Friday, 10 December 2010

have i found that headboard?

I’m indebted to Sarah for giving me what I think is the solution to my wandering pillow.

I gathered from the limited number of characters that you get with twitter she used a pillow case; stick the pillow in the end of the pillow case and sleep on it. The pillow case is trapped under your body holding the pillow in place. Or that’s how I imagined it.

Now I’m not one for carrying extra bits of kit when I could use something that I’d already be carrying, so thought no more of the idea. Until yesterday morning when I was wandering along the Thames when I wondered whether a base layer or mid layer top would fit over an end of the NeoAir. The idea being that the pillow would be held in place by the top. Wandering is good for wondering.

Back home I inflated the NeoAir and the AirPillow and grabbed a selection of tops that would be on my kit list. Result!

P1010824 The picture shows a TNF Flight T which is a very lightweight baselayer, weighing only 70g, slipped on the end of the NeoAir with the AirPillow held in place. Now all I need is the opportunity to get out and give it a try!

Monday, 6 December 2010

why don’t camping mats have headboards?

I’ve been very impressed with the comfort that the NeoAir has brought to my camping experience. Added to that, the Exped AirPillow has proven itself in a short space of time. A killer combo, in fact. BUT the only problem I have with this set up is a migrating pillow…

The AirPillow does have two tabs with holes in meant for securing the pillow but these are in the wrong place. On the top, or bottom, depending which way round one uses the pillow, rather than on the sides, where they would be more useful. The valves on the under side make it possible to feed some 3mm black bungee through that can be wrapped around the mat and held in place with a friction toggle. But these too aren’t central, so the bungee clings to the very end of the mat. Not ideal as I’m willing to bet that the bungee could creep off the mat. Although I’ve yet to give this modification a proper try, so I might be writing it off too soon. That’s for the next trip out so in the interim I’m going to kick a few other ideas around.

If you’ve already got a solution or an idea of a fix why not post a comment.

asaklitt mini white and red led lights

A chance encounter with another dog walker led (!) me to this handy discovery, that turned out to be a two fold win.

The lights were purchased from the Clas Ohlson shop in Kingston.

Typically like other LED bike lights they have a flashing mode which is how I saw them being used. But what makes these so handy is that they both have a loop at one end which means they can be hung up, or off a dog collar in the case of the red light. This makes spotting Harry on the common or down by the river an easy task. Providing of course there aren’t any other dogs out there sporting similar devices!

The second win was that the front white light can be used to illuminate a tent, and is an improvement over the LED lantern that I have been using. It has two rather than one LED so it’s brighter, it hangs straight down unlike the lantern, and it’s 3g lighter! They are powered by CR2032 batteries the same as my Petzl e*lite and blood monitoring machine, an added bonus should I need to cannibalise them.

katoola microspikes – first look

I bought these at the beginning of the year but due to a run on stock they arrived too late for me to give them a try. So they’ve languished in the loft - until now.

P1010821 MicroSpikes in place

The snow was long coming to the cosy corner of Surrey/London suburb that I live in but come it did. However the conditions haven’t been the best to give these a try out. At the tail end of last week the skies cleared and the temperature plummeted as the sun went down, turning the consolidated snow to hard icy lumps. Just what I needed to give them a go.

The MicroSpikes are easy to put on. Put the toe of your shoe in the front end and placing this on the ground and then pull the heel end back, and up over the heel. I was able to do this with one or two fingers with a gloved hand.

P1010823 A tasty array of spikes

They’ve got ‘front’ on the toe end which is pretty superfluous as you cant read it but it’s easy to distinguish the front from the heel end. For a start there’s a spacer wire bar at the toe end which holds the chains and spikes apart at the that end. The heel end is wider with only two holes. Incidentally, I used the toe bar as a way of hanging them off my rucksack with a mini crab when not in use. (And off the back of the living room door to dry when I got home).

They can be popped off just as easily, just run the finger under from round the outside edge.

In use they gave a reassuring crunch and bite as I would’ve expected over frozen turf and snow as well as hard frozen consolidated snow. It was a bit disconcerting walking direct on non covered path as the spikes obviously shifted as I walked whereas crampon points don’t. In fact I started to notice different levels of ‘travel’ depending on the type of surface I walked over. Unfortunately the icy conditions didn’t last and by Saturday morning the thaw had put paid to any further testing.

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.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

john west salmon flakes

A new find whilst doing a circuit around Waitrose this afternoon. Looking for low sodium chicken stock cubes, I must add.

Not sure what I might cook up with this apart from, say, salmon fish cakes made with instant potato. Or added to a white sauce flavoured with dill and served with pasta.

tuna and potato supper

This is a simple meal that’s easy to prepare and is very tasty.

One sachet of tuna sandwich filler
One sachet of instant potato

Boil the required amount of water, make the potato, add the tuna to the potato, stir, and eat! Did I mention this was simple to prepare?

Those with a fry pan and the inclination could make tuna fish cakes with the mix.

