Posts Tagged camping

Holiday Snap

Disco inferno at pitch no. 12

Disco inferno at pitch no. 12

Just going through some old photos and looked at this one. I turned my screen to Wil and commented ‘Look…. me, doing what I do best. COOKING’ to which he snorted and replied ‘watch them eggs’ because that’s what I was doing at the time – scrambling some eggs before we set off for a bike ride and just after this photo was taken Wil asked if there was anything he could do to help to which I replied ‘yes, can you watch these eggs and make sure no flies get in them while I toast some bread’. Wil scoffed and remarked ‘watch them eggs… I get ALL the important jobs’.

I look at the photo now and realise that scrambled eggs aside – it just looks like my face is on fire.

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The OUTER HEBRIDES…. was not that cold after all

(Due to the length of this post I’ve cut it into smaller easier to digest portions!)

Room 101Leaving

We decided to cut the journey into two parts. The first being from home to Carlisle leaving by 4pm on Wednesday evening, ending in an overnight stay in a hotel. The second being from Carlisle to the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides the following day.

We left late as a result of too many things I’d forgotten to add on my to-do list. And then there was the last minute realisation that I’d lost my Spork (spoon-fork) after camping with my brother. I envisioned it sat inside a bag of rubbish in his wheelie bin. The decision to make a small detour by the camping shop on our way out was thwarted by a train crossing the road in the middle of rush hour traffic. We arrived 5 minutes after it’d closed. Plastic cutlery from Tescos was purchased instead.

Using hotels during our trip was not really part of the budget. However, the overnight stop-gap in Carlisle was necessary and camping, not really an option. We arrived following the directions the hotel booking site had provided and came to discover £39 per night gets you a room in a busy truck fuel stop/shop. Not a surprising discovery really, I’ve booked enough hotels in my time to know what price constitutes a poverty spec stay but with time and money being of the essence on this occasion I placed our fate into the capable safekeeping of the internet. I decided that 207 web reviews of ‘good’ and ‘clean’ but ‘looks like a prison’ were three things we could live with for eight hours, most of which we would not be awake anyway.

Despite the obscure ‘sink in bedroom’ placement, separate single beds, brown patterened carpet and garish 1970’s tiling the room was fine. An examination of the sheets found them clean and Wil’s enthusiastic flinging open of the wardrobes like he expected to find a friend in a game of hide and seek inside, revealed, to his relief, no big hairy truckers crouching on the flimsy mdf shelf. Clean sheets, running (hot) water and a toilet was a damn sight more than we’d be spoiled with for the upcoming days. We fell asleep.

In the morning I said I was happy to see Wil hadn’t been kidnapped in the night. Wil said he was pleased to report that his arse didn’t hurt. We were on the road for 07:01.


ScotlandThe Drive

I never feel like I’m properly in Scotland until we’re past Glasgow. It’s just beyond the city where the scenery really starts to become ragged and the mountains encroach into the sky. The road between Glasgow and Fort William winds between lochs, waterfalls, railway tracks and through woodland. Vast open areas of land expand so far out in front of you that it does funny things to your eyes when you attempt to take it all in.  You don’t realise how big of an expanse you’re looking at until you realise the small white flowers are actually sheep dotted across the land.

The last time we took the route all the way to Fort William we stayed in a cabin and enjoyed a white Christmas.

The most eventful part of the journey was just after we’d entered the Isle of Skye where a bloke driving the car in front of ours decided he’d try to cause a head on collision by suddenly pulling across the road to park on the opposite side right before a blind bend. Subsequently a car coming the other way had to slam on the anchors and very nearly swerved around the idiot and straight into us – head on. Narrowly avoiding tragedy we continued down the road, shocked and flabberghasted at the sheer stupidity of some people. We arrived in the Isle of Skye around 4pm.


The FerryThe Ferry

The ferry was an hour and a half late turning up and a further thirty minutes late leaving the port. We’d been packed and ready to go at 5:30pm just as the man in the ticket booth had requested.

We’d bundled the stuff onto the bikes and took it in turns to get changed in the back of the van avoiding leaning in the damp patch caused by a leaking bottle of milk I’d insisted we’d bring from the fridge at home.

At 7:00pm the ferry cruised into the port and released a full cargo of bikes, cars, lorries, post vans, petrol trucks and passengers.

Seeing the post vans and petrol tankers reminded me how remote this place must be and that in bad weather perhaps they don’t get petrol or their post.


