Archives for February 2009

Colin Ibbotson’s Water Bags

A Platypus is light, right?

Not for Colin. In this latest article Colin describes how to make your own water bags!

Water Bags

Colin’s pages are having a revamp. They now feature a dedicated newsfeed.

The Colin Ibbotson Pages.

New Colin Ibbotson

Stay tuned over the next couple of days for the new offering from ultralight Collin. This time Colin turns his attention to flexible water carriers, like the Platypus. Useful these but far too heavy for Colin !!!

Probably up here tomorrow evening.

Focus Photography Show

Just back from a day at the Focus photography show, where Bob and I were collecting material for some podcasts.

If you’re a photo fanatic it is always nice to go to these shows and to have the time to explore and play with new kit. But — as is often the way with these things — there really wasn’t that much stuff that really grabbed my attention.

It was nice to catch up with some real people though. Steve Walton is not only an outdoor blogger he is a professional photographer producing work of the highest order. For three of the last four years he has won Landscape & Travel Photographer of the Year — the one year he didn’t win he came second! Steve’s blog (or rather family of sites) is well worth checking out at Lord of the Crinkles. It was also nice to catch up with Colin from the Stockport Walking Group, who works in the photographic industry.

There were a few memorable things. Aside from the latest clutch of top lines cameras from Nikon, Canon and the rest, the item that stood out was a new small camera from Sigma. The Sigma DP1 is a lovely piece of work very reminiscent of the classic Leica rangefinders that were used by Cartier Bresson. This 14 meg camera uses a larger sensor than you would typically find in a compact and the results are quite telling. The DP1 has a fixed lens — no zoom, but it is fixed at a 28 equivalent on a 35m system (a very useful, standard wide angle). A second version (not sure of the model name) has a 35 lens equivalent, which would be idea for street based reportage (of the kind that Bresson undertook). These mini Sigmas are beautifully made, with a metal body. They shoot in RAW and can shoot in a variety of modes including manual. These might just be the thing for backpackers. I reckon these will do very well. And the price? £370 — which might even be a bargain. Bob will be covering the Sigma in a podcast piece to be released shortly.

On the service front, you couldn’t help but be impressed by some of the quality of the new print shops that are opening up to amateurs. I managed to get an interview with one company who have been working with some of best professional photographers for many years, MPD Digital Laboratories. The new venture – Pro Print Studio — will offer the same service with prints coming off the same machines, and will launch next month. Pro Print will be offering the very highest quality C-Type prints, which are just stunning. They should be worth checking out.

Perhaps, the person who impressed me the most at the show was Photographer and Image processor Guy Gowan. Guy was working hard all day on the Master Photographers Association stand. Guy’s take on digital workflow was extraordinary and totally exploded many of the things that I have ‘grown-up with’. Consider shooting scenes with high shadow to highlight contrast. Simply set the exposure to over-expose the highlights by one and a half stops. Sounds wrong! But my goodness did it work, allowing the camera to pull back highlight details while rendering enough detail in the shadows. Guy’s systems can be followed on a series of training DVDs from the MPA. I’m certainly going to have to explore these. You should see his method for converting to black and white. Guy was worth the entry price alone. Looking around of the web there are many others who have similarly been blown away by Guy. GUy’s own website is at :

As for me, well, I can see I’m going to have to move to a full frame sensor. Looking through the viewfinders of the Nikon and Canons you can suddenly see what you’ve been missing in terms of size and clarity. Best start saving seriously ….

Gear Site

An email from old fried and blogger alerts me to some gear pieces that he is doing for He asks for some feedback on my ULA gear.

I don’t remember having looked at Trailspace before, but this might just be early memory loss. Tom’s writing, in particular, is as good as ever.

Monochrome North Wales

Remnants of Circle, Newborough

Llanberis Cottage
I’m a sucker for these places. At times of the year this must have been the most desolate of places, yet in the summer it must have been majestic!

Across to Tryfan

Lescun: Cottage to Rent

A nice email comes in from Ros Deegan, telling me that she her partner have recently bought a cottage in the High Pyrenees village of Lescun. The cottage is available for rental and the off-season rates seem particularly attractive. This might be an interesting option for those of who who want to combine a reasonably luxurious holiday with some stunning mountain walking.

Lescun is considered by many to be the quintessential Pyrenean village. It sits high above the Vallée d’Aspe on its own hidden plateau. It is a tiny place although it does boast a good general store in the summer and a decent restaurant at the Hotel de Pic d’Annie. This is one of those period hotels that oozes charm in a rather threatening way. The walls are adorned with all manner of hunting trophies and guns, lots of guns! Otherwise there is nothing else here other than a small and charming community. Oh, and there’s a lovely bar, Les Bergeres I think. Even in the height of the summer Lescun is a pretty sleepy place. Although my preferences always involve long distance walking I’ve often thought of a week or so staying here, perhaps in the colder months (when I understand Lescun can be a great place for cross country skiing).

