Sunday, 29 September 2013

Scotland blogs (part one)

Scotland blogs Part One, New Equipment

          As I said at the end of the last blog I have spent the week in Scotland where I did a little bit of walking and had a taster session of ice climbing, but more on this at a later date. I mentioned in a previous blog the need for good boots and as the boot I had have started giving me blisters (see Mersea walk blog) I needed to get some new ones, having had my feet properly measured, which I thoroughly recommend (not just length but width and a couple of other measurements too) I knew that I had `C` width feet, which is quite narrow and that I had a problem with my right foot which is why I use superfeet, so I needed to buy a boot that was narrow but would also take the superfeet insole comfortably and I knew just the boot that would fit the bill, the Asolo Flames(r), I`ve known about these boots for quite some time and have wanted a pair since I first tried them on many years ago but since the boots I had were still serving me well I didn`t really have any excuse to get a new pair, until Mersea.
          Being an Italian brand it comes as no surprise that Asolo(r) are on the narrow side when it comes to boot making, this does mean for me that the boots are a much better fit and more comfortable straight away, the one thing I did have a little trouble with was the top sets of eyelets digging into my ankle but after a few hours this soon disappeared, the only other issue I have encountered so far is one that we all encounter when going from old boots to new and that is the relative rigidity around the foot.

          The sole unit of the boot uses a matrix rubber compound but does incorporate something called the "Asobrake"(r) which is essentially a big rubber lug protruding from the back of the arch support whether this works remains to be seen, the sole unit itself is reasonably rigid and fairly thick meaning these boots should give a long service life.

          Being made of fabric these boots are not naturally waterproof (not always a bad thing) and so have a Gore-Tex(r) lining which should cope with any amount of water thrown at it...until I step in something deeper than the boot.
          The other thing that really makes these boots stand out for me is the locking eyelet, these have started being incorporated on a lot of boots but the ones on the Flames are the only ones I have so far found that actually hold the lace in the same place for the whole day, this means that the boots can be tied tight around the foot have the laces locked in that position and have a little more flex around the ankle if needed. I`m hoping these new boots will last longer than the last boot I bought and seeing they lasted five years these new boots do have strong competition. (I still have my old boots as there is still some wear left in them and as I mentioned I do have hoarding tendencies)

          The other piece of equipment I bought although not as vital as a new pair of boots was still dictated by the end of life of another piece of equipment and that was a new sleeping mat, a few weeks ago I went to a festival and took my old self inflating mat, this mat has served me well in the past and I thought it would continue to do so but unfortunately that wasn`t to be, due to what I assume to be the valve leaking, air was slowly forced out under pressure during the night and I ended up with the worst dead leg from laying on my side all night and not being able to work my leg properly for about 15 minutes after waking up, I`m sure there`s a medical term for this but I don`t know it, I ditched the mat at the end of the festival and started looking for its replacement, it came in the form of the Multi mat(r) Superlite air, this has got to be one of the most remarkable pieces of equipment I have come across, the Superlite Air is a full length airbed that weighs just 300 grams and packs down to the size of about 2 tin cans.

 when fully inflated the 6 cells  give approximately 6 cm of lift, the material used in the construction of the airbed at first feels very light and flimsy but no matter how much I wriggled about and changed position the Superlite air showed no sign of bursting or even deflating, of course with trapped air being a good insulator underneath me combined with a three season sleeping bag and a one person tent led to me becoming too hot during the nights, as with virtually everything in the outdoors there are downsides to equipment and the superlite air does not escape this, the amount of lift created by the airbed meant that no matter how much I adjusted the inner tent my head was still touching it, this was however a minor inconvenience, the biggest disadvantages to the superlite air is the narrowness of the design.

          When lying on my back my arms were off the sides of the bed which for myself wouldn`t be too much of problem as I sleep on my side but for those people that sleep on their backs this may become too much to bear, the other problem with the Superlite air is psychological, I found the first night I used it I was constantly worried about the thing bursting but as I mentioned above this didn`t happen even with 92kg on it (not sure what that is in pounds) obviously this didn`t help with getting a good nights sleep.