The ones I use are John West and they come in a variety of dressings, my favourite is the sun dried tomato one.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Exped AirPillow – first look

It might seem strange that for someone who is constantly striving to reduce pack weight that I should make space for a pillow in my rucksack.

It’s simple really; I sleep on my side and need something to support my neck. Most text books state that you can make a pillow out of your spare clothes but I don’t carry much in the way of spare items. If I was packing a primaloft top or down waistcoat then chances are I’d be wearing it to boost the rating of my sleeping bag.

For a couple of years I used a Ajungilak pillow but this had developed a leak on a seam that, no matter how I tried to repair it, it would always deflate.

The full monty

The Exped AirPillow is it’s natural successor. It tips the scales at 79g, over 50g lighter than the one it replaces, and the tiny stuff sack supplied weighs a measly 5g. It has two valves on the underside, one to inflate (a one way valve) and the other to deflate the pillow. The Ajungilak had one valve with no self sealing mechanism making it a struggle to get the plug in without letting too much air out. Another plus for the AirPillow then.

Sweet dreams?

The pillow is supplied with a repair kit which is a nice touch, especially given my previous experience. The pack size is good too, being about the same size as a mobile phone.

On paper then it ticks the right boxes, all I need to do now is to get out with it and see whether it lives up to it’s promises.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

inov8 roclite 305

Superb customer service from Martin at due to a cock up on my part, these little beauties came straight out of the box, on to my feet and off down the Dales Way. After I’d slipped the Superfeet into them, of course.

Apart from the price (they were on offer), the subtle shades of blue and gray, and a weight saving over the Terrocs, these boasted a midsole better suited to walking. And after three months of use I can testify to that.

The sole is a typical aggressive chunky/studded one like that on the Roclite 315’s that kept me on my feet last year in the Picos de Europa. The upper is an open weave mesh which kept my feet cool over the summer but is prone to being draughty. And my feet got a bit grubbier than they would have done had I been wearing a shoe with less mesh or had denser weave. And unlike other trainers I’ve not had any heel lift with these, so the heel cup material hasn’t worn through. Another first. I only hope that I can get my hands on another pair of these when it’s time to replace them.

edelrid epilio stove – first look

Epilio with a selection of pots and pans

After a couple of winter trips where drastic action was required to get a flame out of my usually trusty F1 Lite gas stove, I thought that I’d better invest in a gas stove that had a preheat tube for the coming winter.

Back in January Primus started advertising their Spider in TGO, at the time the lightest remote canister stove with preheat tube on the market, so an obvious choice. However supply didn’t match my demand and by the time it was available it was already April and I had no need.

Unlucky for Primus, Edelrid had launched their similarly spec’d but lighter Epilio, so this became the next obvious choice. Apart from the small weight saving, the deal clencher was that the control knob is parallel to the tube, unlike the Spider, making it easy to invert the canister if required.

The deal clencher

The stove folds flattish and weighs 175g on my postal scales. The packed size is 13cm square and about 4.5cm deep, so won’t fit in smaller pots like a Snow Peak 600. Although you can use a pot of this size on it quite happily. The burner head is 3cm diameter and the jets are directed straight up. This is good if you’re using a pot but not so good if using a wide pan as the flame is concentrated in one spot. The flame can be trimmed to the merest murmur which, with the use of a spoon, should mean that the narrow flame spread isn’t an issue. The pan supports give the stove a diameter of 15cm and as stated will work with a pot the size of a Snow Peak 600 or any that have a bigger than 4cm diameter.

Burner with preheat tube

Although I bought it for winter camping, it may find itself in the box if I head out for a spot of car camping in the summer with the family. Due to the smaller pack size and infinitely better flame control than the Trangia that I would normally pack.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

the name's case, justin case

I love the gadgets in early James Bond movies. And when Bond went to see Q he always, always came away with a few that, regardless of what was to come, would actually get used. Better yet Q obviously had the BEST gadget ever - foresight. He knew exactly what gadget to give Bond before he set out on the mission. He would never have said, "James take the fingerprint encoded backwards shooting Walther PPK because you never know, it might come in handy..." And Bond would never have replied, "Do you know something I don't?" No, he would always take the offered gadget without further thought, confident at some point in the mission it would get used.

(Later in the movie when Bond's true purpose is revealed the baddie knocks the gun out of Bond's hand and tries to shoot him with it. "I wouldn't do that," Bond says. "Why? Do you know something I don't?" the baddie replies as he pulls the trigger. BANG! The mortally wounded bad guy clutches his chest, drops the gun and falls dead to the floor.)

Weather forecasts are like foresight but occasionally they fall short. On the recent trip to Scotland I added in a few extra items under the insistence of Mr J Case because snow and minus temperatures were predicted. However on this occasion Metcheck, MWIS and the Met Office must have had clag clouding their collective vision. More likely since that highly amusing (in retrospect) proclaimation back in 1986 when Michael Fish stated that hurricane force winds were NOT going to happen forecasters have always put the worst case senario. Any danger of adverse weather and the storm force winds, snow flakes et al get top billing. Makes me wonder wonder with this soaking into the pysche that we now believe that the weather is worse than it was twenty four or so years ago...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

west highland way - day one

Is this the start?

