Thursday, 24 February 2011

I have never….



It’s dark and a couple of hours before dawn. As I roll over I notice there’s a cold spot where my feet are.. I shuffle wondering if rain has somehow found It’s way into the tent. While I’m considering why there’s a chill down by my feet, a wave of nausea washes over me. I lie still, trying not to move my left knee, close my eye’s again and try to drop off as quickly as possible. This is going to be painful in the morning..


This is my most eagerly awaited weekend since Christmas. The first camp of the year. Over the last few years, I’ve been spoilt. Calm, clear, cold and snowy. Every single one a beauty. This year was shaping up to be similar, but at the last minute the weather bods can’t make up their minds. Heavy rain, snow, gale force winds, sun.. All were possibilities get thrown at me the week before I leave. The night before I set off, It starts to Hail just before I go to bed.

My mate Jim turns up in the morning and we caught up in the kitchen, having a brew with my good lady, swapping Xmas gifts because we haven’t seen each other for months, discussing whether the weather is going to turn. Paul texts in saying the snow is still falling in Sheffield centre, but he also thinks we’re good to go. The last chance to ditch heavy packs and switch to a car camp with a big tent passes and Jim fiddles with his straps while I kiss the kids bye for the next 24 hours. We set off towards the bus stop when I realise I’ve forgotten something vital.. My Fags.

As we turn round I have a foreboding this camp just isn’t going to go as smoothly as the ones in the past.


When our bus rolls into Sheffield station, We have less than four minutes to get to the right stop to meet Paul. While I visit the smallest room, Jim asks the info desk where the bus leaves from. We dodge out to the other side of the Station and we can see Paul bobbing gently with impatience while he convinces the driver, that yes, we are here and he can see us just over there. Never again will I trust that a route planner from the bus company will allow enough time for transfers.

Castleton, is as it always is. Small, large, pretty, beautified honey pot that draws all kinds. Though on this cold, wet, snowy Saturday lunchtime there are few sight-seers. Just a couple of locals and a couple who asked directions to the YHA (so – people are still using them). As we walk from the station, working out the kinks in our legs and having a pleasant smoke, I notice that although the tops of the peaks themselves are in the cloud bottoms, most of the hill is visible. I managed to think all this, get my Etrex GPS on and the route to follow loaded. It’s time to leave the town behind.

The entrance to cave dale Is a narrow passage between two houses. You’ll walk past it If you're not looking for it. As you walk into it, it suddenly opens into a small valley, with Peveril castle peering over the edge.


The valley is much steeper than I expected. I thought it would be a nice gentle way up the hill. It’s not STEEP but it’s enough so that by the time we near the top, we have to stop and strip down a layer. We have a pasty and I take off my fleece, meaning that Paul and I are now just in our Base layers and waterproof jackets. It may not have seemed so bad, were it not for the fact that the mist now thickens, meaning the whole world becomes uniform white. It was like one of these 1950’s visions of heaven. Let me tell you. Heaven it ain’t. (The view never got better than on the video you can see on the post before this one). As we head up towards Mam Tor, I notice my heel is feeling hot. Predictably, no one had any plasters, so I re-lace the boot and carry on. By the time we’re level with Mam Tor car park, my heel is on fire. I pulled out the pole I’d brought in case Grindsbrook was iced up and lean heavily on it. As we work up onto the opposite side of the road from Mam Tor, heading towards Rushup edge I manage to twist my knee on my other leg which means both legs now hurt. We push on along the top and thankfully my heel begins to ease off on the flatter sections.

As we cross a Stile, Jim’s phone chimes. This means we have a phone signal. We stop for a bar of chocolate, a sneaky tot of rum and a quick call home to reassure Shani that we aren’t dead. Paul confides he’s happy we’d stopped because he’s getting shooting pains in his thighs.

That was it. With me hobbling along we might have been ok, but if Pauls leg gets any worse the combination could mean we end up stranded, or worse - have the indignity of having to be brought down off the hill.. That’s not happening if I can help it.

I make the decision that we will come down at Chapel Gate, instead of continuing round over brown knoll and down Grindsbrook. We make great time across the top and we’re heading down the valley sides in no time. As we start down, the snow breaks a little and we see the brown of the peat underneath. It’s weird how much you can miss colour.