          This new equipment will obviously take a little bit of getting use to but should last a fair amount of time before needing replacement.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

Basic wild foods

Some Basic Wild Foods

          So the nights have finally started drawing in and the days have a definite chill in the air, at least in the northern hemisphere, but before you all start reaching for the blankets and hot soup and resign the autumn and winter to the hardcore mountaineers there are still things to be done and found, this time of year is when some of the easiest wild food comes out.
          Although I will show some of these wild foods it is always best to go with an expert to find wild foods, especially mushrooms and remember to stick to the law when collecting any wild food.

          One of the easiest wild foods to identify is the blackberry, not the mobile phone, where I live there are huge blackberry bushes all over the place with hordes of people raking the berries off, these berries can be eaten as they are or more commonly mixed with apples and baked into a pie, I personally think that everyone should try blackberry picking at least once, trying to convince kids that they are perfectly safe despite not coming from a supermarket is a much harder matter however...that`s for another blog though

          Elderberries are still in season although care must be taken as there are many varieties some of which if uncooked are toxic, easily recognisable these berries have many uses including wines, cordial and marmalades, there are also many folklores surrounding the elderberry, most people will be familiar with this fruit due to the wood being mentioned in a series of books featuring a certain boy wizard or though a liqueur flavoured with berry which also uses it latin name Sambucus 

          Although crab apples by themselves are edible they are extremely sour and wouldn`t be good for this purpose, they are however are excellent source of pectin and can be used as a preserve, the wood like most of the apple family can be used to smoke meat.
(yes the tree is behind a security fence)

          Acorns can also be used for a particular reasons but as they haven`t yet turned brown I cant use them yet.

          As I mentioned above the wild food most people think of this time of year is mushrooms and I cannot stress enough that before going mushroom picking you should go with an expert and for this reason I will not be showing any of them on this blog. There are other wild food avalable at this time of the year and throughout the year, I have chosen the examples above as they are some of the easiest to recognise 
          On a different note as a business I am sponsoring a young lady going to Tanzania in Africa with camps international where she will be helping out building school houses/house, as well as giving money I have also given her a micro fleece with the business logo on, as I receive update I will post some on here.

          please note I will not be writing a blog next week as I`m off on holiday to Scotland for my birthday.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.

The continuing environmental impact of the Beeching Axe of 1963

The continuing environmental impact of the Beeching Axe of 1963

          The continuing arguments over the HS2 project in Parliament has this week led me to dig out one of my old university essays as I think it makes not only an interesting piece on environmental impact but ironically some of the lines mentioned in the essay as being closed down are now being proposed as part of the route for HS2.
          The essay was written early in my university course in the mid 2000s and at the time didn`t sustain a high mark, the essay focuses mainly on the environmental impact and not social so please bear that in mind.