The First Night

It was nearly 9pm when we arrived on Harris. We cycled out of the hull of the boat followed closely by a full compliment of other vehicles. Reaching the car park we pulled over briefly to take a photo and check our map the empty ferry closed down for the night. The cars all drove away and the remaining passengers disappeared down the streets with friends and relatives. The sun was setting behind the mountains and the atmosphere became very still with the only sound coming from a solo set of bagpipes being played up in the town.

Gathering our bearings we pedalled up a narrow one way hill which took us past a couple of small shops and a few houses and up to an elevated view of the port before leading us out into the countryside leaving the town and bagpipes behind.  As the road turned towards Stornoway we picked up a small gravel path which led down to a loch lining the the valley of two large mountains. We stopped only to confirm the directions I’d written on some Costa Coffee receipts at the motorway services. My brother had sent them via email after I’d discovered I’d left my copy at home.

A short way along the path we were stopped by some very inquisitive cows guarding the gravel track. Much sniffing and side ways glances in our direction took place before they continued to step towards us. One let out a discerning bassy grunt which led me to peer at it’s nether regions to confirm it was infact a cow and not a bull. ‘Pedal towards it Wil’ I shouted, hoping the daft cow would realise cows are usually timid and easily frightened. Obviously Harris mountain and loch dwelling cows are a tougher breed because the closer got the the more insistent the cows were in staying put.

Wil looked around at the late evening sky setting in and he began to wherret about finding a camping spot. We eventually spied a level spot about 50 feet off the trail on the side of a mountain overlooking the loch. It was quite a climb up to get to it, one which the bikes had to be carried up. Wil swore when the bags on the bike rack swung round knocking him violently in the back of the head. The spot amongst rocks and heather was rather wet and spongey. A little prodding about revealed it was actually very dense and wet peat. But with the light fading and not knowing what might lie ahead on the trail we decided to pitch anyway. If anything we’d get a soft bed to lay on and hopefully the cows wouldn’t bother us so high up. As we pushed the tent pegs into the ground only then did we discover cow hoofprints in the soft peat surrounding our tent.

We wriggled into the tent. Three times Wil’s head shot off his makeshift pillow in order to use both ears to listen to mysterious swap creatures slithering around the tent. Or tiptoeing cows who’d managed the 50ft climb without making so much as a brushing noise through the long grass just so they could roll onto our tent and crush us to death or worse – steal our bikes. I told him it was going to be a very long night if he was going to spend time freaking the both of us out by paying attention to his imagination. My own ears were now pounding with heartbeat noises and high pitched squealing from the elevation in my heart rate having kicked my tinnitus off. The ground was comfy, the cows left us alone and as long as it didn’t rain, we wouldn’t be stranded in the middle of a boggy sodden moat in the morning. We drifted off to sleep.


The Midges

The morning arrived with the sound of rain pattering onto the tent. I opened my eyes and focussed through the mesh of the inner tent to look at what appeared to be quite a lot of tiny black flies crawling around on the outside. I didn’t pay this much attention until I unzipped the door in order to get out for a wee. Through the small gap opened by the zipper I could see pale grey sky and before that thousands of darker grey spots floating around in the air, like driving into snow flurries. I zipped it closed again and recoiled back into the inner tent zipping that closed too with utmost urgency.

‘What is it?” Wil jolted out of his slumber and up onto his elbow staring at me with two puffy eyes.
‘Midges’ I shrieked pointing to the small black flies still crawling on the outside of the inner tent.
‘Millions of them, I’m not sure how we’re going to get out’

There was a long discussion and the readers digest version is this:

‘We’ll just get out, they can’t be that bad’
‘No, trust me – there are millions of them, we’ll get eaten alive’
‘Did you bring some midge repellent’
‘Where is it?’
‘In the bag’
‘What, the bag that is out there?’
‘Er, yes’

We considered our options and decided that staying put for a little while until it got windy seemed the most logical idea. I’d read that midges don’t like wind. And last night had been a bit windy and there’d been no midges then.

An hour later I was really bursting for a wee. It was getting hotter in the tent but no windier outside. Wil had begun wherreting again and the midge situation viewable through the mesh ceiling looked as crowded as the mosh pit at a Cliff Richard concert.