Ros has put together a great little website which shows off the cottage, the village and the wider area to good effect.

Budget Hiking — Overseas Trekking Holidays

I’ve had a few emails recently about the cost of the Pyrenees. Does the current exchange rate pose problems for the UK hiker? I can see from my webstats that many people are now thinking about planning for the summer as a lot of you are finding your way here via. Google searches that relate to the High Pyrenees.

Like with all trekking destinations a week or two in the Pyrenees can cost as much as you want it to! But a trek here does not have to break the bank, indeed, the Pyrenees has a lot going for it in terms of a budget destination. With careful planning a two week walking holiday here might not be that much more expensive than, say, a couple of weeks in Scotland or the Lakes. Bob Cartwright has put me on to a thread on Outdoors Magic Forum that looks at these issues; guide book writer Kev Reynolds has come forth with some sensible suggestions.

The Pyrenees has a lot going for it as a budget destination, perhaps more so than the Alps at the moment as it offers lots of opportunities to do things cheaply. Let’s look at some of them.


The High Pyrenees are wonderful mountains that offer great walking. There are lovely, high, villages to use as a base for day walks. There are long distance footpaths designed to show off the diversity of the terrain and of local trails and footpaths, designed around days that usually start and end around picturesque villages and settlements. You will also find more rugged, solitary, higher walking along routes such as the Haute Route (or HRP).

Access from the UK is pretty straightforward. Cut price airlines fly from a variety of destinations in the UK to the important gateway towns and cities, such as Toulouse, Pau and Barcelona. The key here is to settle your dates early and to book early.

Leaving aside environmental considerations for a while, the cut price airlines can be cheap but are also getting a reputation for stacking up costs quite highly. If you have a reasonable sized rucksack you may have to pay to have this stashed in the hold (especially if you are carrying walking poles and Swiss Army knives). But this should be the end of it. But remember, once on the plane you don’t have to buy anything. Be tempted and you’ll finding yourself paying for the most expensive coffee of your life! Ryannair isis especially annoying as they use ‘crazy frog’ jingle to make sure you don’t go to sleep! But the flights are reasonably short and your self discipline should be able last the duration without being tempted!

Once in France (or Spain) you will find that rail travel is both accessible and reasonably priced. Timetables can be checked in advance and will give details of costs to aid budgeting.

This is the blindingly obvious, but the more you can book in advance — or identify spend in advance — the more that it will help the cashflow.


Carrying a lightweight tent (and lightweight load) obviously saves money. The central/high Pyrenees is a great area for wild camping and this obviously cuts costs a great deal. You can easily plan your trek so that you only have to stay in a paid-for campsite at the beginning and the end of your trek.

In the High Pyrenees (certainly on the French side) wild camping is positively encouraged, provided that you pitch your tent discretely and break camp reasonably early in the morning.

My series ‘First Steps in the Pyrenees’ suggests a first trek on the High Route. This can be accomplished by wild camping every evening. This route — as with the routes in guidebooks — tends to go from refuge to refuge (or hut to hut). The vast majority of these have camping areas around them which are free to use. As a camper you are welcome to eat in the refuge and to buy a beer or two. But you don’t have to do that either — refuge costs can stack up over a week or so.

Camping is also a good way on cutting down day walk holidays. Again, my First Steps series features ideas for walking holidays based in Lescun and Cauterets and both have wonderful campsites that are a reasonable alternative to hotels and gites.

If you want a roof over your head — or the services of a campsite — then it is worth looking around in advance. Family hotels in France and Spain can be very affordable. They may not look much as the holiday makers that use them are looking for functionality rather than luxury. Your average French or Spanish holiday maker would rather safe on room costs in order to eat out occasionally.

Last summer I stayed in two great places that fit this bill. The Hotel Chantilly in Cauterets is great value and run by a wonderful Irish couple, Phil and Mary — handy if your language skills are not that hot. Five days here wouldn’t break the bank and a night here before you head off to the hills might be very useful as Phil can give you good advice about buying supplies, fuel and so on. Just Google ‘Hotel Cauterets’ and you’ll find them; the hotel has web pages in English as well as French. In Bareges I spent an evening in the Hotel de Grand Randonée. There was nothing grand about the place, but it was comfortable and provided great food. Like many small places on the GR10 this hotel always seems to keep some very basic rooms for smelly, muddy walkers!


But obviously it is the campers who will save the most in terms of cost.