A short notice smash and grab affair that was worth the miserable return overnight coach journey from Glasgow.

We weren't a mile down the way when we met a couple of women heading towards us. "Are you doing the West Highland Way?", they asked. "Yes!", was our reply. "Good, because we're lost..."

Having set off earlier that morning with an A4 laminated map they had somehow managed not to follow the Way. As we headed along it was very apparent that they were going to have trouble navigating their way to Fort William. Several times they asked, "How did you know to turn here?", to which our reply was always, "See that signpost over there..."

We escorted them as far as the distillery where we turned off for a quick supply visit. Back on the Way we made good progress getting to East Drumquhassle but it was too early to stop. A quick check on the campsite reminded me that a fiver for a night spent on something as lumpy and sloping as that would be a waste of a good drinking voucher. A terse exchange with the campsite owner over 500ml of water did nothing to change my mind. I didn't realise that water was such a precious commodity north of the border...

In the Garadhban Forest Liam and I stopped for a brew and chatted with various wayfarers as they passed. The weather had been good all day and despite the forecast for showers they had been few and not particularly bad but as the afternoon progressed however they became more frequent and more intense. Once out of the forest we could see that the weather was closing in so a hunt for a spot was on; the official 'wild' camp spot on the edge of the forest had long vanished with the trees. A quick look at the map revealed a couple of potential sites near the Burn of Mar at the 17.5 mile mark. A fairly flattish spot with a view of Conic Hill and Loch Lomond was found close enough to the Burn for ease of water supply but far enough away to keep the babbling of the burn to a hushed silence.

Conic Hill, the fault line, and Loch Lomond

At this point I was pleased at how easy the Scarp1 is to pitch, in very little time and with no fuss I was happily ensconced in my home for the night with a pot on my stove heating water for some soup. Outside I heard Liam cursing as he fiddled with the many guys and pegs of his Jetpacker.

A few words on the Scarp1. Apart from ease of pitching, which at the end of a long day when you're tired, hungry, suffering from hypoglycemia, and getting rained upon, is worth more than a multi million winning lottery ticket (well sort of); there's the space. The second porch took the rucksack, damp waterproofs and trainers. And in the other I had space to cook, although I pegged the inner back to create more headroom above the stove. Internally there was space at either end to fit the rest of the kit that I was carrying, which wasn't that much given I was using the Golite Peak.

With supper eaten, I settled back and sent messages home. As the light began to fade, I started a sudoku puzzle, had a dram or two of whiskey, and with the puzzle half done I drifted off to sleep...

Monday, 17 May 2010

the art of packing a rucksack

After ages of wrestling with Scarp1, I've finally found a way of getting it into it's stuff sack so that it fits happily in the outside pocket of my Golite Peak - sweet! I was able to get all the kit I needed plus four days food in that diminutive rucksack. To be fair the roll top didn't have much of a top to roll but since everything was in dry bags it didn't matter.

Not only that, the only difference between what I packed and what I would have taken on the Challenge, was a spare pair of underpants.

exped A6 document wallet

A while ago I was looking around for a replacement of my Ortleib A6 drybag/document wallet that I kept my blood monitoring machine in. The one I owned had turned that nicotine yellow colour and the Velcro strip was starting to come away. In mid Wales a month or so ago it all came apart, rendering the thing unusable. At the time I was lucky to find a shop that sold them so bought a new one.

The size of the bag is ideal for my machine and I can fit a few spares in there too. But the trouble comes when I try and fit my insulin pens in as well. Careful packing is required in order to ensure that the top rolls down and holds securely.

At the BPC AGM at the weekend I came across the Exped Vista, which reminded me of a water resistant pencil case. That got me thinking so I headed back to the tent and grabbed my kit. Back at the stall the pencil case swallowed the two pens, and the blood monitoring machine with ease. Now unlike the Orteib bag it isn't waterproof, it has one of those proofed zips instead of a roll top, but the seams are sealed. My thinking is that as this will be carried in a rucksack pocket it will be fine in most cases. It weighs the same as the Ortlieb bag too (20g), and comes with a clip on one end. This is useful, clipping the case to the keyring in the rucksack pocket means it shouldn't fall out and get lost, and I can hang it up in the tent where the stuff has no chance of getting stood, sat or knelt on. An added bonus is that the zipper pull has a glow in the dark tab.

What's more the case has enough space for spare needles, lancets, and my other daily medications which means the other case I use can be left out saving me 64g. Joy.

the thames path - home to windsor

Seething Wells

This was meant to be our last section hike of the North Downs Way between Otford and Rochester. However an early panic and flapping session involving a set of missing car keys (and not for the first time this week I might add!) meant a swift change of plan.

Liam and Tina headed to ours for an amble along the Thames westward towards Windsor. I'm not sure how far I can get with boasting about living less than 500m from a National Trail, if I lived in Edale or Twice Brewed it would be another matter. That may be but the route offers a wide breadth of changing scenery from the City landscape of London to the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. Oh and it's flat, mostly.

The trip was intended to introduce Tina to the backpacking experience. An oversight on my part scrabbling to approximate the distance meant Saturday's mileage was a little understated; 14 miles and not the 10 miles that I'd figured. The Thames wiggles, twists and turns a fair amount. And as the trail has to depart the river in places it makes counting grid squares to estimate the distance pointless.

Tina, Charlie and Liam

What amazed me was the diversity of buildings along this stretch of the river. It's a real mish- mash; prefabs, cottages, mansion houses, bungalows, and the odd palace. And the condition of these buildings were as varied; collapsed, ramshackled and pristine in unequal measure. There are several eyots along this stretch too, some reached by footbridge others seemingly by the use of oars or outboard motor.

We stopped at a river side pub near Sunbury Lock for refreshments, non alcoholic in case anyone was wondering. I redeemed myself in his eyes later by jogging into Shepperton to pick up a bottle of merlot to wash supper down. This foresight was swiftly banished when on the way into the campsite at Laleham we passed a garage that sold booze that would have saved me carrying the bottle and it's contents those last few miles. And much to Tina's delight I whipped out a mini can of rum and coke for her to celebrate her days effort. (There might have been a touch of guilt for buggering up the first days mileage in that process).

I got a good night's sleep and only woke once due to falling off to sleep without putting my beanie on. I woke early to the sound of birdsong; blackbirds, song thrush, robin and chiffchaff, were joined by tits, and a solitary woodpecker. I love camping at this time of year; spring birdsong as an alarm clock is a real pleasure to wake up to.

The mileage for the second day was much shorter which was a relief for the foot weary. My knee was fine but my overlapping toes were a bit sore. The weather wasn't as good, overcast and windier than the previous. The Montane windshirts that Penny and I had proving yet again that they are worth their minuscule weight and pack size.

On approaching Staines we were surprised how up market the place was, no sign of the Staines Massive. And I can state that I didn't see, one, let alone a group of hoodies. However heading out the other side and you get a different picture, the south bank of the river is heavily industrialised. And from the condition of some of the units not particularly successful businesses occupied them either. We swiftly left the crumbling industrial units behind, and the valley opened up as we entered Runnymede. Past Old Windsor and Ham Island where there's a short bit of canal that's been cut to take the sting out of the loop around the island. Just before Albert Bridge we spotted two red kites wheeling and hovering in the wind.

At Datchet we made an executive decision to grab the train from there rather than struggle with the crowds that we'd meet in Windsor itself. It goes without stating that what took a day and half to walk was covered by a 25 minute train journey.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

tgo challenge 2010 - reprive

I pulled out of the Challenge a few weeks back as I wasn't going to be able to take the required amount of time off to take part.

The good news is that I've got Thursday and Friday off, so that I can use my ticket. The plan is to walk a bit of the West Highland Way, although I've already done this route, and may be bag Ben Lomond.

The thing about this trip is that the last time I ventured out along the WHW, only a couple of years back, I did it in boots and carrying a Gregory Z55 rucksack. This time I'll be wearing my trusty Terrocs and using a Golite Peak; a 40l 'day' pack! My kit has changed and evolved but the most important thing is the knowledge that I've gained since then. As someone once put it, 'The more you know, the less you carry.'

I wonder who I'll bump into at the station tomorrow evening?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

backpackers club agm

I'll be arrived in Bath some time Friday evening, later than originally expected due to new job!

I'll be putting the Bush Buddy Ultra in the kit bag along with the Scarp1. I was going to bring along the Mountain Hardware Helion2 but as we'll have Harry I'll be putting up the Hex3.

I'm also thinking of bringing along kit to demo steam baking. And of course some kit to sell.

Requests for bringing my DJ rig down have been studiously ignored. I don't think Saturday evening is really the best time for a hardcore mix of trance and jazz vibes. Besides I've been told that gigs in this area attract far too much attention from the local DS.

Rumour on the circuit is that there is a fair amount of horse going around...

Saturday, 17 April 2010

tgo challenge 2010 - uncertainty

Sometimes good fortune is tempered by choice.

I've landed myself a temporary contract working for a large publishing company in central London. This is a good move for me careerwise, and I need the money.

At the interview, end of last week, the role was stated as a minimum of two months contract but due to the workload and strict deadlines they won't allow me to take time off for the Challenge. However on offering the work they aren't going to commit to the full period - just yet.

An email could be winging it's way to Roger at the end of the week... or not.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

window shopping

I ended up in Town earlier this week. On the way home I did a loop around the gear shops, not much to excite but then Berghaus, etc, never really does...

Snow and Rock hadn't got their new stock in so nothing to see there.

Costwolds had the new Vaude Power Lizard Light set up along side the Mountain Hardware Sprite. I got really excited about this Vaude tent, a one kilo almost two person tent. A potential Atko slayer. My excitement faded when I discovered that it had a 95cm internal height... And when I sat inside it; I couldn't. No surprise really it's the same with the Competition, and the Atko.