Darkness falls just as we reach the valley floor and we pick up the road at Barber Booth.

I’m sad that we have cut it short, but I know it’s the right choice, especially given my knee, which had worsened while going down into the valley, now seems to have a metal bar in the joint. Now all there is to do is to cover the last mile or so, pitch the tent and get to the pub!



Arriving at Fieldhead campsite I mention that it is much busier on the hills and on the site than in the last few years. While I wonder why this is, we’re struck with another mini catastrophe. Paul has forgotten his sleep mat..

I give him a pair of waterproof trousers and a sit mat he can put under him with the rest of his stuff he’ s going to use to try and help keep him off the floor. Thus braced, we set off for the pub.


Now, I’m sure you’ve noticed, but the result of cutting short the route means that we are in Edale much earlier than we’d expected to be.

The pub was busy, the beer was flowing and the food was hot. Pretty soon we had lost pretty much all judgement, to the point that we started to play drinking games.

I have a video I took of us. I won’t be sharing it, but lets just say, it’s not pretty.


When the Nags throws everyone out we headed back to the tents. in our stupor, it’s decided that a mug of tea is be a capital idea. Finally Jim lets the side down – he hasn’t brought a mug! I brew in the pot and use the lid as a cup, with Jim using the pan side – which isn’t easy to do without burning your lips. this turns out to be just what we wanted, so we make another before we retire for the evening.


And this is where we started. I’ve got a damp patch near my feet (which turns out to be condensation), my knee is agony to move and though I’m plastered, I’m starting to sober up. Definitely not the best part of a night.

But the worst part?


Paul has to get home to meet his parents, so the slow recovery, followed by a train out of Edale around lunch is replaced with a lurching, headache of a re-pack dashing for a train well before I’m ready too.. Even now, while writing this, the memory is fresh enough to make me feel wretched again.



And so for the moral of the story?.. Remember to pack your mug…. you might burn your lips otherwise In love.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


Just a quick clip from the walk at the weekend. I promise to write it up as soon as I can, I'm a bit rushed at the moment though.
Enjoy this for now though, It was just a little foggy...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Is the end coming for the humble hostel?


There's a shift going on at the moment. You may be aware of it, you may feel quite militant about it. On the other hand, you may have never even known that it was a possibility for yourself..

There is a charity in England called The Youth Hostels Association (or YHA for short). There have been, since its inception (1909 in Germany), millions of people stay all over the world in YHA beds.

The premise is you can stay there (at any age - the name is a bit misleading) for little money.

Historically, in return for cheap accommodation you would help maintain the hostel.

Common duties were sweeping, pot washing etc..

The ideal is now regarded by many as an old fashioned one, centred around an evening communal room, where singing was the order of the day. Alcohol was prohibited and there were strict segregation for men and women at bedtime (married or not). Of course these practices have now been relaxed, singing has given way to internet access and the dormitories have given way to smaller bedrooms for more privacy.

Even so the English YHA has been in decline since it's heyday in the early 1950's. This has been for a mix of reasons, mostly because it is catering to a market that no longer exists to the same extent. People going away no longer want to sweep up and so the YHA has moved with this, trying to align its business model closer to that of a B&B.

(Hostelling is not in decline all over the world though. In Australia, hostelling is still expanding (although there are only 120 official hostels there compared to over 300 at its peak in England)).

Why has this come to the fore now?

There are closures planned in England. The latest batch include hostels that are currently profitable, but when re-modelling is required in the future it would be expensive. By selling these it re-fills the coffers allowing other new hostels elsewhere (also, the YHA has been running at a small loss).

This has lead to groups becoming upset as not only will this impact on the local economy, but some of these hostels are in prime locations, and are beautiful old buildings. It is widely felt that it would be a loss for these Hostels to be bought and future generations staying in 'identity-kit' buildings in poorer locations.

Of course, the advantage of all this is that the YHA will not need to pass on the cost of the upkeep of these older buildings, and cost is one of the core principles. The current mission statement of Hostelling International is:

"To promote the education of all young people of all nations, but especially young people of limited means, by encouraging in them a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside and an appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities in all parts of the world, and as ancillary thereto, to provide hostels or other accommodation in which there shall be no distinctions of race, nationality, colour, religion, sex, class or political opinions and thereby to develop a better understanding of their fellow men, both at home and abroad"

The current English YHA statement is shorter, but you get the point. This leaves the YHA with a difficult choice.

