Monday, 27 February 2012


I mentioned a few posts ago that I'd been given a camping hammock for Christmas by my daughter. I was able to put it (and me!) through its paces over the weekend, although only for one of my two nights out. There were no available trees the first night. The second night was in some woodland immediately adjoining the field where the others I was with were camping.

It went up easily enough. I've now established that the trees either end need to be not less than six inches in diameter in order that my tarp above the hammock doesn't sag once I've put my weight in the hammock. I basically made up my bed in it in the same way as I would if I were sleeping on the ground, just omitting the polythene sheet I use as a groundsheet. So, in first was a three-quarter length Therm-a-rest with a quarter length of cell foam mat attached with Velcro. On top of that went my sleeping bag inside a bivy. I didn't need anything as a pillow (I would normally use my backpack with whatever was still in it with miscellaneous bits of unused clothing on top). 

Having unzipped the sleeping bag, I eased my way in. It's a bit like getting into a kayak; you have to be very careful not to fall straight out the other side, which I did immediately. I was asleep in no time. I had to get up to answer calls of nature twice during the night. The first time was no problem. The second time was interesting. I fell down to the soft ground (only about a foot) in my sleeping bag, having tipped over in trying to get out of the bag.

It was all good experience though and I would do things differently next time (and there will hopefully be many more next times). The hammock comprises two layers and has a full-length zip along one side which is intended  to open the hammock up to scramble inside to enclose the camper in a bug-free claustrophobic pocket. it occurred to me that my Therm-a-rest and attached mat could go inside as, outside, it tended to slip about a bit. The second change I would make to my use of the hammock (assuming it works in practice) is, when getting out for a pee in the night, is to get out with the bivy and sleeping bag still around me and to get back in with them still on. I'd just have to make sure that I didn't pee in the sleeping bag!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

New stove

The Wyre Forest weekend was the testing ground of two new pieces of kit. The first was what is known as a Penny Stove. This was made for me, out of a Heineken can, by my friend, Ian Fraser, who became our third team member on the TGO Challenge last year. At 16 grams it makes my usual Varga titanium stove at 28 grams seem heavy. It burns meths and was just as slow as the Varga in bringing water to the boil but it's fine as long as I'm in no hurry, which I wasn't this time. It's kept in place by three tent pegs which also serve as a pot stand. I like it.

See above for the second posting.

Backpackers Wyre Forest weekend

This was a new area for me. We met on Friday evening at Hopley's Family Camping on the edge of Bewdley. This is a good site with a farm shop and cafe and hot showers. The evening was spent at The Black Boy pub in Wyre Hill (not be confused with The Black Boy Hotel in Kidderminster Road), a small drinker's local and really excellent. No music, no machines and I think the only food served might have been crisps or pork scratchings.

On Saturday morning, we walked down through Bewdley, a very nice Georgian town on the River Severn. We crossed the river and walked up the eastern side, stopping at the riverside cafe at Arley and then crossing the river at Highley Bridge. The river flows very fast and we saw some ducks that seemed to pass by us at about 20mph. The area is very popular as a holiday destination. There were numerous caravan/mobile home parks and chalet parks although many of these are probably lived in full-time. The Severn Valley Railway was very much in evidence and we were treated to the sound and sight of some steam-pulled trains.

Coming down the other side of the river on the Severn Way, we stopped at the Ship Inn and then went on to our second night's camp at Pound Green. This was a field with a water tap and some reasonable loos in a portable building. It was very quiet and a half mile walk to the Olde New Inn.

On Sunday, we walked a quicker route back to Bewdley through the Wyre Forest. This is an area to be revisited. There are so many trails and paths. We followed parts of the Worcestershire Way and the Geopark Way.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

More canal walking

Had an enjoyable weekend in the camper in Wiltshire near Devizes on a site at Sells Green. It was only 100 yards from the Kennet and Avon Canal and a 5km walk along the towpath into Devizes. The towpath was very well maintained and passed by the new marina at the foot of Caen Hill Locks.