I was disappointed with the Sprite too. I had a PCT1 once, I couldn't sit upright inside this tent because again the internal height was 95cm. The tent has been redesigned; shifting the shape to create a larger porch and losing the hammerhead shape, and with it the bit of storage space on the non porch side which was big enough for a 45L rucksack. This shift in shape has now made the tent even more difficult for me to fit in as I had to lean back into what head space there was.

Two fails.

In the rucksack department I tried the new lightweight offering from Lowe Alpine the Zepton 50, reviewed by Chris Townsend in the current issue of TGO. My impression of the bag was this was Lowe Alpine attempt to compete with the Osprey Exos 46 and the Golite Jam. They all have similar volumes, and the Zepton's colour scheme is borrowed from the two other manufacturers. It's stated weight is approx 1.2kg a tad heavier than the Exos 46 but 300g heavier than the Jam. It's only available in one back size however unlike the others. It has a floating lid with external and internal pockets, like the Exos, but with only two attachment points. The Exos has a third buckle that holds the lid in place. My experience with floating lids is that they have a habit of sliding down the straps, so that third buckle is essential in my view. The Jam of course doesn't have a lid. All have the now obligatory stretchy side pockets.The acid test is to see if you can you get a drinks bottle and a bag of GORP in and out of these pockets with ease. Sadly the Zepton failed on this point. Unlike the others the hip belt doesn't have any pockets either. Chris Townsend gave the bag a recommendation, and it does have some plus points but it's the little things like no hip belt pockets and not being able to use the side pockets mark it down in my opinion.

Then I found the Paramo shop. The styling of the gear is wanting; more Ron Hill than Paul Smith. I wrote to them last year asking whether they had plans to bring out the new Velez Light in a decent colour (meaning black) and I was told no. However that afternoon I found that they'd had a change of mind. I tried a couple on and they seemed to fit well enough. And I deliberated long and hard on whether to invest, then I thought about the main criticisms; the weight and bulk of the items. My wallet stayed in my pocket and my card breathed a sigh of relief.

I left the shop, grabbed a coffee and walked back to Waterloo for the train home.

tgo challenge 2010 - kit dilemma

The dilemma comes from having too many choices...

The Scarp1 was bought as a solo backpack shelter, with the Challenge in mind. However its pack size is at odds with the size/type of rucksacks that I own due to the support poles at either end. It's just too long a bundle. I wrote to Henry Shires and asked whether the poles could be removed and he stated that the central two poles can be left out being attached by velcro, and there were slits for the corner ones. He also mentioned that he didn't think it was worth the effort. Having tinkered around with this, I can only agree.

One solution would be to buy another rucksack, and I'm considering the 2010 Golite Jam. The Golite Peak has served me well over the last few months, so the Jam, the bigger brother of the Peak seems a natural choice.

Another alternative is to resort to my tried and tested shelter, the Golite Hut2. With this in mind I've seam sealed it for added weatherproofing. The benefits of using Jabba (the Hut, geddit?!) are that it pitches with the trekking poles that I'll be using, and I'll be packing a bivibag, which will be useful should I find myself taking shelter in a bothy or similar. And, of course, the much smaller pack size of a single skin shelter.

The more I deliberate the more I like the more flexible approach of using Jabba...

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

tgo challenge 2010

I used Grough Route to plot the route we'll be taking. I've not used mapping software before so cant comment on how it compares with other systems but I found it fairly straightforward to use once I'd got the hang of it. One thing I'd change is the wording used to name a route, in the software a route is tagged not named. But that's a minor point and at only £1.50 per month who's to grumble.

The route has been vetted and returned with a few comments as expected. Our route is a simple low level one starting at Shiel Bridge and ending at St Cyrus, so I didn't expect to get much feedback, which was indeed the case.

Training walks are being done, along with a few overnighters to test kit. Kit choice is on going - I've revamped my list at least ten times now, weighed up the pro's and con's of my various cooking systems and shelters, but am still undecided.

Train tickets have been bought and transport to the start sorted thanks to Philip Werner.

Menu planning and dehydrating meals is going ahead. Food parcels will need to be created and shipped.

And my physio says my right knee is looking up to the task but the exercises still need to be done.

Roll on the 12th May.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

golite peak tweak

The Golite Peak is my bag of choice at the moment. But one of the things that’s a bit irksome is looking for stuff in the big front pocket. It requires a certain amount of rummaging, and possibly some unpacking, to find what I’m looking for.

Handily on either side of the pocket are ice axe retainers that are routed through the pocket. These make a useful points to attach a pair of mini karabiners from which keys and other stuff can be clipped onto. And hence easily located.