We opened a small section of zipper and dragged in the bag containing the Deet repellent along with a small cloud of midges which instantly made their way to our faces and hands. We covered ourselves liberally with the ‘Midjex’, put on as many items of clothing as we could and then unzipped the tent to make a run for it.

‘Great’, said Wil, ‘our lives depend on a small green tube of clear gel whose largest ingredient is water’

What lay in store for us outside of the tent was something we could NEVER have been prepared for. The cloud of midges was so thick that as we emerged from the tent they immediately flew into our eyes, up our noses and into our mouths. I found myself stuck, struggling for air and blindly flinging my arms around in the air while trying to push my right foot into my left shoe. I stumbled away to make room for Wil to get out of the tent behind me. I was breathing the midges in, choking and panicking at the thought we might not get away from them. I could feel them in their thousands clinging to my hair, buzzing in my ears and crawling over my hands. Crawling but seemingly not biting. Wil ran past me and grabbed my hand to pull me along with him as we suddenly became early morning fell runners. Bounding up the rocks and boggy peat heather patches to get higher up the mountain we finally found some relief in a slight breeze some 50ft further up the mountain. I brushed the last few midges from my sleeve and they were carried away with the air.

We stood admiring the scenery, still reeling from the harrowing events of such a rude introduction to our first morning and still very much out of breath from clambering up the mountain.

It took us over an hour to take the tent down and pack up. The wind didn’t pick up until much later and our sheltered spot on the mountain allowed a massive swarm of midges to remain in situ to smother us every time we ran back for bits and pieces. And that is how we did it. Pulled our collars up over our nose and mouth ran down the mountain, grabbed arm loads of stuff and then ran back up to pack it away. We both ran down, scrambled about to pull out all the tent pegs and then grabbed the tent and ran back up the mountain with it to fold it up. Same with the sleeping mats, bags and clothes.

We met a local man walking his dog on the way and stopped to talk. He was wearing a midge net over his head and commented that the midges were the worst they’d had yet. Funny I thought – It never fails when someone goes on holiday they come back with a story about the locals saying it had been the worst/best/wettest/driest it’d been for hundreds of years. In our case, it was the most midge infested.

With that horror eventually behind us we cycled back the way we came and straight into town to buy midge nets for our heads.


The Bike Ride

Fearing a repeat of that morning and learning that the area between the mountains and by the lochs were the worst for the midges we disappointingly decided against biking the route in Trail Magazine that had inspired us to come to the Outer Hebrides in the first place. Instead we opted to do our second route – the 10 miles down to Luskentyre beach. Surely there would be a constant wind blowing at the coast and therefore less midges.

The ride was amazing. A narrow road with passing places leading out into the rugged countryside of this small island. Not a single tree existed anywhere you looked. Just peat bogs, purple heather and pinky-grey granite rock striped with what looked like slices of white marble. There seemed to be far more climbs than descents but after about an hour and half the top of the final climb revealed a massive opening between the land where the turquoise sea poured into a large bay lined with bright white sand. It looked like the workings of an overexposed photoshop image, and a scene I didn’t think existed in this country.

We followed the road down until it dead ended at a gate leading into the beach.


The Beach

Dropping our bikes on the sand we walked up into the large grassy sand dunes to get a better look. It was breezy and there were no midges in sight so we pitched the tent and then sat to absorb the sheer beauty surrounding us. The vast beach was a blanket of fine white sand dotted with bright pink, purple and white shells sprinkled about like coloured beads from a broken necklace. The inviting clear turquoise sea gently lapping the shore, the large dunes covered in clumps of pistachio toned green sea grass nodding in the breeze and the hazy blue mountains containing it all in the background. No sun chairs, no tacky parasols, no shops, no screaming kids, only one or two people and impressive moody clouds seemingly being held at bay by bright sunshine.

We kicked back on the sand and read our books for some time before the heat reminded us we were still kitted up in tights and jumpers which had protected us from the midges earlier.

It wasn’t until much later that we discovered a few midges taking an interest in our tent up in the dunes. The wind appeared to be stronger on the beach than in the dunes so without further ado we moved the tent down onto the beach and enjoyed a midge free evening in the breeze.

The temperature here was much warmer than the previous night and waking in the morning to the sound of the waves lapping the shore and the entire beach to ourselves was something I just can’t describe. I could happily have stayed in this place and not returned home at all. But the following day in the event we’d decided not to cycle the other route on Harris we cut our stay a day short and cycled back to town to catch the ferry back to the mainland. From here we planned to drive back down to Fort William to spend a lazy day at Ben Nevis.