Eventually, if the current downward trend continues, the YHA is going to run low on funds again. Do they sell off more properties, Increase the cost to stay in them or Offer fewer facilities / reduce costs?

Personally I think that it may be beneficial to allow guests to reduce the cost of their stay by volunteering to help with the work.. So a group of walkers could cover the cost of their breakfast by washing the pots for an hour after a meal, or someone travelling alone who may be a life member and in no hurry to get somewhere could make their stay very cost effective by spending a couple of hours working in the hostel.

Whatever happens, the YHA is going to have to make some tough decisions In their future.


(Sources: Wikipedia, YHA England, SYHA and Hostelling International. YHA Logo courtesy of YHA website.)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I came across this on the net….

Orange pitches Glastonbury Solar Concept Tent


Read the article HERE.

The lights are cool, But how much would it weigh? It’s not that subtle for wild camping either… Winking smile


But under floor heating? That would be cool…

Something to entertain you better with..

I’ve been hankering for a new camera recently and I’ve settled on the Fuji Finepix S1900. It was a long drawn out process, with the other contenders being the Panasonic Lumix TZ8 and Canon Powershot SX130 IS.

The Fuji won out because it offers the most features, will accept AA batteries and has one hell of a zoom (18x)! (that and it was considerably cheaper)

I’ve not had much chance to use it yet, but I've taken a couple of images this evening, just to try it out. Below is an 8 second long exposure, (most of Orion is visible at the bottom of the image)


My old camera (an Olympus point and shoot) died months ago (it would no longer focus), so It was time to get an new way of taking images, other than with my phone. It’s going to be a bit of a baptism of fire, taking a camera capable of manual control with me on my next walk but there’s an auto setting if things go pair shaped.

The other reason I wanted to get a ‘proper’ camera over my phone cam is I want to start adding short video clips to the blog (the camera in the phone was poor when it came to video).

The Fuji can film in 720p, so it looks great and that huge zoom can be used while filming as well.


I’ll keep you posted on how I get on with it.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

It’s the Torch report!

I thought I’d share my experiences with my favourite torches. I’ve used all of these where it counts – out in the hills The only exception is the freebie (more on that later) as I haven’t been walking since I was given it.


From top left: Maglite Solitaire (purple), Key chain LED Lenser, Volvo fleet sales torch, LED Lenser Police tech, Energiser (red), Zippo lighter (for scale) Head torches: Alpkit gamma (Lava) and Decathlon Geonaute.

First off, the Maglite Solitaire. This is a torch many of you will be familiar with. It’s very smallminimagblog and light. It comes in a range of colours and only uses 1x AAA.  There is a spare bulb in the bottom under the battery spring. This is the only torch that does not use LED technology. The Maglite is the dimmest on test. This is the torch of choice for going to the loo in the middle of the night when on a campsite, as the glare won’t wake everyone else on the site up. Battery life is poor as it uses conventional bulbs.


Next comes the impressive LED Lenser V2 key ring torch. This is a little larger than the Maglite and alsolenserminiblog heavier, but it ooze’s quality. The cross hatched grip is perfectly cut, the LED has a silvered mirror wrapped lovingly around it. It’s much nicer to use than the the Maglite and would be adequate as your primary source of light but for the fact that it uses LR44 watch batteries (AG13 for our American friends). Although the batteries do last a long time, for this reason, I’m not sure I’d choose this for the hill. I have carried it as a backup before.



A bit of a surprise next. This is a torch given to me recently by someone who works for Volvo fleet sales.volvotorchblog I’ve mentioned it as it as although it doesn’t look like much, It  has impressed me with just how good it actually is for a freebie, Many of the features are copied from far more expensive torches. It’s made from light alloy, has 9x LED bulbs providing a good beam. The batteries are 3x AAA in a magazine inside the torch.. It is a bit rough and ready. I'm not sure that it’s waterproof, though the lens cover could have a little silicon around the edge and around the on/off switch at the back to waterproof it.. Then I’d be happy to take this into the hills. This was going to be added to the car glove box, but my son swiftly decided it was his. If your local Volvo fleet sales guy can get you one, take it.