           In 1963 Doctor Richard Beeching issued his now infamous report, in which he proposed the closing of over two thousand stations and five thousand miles of track, this mainly affected the rural branch line network many of which were single track and losing money but also more significantly closed diversionary and secondary main lines, which could have been used to ease the level of road traffic today, I will outline and identify some of these routes later. 
          Going back a little further in history to 1948, the least used branch lines were already being closed down this was being done by the "Branch line committee" with some Three thousand miles being closed by them between 1948 and 1962 and replaced by bus services, this is where the environmental impact starts in earnest as the buses of the time were smaller than they are today, and indeed the railway coaches they replaced, less efficient than they are today requiring more fuel to be used for the same distance travelled, and had no way of eliminating the harmful pollutants released into the atmosphere as the catalytic converter had yet to be invented. 
          With the end of Petrol rationing after the war car ownership increased, however the majority of the population could not afford to buy a car so still made their journeys by rail or bus, with the benefit of only a small amount of pollution being produced per person and lessening the impact on the environment as several people travelled over a small area rather than having to increase road size to permit the same amount of people to travel to the same area.
          In 1955 a Modernisation plan was rolled out across the network which would eliminate steam from the network and be replaced by diesel and electric engines, of course this was done to try and save money and reduce journey times and at first glance this appears to be sound environmental thinking until its remembered what was being replaced with what, while it can`t be denied that steam engines produce alot of smoke the majority of what comes out of the chimney is steam, water vapor, easily reabsorbed by the environment, diesel engines at the time just belched thick black smoke into the air full of pollutants leading to an increase in greenhouse gases the impact of which wouldn`t be felt until much later. 
          Putting aside the infrastructure needed to support electric trains in terms of overhead wires, electric trains although much more environmentally friendly at source still need to be powered by electricity which came from at the time, huge coal burning power stations releasing tons of smoke into the atmosphere once again leading to the increase of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 
          After 1963 the wholesale tearing up of the railways began without a thought as to what was to happen next. Without access to the railways they had come to rely on many people had no other choice but to try and afford a car or use buses, still releasing highly polluting gases, and with the increase in car ownership came the inevitable increase in road traffic which led to the building of more roads and ultimately motorways and the beginning of a vicious cycle that we can`t escape from today.
          Whilst it could be argued that this would have happened anyway the impact on the environment would have been lessened as railways would have provided a sustainable alternative in the interim, it would also not have required the vast amounts of land to be destroyed to provide a route for a motorway through areas, such as the M6 through Cumbria or the total destruction of a hill in Oxfordshire for the M40.
           With the increase of car ownership caused (although not solely)  by the Beeching Axe has come the increase in "wasted seating" with the majority of car journeys made by one person, this means the amount of pollution, or carbon footprint, made by one person is huge and although the amount of pollution is increased when more people are in a car as the engine has to work harder, the amount of pollution can be divided by the number of people in the car. Of course there a more seats on a train than a car, anything up to three hundred which when the train is full reduces the carbon footprint of the individual to a very small amount.
          One of the biggest impacts caused by the Beeching axe has been in the area of cargo transport, in 1955 virtually all the stations in the country had at least a siding to hold wagons with goods for the immediate area however the 1955 modernisation began to erode this as one suggestion that was followed through with was containerisation of goods eliminating individual goods wagons and the flexibility in transporting goods they offered, this was compounded in 1963 as the rural branch lines were pulled up leaving communities with no other option but to turn to road hauliers to bring in goods, not only increasing traffic on the roads but also the associated increase in damage to the local environment as well as the environment in general.
          Further the 1955 modernisation plan created huge marshalling yards which were designed to hold and reorganise wagons for onward movement yet because of the amount of goods lost to the roads and the loss of stations and there goods sidings from 1963 these marshalling yards were more or less abandoned in the 1970`s although a few are still being used, the loss of these marshalling yards has also hampered the size of modern goods trains, as during the steam age there are plenty of pictures showing the lengths of some of the goods trains hauled, anything up to a half of a mile long, the length of modern goods trains has shrunk despite modern engines having more than enough power to haul them due to there being no space to store these semi permanently coupled block wagons.
         One area identified by the Beeching report as being money losing was the duplication and under utilization of certain routes, including secondary main lines, a prime example of this being the former Great Central Railway mainline from London to the Midlands, because this duplicated the lines running South to North, it was sited early on as needing to close to save money, a little research shows that this line was built differently to other main lines and could easily have accommodated the modern goods trains of today and most of international wagons as well, as the directors of the line at the time were keen to increase foreign investment and trade to the Midlands. (modern note; does that sound familiar!) If this line still existed today  it would have been able to take a huge amount of goods leaving the other main lines free to concentrate on passenger services and taking more lorries off of the road reducing the environmental impact of these vehicles.
          Another route that was closed due to the Beeching report and could have helped with the environmental impact was the Waverley Route running from Carlisle to Edinburgh through the Scottish borders, not only was this line used by the isolated communities as the primary means of getting around but in at least one case was the only way of getting anywhere, further to this the route was used as a diversionary route for freight trains on a regular basis and had a regular freight working to the communities over the line, after the Waverley was dismantled the A7 road had to be upgraded to cope with the increase of road traffic supplying to the communities and today can be regularly clogged with forty tonne lorries winding their way round the roads, the biggest irony being that for the vast majority of its length the A7 follows the route of the Waverley line.
          A further line that could be used today would have been the Somerset and Dorset line in the South West of England running from Bath to Bournemouth, this did have the distinct disadvantage of being single track for the majority of its length but as an alternative means of getting a large quantity of goods down to the South West of England, unclogging the M5 and reducing the impact on the environment in the area.
          Another line that could potentially be useful today would have been the branch line running from Penrith to Keswick, this once again was torn up and replaced by a road that follows virtually the same route through the Cumbrian countryside, this line would have been particularity useful in the summer months to take tourists from Penrith to Keswick, there are not enough car parking spaces in Keswick for all the tourists that come through nor is there the land to expand into to create more spaces, this may have been negated had the railway line still been in place.
          Above I have outlined just four of the potential routes that could have been used in the present day to reduce the impact on the environment but were dismantled for various different reasons.
          Although devastating from a socio-economic point of view the Beeching axe has also had a devastating impact on the environment that is continuing to be felt today, unfortunately this impact is unlikely to be reversed as the lines have been concreted over or built on, station siding no longer exsist for goods and trains are now formed into block formations.

