knows her will know of her love of tea and cake! Gradbach Youth Hostel was closed denying us a chance for an early breather so we pressed on, taking a more direct route thus missing out Lud’s Church.

P1010782 Autumnal colours

At  Roach End Geoff knee had started to give him grief so he opted to take the road to the tea house, whereas Penny and I climbed up to the Roaches Skyline. We followed the gritstone edge along before finally dropping behind Hen Cloud before finding the road, and ultimately the tea shop where we found Geoff and Christine tucking into tea and cake – obviously!

We pitched our tents with setting sun lighting up the evening sky. And I popped down to the Rock Inn for something stronger than tea to wash supper down with.

The Sunday dawned cold and claggy. Geoff’s knee had seized up and he wasn’t up to returning to Buxton on foot. Fortunately his local bus timetable knowledge saved the weekend for the second time. So Penny and I escorted him down to the bus stop to ensure he got back to our starting point without incident.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

rab microlight alpine jacket – first look

I popped into Cotswolds for a quick browse of their winter kit and spotted this. I just had to get one of these. And with my birthday looming I had every reason to treat myself.

The jacket weighs 366g (large size) and has three pockets; two large hand warmer pockets and a small napoleon pocket on the left that doubles as a stuff pocket. The construction is a simple stitch through in narrow channels. The material used is Pertex Microlight, which is extremely lightweight downproof, wind and water resistant, with a soft silky handle. The cuffs and hem are elasticated and there is a drawn cord on the hood, which has a wired peak.

I struggled to stuff the jacket into it’s pocket but as with all my insulation layers I use a oversized dry bag that I loosely pack the layer in, and pack it in the top of my rucksack. I would prefer a hem draw cord so that I can cinch in the hem to keep the drafts out. I’ll be taking a look at the hem to see if I can add one.

The jacket has been used mostly around town where I’ve appreciated the warmth that a down garment brings at this time of year. But it’s inclusion on my last trip, particularly on the Sunday morning around the camp, that I really appreciated having a down jacket with a hood.

At under 400g it’s not going to be as warm as other jackets on the market. But as part of a layering or sleep system it has a place.

golite jam 2010 – first look

The Golite Peak has been my go-to pack for day and weekend trips since I bought it late last year from At forty litres it handles most loads for spring and summer backpacking but packing it became an art form. And over the summer I had to forego its use on a longer trip because I was unable to fit the food I had to carry into it.


Buying a Jam was therefore a logical solution to the problem, again bought from As I’ve already stated the Peak is a mini-me version of the Jam, so they share most of the same features that I highlighted here. The main differences between the two is that the Jam’s hip belt isn’t removable, and obviously, the capacity is larger; stated 51l for the long back length. I had to match it’s baby brother so I got it in Black and Grease (gray) obviously :)

I think that the capacity is likely to be too big for my purposes because on the times I was unable to use the Peak I used an Osprey Talon 44. And the size of that seemed about right. Unfortunately the pack size is the pack size but it does have compression straps to take up slack. And similar can be achieved to some degree with the roll top. There’s always a danger with spare space; the tendency to try and fill it with superfluous kit.

As a post script to the above. I used the bag on my last trip out. And as expected it was a comfortable carry; I had 5kg of base weight, 1.5l of water and 1.5kg of food.  My worry about it’s capacity seems to be right, I do feel that it’s bigger than I need, at least for shorter trips. Now if Golite was to produce a midi-me Jam at 45l I’d be happy to shell out some more of my hard earned cash.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

galaxy hot chocolate

A great find this. I’m not a big hot chocolate drinker but occasionally having a sweet warming drink is a great morale booster. Best of all it’s not one of those calorie counting ones either with each sachet having a 20g load of carbohydrate and 484KJ of energy. Not bad for a 30g packet.


For an insulin controlled backpacking diabetic it’s a source of readily absorbable carbohydrate so I always pack a couple should I need my blood sugar level or my morale boosting.

Update: unfortunately they have 'improved' the recipe so it now contains barley gluten. This makes it no longer suitable for coeliacs.