The flight of locks, sixteen of them, are very impressive. Last time I visited (which was more years ago than I care to remember), the whole canal was overgrown and in a sad condition of neglect and disuse. restoration work has taken place and everything is in full working order and used by narrowboats by holidaymakers. There were also a good number of boats in permanent moorings and occupied. However, they weren't going anywhere this weekend as the canal was frozen over.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

My sleep system

Following my last posting, "Anonymous" has asked what sleep system I use. Actually, it's basically the same all year round and I adjust what I wear inside the sleeping bag according to season and temperature. As a groundsheet, I generally use an opened out large polythene bag. This keeps dry whatever goes on top of it. I use a Therm-a-rest Ultralite 3/4 length which is maybe about ten years old. Attached to that with a Velcro strip is a short length of cell foam mat. This gives a certain amount of insulation from cold coming up from the ground. Last weekend, with the temperature dropping to minus 11 Celsius, it wasn't enough. My sleeping bag is a Mountain Equipment Xero 350 which, according to ME, is good to minus 5 Celsius. I'm very pleased with it. As the bag is down filled, I don't want it getting wet so I have an Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag. It's brilliant and stays 100% dry inside.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Backpackers weekend - Northants/Bucks

Snow and sleet was forecast for both Saturday and Sunday but I don't think I remember seeing what the temperature would drop to. There was a good turnout of around twenty Club members. It was pretty cold on arrival at Grendon, a regular February meeting point. I pitched the tarp, cooked up a quick meal and then headed up to the pub, The Half Moon where they had Charles Wells Eagle IPA on draught. I slept well until around 5am when I woke with cold feet. Nothing I put under them made things any better and I didn't get to sleep again. Young Jess who was with us went across to her car at about 4am and reported later that the temperature was minus 11 Celsius and I can well believe it. The tarp was iced up inside and out but it was only my feet that were suffering.

Andris was later to go home as his sleeping bag was only a 1-2 season. Breakfast for me was a bit miserable. The gas cylinder was cold and took an age to heat water for coffee and I had partly frozen milk on my cereal - not ideal on a very cold morning. I was glad to be moving on.

Our day's walk took us through Bozeat and then south into Buckinghamshire for a change. It was along the Three Shires Way for much of the time. We spent perhaps too long at The Horseshoe in Lavendon, a village I used to pass through hundreds of times in another life. We dragged ourselves away eventually to head for our pitch for the night but found our intended route across the River Great Ouse blocked by works being carried out so an obliging farmer's wife allowed us to cut through her fields to avoid road walking and we detoured into Olney to get to our site behind the Robin Hood in Clifton Reynes by another, but longer, route.

As I pitched, snow started to fall but we got into the pub at around 5.30 and what a pub! Excellent beer and very good food. By the time I headed off to be horizontal the snow was several inches deep. However, it was probably about ten degrees warmer than the night before so cold wasn't a problem. I woke a few times in the night and pushed snow off the tarp.

It was a snowy walk back to Grendon on Sunday. By a pre-arrangement and a 'phone call before we left, we were able to cross the River Great Ouse, the resident guards on the work site having tethered the guard dogs and we walked through the compound to cross the bridge. After a while we were following the Milton Keynes Boundary Walk and then north through the village of Easton Maudit and then back to Grendon.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Day walk - Stratford-upon-Avon

The opportunity for just one day out but at least the weather was reasonable and no need to take waterproofs. Parking the car on the northern edge of the town, I followed the Monarch's Way north through Welcome Hills Country Park to the village of Snitterfield where I happened to meet a couple of friends who I hadn't seen for ages. Chatted for ten minutes before moving on. It was all very pleasant, not demanding but some quite far-reaching views up into the Midlands although quite muddy in places. The Way took me to the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal just north of Wootton Wawen at bridge 51.

I followed the towpath for the six or so miles back down to Stratford. There were no boats on the move at all, it being probably too early in the season. The Edstone Aqueduct at Bearley Cross is quite impressive. The towpath dips down for its length so that the top of the metal trough containing the canal is at shoulder level.

Edstone Aqueduct