          As I mentioned at the start, not very good as it was biased and woefully short of references or statistics (only a best guess can be made for some of these old routes), all cut out here, but it is relevant to the arguments going on in parliament now, Thankfully since I wrote it some changes have occurred, part of the Waverley line has been rebuilt and there is discussions going on about rebuilding the line between Penrith and Keswick, its doubtful whether this will have any impact but its a start. Its also worth mentioning that ironically the government (conservative) that closed these lines is the same government proposing using part the Great Central Railway route as part of the HS2!
          I personally do not support the HS2 as not only is it a waste of money but a huge environmental disaster waiting to happen.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Mersea Island walk

Mersea Island walk

          Mersea Island lays nine miles south east of Colchester, and is situated in the estuary of both the Colne and Blackwater rivers the only way on to the island other than by boat is by a causeway known as the Strood, although short the Strood has been a constant barrier onto the island for hundreds of years and would prove an inconvenience, although not a huge one, to me at the end of my walk as well.
          The walk is actually described in an issue of TGO magazine and as it was only a few miles away I decided to do it, so with my bag packed and the tide tables checked I set off.
          As usual I would have run keeper, and the robotic voice announcing my progress every hour (I swear that voice gets more condescending every time I use the app). Parking in West Mersea I started walking in a clockwork direction around the island with the coast on my left hand side. West Mersea has been known for its oyster beds since the Roman period and Mersea oysters are still sold in Colchester today, empty oyster shells can be found in areas on the side of the road leading down to the foreshore of West Mersea,

          A diversion from the route described Led me away from the shore briefly and into the interior of the island after which I dropped down close to the Strood, even though there was still a few hours until high tide the water around the Strood was getting high and would soon cover the roadway, as I continued to follow the route I came across a worrying sign,

The Strood 

          Could this mean my walk would have to end earlier than expected? thankfully no, the sea wall may have been breached but the path had been rerouted further south, this meant that although I wouldn`t be following the exact route I would still be able to complete my walk. from here the walk became much flatter as it did stick close to the shoreline following the Pyefleet channel all the way around the East Mersea.

          With a pace of 4.8KPH I soon reached the furthest easterly part of the route and took a little lunch before starting on the south side of the island, unfortunately the weather decided it would change at this point and what had been a pleasant walk soon became a battle against the rain, it didnt however dampen my spirits nor my pace, what would though would be the blister that had started to form on my heel and as I suspected my pace slowed to 4 KPH, not that it mattered overly much as at this point I was nearly back to the car anyway.
          With my slower pace I knew I wouldn`t be able to make the causeway before the Strood was covered and so did that most British of things, popped into a cafe, had a cup of tea and waited for the tide to drop, which would happen within the hour.

          As my boots are now starting to give me blisters its time I consider buying some new ones, oh the decisions, new Salomon`s or Asolo`s or Marmots!

          This walk although easy does require a good pair of boots as well as all the usual the equipment and I would recommend it to anyone wanting an easy walk or introduction to walking.

Follow the link below to go to the Lone Wolf Mobile Bushcraft website.