The LED Lenser Police Tech Focus (Long name!) is the brightest torch I currently use. You can focus orlenserblog spread the beam like a Maglite. On it’s first outing it totally embarrassed my mates MASSIVE Maglite (the one that takes ‘D’ cells). It is lots smaller, much brighter and far lighter. This is one of my favourite torches. It takes 3x AAA, and runs on those for ages. It’s also over engineered to the same degree as the V2. The bulb is one single high power LED. This torch feels indestructible. The on/off switch can also be adjusted for perfect balance between flash and on/off. It is however the most expensive here costing around £40






The Energiser glow stick is supposed to be a bit of fun. I found this in the local supermarket, it’s designed for clubbers and children. It didn’t take long to realise it’s the perfect nightlight for ben, It’s great for marking your tent, It’s also good for use inside the tent when your camp site requires lots of stealth.  Winking smile

It takes LR44 (I think) and has a single red LED inside. It just twists on/off. The only downside is that it looks like something you might find hidden at the back of a lady’s sock drawer..



Next is the Alpkit Gamma. This is what I use when I’m walking in the hills at night. It’s so much easier thangammablog carrying a hand torch, It’s bright, but not as bright as the Police Tech. It uses 3x AAA.

It has several lighting modes, Main beam (which is slightly too narrow for my liking), A dimmed main beam (achieved by (very) rapidly switching the beam on and off. This mode annoys me slightly but I notice flickering things, no-one I know has noticed this). It also flashes as an emergency beacon. There are 3x smaller LED’s. White: a dimmer, lower consumption bulb. Red: to preserve night vision. Green: to preserve night vision and allow the contours on a map to stand out (red makes them hard to see or disappear - if you didn’t know).

There is also a ‘bar’ on the back (see pic, above right) that can be set ‘on’ or ‘flashing’ so if you are on the road the cars can see you from further away. There are 3 straps (one removable for over the top of your head) but I didn’t like this and as I don’t run/bike in this, I just took it off.

This torch is not only feature packed, but is very well priced (currently £12.50).

Sadly, as with all head torches, it makes you look like a berk, so I won’t use this on a campsite unless I’ve hiked in.


Lastly is the Decathlon Geonaute head torch. This takes 3x AAA batteries, has 3x LED inside the case (batteries at the front, unlike the Alpkit Gamma). The torch sometimes has an annoying habit of slowly rotating towards the floor ( I think this is related to how vital the task is), but you can unclip it from the headband and attach another clip. This allows you to clip it to anything handy (a jacket, the side of a tent/door etc.) which is a nice feature. It is reasonably bright and was used before I bought the Gamma. The spread of light is also better than the Gamma. Cost Was around £10 (This range does not currently show on Decathlon’s website). Good for tent lighting or kids, but not much else.


Friday, 4 February 2011

Sodding sideways bloomin’ rain…

So. It’s wet outside. Not that nice fresh rain. Not misty, makes things damp before the sun comes out rain.04022011586a Not even rain that comes down so hard it bounces back into the air, getting your socks wet..

No. Its worse. It’s evil, directed. Almost intelligent. It’s that type of rain that finds any chink in your armour.

It will change direction without warning, attacking you from another direction. It will force its way in through zips. It sneaks down into layers below.

It will swirl into anything open, whether your car boot, rucksack or eyes. It turns the most incredible walk into a monotonous trudging, squelchy, test of physical and mental endurance.


If you’re camped out in it (and your tent can stand the wind) you’ll spend equal amounts of time drying fingers on your trouser leg that have had to handle something else that’s wet  and wondering if that’s a fine mist being forced through the walls of the tent, or just your imagination?


You’ll wonder why you do this.. Right at that moment it may well not be worth it. You’re cold, damp and miserable, while your mates are at home or in the pub.

They probably didn’t rip their new £200 coat on a fence going out. They won’t wake up to find that the walls of their house has flicked water at them all night so everything is drenched - and your clean pants are out, on top of your bag ready for the morning.