One of the bits of kit that I need to be able to grab without fuss is my blood monitoring machine and insulin. So I’ve made a short toggled lanyard that fits neatly through one of the holes on the Ortleib dry bag that I store the stuff in. A simple loop of dyneema could have been used but I wanted something that wasn’t permanently attached to the dry bag.

kent to cape wrath

Thames Path, Dukes Meadows

On Mick and Gayle's journey north I'd seen that they were picking up the Thames Path and heading through town before turning north east along the Grand Union Canal at Brentford. As they were going to be in my neck of the woods I offered them a room for the night and join them on their trek.

Putney was thronging with the precursor to next weekend's Oxford and Cambridge boat race. We cleared the crowds as we headed towards Barnes, and took a planned detour at the Wetlands Centre to cut out the Hammersmith leg. Crossing the Thames at Barnes Bridge we were stopped by two guys, Adam and Ben, who were interested in the walk and put their hands in their pockets for a donate to the charity. Nice one guys! Stupid me though; I had a camera handy but failed to take a shot...

Just before Strand on the Green we met up with Juan and Vic, and their tiny three week old baby, Matilda. These are friends of Mick and Gayle who also live locally, and will be providing a place to stay after the next leg of their route.

Gayle bagging a cache

Mr Sloman will be pleased to read that this tiny stretch of the Thames has three riverside pubs, at the first Gayle stopped to bag a geocache that I'd pointed out. As we were nearing the end of the days walking and being in W4 clearly we couldn't pass the Bell and Crown without stopping for a pint of Fullers Chiswick Bitter. Unfortunately the weather which had behaved itself most of the day decided to chuck some wet at us. As we'd been sitting outside because we had Harry with us, we quickly said our goodbyes and bundled off to the bus stop for a quick journey back to mine.

The Bell & Crown, Chiswick

At home Mick pitched Wendy Warmlite in the garden for an airing, and demonstrated the impressive (Penny and I both went, Ahh!) tension banding that made the front hoop rock solid. And I discovered that I can, just, sit up in the front of one of these. Not that I need another tent - honest!

For reasons know only to Mick and Gayle they had skipped lunch, evidently very hungry by now Mick asked when supper would be ready. I said just give me a minute to put the kettle on and offered them a choice of Reiters meals. With the joke over I got cracking on a chick pea and fennel casserole.

With the clocks going forward Mick and Gayle stole an early start the following morning and headed off to Kew for the next leg.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

gsi java drip - first peek

Magazines are great sources of information, whether I’m trying to find new music or new pieces of kit, I eagerly scour the review sections for stuff that might be of use on a trip outdoors, or to listen to indoors if I cant get out.

TGO has had a couple of items over the last couple of issues that caught my eye. One was the GSI Java Drip reviewed by self confessed caffeine addict John Manning. Unfortunately, as with seemingly most pieces of kit, the review came before any chance of finding a UK supplier. A typical example of a pull strategy; get reviews, potential customers ring up, demand is assessed and suppliers, convinced of this demand, are sold the items for retail. I write potential customers as you have to be pretty damn persistent to bag some of these items. Or pretty lucky with finding a supplier who’s buyer is going to step outside the usual comfort zone of ‘We’ll stock Berghaus because everyone else does, and it sells.’ In the niche market of outdoor trade this avoidance of competition crushes differentiation.

So what has this to do with the GSI Java Drip? And what’s special about it? It’s USP (might as well stick with the marketing jargon) is that it’s a third of the weight of a MugMate and more packable. For someone who is forever on the search for that great cup of coffee in the outdoors this makes it an item to covert. Especially as this means I get to choose what bean I make my coffee out of, and not between what Lyons put in their coffee bags or what Starbucks pack in their Via sachets.

It’s simple to use; clip the legs on to your mug add the desired amount of coffee, pour on the hot water and wait for the dripping to stop. The capacity of the filter is about 200ml, so to get the volume of coffee that I prefer I topped it up. To clean, the filter ‘sock’ is simply inverted and the used grounds knocked out. A quick rinse will remove any stubborn remaining particles. It packs flat and will fit inside a Snow Peak 900 or fry pan lid of a Primus 1l pan set. And my postal scales agree with the 11g stated weight.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

dd travel hammock

I’ll start by stating that I don’t think that a hammock has much use in backpacking in this country. So why purchase a hammock?

It’s a fun piece of kit that may have it’s uses. The DD Travel Hammock, bought from, is unique in that the base material is waterproof so if you find yourself without the necessary trees to hang between then it can be pitched like a tent. This is what caught my eye, I have a tarp and a couple of other single skin shelters that might require something more than a groundsheet. The base is double layered which allows you to slot in a Therm-a-rest or a CCF mat.

The stated weight was 900g but on the scales it clocked 1184g making way too heavy as bug proof inner for the Golite Hut2. The hammock came with a stuff sack and some black bungee to tie up the netting. I also bought a skin as this makes it easy to set up and pack up. And it will keep the hammock dry and clean too.

There are a couple of useful videos on YouTube, and the manufacturers website has all the information needed on how to hang the hammock. Basically find a couple of sturdy trees about 12 feet apart. The trees need to be living and be free of any dead branches that may drop off and cause injury. This is not as easy as it may first seem. My first trip out had me scouring Ham Common Woods. Most trees were too close together and those that I found that were far enough apart were snared with brambles, or the trunks were too fat for me to pass my arms around.