Give yourself time on your first day to have a proper look at the supermarkets and markets. The French in particular are a nation of campers and even the most modest of supermarkets will sell a variety of dried foods, soups and so on. (As a rule these are usually more tasty than ours.)

Couscous is available everywhere. Bread will last more than a few days in your pack. Mountain sausage not only lasts forever it is a greta source of instant energy. And the hard mountain cheeses also have a long pack life.

So long as you are willing to compromise on your culinary experience you can easily carry cheap and good food between each re-supply point.

Comparisons with Home

Once in the Pyrenees it is difficult to see how it would be that much more expensive than at home. Wild camping is not that easy to undertake in much of England and Wales and — if you live in the South — the costs of getting to Scotland are often similar (if not a little higher) than flying, say, to Pau.

For a real budget adventure I would advise taking a small tent and camping wild whenever you can, whether it us beside a refugee or on some high tarn. You’ll minimise expense and may even allow time for a little luxury at the end, maybe a meal out in Toulouse or Pau.

I hope that helps. Over the next couple of months I’ll be building on my Pyrenees pages as so many of you seem to end up here because of them.

Plan early if you can.

Cairngorm Dreaming

Guess which bit of my route I’ve been contemplating this evening! Seeing these again is good for the moral!

Glenmore Café
They even lay on entertainment for breakfast at Glenmore.

Ryvoan Bothy
Ryvoan Bothy — Haunted I believe

Summer Flowers
Spring Flowers

Strath Nethy
Strath Nethy

East from Bynack More
East from Bynack More

Fords of Avon
The Fords of Avon

Lairig an Laoigh
Lairig an Laoigh

Hutchinson Memorial Hut
Hutchinson Memorial Hut

Loch Echachan
Loch Etchachan

On Ben Macdui
On Ben Mcdui

HUtchinson's Hut Again
Hutchinson’s Hut Again

Corrour Bothy
Corrour Bothy

The Lairig Ghru in Fine weather!
The Lairig Ghru on a good day!

Well, it is backpacking …

Of Megapixels and Frame Formats

For those of you who followed the Photo Project I thought I’d mention that Bob and I will be taking our podcast coverage to the Focus on Imaging show in a couple of weeks time. This is the major image/photography show in the UK and we’ll be trying to capture a flavour of it for the rest of you.

This is a time of much new camera development. There are the new high pixel DSLRs from Canon — does more really mean better? Then there are the new portable camcorders, quite a few that are now moving in the HD area. On top of that we have a new class of compacts being produced that have wide angles that are the equivalent of 24 on Full Frame SLRs and which shoot at f2. The latter alone should be of real interest to hill walkers.

If this coverage interests you, you might be able to help us along a bit.

Details of Focus are here. If you can’t get there yourself you might like to have a look at the site and then let us know what you’d like to hear more about! We’ll see what we can do.

Proustian Perrin

If you’ve not yet got hold of a copy of the current TGO magazine then you might make an extra effort to search it out this time. Jim Perrin really has written a remarkable piece.

I’ve commented on this before but Jim often rescues a thin issue for me. The current issue focuses on winter walking in Scotland. There’s lot of wonderful prose here and some great photographs, but for me there’s just too much of it. Most of us are not within easy reach of Scotland and have to adapt all kinds of strategies to keep walking in the winter. I’d like to see more non Scottish content.

Since the relaunch one of the regular contributors has been musician Roddy Woomble. In this issue Roddy has a bit of a Proustian theme to his column as he considers the nostalgia of well known walks. But I’m not really not sure he succeeds in invoking the spirit of Proust.

Proust, of course, changed the face of modern literature by focusing on the small, the everyday and the ordinary things that make up the sum of a life’s experience. Ill and confined to his bed off the Boulevard Haussman, Proust produced volumes of extraordinary writing all based on memory and recall. I must declare a certain pretentiousness here having struggled through the entire collection of Le Temps Perdu/Remberances of Things Past and even once — years ago — struggling through the first volume in French. (It wasn’t worth it …)

Jim’s current column is a pure exercise in Proustian thought. The column is a a delight. Jim’s piles of OS maps are examined in detail as he follows the paths and the contours to remember all kinds of past experiences. The studying of maps is something I’ve mentioned many times before. Like Jim I sometimes feel I know the route really well before I’ve even set foot on it.

But it is Jim’s recollections that are the most powerful. regular readers will know that Jim is fighting a really hard health battle at the moment. When he writes “I’ve found my answer to how I might cope with incapacity …” you know there is some profound and personal reflection going on here.

I wish Jim well with his struggles and his fights. But even if access to the hills becomes more difficult there must be some reassurance that the hills are still there, that they live and breathe in memories that are stimulated by contours on the printed page.

This is fantastic writing, well worth the cost of the magazine on its own.