By this time Wil had had his tenting fill and argued the case for staying in a B&B. I agreed because it was easier to agree than not! Two days of various camping related complaints from the tent being too small to needing a shower was enough for me to just concede defeat and let the man have his comforts for a night.

We got a B&B in Fort William and went out for a fish dinner in the evening. The following day we took a Gondola ride up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles and also pottered about in the town for a short while before carrying on our way down to the borders to cycle at Mabie.


Homeward Bound

After convincing Wil we should camp again we ended in a compromise by agreeing to pitch on a site with showers and toilets! We returned to a lovely site we’ve used in the past just outside Dumfries in a little village called Beeswing. The lady laughed when we asked how bad the midges were and assured us that they may only be present in ones or two here, ‘not like the Highlands’.

We placed the tent on a grassy spot at the edge of the site and kicked back with a pot noodle for dinner using a small tree stump for a table. No midges this time but there was the noise from other campers on either side and I felt spoiled by our previous nights of wildcamping where noisy neighbours and other peoples snoring wasn’t an issue.

The following morning it was pissing down with rain. A fact I became quickly aware of when I was awoken by splats of rain hitting me in the face. The tent was now, not water proof for some reason. The inner tent was covered with large droplets of water which had made it through the outer sheet and was beginning to drip through onto our sleeping bags.  I got dressed and crawled out to find there was no break in the clouds it looked set to stay. We sat on the back of the van to eat breakfast, sheltered by the rear door open above our heads. We decided against doing the long cross country trail at Mabie in favour of just heading home giving ourselves an extra day with which to sort other things before returning to work on Wednesday.

The drive home was just as uneventful as the drive there had been although rain made it take quite a bit longer.

The bags of clothes, wet tent and clammy sleeping bags are still in a pile on the living room floor. I listen closely to my backpack I can hear those midges swarming all around me. My shoes still have a little pile of Luskentyre sand in the heel and I’m wondering if I click the heels together enough times I might find myself laying in that white sand one more time.

More photos from the trip here:

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Alpkit Again!

Apollo II - Silicon Coated Bags

Apollo II - Silicon Coated Bags

My brother bought some Airlok XT Drybags from Alpkit and he let me borrow a couple for our trip to Wales. I had actually pondered over these a couple of weeks ago when Wil and I were going to cycle to Hollesley but had decided against spending a few quid in favour of just wrapping my stuff in plastic bags.

What a rubbish idea that turned out to be and definately not worth saving the minimal cash I saved.

First off the items wrapped in black bin bags were slippy and hard to keep strapped onto the back of Wil’s bike. When the bags slipped sideways they tore and the little holes then negated the waterproof properties the bags previously offered. Once we got to where we were camping and unloaded everything out of the bags we then spent 5 minutes chasing the buggers down the beach as the wind carried them off without hesitation. Once they were all collected up we just had a big pile of crappy bags stuffed in the corner of the tent which crinkled every time we moved in the night. Lastly, Wil complained that they made him look like some sort of crazy bag collecting nutjob homeless tramp. I agreed, but you know, if the shoe fits….

There is a phrase that Wil likes to use often and that is ‘false economy’. Using plastic bags to wrap your crap in instead of spending a few quid on some proper drybags from Alpkit IS A FALSE ECONOMY. Don’t do it.

Airlok XT Drybags

Airlok XT Drybags

When you consider all the money we’ve spent on a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, clothes, food and all the other little necessities we need to take along it’s ridiculous to not paying a bit more to get some good quality bags to store it all in and most importantly, keep it all dry. Who wants to kip in a wet sleeping bag?

Sam and I stuffed our sleeping bags, mats and clothes in individual dry bags and they strapped perfectly on to the racks on each of our bikes.

They are made from durable lightweight nylon with a pvc coating and have taped seams – just like your tent. This stops the water from penetrating through where the seams are stitched. It also makes them so water/airtight that you can actually use them like a bucket to scoop water from a stream. Since the inside is coated it would wipe dry. Once you’ve put your bits in the bag you roll the top down a couple of times and then clip the top two corners together which creates a little handle useful for carrying or slipping a tether through if you’re strapping it to a bike. The top also has a little clip which you can clip to yourself or your bag to carry and the bottom features a little grab loop.

