Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Pacerpoles ordered & Fuizion food ordered

Ordered my Pacerpoles yesterday - can't wait to get them and try them out. The trails are all very icy round about but a couple more days of thaw should make them a bit more manageable.

I've ordered some freeze dried food from Fuizion just to see what it's like. My fellow blogger and tweeter @terrybnd recommends it so I'll have a try. The best freeze dried food I've ever had so far comes from Enertia Trail Foods in the good old US of A but it's impossible to get here. They have kindly said that they will send me some for the walk but I'm intrigued to see if the Fuizion stuff is as good. From what they say on their website they certainly have the right approach. I know from experience that there is nothing like the prospect of a half decent meal at the end of the day to keep you going on the trail. If they taste half as good as they look I'll be impressed

Fuizion Kung Po Chicken with Noodles
I'm so looking forward to starting all of the actual planning and itinerary....roll on New Year

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gear for my walk

Now that 2011 is just around the corner and I have some money to spend, I've started to think a bit more about what I'll take with me on my walk. I've already got a lot of stuff but I want to refine my kit a bit to improve comfort and effectiveness and reduce weight where possible.

There are lots of hikers out there who go to the extremes to reduce weight and do things like cutting the handle off their toothbrushes. Sounds daft but if it reduces the weight by half that's not bad. If you could do that with everything it would make a heck of a difference. I'm not that desperate although I do want to reduce weight where I can. Here is a basic list of what I'll be taking with me:
  • Rucksack - Golite Jam2. I wore out my last Golite pack and loved it to bits. They are very light and very strong and if I'm honest I probably loaded far more than was recommended into my last one which was why it started to fall apart. I know that not everyone gets on with Golite because of the lack of frame and padding on the hipbelt but I've always found them very comfy. Let's face it though - I've got a fair bit of padding of my own so maybe by the time July comes and I've lost some weight I may change my mind.

    • Tent - Vango Apex200 as detailed in previous blog
    • Sleeping bag - Mountain Equipment Dewline - this is the sleeping bag that I bought for walking the John Muir trail several years ago. It is a down bag and only weighs 650 grams. They save weight by not having a zip and not having any down filling on the underside. After all, if you are lying on down you are compressing it and so it's useless for insulation. The bag is slightly elasticated on the top to keep it close to your body and avoid cold spots. It is rated to minus 5 degrees and so should see me comfortably through my walk. I always tend to sleep cold and I generally use a silk liner with it but probably won't bother with that this time. I am trying to get out of the habit of taking stuff 'just in case'!
    • Mattress - thermarest self inflating. I am never comfortable sleeping in a tent but the thermarest makes it at least bearable. I have two - a full length one and a three quarter length one which is thicker and so probably weighs about the same as the full length one (around 950grams) I also use it for padding my backpack - of which more later!
    • Stove - Jetboil. Again, over the years we have acquired and tried out several different kinds from gas canisters to white gas to fuel tablets. I like the jetboil because it's easy to light, reliable, compact and relatively lightweight.