A pair of trees found and I tied the tapes around the trunks at chest height and carefully sat on the hammock to test the security of my knot tying. Success! I then guyed out the netting. Luckily the trees I picked had handy branches in the right spot to enable me to do this with relative ease. I found and threaded a stick through to open out the canopy above my head, slotted a mat in and clambered in. Hammocks are comfortable to lay on, so I don’t think a Therm-a-rest is necessary. What you will need is some insulation however so a CCF mat like the Multimat Adventure Long would be an ideal choice. I guess a three quarter length mat would do for the summer saving weight and bulk but I wonder whether the mat being shorter would migrate out of place.

If you don’t need to use the canopy you can hang the hammock upside down. Incidentally the canopy has two full length double zips either side, allowing ease of access and venting options if needed. Internally there are two pockets, on opposite sides and at shoulder level. And these are big enough to hold a head torch, wallet, cereal bar that sort of thing. There are tabs on the under side of the canopy so a drying line or other bits of kit can be hung up.

To make the set up weatherproof a tarp needs to be pitched as a roof over the hammock, like an A frame but higher up the tree.

The combined weight of hammock, tarp, skin, tapes, guys and pegs puts the set up close to 2kg, which makes it too heavy in my opinion for a backpacking shelter. The hammock with the tapes is a bulky package too. That said I might take it out on an overnighter where a pitch amongst the trees could be found, and where the weight isn’t too much of an issue.

It will get used, we’ve already sketched plans of how the rear garden is going to look, and in those plans is something to hang the hammock between. Hopefully in time for some summer time slumming.


Given that I have to follow a gluten free diet you would have thought that I’d be cooking up polenta dishes on backpacking trips. I’ve side stepped using the stuff because my experience of cooking polenta indoors. I thought the need to pour a stream of the grain whilst stirring frantically to prevent lumps, then the volcanic activity of the polenta, and more frantic stirring would be too much of a faff on a campsite. Especially after a tiring day.

At the weekend I found some instant, one minute cook to be precise, polenta that just needs stirring into boiling water and paddled about for 60 seconds. In fact on my first try this lunchtime once I’d stirred the grain in the pot went straight into a pot cosy avoiding any volcanic eruptions. Lump prevention happened as I mixed the recipe in a poly bag, and cutting the corner off the bag I was able to trickle it without much fuss.


75g instant polenta
3 sun dried tomatoes, cut into slithers
11/2 tsp of Italian herb mix
20g grated parmesan cheese

The first four ingredients were blended in a bag, and the cheese was added after the polenta was cooked. The packet suggested I use 100ml of water per 25g polenta and that gave the right kind of consistency. And 75g is enough for lunch with about the same amount of carbohydrate as four slices of bread. For an evening meal I’d up the quantity to 100g or even 125g.

As polenta is fairly bland it’s worth experimenting; cubed smoked cheese, chicken, bacon or salami could all be added to bump up the flavour, calories and protein.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

time flies like knives; fruit flies like bananas

I remember this from an eighties paper back by a bloke called Nigel about graffiti. I don’t see much graffiti these days; I guess the virtual bog wall of twitter, facebook, and blogging has replaced it. However in the words of Ronnie Corbett, I digress.

Ben, my son, will be six years old tomorrow, that’s over the hump of his first decade. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I cupped him in my hands as a little bundle in the garden of the Tide Tables cafe next to Richmond Bridge, barely days old. These days he’s barely short enough to fit over my head if he wants to ride on my shoulders, which is most of the time.

Happy birthday Ben, I know you’re not old enough to take the day off to do what you want but that day will come :)

Friday, 22 January 2010

multimat adventure long

Not willing to give up the comfort of the NeoAir I took a chunk of Karrimat along on my last trip, originally it was to go under my feet but the bothy floor was that cold that I ended up with the mat under the mattress, and used my rucksack as a foot rest.

Clearly the NeoAir wasn’t up to the task, and the piece of Karrimat I owned wasn’t long enough to provide cover for the feet as well as the mattress. So I dredged the internet for a solution and what I found was the Multimat Adventure Long, a CCF mat. The stated weight was 215g so along with the weight of the NeoAir at 244g I had a combined weight of 459g. Only 73g heavier than the Multimat Super Compact Light 25 for a full length, more comfortable sleeping solution.

Incidentally the SC25 has an R rating of 3.8 against the 2.5 of the NeoAir, so I’d forgo the comfort of the NeoAir if the conditions dictate. After all there’s no point in having an uber comfortable mattress if I’m kept awake all night by the heat leeching out of my body; I’ve already earned that badge. That said I expect the NeoAir/Adventure Long combo to cope with most situations, now will I need this for Scotland in May I wonder?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

pack food weight

Generally on short trips I don’t bother with dehydrated meals for supper. I prefer to take one of those ‘instant’ pouch rice meals that can be reheated in a couple of minutes. As was the case for the aborted Buxton trip. One thing I’d never done was weigh the food. A few years ago, I loosely calculated that I carry 750g of food per day. A figure not dissimilar to the one, then quoted in imperial weight, in Derrick Booth’s The Backpackers Handbook which I was happy with.