With the different colours available if you’re really anally retentive and slightly OCD like me you can organise certain bits into certain bags in order to lay your hands on the right thing first time.

The Airlok bags start out at only £3 for an XS size – and the £3 one that my brother was using contained his £500 camera which he could easily have hung on the handlebar of the bike in pouring rain and not worried about it!

The large Airlok XT would also be a brilliant solution for your kids pe kit. The inside wipes clean the outside is durable and would wipe or wash clean and it has an easy closing top with a handle. I may just get another for the boy to use for school and when he loses it – I haven’t lost a small fortune!

I’ve also bought some silicon coated bags ‘Apollo II bags’. Now these aren’t properly waterproof although they will withstand a light shower and I would think they would sufficiently protect items stored inside them while they were inside a backpack which was getting rained on!. They don’t have the taped seams but water beads up and rolls off them much like your old kaghoul from primary school.

I thought these bags would be handy to use inside my backpack for items like food, bike fixing bits, first aid kit, toiletries and other odds and ends. So many times I had to rummage through my bag at the weekend looking for the allen keys only to find them right at the bottom and I thought if all those bits were stored in a single coloured bag I’d be able to lay my hands on them without delay.

The siliconised bags range from £1.25 to £2 but I bought a combo pack for £6.50 which gave me one of each size – total of four bags and a savings of £1.75 by not buying them separately.

To top it off I needed this stuff sent to me next day – They sent it, next day guaranteed delivery by 13:00hrs for well under a £5’er! Which tells me either I didn’t get shafted through the nose for P&P or someone at Alpkit is going to be in trouble for not charging me the right amount!

I know you must think I have shares in the company but I don’t and I don’t know the people who run it either. I’m quick to complain when stuff goes wrong so I like to let people know when I think something is good. This is a good company selling great stuff and really reasonable prices. There – sales pitch over, I’m now going to go back to trying to figure out what I can use a ‘Funky Dabber’ chalk bag for because they just look so cute.

Apollo II Siliconised Bags

Airlok XT Drybags

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Back Before Going Again

Brecon Beacons

Originally uploaded by Sam Jolly

Just back from a great weekend hanging out with Little Brother. As planned I drove over to Bristol on Thursday evening after work. It’s a couple of hundred miles from mine to my brother’s house and the trip took about four hours with a short stop on the way.

I arrived around 9pm after a briefly worrying tour around the not so savoury back end of Bristol via a route I’d never been before thanks to my Nokia Sat Nav. Once we’d unloaded the van of my bike and camping gear we wandered down the road to get some food at a little Turkish Cafe.

Due to a shitty weather forecast we’d decided that we would drive over to Brecon in Wales first thing in the morning, do our bike ride, camp and return early on Saturday before the forecast rain and wind hit full force.

The ride was ace. Started off with a long descent on a little gravel path called the Taff Trail which took us all the way into Talybont at the end of the reservoir virtually without pedalling. Here we stopped at The Star pub to eat lunch. Unfortunately The Star doesn’t have access to their garden via a gate but kindly allowed us to wheel our bikes through the pub, past the bar and up the narrow little staircase leading into the garden! This little trek was made doubly amusing on the return path when just as I wheeled the bike to the top of the steps holding it up on it’s back wheel a small boy opened the door. In his sudden surprise at coming face to face with a very tall bike he let out a rather amusing ‘yyyeeeep’ noise, to which I laughed loudly making him recoil backwards with embarrassment while holding the door for me.

We took off in the same direction from which we’d came only this time we took another route along the Brinore Tramroad. This bit was particularly good incorporating several miles of very rocky and challenging uphill with a stream running towards us in some parts. The trail ran alongside fields and through large wooded expanses on the side of the hill and when it did end on an open gravel fire road I think we had the impression that the hard part was done.

That’s when we were faced with the longest, steepest climb ever to the top of Talybont hills. And when we’d finished that climb and thought it couldn’t get any worse we then endured a couple of hours dragging our bikes through wet knee high grass, sheep shit ridden, peat and bog hilltops incorporating three peaks before finally reaching the point of descent. Unfortunately most of that descent was not rideable either due to the lack of a trail and the multitude of ‘over the handlebar’ inducing lumps and dips. However, arriving at the bottom and stepping onto the road was made sweet by a huge feeling of accomplishment.