      • Food - Whenever we are in the states, we try to stock up of food from a company called Trailfoods. They make the best and most easily prepared backpacking food that we have ever tried. They don't export to the UK yet but when I contacted them they kindly said that they would send me some over for the walk. Now that's what I call service!
      • GPS unit - we have between us (I bought it for Roy but I use it more than him) a Satmap Active 10 GPS. It is the rolls royce of GPS units with a price tag to match but the beauty is that it uses ordnance survey mapping so the maps are very familiar. I can't say that I've mastered it but every time I go out I practice and learn a little more. It is a bit like the controls of the starship enterprise but I will get there. After all it's no use taking it if I don't know how to use it properly. I have bought the mapcard that has the entire Pennine Way on it at 1:25000 so am going to have to think hard about what actual paper maps to take with me. I can't imagine setting off without an OS map in my pocket so we'll see.
      Satmap Active 10 GPS
      The fabulous thing about Satmap is that they are a very customer oriented company and are extremely helpful with any queries. I had a problem downloading and installing an upgrade to the Satmap software and they worked with me step by step to help me fix the problem. the problem wasn't even theirs, it was with the Windows setup on my laptop. They would have been quite within their rights to say 'get microsoft to sort it out' but no - Ben Randall from their IT department corresponded with me over several weeks to help me sort it out. Now that's what I call above an beyond the call of duty. I can't praise Satmap highly enough.
      • Pillow - I am on a continual quest for the perfect camping pillow. I absolutely have to have a pillow if I want to get any sleep at all but have never found anything that really works. I've tried stuffing clothes in a stuff sack but that only works if you aren't wearing all of them cos you're cold. I've tried inflatable ones but they are often quite heavy, quite rigid and prone to leaks. I've tried so called packable pillows but they aren't packable enough and are quite big.Today I was perusing the REI website as I always find that the Americans are way ahead of us when it comes to backpacking and I found a pillow that everyone raves about. It's called the Exped air pillow and it's inflatable but it looks as if it might do the job. Well designed and sturdy but only weighs 85 grams. It's on my shopping list.
      Exped Air Pillow
      •  Hiking poles - I've always used walking poles because of the extra stability they give - I find it a bit like the difference between having an ordinary car and a 4 wheel drive. I can't imagine not having poles with me but mine were quite cheap when I bought them 10 years ago and so I thought that I would get some new ones. I read a review that Chris Townsend had written about a new design called PacerPoles and took a look. They have shaped handles and you use them in a slightly different action to ordinary poles. 
      PacerPoles unique handgrip design
      Frankly - if they're good enough for Chris Townsend and Cameron McNeish, then they're good enough for me. They're on my shopping list.
      • Clothes - I tend to prefer natural fabrics like merino wool and so Icebreaker garments are top of my list. I'll be acquiring some more of these. They have the added advantage of not smelling after several days on the trail
      • Headtorch - petzl. Indispensable. How did I ever manage without one???
      • First aid kit - just the basics really as I'll never be that far from civilisation
      • Emergency kit - I always carry a space blanket, a whistle, spare headtorch battery and some other bits and pieces that I don't like to be without like thermarest repair patches.
      • Compass
      • Platypus water bladder - just love these and the way that the drinking tube is always there just ready to be slurped on. If I had a water bottle I know I wouldn't stop often enough and so I'd dehydrate really quickly.
      • Water filter - we have a filter that we bought in the states that works perfectly well but it is reasonably bulky so I've looked for something else (I wouldn't contemplate purification tablets - yuck) I follow Terrybnd on twitter and he found an inline filter that fits into your platypus hose and you suck water through it. Great idea. Light, small, effective and not ridiculously expensive. It's called the Drinksafe Aquagard Inline Hydration Filter 

      Of course there'll be other stuff to take as well and I'll have to try really hard to avoid taking the kitchen sink with me too but as I complete my training walks I'll refine my kit and decide what I can do without. Can't wait to get going - wish the weather was on the John Muir Trail

      Me on the descent from Donoghue pass from Yosemite into the Ansel Adams Wildernes

        A snowy Christmas day

        Yesterday - christmas day we went for a lovely walk to a nearby loch called Fairy Glen. There was a lot of snow of course but we wanted to see how many trees had been cleared from around the loch. It was a glorious day and the sky was that deep deep cerulean blue that you only get on a very cold day at this time of year. We took some coffee with us and stopped at the cabin on the loch that belongs to a friend. It was all locked up of course but what a great place to have. The loch was formed to provide water for Coleburn distillery many moons ago. Nowadays Coleburn is closed and the loch is a peaceful haven.

        Of course the loch was frozen over and there were lots of animal tracks about in the snow. We have been up there lots of times and seen deer and rabbits and red squirrels so there is a lot of wildlife about. People often walk their dogs up there too so doggy footprints are everywhere. When we got near the loch, we found a bit that wasn't frozen over near the edge and there were a lot of tracks on the shoreline along with a pile of gunge that looked like slimy vomit. On closer inspection it had fishy scales and body parts in it so it was the remains of somethings lunch!

        Five toes - our guess is an otter

        We know that there are otters near us because we sadly found one on the verge at the bottom of our driveway last year. It had been hit by a car. It had never occurred to us that Fairy Glen would be a great place for them to live but it's obvious when you think about it. There is a burn running in at one end and out at the other. There are plenty of fish about and it is extremely quiet (except when they are cutting trees down). I took some pictures of the tracks and at first I thought that they were doggy footprints but when I enhanced the contrast I saw that they had five toes and dogs have only four. They could possibly be badger tracks but given the location and the fishy remains I am inclined to believe that they are otter tracks. If the weather holds out I may take another trip up there and go well equipped for an otter spotting expedition.

        We spotted some more weird things on the way back. The snow was falling off the tree branches and rolling down the steep bank towards the track. As it rolled, it gathered more snow in a beautiful natural spiral snowball. The weather conditions must have been just right and these little snow spirals were everywhere. Some were four or five inches across but most were much smaller. They left delicate tracks on the slope where they had rolled - extraordinary!

        A beautiful natural snowy spiral
        Nature can create much more beautiful structures than man can't it?

        Sunday, 19 December 2010

        And still it snows.....

        When I said in my last post that I hoped the snow bypasses us this time I was of course totally wrong. we've had another six inches so far and now it is absolutely dinging it down outside. It was forecast of course and it is winter so I don't know why we're all surprised!

        Hopefully the roads will be OK tomorrow as I have to go to Inverness to do a funeral. I only have to drive as far as Forres and then I'll get a lift with the funeral director in the hearse but hearses are not reknowned for their handling in the snow so we'll see how it goes.

        One of my colleagues who lives in Thurso had to come down to Inverness last week for a funeral. She left Thurso at 8am and didn't get home until 7pm and that was with an ex police driver at the wheel driving in near white out conditions. Now that's what I call dedication!

        Thursday, 16 December 2010

        The snow is back.....

        Not done a lot of blogging about walking I know but after a big thaw in which most of the 2-3 feet of snow that we had had melted, the snow is back but thankfully not with quite such a vengeance. So far it's just a sprinkle so let's hope it bypasses us this time.

        I feel guilty that I haven't managed to get out and keep up the fitness that I was beginning to build, but in my defence, just getting out of the driveway has been a challenge so the thought of getting out into the hills was a bit of a non starter! Yes I know I'm a fair weather walker....

        I've also been feeling a bit crap with a nasty cough and a croaky voice. Given that I've got a funeral to do next Monday, I'm trying to rest my voice and take care of myself.

        I've used the time to get on with the myriad cakes that I've got on order for Christmas so am on schedule for delivering them all next week. I particularly like my wee snowmen!

        Just the finishing touches to do on these cakes but another one to marzipan and ice, one to bake and ice, mince pies and Christmas cupcakes to make as well as several gingerbread cookie christmas trees....not bad for somebody who doesn't celebrate Christmas!

        Monday, 29 November 2010

        Practically snowbound

        The snow keeps on falling so I've decided to make the most of the time indoors and start work on decorating some of the Christmas cakes that I've got on order. I've wanted to try this Lorraine McKay design for ages but I suppose I was worried that it would be difficult. How wrong I was - easy peasy. Thanks Lorraine - you are so talented that I'll have a go at some more of your projects now.

        Sunday, 28 November 2010

        Deja vu

        And still it snows. Another few inches overnight and the weight of the snow took some tree branches down onto the power lines in the night so we woke up to no power. It was exactly the same power lines that came down earlier this year. To give the Hydro credit they were here really quickly and had it fixed by half past three.

        Our lovely neighbours came down with their kids and one of their tenants this afternoon to clear the end of the track which goes in front of our house up to their house. Many hands made light work and they managed to do a great job so that they can get their cars off the main road. We had to dig the driveway out again but I think if we keep on top of it we should be able to keep the driveway open. It is still snowing as we speak...aaarghhhh :(

        The best laid plans...

        A snowy Speyside sunrise
        OK so the weekend isn't going quite to plan. Roy's visitors were coming by private jet from Germany but couldn't land because Inverness airport was closed due to snow. Roy had battled to get there to pick them up only to be told that they had had to divert to Islay.

        I spent the whole day shovelling snow so that we could get in and out of the house and have somewhere to park as well. As soon as I cleared to the end of the driveway the b***dy snowplough came along and piled it all up again - more than once. It has snowed on and off all day and added another foot to the snow we had yesterday. The drifts are waist deep. I'm seriously thinking about getting some snowshoes or just emigrating.

        There's some patio furniture under here somewhere
        Needless to say there won't be any walking getting done anytime soon but I must have burned thousands of calories today and used muscles I didn't know I had. It's still snowing so I'll probably have to go and do it all again tomorrow. Yes it's pretty but only when you don't have to go anywhere and people aren't relying on you.

        At least it gives me time to be baking all of the Christmas cakes that I've got orders for and experimenting with some great designs by the incredibly talented Lorraine McKay. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

        Thursday, 25 November 2010

        The arrival of winter - brrrrr

        Winter arrived on Tuesday night and I'm already fed up with it. It's OK if you don't have to go anywhere but if you absolutely do it's a bit like mounting a military operation to prepare for all eventualities. Obviously I was never a boy scout (or even a brownie) but I reckon they knew what they were talking about with that motto of theirs.

        Hopefully we'll be able to get out and about this weekend even if just for a wee jaunt so let's hope that the snow has done its worst for now.

        Friday, 12 November 2010

        Walking gear

        I'm thinking long and hard about the stuff that I'll take with me on the walk. I did think originally about staying at hostels and bed and breakfasts all the way but when I added up how much it would cost I decided against it. It's the single supplement that adds up and the fact that you are absolutely tied to staying at A, B and C means that there's no flexibility in your day. So some nights I'll YHA it and some nights I'll B&B it. Some nights I'll camp, either at proper campsites or wild camp in the hills. It makes sense because I've already got all of the gear except for a tent which is big enough for me and my gear but light enough for me to carry. We've got several tents: a massive one that we use when we go car camping, a middle sized one that we found on the beach at Culbin sands (long story...) and a lightweight one that we use when we go hiking and wild camping. The lightest one is a fabulous tent from a great company called Lightwave and we love it because it has a huge vestibule which is great for storing your gear and cooking in if the weather is crap. We took it when we walked the John Muir trail in the Sierra Nevada a couple of years ago and it didn't let us down. This is it pitched on the then unfinished campsite opposite the Fuaran Bar at Altandhu in August this year.

        The campsite at Altandhu will be great when it's finished, the only problem with it is the midges. When we were there in August it was absolutely miserable. I can't begin to describe the abject misery of trying to pitch a tent and then cook a meal when there are literally millions of midges trying to get in your eyes, your ears, your nose, every exposed nook and cranny of your body. I can't understand what on earth we were thinking - camping on the west coast in August???? Doh!

        Anyway, this tent is great if it's divided between two people carrying it but it is also quite awkward getting in and out of it because it's quite low. That meant that I had to look for a new one that wasn't going to cost the earth. I looked around and found the Vango Apex 200. It's marketed as a 2 man tent and it weighs 1500grams. I like it particularly because of the shape and the fact that it has a big opening door that would be easy to get in and out of when the muscles are aching. A lot of the lightweight tents that I looked at were long and low and I discounted them because I get a bit claustrophobic and didn't fancy having the tent fabric so close to my face. I like to be able to sit up at least and am willing to carrying some extra weight so that I can be comfortable.

        Vango Apex 200

        I found a practically new one on Ebay and won it. It has a wee vestibule at the front but I have to say that it would be very snug inside for 2 people. For me on my own with my boots, stove etc etc, it's perfect. I haven't had the chance to spend the night in it yet so we'll wait and see but I hope it will be just the job.

        Monday, 8 November 2010

        Feels like winter

        Was certainly glad of those fleecy lined trousers today. Had a quick dash up to the mast at Knockmore and back. Got to the top, took the wee stove out to make coffee and the darned thing lit and then died. There was gas in it but not loads and it was so cold that it wasn't co-operating. Nothing for it but to have half a bounty bar and walk down the mountain bike trail and back to the car. Great to be out - always cheers me up if I'm feeling a bit low. There is definitely something to this Seasonal Affective Disorder thing. Think I might get one of those special lights that you switch on in the evening.

        Finally feel that I'm getting to grips with the super sophisticated Satmap GPS. Great piece of kit if you're an astrophysicist but it's taking me a bit longer to work it all out!

        Friday, 5 November 2010

        Breakthrough Breast Cancer

        I've created a page at Just Giving for sponsors to donate money. You'll see a link to it on the right hand side. Please give whatever you can. Although I hate to steal a catchphrase - every little really does help.

        The aim is to raise £2680 - £10 for every mile I walk. Of course you may want to wait until I've done my walk before you donate - after all what if I don't finish it??

        Well I can assure you that I will finish it, even if I have to do it on my hands and knees! Why not donate half now and half when I've finished, that way it gives me even more of an incentive to keep putting one foot in front of the other when all I want is a hot bath and a gin and tonic!
        These are the boots that I've worn out over the past few years
        I'll be doing more fundraising through the year including one of my famous bakesales and raffles so check back often to see how it is going!

        Tuesday, 2 November 2010

        Topping out at the mill

        Yesterday we were invited to the topping out ceremony at Knockando Woolmill. It marked the completion of the first phase of restoration works after a 10 year campaign by a very dedicated group of people headed by chairwoman Jana Hutt. The mill is one of the few surviving buildings of its kind in Scotland and was close to falling down completely. Hard work and sheer bloody mindedness managed to raise over £3 million and work started earlier this year. The Conservation training workshop is now finished and the machinery from the mill has been dismantled and decanted into the new building ready to be conserved and reassembled.
        Inside the new conservation training workshop
        The next stage is the careful conservation and stabilisation of the mill buildings, ready for the machinery to be re-installed and for the whole thing to be reopened in 2012. There will be a small visitor centre, a training scheme for a new generation of craftspeople to learn all of the skills involved with producing woollen cloth from fleece to finished product and a commercial weaving workshop to generate income. This includes of course all of the engineering expertise necessary to keep the machinery working. Quite a feat considering some of it is well over 100 years old!

        Much of the machinery originated in the north west of England
        It was a great landmark celebration, marred only for us by the fact that my car broke down and died on the way and had to be recovered home. It's now headed to Inverness for major surgery..oh and I'm suffering with a major bout of acute sinusitis so feeling pretty miserable aaaghhh poor me!

        Sunday, 31 October 2010

        A beautiful autumn day

        The extra hour in bed today was very welcome but it marks the beginning of much shorter days and the onset of winter. I hope that this winter is nothing like the last two when we were practically housebound for days on end because of the sheer volume of snow.
        Snowy seat on the deck Jan 2010
        Don't get me wrong, I love winter and snowy scenes as much as the next person but months on end of thigh deep snow is just too much to put up with especially when you absolutely have to do your best to get to work. Luckily, the day that the snow started last year I took ownership of my 4x4. I put it straight into 4x4 mode and it stayed that way until mid March. Even after that there were still days when I had to switch it back to 4x4 as the snow returned with a vengeance.

        Today was a lovely crisp sunny autumn day though - one of my favourite times of year. The midges have all died until the spring, the views are spectacular because the leaves are mostly gone from the trees and the skies seem to be a very unique colour of blue. Because we slept late, we decided to do a short walk along the Tomintoul spur of the Speyside Way. The whole spur is 15 miles from Cragganmore to Tomintoul, but by driving a short way up and parking at Auldich, you can cut out a couple of miles of very tedious road walking. The route follows a track at the beginning and climbs steadily around the side of Cairnacay before dropping down into Glenlivet. We walked to Glenlivet and then turned and came back again the same way. It was a bit dubby at times and there was a chilly breeze but all in all it was a glorious day. For the first time since I bought them I wore my Craghoppers fleecy lined trousers. They were a bit warm for the walk up the hill but I was glad of them when we stopped for lunch so I can see that they will get more use as I'm going to try to keep up my walking for as long as I can weather permitting. The Tomintoul spur isn't a bit of the Speyside Way that I've done before and it gave a completely different view of Ben Rinnes - a hill which I've climbed many times.
        Ben Rinnes from Cairnacay

        On the way back to the car we wandered along the route of the old road and crossed the old bridge which definitely isn't long for this world!
        Put politely - the bridge is bu**ered....
        Glenlivet is one of my favourite places and I look forward to walking the whole Tomintoul spur soon.

        Friday, 22 October 2010

        In training

        A dull and dismal day here in Elgin today. I was going to go for a walk but decided to go to the gym instead. I've been going on and off all year but now I need to step it up a bit and make it a regular thing especially when the good old Scottish weather puts paid to walks in the hills.

