Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The first taste of Fuizion foods

When we went for our walk on Saturday we took some of the Fuizion Foods with us that I bought between Christmas and New Year. The service from them was brilliant even though the whole of the postal system was disrupted because of the bad weather.

I bought four or five different ones and on Saturday I just grabbed the one off the top of the bag. It turned out to be Kung Po Chicken with Noodles. I had high hopes that Fuizion Foods would be a cut above the usual freeze dried mush that you get in most camping meals.

The meals come in a silver pouch with instructions for rehydration in English and French.

The Fuizion Food packaging
The packaging seems quite sturdy and the whole thing is very lightweight. There is a notch in the top so that you can tear off the top strip and then peel apart the seal at the top. Basically all you do is add 310ml of boiling water, give it a good stir, seal up with the self sealing strip and leave for 10-12 minutes.

When you open up the package I have to admit that the dried contents don't look very appetising but don't let that put you off. I had measured the 310ml out before I went out and I knew that it was up to about 1cm from the top of my insulated camping mug so it was pretty easy to measure out and boil in the jetboil.

I added the boiling water to the pouch and gave it a good stir with my spork. You do need quite a long implement for this as the packaging is quite deep but more of that later. I then sealed it up or so I thought. When I went to wrap it in my scarf to keep it warm, I managed to squeeze some of the sauce out and all down my leg. Luckily I had my thick lined trousers on so no damage done.

10 minutes later I had made the coffee and opened the pouch up to see what had developed.

The pouch gets quite warm so would be great to keep your hands warm on a chilly day but not so warm that it can't be handled comfortably. The pouch material also softens quite a bit but it stays rigid enough to hold without it collapsing or wobbling.

The first thing to say is that it smelled great - just like a takeaway so that can't be half bad. The second thing to say is that the packaging is a bit of a pain. It's quite deep and so it's difficult to get at your food. I solved this problem by cutting the top off the pouch with my penknife (or rather Roy did it - I'm not to be trusted with the penknife since I sliced open my finger quite badly halfway up a mountain in Olympic National Park)

After that it was very easy to eat and really really good. It had texture, real taste and great big chunks of chicken that actually tasted like chicken and had the texture of chicken. The vegetables were actually crunchy - how do they do that??? and there was plenty of it. You could even recognise the individual vegetables - mange tout, carrots, baby sweetcorn (although I can do without the baby sweetcorn - it's the product of a twisted mind) We shared it for lunch but for me it would be a good portion for an evening meal after a days walking.

Apparently, the difference between Fuizion Foods and other manufacturers is that they freeze dry all of the ingredients individually and then mix them together ready to be rehydrated. Others make up the meal and then dry it and then break it up into chunks - hence the mush texture and lack of recognisable ingredients. I have now been corrected by Alison from Fuizion foods and I have got it totally wrong! They do in fact make the meal up and then freeze dry it - see comments below. Whatever they do - they do it well and I stand corrected.

Overall we were really impressed with our first Fuizion meal. I understand that they are proposing changes to the packaging to make it shallower and wider which would make it just about perfect. As for price - it's not cheap when you compare it to other camping foods but in this case you really do get what you pay for and if it gives you something to look forward to at the end of a long walk then it's worth every penny. I'll be trying out the other varieties soon so we'll see if they match up to the Kung Po chicken.

Monday, 24 January 2011

A whisky walk. Craigellachie - Aberlour - Dufftown - Craigellachie circular walk

Yesterday was a beautiful day and I planned all week so that I wouldn't have any work to do. I was even organised enough to get my rucksack sorted out on Friday night so the morning dithering was cut down. The walk was nearly eleven miles and takes in some of the most iconic malt whisky destinations in the world. I suppose to a certain extent I take the fact that I live slap bang in the middle of the highest concentration of malt whisky distilleries in the world for granted. It's a great walk for a whisky enthusiast and appropriately starts and finishes at our local - the Highlander Inn at Craigellachie.

The Highlander has an enormous whisky collection and is well worth a visit if you are passing through.

From here, the walk follows the Speyside Way 2 miles to Aberlour - home of Aberlour distillery. Again, well worth a visit but be warned that the chances of finishing the walk after a tour of the still are slim. The tour takes over two hours and finishes with 5 drams - it's a real education!