And once again just as we thought we might be able to relax the realisation of not actually being able to get our bikes up the steep rocky walking trail to the potential wild camp spot we’d bargained on set in. It was hard enough climbing up the narrow steps alongside the waterfall without the bike, let alone with the bike, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and all. We had to re-think and come up with another place to camp. Easier said than done.

Wild camping kind of requires that you stay hidden, out of the way of the general public and out of view of houses/cars etc. Tenting in itself requires a semi dry/flat spot on which to pitch your tent and none of these things were becoming immediately available. Even after just over an hour of cycling around with knackered legs and beaten arses we couldn’t find a suitable spot.

Finally a flat spot amongst some longish grass just off the road presented itself. I paused on the track with my bike as my brother made his way across the patch to check it out. As he was looking back a large bird of prey flew down into the grass in ahead of him becoming completely out of sight. I shouted and warned him it was there to which he responded ‘what’s it gonna do? scratch my eyes out?’

‘No’, I replied.. ‘I just thought I’d warn you so it didn’t frighten you when it flies off’

And it was at that moment after making some clicking noises with the brake on his bike that Sam was confronted with the big ass bird rising out of the grass to fly off in the opposite direction. Sam turned back to look at me and pointed as if to say ‘THAT, would be the super large bird waiting to scare the shit out of me you mentioned’

Fifteen minutes later we still had no camping spot and it was starting to get dark. We ended up returning to a dense patch of woods at one of the starting points to the Taff Trail which we’d originally decided against because of the incline we’d have been pitched on. However, without anywhere else to go we pitched our tents in between the trees on the worst slope ever. But, it was out of sight, well sheltered (if you didn’t consider falling trees and branches) and not far to go in the morning to reach the car.

Whilst pitching the tents the damp air and our sweaty faces were attracting swarms of what seemed to be little fruit flies. Bitey little fruit flies. They zig-zagged above our heads and around our hands and legs persistently attempting to land and when they did it felt like sharp little pin pricks stabbing every centimeter of skin. The more we swatted at the flies the more arrived. My legs were under attack because I was wearing shorts and as I slid my sleeping bag into the tent through the smallest zip opening possible I looked over to watch my brother disolve into a fit of face slapping and irritated groaning as he became engulfed in a small cloud of these tiny little flies. I conceded defeat after a couple more minutes, even giving up on the idea of cooking anything to eat and ended up zipping myself up in the confines of my fly proof inner tent. For the next 15 minutes Sam could be heard a few feet away in his tent randomly clapping and then with his torch switched on he squished every last bug as it flew into the beam of light.

I didn’t sleep more than an hour combined. If I wasn’t fighting to stay in my sleeping bag which kept sliding down, I had trouble staying on the sleeping mat which stayed put while I ended up in a ball at the foot of the tent. I was cold to the bone. I had more clothes to put on but in my foggy overtired head the action of unzipping the sleeping bag to grab the even colder clothes out of my backpack was not computing as making the most sense and therefore, I continued to lay awake and freeze. It wasn’t until after 6am that I finally drifted off properly and began dreaming about a giant Emu pecking around my tent. I awoke a short while later to hear Sam up and about, zipping zips and moving his sleeping bag around.

So far it wasn’t raining but by the time we both got up, dressed and packed away a fine mist of rain was falling. We scooted down the road to the carpark where I felt relief to find my van still sporting a full tank of diesel and four wheels. I was also relieved to find my can of deodorant in the back and hastily sprayed some on while Sam scoffed that he was ‘pine fresh’ from having slept in the spooky woods.

I ate Couscous for breakfast and my brother had boiled beef stew and dumplings in a bag (looked as apertising as it sounds). He described it tasting like half time meat pies from the football stadium. We’d run out of water so we were boiling water from the stream which to my dismay housed tiny freshwater shrimps – How could I boil seamonkies alive?

Unfortunately I had to and so some of the seamonkies became part of my Moroccan Couscous meal while the rest were transported back to Bristol in my Hydration Pack where they became part of the city sewer system via the kitchen sink. I actually had a GUILT COMPLEX over this for more than a day.

