Saturday, 26 December 2009

merino wool buff

It's no surprise that one of the above turned up as a present yesterday. Fifty five grams of tubular softness, it's much longer than the synthetic me-too buff that I'd been using. My flexible head gear system gets an upgrade, and more flexibility given the additional length. Handy that as I seem to have misplaced the powerstretch beanie...

golite adrenaline 20

Hood and centre zip

After my recent trip to the Lakes it was clear that my Marmot Hydrogen wasn’t up to dealing with temperatures below freezing, even bolstered with a bivi bag, a primaloft top and, well, I should state that I wore all my clothes including gloves and a wind shirt. I wasn’t cold but it is uncomfortable sleeping with that many layers on. I could of course packed my Rab Ladkh 800 it’s rated to -15c but it’s bulky, heavy, and been adopted by Penny. Earlier in the year I doubled up sleeping bags but that method is even heavier and bulkier that the Ladkh. An upgrade of my sleeping bag was needed particularly as I’ve slot on the Challenge. I know only too well what the weather is like in Scotland in May from experience and from listening to Bob’s podcasts.

So on my return to London I set about a search, my criteria were simple the bag should be OK for temps down to -10c, weight less than a kilo and be cheap. First port of call was the guys at Alpkit but they were out of stock of the Pipedream 600, and weren’t going to have any in until March 2010, fine for the Challenge but not for the intervening months. Next was PHD and I had a crack at making my own. I kept it simple short side, zip no collar just like the Marmot but with more stuffing. The result was an eye watering three hundred quid plus price tag. I then checked out Cumulus, one model fitted the bill but was a bit over budget.

I did a round of the high street stockists of Mountain Equipment, Rab, The North Face and Mountain Hardware, and only the Mountain Equipment Xero 550 made the grade but was more over budget than the Cumulus.

Back online I dropped by BPL UK and they have a small range of bags and the Golite Adrenaline 20 grabbed my attention. At £190.00 it was the cheapest I’d found so far, it weighs 900g ands is rated to -7c, not the -10c that I was looking for but close enough. I found a review done on the bag by Chris Townsend, which confirmed that it would be a good choice. Unfortunately Bob and Rose were out of stock, I had a long chat with Rose about other options but none came near.

Pertex Endurance capped foot

Back online I found that Mark Richardson had stock so promptly ordered one, not as cheap as BPL but still within budget. I’ve not had the chance to use the sleeping bag in its intended environment but I will confess that I did spend one night in it indoors. The lining is silky smooth, and bag is topped and tailed with Pertex Endurance which is waterproof. I don’t know why other sleeping bag manufacturers don’t adopt this approach because many a time I’ve found the foot of my sleeping bag damp, and this was a perennial a problem with one of the tents I used to own. I tested the material and the water beaded off nicely. The foot of the bag is shark tailed which matches the natural angle of the feet when at rest on your back. And it has a half zip on the front of the bag. How I get on with this unique arrangement will remain to be seen.

I hope to get out in the next few weeks to test this, the Scarp and the Golite Peak so more to follow.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

the good wine shop

I stopped by the Kew branch of the The Good Wine Shop on the way home from dropping off Christmas presents for Ben, to pick up a bottle of La Flor to go with the sausages, and a half bottle of Rutherglen to go with the pud on Christmas day.

As always the very large (and very expensive) bottle of wine, that used to adorn the counter at the St Margarets store, is still sitting there. And as always the bottle became a talking point. I joked that I wished I had my camera with me so I could take a photo of it and post something about it on my blog. But as I hadn’t, the next time I was passing it would have been sold, so I took a snap with my mobile phone…

I also joked that if the photo was too blurry it still might get sold as I’d have to come back to get a better shot. Being a talking point The Deer in Headlights bottle has become a sort of emblem for this small independent, so it’d be interesting to see what they do if someone makes them an offer they won’t refuse.

So if you’re in the area pop your head around the door, and a strike up a conversation about the very large (and very expensive) bottle of wine.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

henry shires scarp 1 - first look

I drove to Parcel Force's depot in Mitcham to pay the ransom that they and Customs had levied on the Scarp 1 and collected my belated birthday present (or early Christmas one).

