Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Andy 'Wild' West and the PCT

Those of you that followed the adventures, trials and tribulations of Andy last year on the CDT. You can now find him enjoying himself on the PCT on his own blog here. There are some stunning photo's that the last years postings lacked. Enjoy!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Thermarest NeoAir (short)

Here’s my few words about the new mat from Cascades Designs.

I had some reservation about the slightly crisp packet sound of the material but in use my sleeping bag deadened any noise.

The material is non slip and stickier than the non slip finishes of the older mats. Not having much of a choice of a pitch on Friday evening the tent ended up on a incline, which had I been using another mat I would have spent the night swimming up slope. Not so with the NeoAir.

On my postal scales the mat without stuff sack weighed in at 244g. It has a small pack size and as there’s no foam filler it’s easy to deflate and roll up to the size that it came out of the box. The stuff sack being oversized had me worrying that it’s wouldn’t deflate well but again my doubt about this was unfounded.

I’m not sure what the thinking was behind the colour but it isn’t as violently day glow as you might expect. And given that the colour of my existing array of tents is green it’s fetching complimentary. And cutting edge contemporary chic when matched with the Wasabi (Penny’s name for the Helion2).

And what every one wants to know; is it a more comfortable sleep? Yes!

All good then? Not quite, the material is lightweight and the manufacturer recommends keeping the mat in the stuff sack even when in the rucksack. And a close inspection of the ground for potential mat popping items where you’re pitching is advisable. But we all do that don’t we? Given this I can’t see why Cascades Designs don’t supply a small repair kit as a value add - the guys at Multimat do. And then there is the price; seventy five notes is a lot of money in these credit crunched times. That said I bought mine from The Outdoor Shop for a penny under sixty quid, which made the purchase (slightly) more palatable. (At the time of writing they appear to be out of stock.)

Two more observations. Clearly as the mat rolls up to a coffee mug sized package anyone with a rucksack like the Mariposa won’t have anything to form the back pad. This is also a bit of a bummer for me too, as I replace the supplied back panel of the Villain with a 3/4 length mat. Adding the panel back in defeats the weigh saving of using the NeoAir. Of course you can use the Villain without an insert but weight carried and packing the bag for a comfortable fit become an issue.

The other point is the thickness of the mat (a potential downside of all that comfort). Whilst most tent manufacturers insist that the maximum necessary internal height of their canvas creations is 95cm, a well inflated NeoAir is going to eat into that head space for the less vertically challenged.


Friday, 17 April 2009

tag along bike

I recently bought a tag along bike for my son. Despite his initial resistance to anything cycling after a quick whizz around the block he was calling out faster daddy, faster and weeee! I'm taking the bikes down to Surrey this weekend but don't expect to see me grunting and hauling him up some dirt track on Leith Hill (not yet anyway).

There are few easy (read as flat) routes to choose from nearby. The Downs Link being one, it's a disused railway line for most part, and then there's the Wey navigation/Arun canal. Both off road, which is fine as I have to get used to having twelve kilos of trailer and the added weight of a five year old tagged on the back.

Only hope the weather improves.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

backpackers club agm

Darren has mentioned that he’ll be at the AGM weekend after next, and taking along a number of his stoves for people to have a fondle.

I’ll be there for the whole of the weekend and as I’m camping out of the back of the car for a change I’ll be packing some bits and pieces to play with too. So what would you prefer to see spotted dick or chocolate steam puddings?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

east devon way/south west coast path gear round up

The Golite Hut2 had it’s first outing of the year and continues to be a roomy, stable and lightweight shelter. Condensation was a problem but the weather conditions meant anyone using a tent would be similarly affected. As a single skin silicon shelter it's easy to flick almost dry and given that condensation forming nights are followed by bright sunny days it’s an easy matter to spread it out to dry in the sun at rest stops or at lunch. I pitched it with the Trail Blaze poles for the first time and although I had some reservations that the poles might not be long enough (I’d bought 110cm ones not 120cm) this wasn’t an issue.

I took along the travel tap but ended up using it just as a sports bottle. On the first day there were a few horse troughs that I could have taken water from but didn’t need to as I’d also packed a platy bladder. I’m not ready to make the bold step away from carrying water and being reliant on finding water along the way. Not in low land areas yet at any rate.

One disappointing piece of kit was the Osprey GrabBag, one of the range of add-ons that they do that I’d spotted the weekend before. On paper it seemed like an ideal solution; somewhere other than the mesh hip belt pockets to place my camera and it being better padded I could leave the Lowepro case behind. There was also room enough in there for other bits and pieces apart from the camera. The bag is attached to the shoulder strap on the right hand side by a loop and friction slider, a strap then goes across and attached to the left hand shoulder strap by a quick release buckle, of which the male bit is a friction slider. At first I thought I’d found a natty solution for having my camera to hand until I noticed that the friction sliders kept popping off the straps. Adjusting them so they wouldn’t pop off put tension on the shoulder straps and made the bag sit awkwardly. And they would manage to pop off regardless. I struggled with this for two days and gave up. At £12 this wasn’t cheap so I’m going to email Osprey for some advice as I don’t want to dump it into the ‘never to be used again’ box. Or start trying to modify it and invalidate any warranty.

The eye opener was the three pile analysis that I did with the kit list spreadsheet. Apart from the stark reminder that if I don’t watch the grams the kilo’s start piling up, it helped me appreciate the difference between what I think I might need and what I actually used. I carried 590g of stuff that I didn’t use therefore didn’t need (apart from the first aid kit which I’d always pack). Then there’s the marginal stuff, the kit that got used once, this was still 10% of the total kit weight with the waterproofs making up half that. Again apart from the waterproofs, I’m sure if I hadn’t packed the other items I wouldn’t have missed them.

I had chosen to carrying the shelter, stove, fuel and three days food for two, sharing some of this would have obviously taken the weight down but that wasn't the issue; I'd been complacent and ended up carrying over a kilo more than I needed to... (Makes mental note to re-read Beyond Backpacking - again!)

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

south west coast path – day three

Another bright and sunny day. And as we broke camp a phone call came from Penny’s parents to find out where we were. They were cooking an East Sunday supper for us and her two sisters who’d travelled down from London the previous day and they wanted to pick us up so we wouldn’t miss it.

Our progress so far had been embarrassingly slow but we were enjoying ourselves and that’s what mattered. And with another late start it was going to be a hard task to get to Exmouth by the end of the day, so the plan was to pull up short at Budleigh Salterton.

Looking back across Salcombe Mouth

We picked up the coast path using a slightly longer and diagonal path out of Salcombe Regis to make the ascent to the first high point of the day slightly gentler. Dropping into Sidmouth we went on a search for some sun block and a few supplies. Having decided not to queue for an ice cream in Branscome Penny finally got her wish and had one from the shop in town. The climb out of Sidmouth was as previous days although not quiet as severe as others. As you progress along this stretch of coast the rock changes from limestone, to greensand to sandstone and the colour of the cliffs change accordingly.

High Peak

Over Peak Hill, the first bump in the coast of the day, brings you to Windgate. (I’m guessing it gets it’s name from the fact it sits between Peak Hill and High Peak and as acts like a funnel in the right weather conditions.) After High Peak the path drops and adopts a more gentle rolling way along the coast. We passed the campsite at Ladram Bay and was glad of yesterday’s decision not to press on; it was an ugly, over crowded piece of real estate that we couldn’t wait to leave behind.

Otter Estuary

At the Otter Estuary the path heads inland for a kilometre to a bridge before heading back down the western edge of the estuary this time there was no luxury of hitching a ride on a tram. Like the wetlands at the mouth of the Axe this area had also been designated a nature reserve and if we had the time, patience and binoculars we could have twitchered for a bit. But instead we walked into Budleigh Salterton called for our lift and decamped to the grottiest pub that we could find (not as difficult as that would seem).

east devon way/south west coast path – day two

The day had dawned sunny, and with the cloud clearing over night, the sky was bright blue. The clear sky and lack of breeze meant that the inside of the Hut2 was heavy with condensation so I was glad I’d added bivi bags to the gear roster. The Hut2 is roomy enough for two plus gear but there’s always a chance that a sleeping bag could brush the side, especially at the foot.

Over breakfast we discussed whether to continue with the East Devon Way or adopt the South West Coast Path as both lead to our planned finishing point. The coast path won out as another couple of days of micro navigation and electric fence tangling didn’t really appeal (Penny had got zapped yesterday so it was an easy won argument).


The first climb of the day out of Seaton and over to Beer was an easy one; a gentle introduction to coastal path walking. From Beer the path climbs slowly and steadily first to Arratt’s Hill and then on to Beer Head. Just past the headland the path drops to follow a narrow, twisting and in places ‘entertaining’ route through Under Hooken down to Branscombe. For added entertainment try this bit when the ground is damp!

Do try this in the rain

We stopped for refreshments at the Sea Shanty in Branscombe and a chance to spread out the Hut2 for the sun to burn off any remaining damp.

The climb out of Branscombe is steep and unremitting. Once out of the combe the path continues to climb until dropping steeply down to beach level at Weston Mouth. Again another steep climb up and at Lincombe the path (thankfully) follows the contour around the hanging valley. Not so for the next one and the again the path drops down almost to the bottom of the combe before heading a little way inland to a footbridge. At the footbridge we had a quick chat about options and decided to head inland to Salcombe Regis and the campsite there.

Salcombe Regis

‘The campsite for discerning campers’ didn’t meet our (not quite) discerning needs. A quick round of the camp shop failed to produce any overpriced wine or beer. And the shelves were also empty of Heinz baked beans and pork sausages, cream of tomato soup and other camp shop staples. They did however have milk. They also gave us the most sloping pitch on the site despite other flatter ones being freely available (so we took one of those instead).

Supper's ready

As I was preparing supper, a chap walked by the tent with his little boy. The boy asked why a walking pole that was holding the rear of the tent up. His father replied that it was a ‘clever’ tent because it used walking poles as tent poles so that you don’t need to carry those as well. Clearly a well informed camper.

The decision to take the coast path was a good one but it soon became clear earlier that day that it was by no means an easy task with the amount of ascent and descent that’s required. Good practice for the Picos in July without a doubt.

east devon way - day one

Trying to find the start of the East Devon Way set the tone for the rest of the days ramblings. We opted to follow the river out of Lyme Regis because it was heading in the general direction that the way was supposed to go. On a telegraph pole there was a badly damaged way mark that was really not much help once the path left the river.

Wild garlic

The path’s marks improved as we crossed the main road through Uplyme but only to go awry further along. Somehow the markers for a circular walk around Uplyme had adopted the same colour as the path we were trying to follow and had us waking off in the wrong direction. It was only when we started going back downhill did it dawn on us and we had to retrace our steps.

This must be the way

Climbing steadily up, the route crosses the hill above Musbury, where there is an iron age fort, the view opens up and reveals the east Devon coast with Seaton and the Axe estuary in the distance. The route descends to the River Axe and follows the flood plain on the west side of the river. The soil here is Devonian clay which meant that, although flat, the way was hard going. More diversions, electric fence dodging, and field edge skirting slowed progress. The sky that had all day threatened to add to the experience decided it was about time it did. But no sooner had the downpour started it was over and the sun finally started to break through.

After crossing the tram line we stopped for a rest and to take a view on the day. It was gone 4pm and Farway where we were expecting to get to that afternoon seemed too far away. A quick look at the map settled it. We’ll catch the tram to Seaton and walk to Axemouth and the campsite there.

Leaving Colyton

The tram takes you along the estuary wetlands and as we travelled along we spotted curlews, shellducks, gannets, cormorants and a couple of roe deer.

Trams crossing across the Axe

At the campsite I set about pitching the tent and sorting food for the evening whilst Penny popped to the village pub (at the entrance to the campsite) for a bottle of wine to go with our meal. We hadn't gotten as far as we wanted on the first day but we were in no hurry and the weather was being to improve.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

east devon way

Full focus this evening on some last minute dehydrating and packing of Exos for the Easter trip.

The East Devon Way runs from Lyme Regis, actually in Dorset (just), to Exmouth following an inland route. The route runs over country that's not dissimilar to the North or South Downs, so not too arduous. The route is 40 miles long and I'm aiming to get to Exmouth Sunday afternoon where (if the weather is good enough) I get to paddle in the sea.

coffee solution

A couple of Stateside outdoor bloggers have commented recently on a new product from Starbucks called VIA, an 'instant' coffee that comes in single cup sachets.

Popping out of Gunnersbury tube on Saturday I noticed some advertising for the same on a phone box. And as I was heading down Chiswick High Road I kept an eye open for which of the many Starbucks outlets along this strip was stocking VIA.

VIA is available in an Italian or Colombian roast, with a packet of three sachets costing £1.20, so I picked up one of each.

Here's the dilemma... I'm not a fan of organisations like Starbucks or Maccy Dee's. But I am a fan of good coffee. I don't rate the coffee at SB's - it's bland tasteless stuff - you can guess where this is going.

So what does VIA taste like? Well I couldn't tell much difference between the two roasts, not much of a surprise really, but that said the coffee did taste better than instant. It's not cheap; you'll need two sachets for a decent sized mug but it will be a better tasting one for that. If you can live with that then it is vastly more convenient than using a mug mate. For now I'm going to stick with the coffee bag solution that I worked out.