Sunday morning arrived and so did the outcome of two nights ago spent smacking ourselves in the face during the invasion of the fruit flies. They hadn’t been fruit flies, they’d been midges. Those tiny six legged biting swarming buggers that I thought only lived in Scotland. My brothers face proved it as groups of little red bites became apparent all over his face, arms and hands. I’d woken earlier in the morning to very scratchy legs and found several bites around my ankes. By the end of the day Sam’s forehead looked like a terrain map of the alps with multiple bites following his hairline and even some in his hair. If you could read braile his forehead probably spells:

‘I went for a weekend in Wales and all I got were these lousy bites’

As far as visiting the Bristol Balloon Fiesta on Sunday went it was a wash out as rain and wind cancelled the balloonage. We took a short ride around Ashton Court and nearly took some photos of the dreary looking closed fairground rides but the rain started blowing in harder so we rode off and took shelter in a cafe in town. Little Brother bought me breakfast and we sat on the covered porch watching the rain and the world go by for a while.

I got back home in three hours and am now awaiting the influx of letters from the DVLA telling me about all the fines and points I’ve received from blasting through all the complicated average speed zones and speed cameras on the M25 and particularly the M25/M4 Junction.

I now have 2 days to get stuff washed, packed and organised ready to go to THE OUTER HEBRIDES. We’re leaving on Wednesday evening to begin the 12 hour drive to the top of the Isle of Skye where we’ll catch the ferry across to hopefully some kind weather (I realise it’s not going to be warm and trust me when I say I’ve double packed woolly tights and socks for sleeping in!) and a severe lack of people! Then let the fun and games begin.

Here are the rides we did tracked with my Nokia Sports Tracker – Unfortunately split into 2 due to battery failure on my mobile!

Comments (4) – Slim Airic Mat: How I Faired!'s - Slim Airic's - Slim Airic Slim Airic Sleeping Mat

The pair of sleeping mats I ordered from arrived on the second day after I ordered them. Wrapped well in minimal packaging I even found a handwritten note inside thanking me for my purchase. How’s that for a personal touch!

Alpkit even offer a special whereby if you buy one mat for £25 you can get a second for £7.50 less. We bought two mats and took them off this weekend for a trial run.

The Slim Airic measures 180 x 51.5 x 3mm – long enough to accomodate Wil who is 6’2″ and wide enough for my starfish sleeping antics.

The mats roll up fairly small to the width of the mat, 51.5 by about 10cm, that is, if you roll from the bottom squeezing the air out as you go and screwing the air valve at the top closed at the last second. The weight stated on the website is 743g.

We found if you roll the mat up once to expell the air and screw the valve closed you can then fold it in half lengthways and roll it to be around 25.5cm wide by 20cm. It still fits inside it’s carry sack which can be twisted and then pushed back over itself for transport. This worked well for me as it attached perfectly under my mountain bike seat with a bungee as you can see in the photo.

Although I’m not sure how good this will be for the mat if repeatedly folded in this way or stored like it for a long time. I imagine some breakdown of the material would occur at the fold.

Slim Airic Mat under my seat

Slim Airic Mat under my seat

The website says these are self inflating mats. I’ve never owned a sleeping mat before mainly because we’d usually drive somewhere which afforded the luxury of being able to take a heavy old battery operated self inflating air bed to put on the floor of the tent. On another occasion when I hiked around Pompeii, Italy I made use of an old blow up swimming pool air bed which was great until I camped at the base of Mount Vesuvius where volcanic rock took it’s toll and promptly burst it (in the middle of the night of course). I did the same in Morocco and on this occasion it was chilly on the night my mat deflated and I froze rapidly learning that all the heat your body possesses goes straight into the ground even if you are in a sleeping bag. So the sleeping mat and the self inflating function are new to me. I know when you unscrew the valve it sucks a load of air in and I guess then you have to blow into it a little bit to get it to your level of comfort.At least, that’s what I found I needed to do.

We put two mats into our two man tent and found because of the shape of our tent – being wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, the mats overlapped. The good bit was there wasn’t much space in the tent where one of us would end up laying directly on the ground sheet.

The first thing I noticed was how warm the mat was. So warm, that laying there with a thin technical shirt and thin running trousers I wasn’t able to use my Tescos sleeping bag right away! It wasn’t until I ended up breaking into a sweat which then got cold enough on my skin that I needed to pull the sleeping bag over. Bearing in mind that outside of our tent it’d been cold enough to require 2 thin shirts, a windbreaker and a fleece. I was impressed with how warm the mat kept that side of my body.

I slept comfortably on the mat all night and woke in the morning without any aches and pains you’d normally have if you’d hit the ground while sleeping.