The set up is straightforward; assemble the main pole and feed through the sleeve, locate the ends in the grommets, and with the six supplied pegs, peg out the corners and centre. Adjusting the pitch is equally easy. This is the first tent that I've owned that can be pitched as one and I like the idea.

As hoped I can sit up in the tent and there's plenty of space for one person. Ideal for a venture like the TGO Challenge in fact. It could even be used as a mountain marathon shelter for two as it has two porches. I'm going to have to persuade Penny to try this out on my next test pitch but will hold on to the idea that it was bought as a ONE person tent.

There's enough room in the porch space to park a pair of Terrocs and a rucksack so one could be used for storage the other for cooking, or not at all. If you're worried about cooking under cover then the inner can be pegged back to create more ground space however you'd still have the cross tension band in place.

Room for the shoes

Venting options are good; there are short zips at either end, two roof vents and the fly sheet can be gathered up the pole on either side. There's a buckle at the bottom of the zip that can be used to keep the flysheet closed and the zip open for another venting option. The zips on the fly aren't two way however but the buckle can be used to hold the flysheet in place with the zip either fully opened or partially zipped up. The buckle has another use in taking the strain off the zip which is a good thing. The zips on the ends don't have buckles and are prone to parting unfortunately, and there's also an elastic loop that I haven't worked out how to use yet.

End venting zips

The roof vents are closed by Velcro and an elastic loop and hook. And are kept open by a loop and hook internally. From my first attempt this can be done from inside (once you've had some practice).

Roof vents from the inside...

...and from the outside

Flysheet door venting mechanism

The inner is mostly material with mesh at the apex; it's a long time since I've owned a tent that's like this. Most are where the inner is wholly mesh or in the case the majority of my shelters the inner is wholly non existent. A double zip means that you can adjust venting of the inner on either side.

Mesh panel, double zip and D ring

At the top of the zips on the inner is a D ring and at the apex of the inner a clip. All ideal running a drying line or, in case of the clip, hang a lantern from. There is a pocket on either side too. Given the size of the pocket I'm not overly convince of their use; they could take a head torch like a Petzl Tikka but just that.

It will hold a cereal bar -just

I've found that there are two patches on Velcro on the under side of the groundsheet, I'll need to drop Henry an email as I'm baffled as to why they are there.

Curious patches

The inner doors can be rolled up and held in place by tying the two lengths of material supplied to do this. I've never found that this is a satisfactory way of keeping a door tied back. I may look to modify this by making a loop and using a friction toggle on the other, that can be feed through the loop to hold the door more securely. That said the simple overhand knot I used stayed put during the time I got in and out of the tent. The doors on the outer have Velcro retainers.

With Christmas and the end of the year fast approaching I'm not sure when I will be able to sneak out for an overnighter to give it a proper try out. Before I do I will be sealing those seams and especially the stitching around the Velcro patches on the groundsheet.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

flexible head gear

I usually have a baseball cap on my kit list for most of the trips, only swapping it out for the classic Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap when the weather is going to be really grim.

The humble baseball cap is the cornerstone of my flexible head gear set up, it keeps the sun, rain and occasional snow flurry out of my eyes. It’s wind resistant but being unlined it’s not that great at keeping my head warm in the colder months nor keeping the wind off my ears.

The second part of the arrangement is a Powerstretch beanie. This add a surprising amount of warmth when worn under the baseball despite its thinness and can be pulled over the ears to provide respite from chilling wind. And at only 28g it’s not going to break the gram bank. It doubles as a nightcap too.

The final part is a buff. I bought a me-too one not an original as I think that twenty odd quid for a tube of material is excessive. Venting the neck area is a great way of cooling down but when it’s chilly it’s nice to have something to plug the gap especially when the collars on some base and mid layers don’t seem to co-ordinate that well. I tend to think of it as a removable polo neck. The flexibility of the tube of material means you can arrange it to cover more of your head ears, and mouth when required, like when you might fancy doing a Lawrence of Arabia impersonation or robbing a bank. And if the wind is particularly strong the buff can be pulled up and over the baseball cap to keep it from flying away.

Off to do a bank job?

Upgrades to this system; I'd replace the cheap but still effective buff for a merino wool one, and perhaps use a wind/rain proof cap if you can still buy one.

The photo of the Lawrence look-alike was taken on a recent trip to the Lakes by Adrian Strand.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

golite peak - another peak

As promised I've taken a closer look at the bag. The hip fins are easy to remove being held by Velcro tabs, double sided means a secure attachment but I'm still wondering about how well these will work with loads when approaching the claimed 30lb maximum.

Golite's rucksack ideology goes back to Ray Jardine who wasn't a fan of hip belts for the simple reason that if your load is as light as you can make it hip belts are effectively redundant. And since a lot of weight in rucksacks is the hip belt and back system it makes sense to strip these out or pare to the minimum to save weight. That said I still feel that even with lighter loads some transfer of weight to the hips is essential. It lowers your centre of gravity adding stability, and if you're running, jogging or scrambling then a hip belt will keep the load from moving about. From a personal point of view I won't bother to look at a rucksack that doesn't have pockets on the hip belt. Removing the hip fins will save 133g.

As stated the foam back insert is removable and can only be done if the 'sack is empty, and even then it's a struggle to get out as it fits tightly. I ran the foam under a tap and although it doesn't look like closed cell foam it didn't take up any water. If you use three quarter length mattress or pad then the bag can be put under your heels if required but I wouldn't bother going to the effort of taking the insert out. The foam insert weighs a measly 44g.

With the hip fins and back insert removed the stripped down weight is 586g.


Ham pond

Working from home has it's benefits, I can pretty much stop what I'm doing and head out of the door. As soon as snow started falling I togged up and headed out the door with Harry.

One of the many 'tree houses' found in the park

I've a choice of routes but the one that I favour is a wander through Ham Common Woods to Richmond Park climbing up to Pembroke Lodge for a coffee stop. Pembroke Lodge is a Georgian mansion which was once the home of Bertrand Russell, the view from the terrace is a expansive one and on a good day there are a number of landmarks that can be made out some easier than others (Heathrow airport and Twickenham Stadium). Since I had Harry with me I wasn't allowed in to the house and grounds so had to make do with a coffee from the shack and it being midweek it was quiet. At weekends the car park at Pembroke Lodge is a place where dog walkers, ramblers and sunny day cyclists converge and the Lodge and shack become overwhelmed.

Snow dusting

Just north of the Lodge is a mound, Called King Henry's, where there's a telescope making easier to spot the more elusive landmarks like Windsor Castle. You can also look back to the City along St Paul's Vista. This day however the gap in the trees that create the vista was the only thing I saw. From Richmond Gate there's a path that runs parallel to Star and Garter Hill down to Petersham Gate, I took this and there was now a sprinkling on snow covering the trees and brambles.

St Paul's Vista

Through the gate and across the road, Richmond council finally installed a crossing here last year, even with the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill getting across this bit of road was a test of skill, timing and nerve. Past Petersham Church, where George Vancover is buried, I left the Capital Ring and followed a series of narrow footpaths skirting walled houses and school playing fields to the Thames.

I've walked and biked this stretch of the river countless times so I poddled along on autopilot with my mind on other things passing Marble Hill House and Ham House without a single glance. At Teddington Lock I picked up the Thames Cycle Path and followed this through to Ham, and home.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

arcam cd37 cd player

I've had a CD37 on home audition for the last couple of days and in between the various building works I've had a chance to listen to the player. The CD37 is a natural upgrade to the CD72 that I own (now available to purchase on gumtree if anyone is interested!) An interesting point to note is that one of the reasons for buying a CD72 was that the DACs could be upgraded to the similarly award winning CD92/CD192; a 192 upsampling improvement over the 24 bit DAC in the CD72. However by the time I made a decision to upgrade Arcam had revamped their CD player range and the boards were no longer available.

Straight out of the box the it was clear that there was a need to run the player in, over the last couple of listen sessions there has been a marked improvement with greater definition and more detail being pulled from the discs. The sound stage is wider and fuller than the CD72, with greater separation of the instruments and voices; the close vocal harmonies on Gillian Welch's Orphan Girl along with the sparse guitar picking stand out. One thing I like about Arcam's sound is that it's laid back, not strident or aggressive so you can enjoy hours of listening without the feeling that your ears needed a rest. Not all Arcam's disc spinners were this easy going, I once auditioned an Alpha 7SE and after twenty minutes I was longing for the quiet dead of night.

