Tuesday, 26 April 2011

From a big bit of water, to a small one.


Last Friday I went out with a couple of friends to Alport Castles. I’ve been meaning to get here for some time, not having made it when I was in Alport valley last time.

I’ve been promising to take my boy out for a while as well, so I took ben, my friends and their little girl. To make things easier for them, I cut the route down as much as possible and took a simple way up and off the hill.

When I arrived at Ladybower Reservoir, the water was completely calm, like a mirror. It was cool, but not cold. I had made the decision that I would (hold breath for effect)… Wear trainers and jeans! It was the way to go. The weather forecast was perfect, the weather had been dry for a while and the really peaty bits were paved.


The start is a gravel track that runs from the back of the ‘Bridge end’ car park. It’s quite steep, but was manageable for the kids. It quickly runs up into a picturesque pine wood.

Then, my son started to flag.. I was, to say the least, surprised. This kid never stops. I mean it. He is permanently running around, jumping about and generally creating havoc. Soon he moved from ‘I’m tired’ to ‘I can’t go any further’. We might have covered maybe half a mile. I on the other hand, sit on my ass at work all day, don’t get out anywhere as often as I’d like and I’m full of cold. What was going on?

After some brief cajoling he picked up the pace very slightly and we got underway again with me explaining that when we got out of the forest, the path would get much easier.

When we did get out of the forest, the first thing that struck, was the view. It was outstanding. Clear blue sky on a (now quite hot) spring day. The route followed the top of a field, rutted with land rover tracks. It was not so high that the grass had given way to heather, so it was a lush green carpet for quite some way. The view didn’t seem to change much but as it was spectacular, that didn’t matter much.


There was a brief moment of drama when My mate’s girl had a bit of a stumble, but after we confirmed the was no damage, just a bit of (dry and therefore brush-off-able) dirt she was fine. This was in the top of some smaller valley. Just after this we had to negotiate an incredibly high ladder stile.


After a fairly a couple of short breaks, we came to Alport castles. From above it’s impressive, then as you walk down the track, you realise just how big this place is. It is HUGE. I knew it was caused by one of the biggest landslides in the UK, but it really is massive. I had already mentally planned a spot for us to stop and eat. There’s a small tarn just west of the tower. What Google Earth didn’t show was that this spot was sheltered and picture perfect.

There are the remains of a fire pit here, so people have been wild camping here. It maybe a great spot, apart from a couple of issues. The ground is currently so parched that any fire could easily start a big wildfire. I’m not convinced that it’d be a good spot for a fire, even when it’s not as dry as it is currently either.

There were a lot of midges. As soon as I sat down, they were zinging around, annoying me. This was in the hottest part of the day, so in the late afternoon, when you’d be thinking about setting up a wild camp, or in the morning, when you’d be trying to pack up, I reckon they’d be very annoying. At least they weren’t the type that liked to bite.


After some food, an Easter egg hunt and some skimming of stones across the water, it was time to start heading back. This was just as beautiful as the way out, although drinking water started to get low, lower and then ran out when we were getting close to the' ‘tallest stile in the area’.. (not verifiedWinking smile) I was still having problems with my son, with him still telling me he was tired, though not as much as on the (uphill) way out.

As we hit the top of the forest track, we stopped and I realised I still had an apple in my bag. Duly split amongst all of us, We wandered back to the car, drove to Ladybower visitor centre, quickly ordered some ice cream and a soft drink. We all sat by the reservoir and a (now sugar’d up) Ben finally perked back up and was running around with gusto again.

Now he confirms he’d love to do it again and I’ve found out why he kept flagging. He’s coming down with a cold as well.



If you get the chance, this is a great walk, with stunning scenery. Highly recommended by me if you get the chance. It’s also easy to walk and unless you were in a white out, it’d be tricky to get lost.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Review: Fiskars X5 Hand Axe.


A few weeks ago I mentioned I had been given a couple of pieces of kit by Fiskars when I reviewed the retractable saw.

I held this back as I wanted to test it before talking about it. The Retractable saw was easy to test, but I don’t have a tree in the garden to hack down and test the axe with. Thankfully this weekend, my parents needed some judicious ‘pruning’ round the back of their house, so it was the perfect time to test.

As the axe is very small, (about 9-10 inches long and weighing a little less than 500g). It’s advantages and disadvantages are clear cut.


It’s easy to pack and good for carving with. It’s around 10-15% lighter than comparable makes.

The handle feels nice and grippy, has no flex and and is solid when used. Most of the weight is in the head, with a strike feeling positive. Mine came with a formed plastic case that can be screwed to a wall or tool rack.


BUT! A small, light axe is not an axe for a novice.