Macallan distillery in the middle ground

From Aberlour we headed up the hill and over what is locally known as The Gownie. This is an old Scottish Rights of Way route and is well signposted. You get some brilliant views back down the Spey Valley from here and across to Macallan distillery. The track takes you through some thickly populated spruce plantations and over into the next glen where you arrive in what many people regard as the malt whisky capital of the world.

Dufftown is home to too many distilleries to mention and is somewhat of a mecca for malt whisky fans. We are not particular fans of the most well known - Glenfiddich but what I will say is that it has a brilliant restaurant at the visitor centre and the ladies toilets there have to be seen to be believed.
Ladies loo at Glenfiddich
We rejoined what used to be a spur on the Speyside Way here and walked back to Craigellachie. It was a great day out and it just goes to prove that you don't have to go far to enjoy some great scenery and great walking.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Garmouth to Spey Bay on Sunday

Sunday was a lovely day so we took a jaunt down to Garmouth and crossed the viaduct to walk down to Spey Bay in the hopes that the cafe at the wildlife centre was open for a coffee and a gooey cake.
The Viaduct used to take the railway line across the Spey but is now used as a footapth and there were lots of families out on Sunday making the most of the watery sunshine.
On the Garmouth side of the Viaduct you pass the Garmouth golf club, unfortunately at the moment it's just one big water hazard. The snowmelt higher up along the route of the Spey from the Monadhliath mountains on down means that by the time the Spey nears the Moray Firth at this time of year it is much much wider than usual. It often floods here.

Garmouth golf club - underwater golf anyone?
The River Spey with Tugnet just visible on the horizon
When we got to Spey Bay the cafe was closed so we had a seat on the beach for a while and then came back. I suppose it must have been a couple of miles there and the same back so just enough to start those achey muscles from Saturday off aching again!

The first outing with the Pacerpoles

I finally managed to get out for a proper walk at the weekend - 2 walks in fact. On Saturday I took myself off up the Speyside Way a bit and then took a wee detour up to the top of Ben Aigan. I haven't been well for a few weeks with a nasty cough and just generally feeling under the weather and so I was getting cabin fever a bit because I hadn't been able to get out. Add to that the fact that I have been really busy with funerals and I was really quite stressed and in need of some fresh air and the great outdoors.

I wanted to get the pacerpoles out as well and see what they were like. I had some work to do first so after I'd got that out of the way I jumped in the car and parked at Boat O Brig. The weather had promised rain but it all seemed to have fallen earlier on Saturday morning so I never got a chance to try out my new waterproof trousers.

The River Spey at Boat O Brig from Bridgetown Farm
I set off and followed the Speyside Way signposts - really easy up past Bridgetown Farm. One of the things that fascinates me on my walks is all of the abandoned houses that I see. I always wonder to myself who was born and died there?...who was the last person to live there? Whose lives unfolded within their walls?  It is sad to see so many houses boarded up. There was a beautiful old farmhouse in the trees and just next door was a new house. I'm told by someone who knows that the new house was built because the old house would have cost too much to renovate - what a crying shame and how unenvironmentally friendly is that?

Old Bridgetown Farmhouse in the trees - sadly boarded up
The Speyside Way twists and turns a bit to skirt around the farm and for the first mile or so I was stopping every 10 minutes to adjust something: hat (on and off), gloves (thick and thin), pack (hitched up then loosened off) Jacket (zipped up, zipped open). I did not enjoy it at all, just couldn't get into any rhythm. I had been playing with the Pacerpoles in the house and had adjusted the length as specified. When I started using them they just didn't feel right and it was only after a wee while that I realised that  with my boots on I needed to lengthen them another couple of centimeters. Bingo - that made all the difference. They felt completely natural and the shaped handgrip fit perfectly. I felt like I was learning to walk all over again. My posture has never been great since I had an operation on my spine 11 years ago to remove a slipped disc that was compressing my spinal cord (ouch!) I have done lots of walking since of course but I can tell that my posture isn't great because of the way that my boots wear. Pacepoles demand that you stand straighter with your shoulders back and your hips forward - exactly what my physio whinges at me to do all the time. This new way of walking soon made it's presence felt because I could feel muscles in my neck and shoulders and muscles in both hips start to complain. I am well used to aches and pains after I walk but this was different and I'm positive it was the Pacerpoles that did it. This isn't a complaint - it's an acknowledgement that they do what they say. They encourage correct posture which must in turn be more efficient. By the end of 8 miles I was seriously aching but I'll persevere with them. They feel great and although I didn't do a huge amount of ascent and descent I can see that they are going to be worth every penny.

You may hear me talk about Ben Aigan a lot and the reason for that is that it's on my doorstep and it's easy to nip out for a couple of hours. There's a great view from the top and now that most of the ice has melted, it is easily accessible. The only thing that mars it is the same thing that mars so many of our lovely views, and that is the fact that the skyline is interrupted with wind turbines....don't get me started on the subject of wind turbines....

That's Ben Aigan peeking out of the cloud Nov 25th 2010 0650
I started out late and so time was marching on when I got to the top. It was also howling a gale so I about turned and headed for home. I stopped in the trees and found a handy log to sit on and have a brew.
Love my jetboil.....
The jetboil always goes with me and I have discovered Starbucks Via coffee. Now for the record I avoid Starbucks multi national, generic awfulness like the plague but I do love my coffee when I'm out and about. Via comes in tiny sachets and is a mixture of instant coffee and microground real coffee. It is absolutely delish and I wouldn't be without it. It's not cheap but so worth it!

Rothes from the trail to Ben Aigan summit

The darkness came down as I descended and so the headtorch came out and saw me home. I ached all over and there were times during the day that I really wanted to just turn around and go home. I felt so weak and I think I'm still feeling the after effects of being ill over the New Year. I kicked myself up the backside though and just got on with it - one foot in front of the other. If I'd turned around I'd have felt crap and beat myself up about it. Can't turn around when I'm on the Pennine way so best I just get on with it. A lesson learned for me! According to the Satmap the walk was about 7.5 miles so a good stretch of the legs.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Mike Lowson on the folly of the rise of wind turbines in the Press and Journal 5th January 2011

This is an extract from an article which appeared yesterday in our local newspaper the Press and Journal. It was entitled 'Heeding the lessons of history' I don't usually set a lot of store by the local rags but this is spot on. 

Over the past century, the world has regularly failed to heed what history and geography tell us about climate change, about the building of sprawling cities and towns, the spread of epidemics of all kinds, the destruction of natural resources and wildlife, breakdowns in society, or claims that new golf courses or concrete city squares will provide boundless benefits for all. Even worse is the unchecked rise in our world of I rather than we.

Travelling through vast tracts of upland Scotland this past week I saw numerous tangible examples of such folly. There is barely a vista now that is not polluted with hideous white whirling dervishes paying lip service to our failed energy policy. Often, they were inactive, impotently awaiting a calm winter’s day to break into a full gale. 

History and geography show that onshore wind turbines do not deliver the goods, despite the adoration of their advocates. They are inefficient and unpredictable and can’t meet the power needs of the communities they purport to serve, especially in calm weather. Other renewables such as tidal, geothermal and hydro do deliver predictable energy patterns. Offshore wind can play a part, too.
Tragically, further despicable desecration of our countryside is on the cards with the approval of the Dunmaglass windfarm in the Monadhliath hills, some 20 miles south of Inverness. It’s a dreadful decision bordering on the criminal and one that biologist David Bellamy said would “sell Scotland’s heritage for a mess of wattage”. 

We rarely learn our own lessons. While those who trumpet extensive investment in onshore wind simply tilt at windmills and ignore geographical realities, their madcap myopia means the rest of us face the lights going out and our countryside deteriorating.
When they do, the rest, as they say, is history.

Again, couldn't have put it better myself!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A poem by Norman Macdonald

At the risk of getting all philosophical I'd like to share one of my favourite poems which sums up beautifully my view of the world around us. Of course I can't argue with the sentiments of the third verse but the last one really does it for me.
Earth, sea and sky around us lie
And we their children are,

Our home the infinite universe

From star to farther star.
Fear not, then people of the world,
Though much is still concealed
Of all the wondrous secrets which
Have yet to be revealed.

Cast off the chains of ignorance
And superstition’s sway.
Let reason be the principle
That lights us on our way.
Strive, nations all, to understand
Each other’s hopes and fears,
And prove that friendship can dispel
The enmity of years.

Let race meet race on equal terms,
The greater help the small,
Their knowledge and their wisdom lend
For benefit of all.
Remember, man, the debt you owe
To all of womankind,
And seek not her to dominate
In body or in mind.

To nature’s verdant mantle pay
Respect and tender heed,
And try to heal the wounds of old
Inflicted by our greed.
Thus, led by hope, informed by truth,
The past we leave behind,
Discerning that tomorrow’s dawn
Is bright for human kind.

I definitely couldn't have put it better myself!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The folly of so called wind'farms' - a rant

First of all, let's get one thing straight: 

They are not 'farms' they are power stations (and notoriously inefficient ones at that).
It's just a marketing ploy on the part of the developers. The word farm conjures up visions for a lot of people of lovely fluffy animals and that romantic notion of a rural idyll with soft focus sunsets and fields of swaying golden barley. Of course most of us know that farms aren't really like that but that is undeniably the image that comes to mind for many people when we talk about the countryside. In my experience wind power stations are exactly the opposite. They cause irreparable damage to the land when the infrastructure to develop them is put in, they scar the landscape once they are in and the so called boost in employment is a joke. Many wind turbines are manufactured outside the UK and then shipped in. The construction work is often by non UK companies and once the rape of the land is complete the jobs are gone. The RES website (the company behind the latest proposed atrocity at Dunmaglass) is an absolute hoot to read. They talk about their 'heritage' - heritage my a**e. They've been around for 25 years. woohoo! Oh and they encourage their staff to cycle to work...woop di doo! sorry lapsing into a bitter tirade now - must try to keep a balanced perspective.

The people who work farms are stewards of the countryside and we rely largely on them to look after the land so that it can provide sustenance for us and for future generations. When I say sustenance I mean food of course in it's most basic form of the stuff we put on our plate. I also mean food for what some might loosely call our 'soul'. Now, I'm an atheist and so the concept of a soul doesn't really sit well with me but there is no denying that something wells up from deep inside of us when we stand on the summit of a mountain or catch a glimpse of a deer/otter/eagle/osprey/hare (delete as applicable) and sit transfixed for a while in awe of what we are witnessing.

The view from Stac Pollaidh

We all lead busy lives with mounting pressure from all directions, the incidence of depressive illness is on the rise and places where we can go to escape are becoming more and more scarce. A long time ago doctors realised that depressive illness could be treated with exercise which released feel good endorphins into the system. It is my belief that escaping into our wild land does the same thing: it enables us to regress from the technology obsessed, acquisitive, cotton wool wrapped human beings that we've become back to a more primitive entity whose basic needs are just food and shelter and in so doing we shed many of the stresses and strains that 21st century life saddles us with. How else can you explain coming back from a couple of days walking in the hills in crap weather feeling refreshed and raring to go?

The siting of these power stations is just a knee jerk reaction to the global problem of increased energy demand. Quick - we'd better do something - anything so that we look like we care and aren't standing idly by. The science doesn't even stack up! If the powers that be proposed building any other power station in an unspoilt area of wild land and said when they built it that it would only work at 30% of it's theoretical output (their figure not mine) what would we say? We'd say what we're saying now - don't do it - it's not worth it.

In years to come our children and our childrens children will look at the remains of wind turbines decaying on our hills and ask themselves 'what were they thinking???'

Suie in Glenlivet - plans for a power station near here too!

Now I know that you may be thinking here but what is the alternative? I don't have the answers but I know that this isn't it. I am keenly interested in environmental concerns, I have a wood pellet boiler in my house, I have solar panels to heat my hot water but I'm also practical. I have a 4x4 because I have to. If I didn't I would have been snowed in for several weeks and in my job I have to be able to get out. I can't say to a family for whom I am conducting the funeral of a loved one - sorry I'm snowed in, we'll bury him/her next week instead!

The government should be placing far more emphasis on getting people to reduce energy usage (anyone remember the power cuts of the seventies and the campaign to switch off lights etc) but I confess that when I look at the emerging nations like China and India and their destinies as consumer societies just like us I despair and the phrase pi**ing in the wind comes into my head!

Rant over now - there are better people than me who are gearing up for protest - not just about Dunmaglass but about the destruction of wild land everywhere in the name of energy security. Check out Alan Sloman's blog http://alansloman.blogspot.com/2011/01/bones-of-protest.html