The transport and tray are solidly engineered, and the player takes time to load and read discs, no doubt due to the fact that it also plays SACDs. I don't own any of these although I've ordered one up from amazon to get an idea of what this format does sonically. I won't go into my cynical view of vinyl vs CD vs other formats here, I'll save that for another post. Suffice to state that the SACD format hasn't taken off as perhaps Sony would have hoped, no doubt not helped by the iPod generation, streaming and downloads.

Which leads nicely to why spend a very large chunk of cash on a seemingly soon to be obsolete item of hi-fi? There are personal and practical answers to this question. I've amassed a large collection of CDs and I prefer to spend time listening to the music rather than copying it to a hard drive, mp3 player or whatever, that is when I'm not out enjoying the hills and fells. And when I'm out I prefer Natures Soundtrack so I have no need to carry my favoured tunes around on a flash drive.


Chanukah starts this Friday so I was out on a mission to find a menorah. Back where I grew up this would have been a easy task; walking up to Stamford Hill and having a browse around the shops on the parade. In the depths of northern Surrey I'd have to improvise. Philip Werner suggested that I make one (Brent Council have a PDF on their website with instructions for a menorah made from recycled materials in case I was that way inclined). However I was going to find a candle holder to suit the Festival of Lights needs; it must hold nine candles, one for each day of the Festival and one for the Shamash, which the other candles are lit from.

The menorah is one of the enduring symbols of Judaism and is traditionally a linear affair but then there's tradition, and then there's tradition. My offering is a modern take on on this, well that's my belief.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

golite peak – first impression

A new model for 2010 which Bob at BPL UK managed to acquire limited stock of this side of the 31st December. Naturally I had to have one because… Well because it’s new but it’s not shiny; I ordered one in black, and I had need of a 40l rucksack (that’s my justification out of the way).

It’s basically a mini-me version of the Jam 2 only smaller and with a few refinements. The bag is made from grid reinforced dynema but with one difference, it’s made from 100% recycled material. In fact all rucksacks in next year’s product line will be made from recycled material (or as their website states 100% Tier 1 EPM’s). The bag boasts the same compactor system allowing you to skinny it down for smaller loads, the same large front pocket, the roll top closure, hydration sleeve, and two side pockets. My Travel Tap fitted snugly in one of these as would a platy or one litre water bottle.

One of the main differences between the Peak and Jam is that the hip belt fins on the Peak are removable and have be re-worked to fit the hips better, a bit like a single strap version that’s found on the Osprey sacks. The hip belt fins have pockets that will hold a couple of cereal bars, compass, GPS that sort of thing. I’ve not detached them yet so I can’t comment on how easy this is to do or undo. The bumph that came with the bag states that you can save 140g by removing these. I like hip belt pockets so I can’t see me removing them but will tinker and report back. Incidentally on my scales the bag clocked 793g.

The other difference is that there’s a foam back panel that’s removable to save weight when not required. I had a look at this and found it slotted in with a tight fit, so didn’t attempt to remove it. It looks like that it can only be taken out if the bag is empty, so no use as a sit pad at lunch then. Also the foam didn’t look like it was closed cell to me, only way to find out is to take it out and run it under a tap. Again that’s a tinker for another time. I’ll stick it on the scales and post a stripped down weight with my other findings.

I used the bag to carry my work bag and other bits and pieces home, and the bag fitted snugly. It was not loaded with a great deal of weight but it felt a comfortable carry all the same. Golite claim that you can carry loads up to 30lbs (14kg) but with no lumber pad and minimal padding on the hip belt fins I can’t help but doubt that, I could of course be wrong. That said the typical load I had in mind for it was circa 6kg, so unless I’m feeling masochistic at some point I’m not going to bother going to that extreme.

The next thing was to look at loading the bag. I stuffed my regular down bag into its 8l dry bag and this fitted with room to spare in the bottom of the sack. With this space to spare I knew that it would be ideal for the type of trip I planned to use it for.

At this point playing with the pack was put on pause – I had supper to cook.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

mardale pile bivi boots

The above items are one of those luxury items that you dream of at the end of a long day when your feet are wet and cold, and no amount of burying in the sleeping bag and wiggling of toes will make them warm up.

These are like buffalo pile mitts for the feet. The extra large (10-12) weigh 172g so not as light as I’d like. And being pile they are bulky too. Perhaps I should have indulged myself and bought some down booties from PHD but there’s one big advantage to these; they have a thin but durable sole so you can walk around in them. Non-lumpy ground obviously, I wouldn’t want to stand on a stone in these. Answering the call of nature in the damp dead of night is a foot wetting thing of the past.

The boots have, rather strangely, a pointy toe, very much like a Teddy Boys Winkle Picker. As a ice breaker in an alpine hut I could break in song, “Don’t you step on my blue pile shoes…” Or perhaps not.

Monday, 23 November 2009

savoy cabbage with white beans

Savoy cabbage is one of my favourite vegetables from this time of year. And one of the best ways of serving it is like this.

One Savoy cabbage
Can of cannelli or butter beans
Three rashers of smoked back bacon

Strip the leaves off the cabbage and rinse under running water to remove any grit. Use a sharp knife to cut either side of the stalk to remove it. Stack the halves of the leaves and shred into pencil width strips. Place the shredded cabbage in a steamer, rinse the beans and place on top, steam for about 5 minutes, the cabbage needs to be cooked but with a little bite.

Cut the rashers of bacon into strips. Whilst the cabbage is steaming heat a small glug of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the bacon bits, stirring until the fat runs and the meat is cooked. Add the cabbage and beans to the bacon stirring to coat with the fat and to mix the ingredients together. Season with pepper to taste, it shouldn’t need salt.

Serve as a side with gammon or, my favourite, rustic sausages like the Toulouse ones from Sainsbury’s. (I cook the sausages first in the same pan!)

vargo titanium sierra cup

I must be spending too much of my online time chatting with American backpackers; seems their influence has lead me to buy the one piece of kit that is THE symbol of backpacking in the US - the sierra cup.

With a capacity of 270ml it doesn’t really fit in with my perceived camp kitchen ideal. That said I’ve often wanted to take just the Snow Peak 900 but think that it looks ridiculously big as a mug! The sierra cup sits nicely on top of this and the Primus 1L pot that I use with my Bush Buddy, so perhaps there was some reason for the purchase. That said once I’ve found one of those dinky Alpkit karabiner clips I’ll be hanging it off my rucksack :)

The big benefit with the cup is the ease in which it can be filled from the barest trickle or the shallowest of water sources, which makes filling the Travel Tap a whole lot easier. I’ll take it to the Lakes next week but I can’t see me needing it to that…

Friday, 13 November 2009

tgo challenge - round up

The fat brown envelope arrived from Roger.

What's interesting about it is that it includes the names, location, how many challenges the lucky participants have done, and their age.

Scanning through the list many names jump out; Christine Roche, editor of the BPC's newsletter, Darren Christie, and Geoff Gafford. All three I've spent time on the trail with so I'm looking forward to catching up with them along the way. Alan Sloman, Phil @ Doodlecat and Martin Banfield (phreerunner) are outdoor bloggers that I've gotten to know. Alan and Phil's antics in the challenge are legendary - if they'll allow me to state that - and I'm looking forward to being a whitness to whatever they get up to next year. George Griffin, another blogger I've gotten to know, had a run of bad luck with his last few applications but has been given a chance to make up for it and is also down on the list.

And then there's Colin Ibbotson and Shirley Worrell. I've been following Colin's radical approach to kit with interest on Andy Howell's website. (Andy didn't make the first cut but is 18th on the waiting list so is almost certain to fnd his way on.) Shirl did a series of Podcast on this years Challenge that kept a smile on my face as I communted to and from work. Shirl has just finished posting her experiences on the Challenge on her blog, where you can also download the podcasts too. Essential reading for a never before Challenger like myself.

From across the pond, Philip Werner @ has secured a space and who I've gotten to know over the summer, so it will be good to met in an actual rather than virtually sense.

Also from the US Henry Shires deserves a mention, Henry is one of the US cottage industry manufacturers of tarp tents. I ordered one of the newly modified Scarp 1 tents from him last night, which I plan to use on the crossing. I hope to meet him somewhere along the way and perhaps if he'll allow do a 60 second interview with him.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

vale of pewsey

“There doesn’t seem to be much of a distance between the two campsites,” Ramblin’ Jay enquired of the BPC new members meet. Which was true but what she didn’t know was this area of Wiltshire is studded with tumuli and other ancient remains that are connected by a network of paths, tracks and trails. Enough to make up several weekends walking in fact.

The weather on the run up to the weekend was poor and I ditched the idea of packing the Bush Buddy as I doubted that I'd find any fuel dry enough to use. Although I did pack the tarp as I’d found a set up that would give the best weather protection from a rectangle of green nylon and a couple of trekking poles.

Tarp pitched at Wilcot

Friday night's pitch was a very sheltered spot and I pitched the tarp facing a wall but I didn’t need the extra coverage. We sat out side watching the stars slowly disappear behind the encroaching cloud until we felt spots of rain that had us diving for cover. The rain was short lived and the cloud passed leaving a clear sky with tumbling temperatures and rivers of condensation running down the tarp. Not that it mattered I was comfortably cocooned in my sleeping/bivi bag combo.

Saturday got off to a leisurely start despite the pre sunrise up farmyard cacophony of cockerels. Introductions and greetings were exchanged over breakfast and coffee. And several ideas for routes were proposed and debated. Two loose groups set off in differing directions with these breaking down into smaller groups as the morning progressed.

On the Wansdyke Path, West Woods

Ramblin’ Jay, Mark, Steve and I splintered from the group we started out with and headed on to pick up the ridge that ran from east to west along the northern edge of the vale. We loped over rolling down land in bright but breezy sunshine, stopping for a break in a small depression on the side of the chalk escarpment. I used the break to eat a home made gluten free pork pie and to flick the remaining moisture off my tarp and into the breeze.

The southern edge of the Marlborough Downs

At Adam's Grave on the Pewsey Downs Nature Reserve we headed south to Honey Street on the Kennet and Avon canal and in doing so the white horse on the hill side revealed itself as we retreated to the pub.

One of the many white horses

At the pub Mark and I discovered that a book we both owned had had a big influence us when we were much younger and was instrumental in getting me backpacking. The book was Derrick Booth’s The Backpackers Handbook. Even more bizarre was the fact that Mark, a fellow blogger, had written about the book and Derrick had contacted him. Here’s Mark’s post on the subject.

From the pub it was a easy ramble along the towpath to Wilcot. The sun was beaming and in the shelter of the vale it was hot enough to strip off the legs and walk in shorts to the campsite. Unlike the previous nights site this was more open and I was a bit concerned about my kit being on view under the tarp. Due to the prevailing wind the open end was facing across the site to the road which didn’t help. I cooked and chatted to others as they floated by and had a snooze before heading to the pub.

The following morning started grey and threatened rain. Ramblin’ Jay and I opted to take what was meant to be the most direct route back to the car. Along the canal, over a bridge and along the White Horse Trail north.

Ramblin 'Jay on the way

Everything was going to plan including the increasing dampness of the day until we headed up on another ridge near Oare and somehow we managed to drift slightly off route going further to the east than we needed to. We handrailed a fence and then a forest enclosure heading north, with the rain and clag reducing visibility and adding to the challenge. All way marking and signs of any footpath vanished so we dropped down across a meadow and located a path running along the edge of another enclosure. At the junction of this path and a track there was a OS map planning application that indicated that we had found our way back to the White Horse Trail and highlighted the dog leg diversion that we’d managed to take in doing so.

Before leaving Wilcot David Topley (the weekend’s organiser) had mentioned that the final leg of the route back to our starting point was through a field of maize that was head high and difficult to pass through. When we arrived at the field and we took one look and didn’t even bother. We circumnavigated the field, which in itself wasn’t without problems as we had several barbed wire fences to get over/under.

An enjoyable weekend where I made some new acquaintances, caught up with some old ones, and tried out some kit.

Monday, 9 November 2009

golite peak rucksack

Bob at BPL will have some pre-release stock of the above. And of course, as I really need another rucksack I’ve ordered myself one up in the tastefully subtle shades of black and grease, in the long back length.

The Peak looks like a mini me version of the Jam 2 with a stated weight of 765g and 40l capacity for the large back length model. Given this spec I’m expecting that the rucksack will get used for overnight trips or two or three night trips in warmer weather. But that won’t stop me from trying to stuff all I need in it for a longer trip to the Lakes should it arrive before the end of the month.

I’ll post a first impression review once I’ve got my hands on it.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

tgo challenge 2010

I've received an email from Roger Smith confirming that Liam and I have been successful with our application. I've just sent him a text with the news and his reply was - Oh fuck LOL. Probably because he now knows that he owes me the thirty quid fee.