A common error when buying a first axe, is to buy as small, light one.. You aren’t likely  to hurt yourself as badly, Right?

Wrong. Any accident with an axe will most likely involve a visit to the hospital. A small, light axe is more easily twisted or deflected, increasing the chance of an accident.


This is no fault of the axe though.

If you are confident with an axe, this is very nice. It cuts very cleanly and comes sharp, but not sharpened if you know what I mean.


It didn’t stick at all when I was using it, landed where I was aiming every time and didn’t jump or twist in use. It never felt like the head was trying to overtake the bit.

I didn’t fatigue as fast as I expected either, though this might be down to balance and weight as a result of the materials used for the handle.

So. If you are confident using an axe, this is a great buy. If you are looking for a first axe, maybe look at a larger one, perhaps one that would allow 2 handed use and learn how to use it safely.



NB… Always consider if an axe is the safest tool for the job.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Fuelling your passion is not always cheap.

Isn’t technology a wonderful thing?

I’m sat here posting from my back garden, Sat under a tarp I’d put up for the girls.. Its gloriously warm under here, shady with a very slight breeze, my wife doing a tapestry beside me as I type.

It’s also unusually quiet as my little boy is staying with his grandparents for a couple of days and the Girls are napping after running round in the garden all morning.

When it’s like this, I often end up daydreaming about the next adventure. I’ve got several lined up in my head, but turning them into a reality is always the complicated part. Finding somewhere to camp is complicated as ideally I’d want to wildcamp, but  wild sites are always scarce In the Peaks or Dales. It’s easier in Wales or the Lakes, but they are a bit far away to make it financially viable when I’m selling the idea to the senior accounts manager..

It usually goes something like:

Me: So, it’ll cost me £8 for food, £5 for a bottle of wine and £9 for the site. I’ll also need £15 for the pub (If I'm gonna pay to stay on a site, there’s always a pub.. Winking smile).

Wife (It’s Shani BTW): Ok, so you’re telling me you need a bit less than £30? what about Fags?

Me: Oh, Yeah… I’ll need 2 packs obviously (If I only take enough, I always run out).

Shani: And petrol?


This is where things start to go awry. If I’m going to Edale, sharing a car, the cost is only a few quid. If we’re using buses and trains, the cost rises some.

When things are further afield and we go in a friend’s car, which is a diesel. Then it’s still manageable. Split 3 ways it’s not much different to visiting the peaks by public transport. However, if we take my car, which is old, automatic and thirsty, things become expensive quickly. As an example, a round trip from my house to Wast Water would be about £75… That’s if I drive carefully, make no detours and don’t use the car while I’m there. Add that to the costs above and for one night it’s £100. Making the most of the expense and staying away two nights would be about £125.. Try telling the wife that you’re ditching her for two nights and it’s going to cost that much - It’s not an enjoyable experience.


One of the best night’s camping, was the wild camp last year, because of the way it panned out. It also cost me virtually nothing. My Dad dropped us off and picked us up because there was nowhere discrete (and safe) to leave the car. Being my dad, he didn’t even charge us for fuel (thanks again Dad). As was no site fee and no pub, the whole thing cost less than £20. It was a rambunctious night, full of stories, food and wine.

What do I suggest? Go do it…Now… I mean it… Pack up your stuff, raid your piggy bank, Take those hours work owes you. Stop finding reasons not to go. Stop feeling guilty about doing things for yourself and make you a priority for once.

As the old adage goes, the hills will always be there.

But you and me? Our time is more precious…

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Review: Decathlon T2 Ultralight Pro Tent.


Hello to all. I’m sorry for the brief absence, but I’ve been parenting and other things that have swallowed all my time over the last week or so.

You are still here though, and that’s all that matters.


The topic for today is a cracking piece of kit for the money, the T2 Pro.




I got this tent on the strength of recommendations of several Formers, most notably a gent who goes by the name of Twiglegs.

The tent, marketed as a 2 man is really for one and a half. It is cavernous for me and comfy for me and my 8yr old but it would be, umm… Snug for 2 adults.

It’s pitched all in one which is an advantage in Britain's weather, as you wont get the inner wet when pitching. It weighs 2Kg which is light for the price range and after you’ve put it up and down a couple of times, it can be pitched in about five mins. Needing 4 pegs for the tent itself, 3 for the guy’s and 2 more to tension the inner. The 2 poles are made from alloy and after having being tested to destruction I can confirm they break at the sacrificial points at the joints and take a big load (i.e. having a big 7yr old trip over and stand/land on the pole itself.. Cheers again for that me boy).

It’s black in colour throughout, with some orange trim. I like this, as it means I’m not rudely awakened as 4:57 when the sun puts in an appearance. It also means little torchlight escapes out of the tent and it disappears at night (handy for wild camps).