No. But when you do get home, something magical happens. The worse it was, the better the story is in the telling. Your mate got lost, drunk on the way home?

But you? You were lost in the driving rain, in zero visibility, knowing there is a 1,000 foot drop.. Just meters away from where you were stood.... Back home, the damp pants become an anecdote.

The leaking tent? time to air all the gear at home and perform ‘essential maintenance’ requiring a trip to the local gear shop.


So next time you look out of the window and despair, don’t for get this trip. Mother nature gave all she could throw at you – and you won.



Wednesday, 2 February 2011

What Kind of bed is for me?

One of the most asked questions (after what tent?) asked on the forum is about what to sleep on, so I thought I’d put a bit of what I know on here.

There are many options, from a simple sheet of bubble wrap right up to solutions that cost over £100.

So! how to decide?


(From Left, Robens 10cm self inflator (Black/Green), Vango Trek long 3cm Self inflator (Black/Red),

Unnamed Closed cell mat 1cm (Black/Blue) and Alpkit Numo 7cm (Grey/Black).


When I was in my Teens, I used to use a proper, old school camp bed, canvas with a steel frame. It means you are not on the floor, so you’re not mingling with the slugs etc. (if you’re not in a tent).. It’s warm and very comfortable (unless you roll over and end up sleeping on the steel bar) But very, very heavy (several Kg). In fact it would probably weigh more than your tent – and It’s bulky. So that’s out for most people..


A closed cell mat. This is probably what you used in your youth. Very, very light (often less than 200 grams) and has great thermal properties, so it’s good for all year round use. But it’s bulky and not comfortable. In fact it’s barely more comfortable than sleeping straight on the ground. Linked here to a Multimat product so you can see what I mean, if you don’t already.


Self Inflating mat. Most people have at least one of these. When invented by Thermarest, theyVangoTrek revolutionised camping. They come in a variety of sizes and weights and prices. Essentially a layer of spongy foam trapped between two layers of plastic. It’s lighter than a camp bed and more comfortable than a closed cell mat. But most are not as warm as the closed cell mat, and not as comfortable as the camp bed. The majority are around 3-4cm thick

I have a mat 3cm thick. This was my main  hiking bed, but I replaced this as it weighed over 1,200 grams. This is heavy for this type of mat, but it was a ‘long’ and was a cheaper brand. Some self-inflators are half this weight. This mat wasn’t warm enough in winter, so I’d use a closed cell mat with it.

I have another that is nearly 10cm thick. It’s very comfy and very warm, so good for winter. Sadly, like the camp bed it’s very heavy and bulky because all of the extra foam, so really only used when car camping.


DIY, Lilo or ‘inflate yourself’ mats. Most commonly people buy (and refer to) the Thermarest Neoair. It’sNumo tiny packed, extremely light, thick when inflated and warm enough for 3 season camping but expensive (usually between (£70 and £110 new). There are other options out there, most notably the Pacific Outdoor Elite AC (around £40-50) range and the Alpkit Numo (£45 – I have one of these as well).

Don’t forget you need the breath and time to inflate this yourself, though you usually have both these things when you’re camping.

Most of these mats weigh between 400-500 grams, though ones that are insulated for winter can weigh more.

You can get some with a ‘reed’ valve for as little as a few pounds, but they are pretty much the same a lilo you’ll get at the seaside, so they are heavier and don’t last long.It’s best to think of reed valved mats as disposables, so  more expensive in the long run and not environmentally friendly either (if that’s important to you).


Alpkit Numo, (Packed size when folded in three lengthways)

Hammocks…A hammock? That’s only for the beach right? NO! In the right weather a hammock can be great. Small, light and comfortable. But tricky to get in and out of. They take a bit of skill to hang. You’ll need something to hang it from (at both ends – Important tip!) and you could get wet if you don’t use a tarp.


Air filled mattress. Don’t get me started. Usually known to the rest of the camp site when it goes flat in the middle of the night and you wake everyone up trying to blow it up again with a pump that sounds like a hairdryer. Not something I would ever use if I could help it, but cheap comfy and popular (because it’s cheap, comfy and people don’t know better).. When your wife wakes up cold because the mats deflated itself, It’s your fault for taking her camping - remember?