Having diabetes and coeliac I err on the side of caution when it comes to packing food, the extra weight of which I never begrudgingly carried. It was something of a surprise that when I put the food bag on the scales two days supply shipped in at 866g per day, a little over 100g more that my estimated weight. Taking into account that one of the suppers comprised a rice pouch with a single serve tuna pouch, in the original packaging. And that I also had a tube of mushroom pate in the bag which will last about four days, the figure that I calculated was not far off if I used home dried meals.

I’d like to reduce the weight but am resigned that I need the extra provisions as picking food up along a trail that I can use is a bonus and not something that I can rely on.

buxton to roaches (non) trip report

It may have been a case of being overly ambitious but the weekend didn't pan out like I was hoping. We set off at four thirty Friday afternoon. Not the best time as we'd be hitting the north circular at rush hour. But our reasoning was simple; the earlier you get away the earlier you arrive. This, of course, doesn't account for the pain of sitting in a traffic jam. It took two hours to cover the few miles from our house to the gateway to the north; the M1 at Staples Corner. During those two hours we started to hear an unhealthy rattling from the underside of the car. Pulling over at the first (or last, depending on which direction you're travelling in) service station to find that the cage that held the spare tyre had worked loose and the spare was missing! I secured the cage and was confident that this would fix the rattle.

Back on the M1 we crawled along at twenty or so miles an hour accompanied by a slightly differently sounding rattle. About this time Jay called me from Cold Springs Farm with some news. (She had rather sensibly travelled up earlier by train.) We were told not to drive beyond the car park as the car would need a tractor to retrieve it as there was four foot of snow on the campsite! The Farmer had offered them room in the bunk house along with another group who had turned up with the idea of pitching tents. She said that the roads in to Buxton were now passable but thick fog was causing problems. She also asked if we could stop by an off license so that we could make the most of the accommodation with drink and nibbles!

We continued to crawl along the motorway with thick freezing fog now adding to the misery. At Junction eight we pulled off the M1 and re-checked the underside of the car, it seemed the exhaust pipe now swinging in space. It became clear at this point that to continue on would be irresponsible so we re-joined the M1 heading south and for home. I sent messages to Liam and Jay letting them know that we were bailing out. It was disappointing to have to do so, especially as the weekend was one that I suggested, and it was to be Penny's first trip out in months.

Having had a couple of mechanical failures on the old bus over the last few months including the clutch going on Christmas Eve, I think it's time to trade it in for a newer, hopefully, more reliable model.

Friday, 15 January 2010

first trip of the new year

This afternoon Penny and I'll be heading up to Buxton for a weekend of winter backpacking. Surprisingly I won't be testing many of my recent purchases; the Scarp1 and the Golite Peak are both staying at home. Although the Scarp1 has his and hers porches and would sleep two 'adventure racers', as tent manufacturers would have us believe, the extra space of the Helion2 wins. I will get out on a solo trip in a fortnights time to try it out however. The Golite Peak has been my day sack of choice since I got it but the extra capacity of the Talon 44 is needed, not least because of the relative bulk of the Helion2. I think that the Scarp is bulky but that's because I've gotten used to using a single skin shelter. I will be trying out the Golite Adrenaline 20 sleeping bag, it's going to be interesting to see how I make out with the unique zip arrangement.

Friday, 8 January 2010

kahtoola microspikes

Unsurprisingly stockists have had a run on these. Thanks to Ramblin' Jay I managed to track down a supplier, Grit Gear in Derby. I called to check on their availability and although I hadn't mentioned what it was I was calling about I was asked, "Microspikes?" The guy I spoke to, Skinner, told me that they'll be taking another delivery early next week, so I put in my order. He also told me that they dispatched 200 pairs yesterday, and that since they opened this lunch time the phone hadn't stopped ringing. And there are no prizes for guessing what the calls were about.

Friday, 1 January 2010

so starts another decade

A change in my working circumstances late last year means I have a more flexible approach to how I work so I plan to get out more. Expect more gear reviews and trips then - the TGO Challenge being my main focus at this point. There's talk about a summer trip to the Pyrenees so I'll be bending Andy Howell's ear about his visits. And I've always fancied the idea of seeing raindeer in Lapland and the Northern Lights so perhaps I may get to meet up with Hendrik.

I'll be at the Backpackers Club AGM which is being held in the south west this year, and I hope that the lightweight gear festival continues to held along side. It's a good opportunity to see gear that you can only oggle online, and to speak to the likes of Bob and Rose at BPL UK, Mark at Ultralightoutdoorgear and Kenny and Co at Alpkit even if you're not a member.

Hope to see you there or out on the trail. A happy new year to you all.