        Fitness will obviously be an issue for the walk but I don't think that you have to be some kind of super athlete to finish it. When I started to research it I read a story about a walker who was blind and completed it with his guide dog and also about a 10 year old girl who completed it with hyer parents. I thought to myself 'if they can do it I'm darned sure that I can!'. 

        Along with physical fitness I think it's important to think about mental fitness as well. It's all very well being as fit and as strong can be if your head isn't in the right place. You've got to believe that you will finish it and realise that there will be moments or even whole days where you think 'what the heck am I doing here....? If you are on your own, this becomes much more of an issue - there is nobody to spur you on, nobody to have a good whinge at when the rain is leaking down the back of your neck and you've taken a wrong turn adding a couple of miles to your day. The only motivation is what's in your head and it's down to you to have a wee word with yourself and plod ever onwards. Although I don't plan to have any rest days, there are a couple of short days to look forward to and knowing that a hot shower and a night at a bed and breakfast or a youth hostel is in prospect won't half spur me on. A friend who I used to walk with many years ago used to navigate the Yorkshire Dales by the pubs en route and he used to swear that he could 'smell the barmaids apron'. The prospect of a pint had a marvellous effect on the energy levels at the end of a long day.

        Suie in the Ladder Hills, Glenlivet

        Proposed schedule

        The average number of days to complete the Pennine Way is apparently 16. I propose doing it in 18 and I have absolutely no flexibility in this schedule because I have committed to doing a wedding on 2nd July and another on 23rd July. I relish a challenge and there is nothing like a deadline to concentrate the mind and spur me on.

        At the moment, the plan is to do the walk mostly on my own but to be joined for some stretches by family members for some company and moral support. My partner Roy hopes to be able to join me for the last few days and to help me celebrate my arrival at Kirk Yetholm.

        I will have all of my camping gear with me and some nights I'll camp and some nights I'll stay at youth hostels or bed and breakfasts. Having the camping gear means that I can be flexible and if I get on particularly well one day, I'm not tied to staying in a town or village. I can just plod on and wild camp somewhere.

        I chose to walk in July for several reasons. Firstly, there is the possibility of some good weather then, secondly, the hours of daylight mean that I have the longest possible walking days and thirdly, I looked at my 2011 wedding schedule and found that it was the only time that I could fit a three week break in in between weddings!

        Thursday, 21 October 2010

        Why walk the Pennine Way I hear you ask...

        Me on top of Stac Pollaidh in Assynt
        The idea of walking the Pennine Way formed in response to my nephew Peter's fabulous fundraising cycle ride from London to Paris to raise money for The Christie in Manchester. My sister Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2008. She was treated at The Christie during 2008, 2009 and 2010 but she lost her brave fight against this terrible disease on October 16th 2010.

        Jane lived in Stockport, Cheshire and I live near Elgin, Moray in the Northeast of Scotland and so the distance between us meant that I couldn't support her as much as I would have liked. My family were a tower of strength to her but I wanted to do something to help. Peter raised nearly £3000 and that inspired me to decide to walk the Pennine Way next year and raise money which will be divided between St Ann's Hospice in Manchester and The Friends of the Oaks in Elgin.

        Peter in Paris after his marathon bike ride


        For anyone who isn't familiar with The Pennine Way, it was Britains first long distance footpath and it runs for 268 miles. The Pennine Way appealed to me for many reasons.
        • It is as old as I am, having been opened just a month after I was born in 1965.
        • It runs from Edale which is just a few miles from where my sister lived to the Scottish border - symbolically linking us both.
        • It is in England and so is not plagued with the dreaded Scottish Midgies (or at least not to the same extent as the Highlands where they can make being outdoors for even a short while an absolute misery between May and September)
        I had originally hoped that Jane would be able to wave me off in Edale on her birthday which was 5th July. Sadly that isn't to be and so my walk will now start at around 2pm on Sunday 3rd July and finish on 21st July - 18 days later.

        I'm already in training, but I hope to blog about my progress in the months leading up to the walk, what kind of kit I'll be taking with me and anything else that takes my fancy.

        Watch this space for links to my Just Giving sites and news about how I get on building up my fitness.