We bought our mats in the Kelp (olive green) colour which is the darkest one they offer. Because we’d laid on our mats without any sleeping bag initially the transfer of oils/sweat from our faces and hands stained the mats really badly. On one patch on my mat you can actually make out the shape of my hands and all of my fingers which had been fanned out under my leg in one big grubby sweaty looking patch (and I can assure you I’m not a big grubby sweaty person!!) Looks rather disgusting and I’m not sure how well they clean or how to clean them. The Alpkit site could do with providing a bit more information on inflating these mats and the care/cleaning of them for the not so sleeping mat savvy amongst us! On that note I’d recommend getting the lightest colour available which hopefully won’t show up marks like the dark one does!

Good points:

Warm and comfortable
Great Price

Not so good:

Fabric covering easily stained
Lack of use/care/cleaning instructions

NOTE (06 AUG 08: Nick from Alpkit has kindly left a comment pointing the way to information on these Sleeping Mats which, as he states, does answer some of the problems I had. How good is I ask you?. Just pop over there and buy something just for the sake of it – go on!

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Wild Camping in Scotland

Camping in Scotland

I’ve got a big case of super itchy feet. No, I don’t mean a case of atheletes foot I’m talking about needing to get out into the open, ditch the job and housework for a bit and get away from it all.

With several successful camping/mountain biking trips to Scotland, the Peak District and Wales under our belt we’ve been scheming for some time about taking it up a notch and doing a fly/bike/camp trip to the Sierra Nevada range in Spain. Obviously without our usual accompaniment of the car we’ll have to travel lighter and smarter so we plan to give this a couple of trial runs during August.

First we’re going to buy a new lighter weight 2 man tent. Our existing tent, albeit fairly new and only used several times is very heavy with a medium sized porch on the front. Great when we drive somewhere and have the luxury of dragging it out of the back of the car but about 6kgs heavier than you need on your back while biking a sweet piece of singletrack.

We also need some sleeping mats since the mechanically self inflating airbed we usually drag along for comfort again would be akin to having Cameron piggyback us the entire journey. While searching around the net this morning I found who have an excellent site, well priced stuff and very favourable reviews around the net from users of their stuff. They have sleeping mats which will be just what we need and they offer a cheaper deal when you buy 2! What more could I ask for? Well, that they’re comfy to sleep on – so I’ll report back on that when I’ve tried and tested them.

Before Wil and I go away mid August, I’m off on a camping trip with my little brother. I think the plan is to head to the Brecon Beacons in Wales to check out a route with the potential for biking/hiking and wild camping. Although we’re driving to this area we’ll have some distance to go via bike/foot so I intend to pack as though I’d travelled there without the car. This is when I’ll be giving the new tent and sleeping mat the maiden voyage.

Mid August Wil and I are planning to bike the South Downs Way. Starting in Winchester and ending in Beachy Head where we’ll throw ourselves off the cliff. Yeah, not likely…if I make it the entire 100 miles in two days I shall be hanging around for many years to remind Cameron of that achievement when he’s a lazy teenager slobbed out on the sofa playing his 9th hour on the Xbox.. “In my day”….

If these trips go well, we’ll pick through the things we learnt and pack them in a small bag to try the Spain trip.

On the topic of camping, biking and walking and being environmentally friendly I’m pleased to report I have only used the car once in the last week when Cameron and I needed to go to the shop and had minimal time to get there and back, the rest of the time I’ve biked or scootered to where I needed to be. The new purchase of the Astravan (Arsetra) is proving to be a good trade for the 4×4 we had since at last check Wil said it’d done 500 miles to less than 3/4 of a tank of diesel. Numbers we like to hear.

If you haven’t ditched your car yet – what are you waiting for? If you work within 5 miles you really have no excuses not to try biking. Even if you only bike or walk to replace one potential car trip per week it’s making a small difference to the world and a great benefit for yourself and your ever expanding arse.

If I can’t convince you let the guys at try…

“Luckily we have a reasonably interesting trail to and from work at around 11km each way, mixing road, single track, up-hills and down-hills. With the majority of it avoiding the main roads, it was actually nice to leave the car keys at home and get the legs pumping. While it might not be as convenient and quick as the car, it certainly helps clear any cobwebs before or after work. It’s not always fun, if I’m tired, the weathers not so good, need to get home quickly or I have to carry lots of stuff, so I’ll still drive in sometimes, but the hard parts been done, breaking the self imposed reliance on the car”.

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