Time to buy that copy of Scottish hill tracks then.

And I've spoken Darren as he spotted that I'd got a place, as has he.

Monday, 2 November 2009

normal service will be resumed

My blogging has taken the backseat over the last few weeks mostly due to stuff going on in my personal life; Some good things have happened and some not so good ones too.

The shenanigans around the house sale and purchase have finally finished and we have the date of 18th November for the move – hurray!

The ongoing issue around contact with my son is steadily improving and I spent four days with him last week. In the past, any time we had together was always put to good use, going to museums and the alike. So it was a joy just to spend time doing mundane every days things with him that I’ve not had the opportunity to do before. Although this time was nearly hijacked by the very people that are responsible for ensuring that he gets time with me. Go figure.

On the work front, El Bow the Iberian Archer, has paid a visit and I’ll be leaving at the end of this month. Not the best timing. I briefly toyed with the idea of doing the Pennine Way until Dave Mycroft pointed out that even with parts of it paved canoeing across some of the boggy bits (of which there’ll be many more of than say in September) will be required. Unless we get a stunning couple of weeks of deep freeze which is unlikely in this age of global warming.

Despite all this I still managed to fit in some backpacking and I’ve two trips to write up; The Vale of Pewsey BPC meet and the 1066 Country Walk weekend.

I’ve managed to pimp my audio arrangement thanks to some button pushing by Ben, I discovered that that the crossovers on the speakers was between the mid/tweeter units and the bass units. Why have the power amp driving the bass unit when I can harness it’s muscle to drive the mid range and tweeter instead? So I dropped Massive Attack’s Protection in the tray and had a listen to the first minute of the first track. I then powered down, swapped the leads, and replayed the track. The bass was leaner but the detail in the mid and treble was greater, and noticeably so. Sweet.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

monitor audio br5 speakers

"Not your usual lightweight kit," Ramblin' Jay stated when she heard that I was picking up a pair of floor standing speakers from some where else in Reading after depositing me at Sainbury's after our weekend trip out with the Backpackers Club.

And indeed they aren't. These slim built cherry wood finished speakers weigh 23kg a piece so you won't be seeing these stuffed in a rucksack. Although I wish that I could take the sheer sound quality that these pair manage. The Arcam/Monitor Audio pairing is a marriage made in audio heaven. Bi-amped, the speakers offer unrivalled definition, clarity and articulation of whatever genre of music the CD player wants to throw at them. And unlike the B&W stand mounts that they replace they aren't tiring on the ears. I've listened to them for hours at a go and enjoyed the closing bars of the last track as much as I did the opening ones of the first - with a huge grin on my face throughout.

This leaves me with a dilemma; do I use my spare time listening to music or getting out on the hills...

Monday, 5 October 2009

cowboy tv dinners

Arranging this coming weekends trip I rashly promised to bring Bush Buddy along because Ramblin' Jay was bring her Bushbaby. At the time this looked to be a grand idea; we could while away the evening watching our ultralight versions of the cowboy TV, perhaps toasting something or making popcorn to go with a noggin or two of Scotland's Finest. And to milk the situation for every drop of bushcraft experience I was going leave the usual suspects of the Wasabi or Jabba at home and pack a tarp.

Then the weather happened and I realised that I needed to find a way of pitching the tarp in a more weatherproof way than the lean-to stylee that is my preferred way of putting the tarp up. A flying vee would work but there wasn't any guarantee that there'd be a tree and space to pitch the tarp in the desired position to shed the wind/rain. As my tarp came from BPL I took a look and there was one pitched in the cave or pyramid stylee; using two trekking poles, the tarp has three edges to the ground - ideal.

Cave or pyramind stylee

So I set to and put the tarp up in day light, then in several shades of dusk and twilight, and finally in the dark with the aid of a head torch. It was quite blustery on Saturday morning so I pitched it again to see how it stood up and to checkout the living space.

More than enough space for one

This is a very stable configuration and I expect it to keep the weather off. I could sleep with my feet towards the opening as there's enough clearance at the closed end for my head. I can sit up under the tarp at the open end and cook with the Bush Buddy, and there's enough room should a visitor wish to call. Roll on Friday evening :)

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.

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.