The tent has fixed venting, A large triangular vent at the narrowest end and a half moon at the door end in the inner. The outer has the same triangular vent, but then has a roof vent above the door.


The inner has 2 large pockets. Phone, GPS, torch, book, glasses, wallet, cigarettes and lighter are swallowed up with room to spare. If I’m camping on my own, there is plenty of room for all my gear and rucksack in the inner with me, should I want it in there. The inner can be detached if that’s your thing, allowing you to use this as a fancy tarp, dry the inner before packing (and it dries quickly, being black) or separate it in your rucksack for packing.


(I have heard people say they don’t like the tent for this very reason, That the colour depressed them and it made them feel claustrophobic.. I have never felt this way. It maybe worth keeping in mind though as a 1 or 2 man tent will be a small tent).

When pitched the tent is tall enough that my head presses a little against the inner when I sit straight. It’s comfortable to sit on the inner, with your legs out, for cooking or chatting with mates. I have ended evenings before, sat in the porch, chatting to mates, making a brew as people start to bed down.


The Fly (outer skin) has good clearance all round, though if it’s not taught when pitched (or has several inches of snow on it, it will sag (and the inner sags with it), reducing room inside. The porch is plenty big enough to have gear in and cook in it. Although you have the roof vent, the outer zip will open from the top allowing more venting options.

It packs small and the bag provided has enough space to allow easy packing, even when the tent is wet and your hands are cold. It also has two buckles to cinch it smaller. the instructions are clear, easy to follow and are stitched into the bag itself. It also comes with 2 spare pegs ( and for standard pegs, theses are great all round pegs, though i would have liked cord loops to help pull them back out the next day. There’s also the now obligatory emergency pole sleeve so a break doesn’t have to end the trip.


This tent has been out in deep snow, baking sunshine, left out in the garden for a week, run over by my kid, and I’ve always had a good nights sleep in it. The vents are just right for year round use and the tent sits low enough that spin drift has never been an issue. I’m dubious about how it would perform in an exposed position in very strong winds. It’s been out in strong wind, with a bit of shelter and I still slept well, with no issues.


If you’re looking for a small, light, easy to use tent for less than £100, then there are not many alternatives as good as this.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Mobile blog.

Much better news.

I got the news last night that my daughter is off the oxygen, moved out of isolation and onto the ward. This means she should be coming home soon, but I won’t know more till she see’s the doctors later today. Hopefully that should be in the next few hours, but I’ve learnt not to push these things. The NHS is like hiring a Spanish Builder in some respects.. They go at their own pace and you have to just accept this and go with it. Trying to ‘get things done’ just results in frustration. They can’t go any faster - generally they are under funded, understaffed and underappreciated..

For the last 4 days I’ve succeeded in keeping the house tidy-ish, my son and youngest daughter fed and kept their clothes clean (although she’s drawn all over the inside of her play pen with a felt-tip she’d secreted away with the stealth of a prisoner taking some metal cutlery from the prison canteen).

This is quite an achievement for me. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m normally as organised as a Bazaar.

Wait… Hmm, Perhaps it’s time to feed me…

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

If life is a rollercoaster, I’m a bit de-railed right now..


I’m sat here in the middle of the day with a few moments. I should be at work, but I’ve had to take time off to look after the kids.

One of them is in the hospital and my wife has gone with her.

Now before you all gasp, This is not the first time this has happened. When they were born, they were nearly 2 months premature and the same daughter has been in before. Last time a year ago, she stopped breathing and was rushed in to hospital with child bronchitis.

This time she has Pneumonia and she’s on oxygen.Though the amount that she needs has reduced to the point where she could be coming off this soon..

I hate times like these (of course I do), The feeling of impotence and worry is hard to bear. Especially when I have to be happy for my son and other daughter, who are not old enough to understand what is going on.


I’m sharing this because.. because.. I started this blog as a diary for myself, but started to enjoy sharing my exploits with the rest of you out there. It feels like you are, some kind of extended family now.

Plus It can’t all be the good stuff. If there’s no Bad out there, there’s nothing to measure the Good against.


On another, more random note. If you are a Dr Who fan, enjoy the sneak Peek for the new season. I added this the other day. I had planned to add a post re this, but suddenly other things became more important.

If you are not a fan: Don’t worry, I’ll remove it when the new season starts. I know it’s a bit naff, but it’s one of my guilty pleasures and It’s nice to sit with my son and watch him jump at all the scary bits (though he’s braver than me – I had to watch it from behind the sofa when I was his age!!).


Finally. I’m sure you have heard of PTC* (Peter Macfarlane - Blog writer, Trail contributor and Lightweight proponent)… Well, here’s something I spotted while in the hospital: