Change in the Air

I love walking at this time of the year; summer is over but autumn has not really kicked in yet. Regular readers will notice that that this site has been quiet recently. I really don’t like writing about the same things over andover again, but this magical and slightly scary time of the year never ceases to engage my emotions and imagination. The changing nature of our seasons are always magical. The spectre of winter just around the corner is never far from the back of the mind.

S Shrops 1

So, to walk out in the morning was to enjoy much of what summer has to offer but also being impossible to feel the change. The temperatures are down but the sun shone. The wind blew from the West, not list but not strong. There was ‘nip in the air’ but there was a kind of intent. Just wait a week or two.

Foliage still sits on the trees waiting for the first high winds of the change. The landscape though its changing. The harvest is now coming in and the landscape is shorn. The sunshine illuminates the hills and the field but John Barleycorn is no longer swaying in the wind.

This was quiet walking weather. Showers threatened but while the sun was out we had the hills to ourselves for much of the time. Larks sang puncturing the walk with the most fabulous of concertos. The House Martins were still with us, not yet winging their way to Africa.


At this time of the those other famous creatures come out in force. While much of the walk was quite and solitary we were regularly joined by groups of young women taking their Duke of Edinburgh courses. As ever we checked where they were going and inevitably we met them later in the day only to confuse them as we were now coming from the opposite direction to themselves. At the moment their map reading focussed simply on getting to their campsite!

S Shrops 1

A flock of D of E youngsters scrambling above the waterfall

We didn’t escape the rain, you really can’t avoid it at this time of year. As I’ve said many times before, if you want a quiet day on the hills then study the weather forecast and be brave. But with waterproofs suitably donned walking in the rain adds variety and in the reasonably mild air this part of the walk was just as interesting.

The sun fought back and as we regained high ground we could see the squalls, blown by the Westerly winds, heading down the valleys. Up high the squalls left us alone.

I shall be up on these hills a lot of the next few weeks, trying to catch the spectacular autumn colours. Last your heavy winds wiped out the autumnal display so perhaps this year I’ll be lucky. And there is still enough light of the day to encourage the last wild camps of the year.


Review: TentMeals — Vegan Dehydrated Food I

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The summer is now well and truly here and over the next few weeks backpackers everywhere will be setting out for night or two — or even longer — camping out in the wild.

I mentioned a few months ago that I had been sent some of these meals to review. I was very keen to check out this vegan menu and I often have mails from vegans interested in home dehydration.  I hoped to have reviewed these before the TGO Challenge but too much stuff got in the way. However, I have been sampling them whenever I get the chance and I’ll split the reviews up into two.  In this first review I will concentrate on main meals.


Dehydrated meals are good news for the hiker and lightweight backpacker. Not only are the meals light but they are compact, meaning they take up little room in your pack. They are reasonably easy to prepare. And now we have a whole range dedicated to vegans. I should point out I am not a vegan but I eat a great deal of vegetarian food (those usually with dairy products).

What are we looking for?

When hiking hard — and especially over multiple days — we are looking at food that keeps you going. Portions need to generous and the carbs sufficient to ensure you don’t get too deep into negative energy consumption. And we’re looking for something tasty. When you are struggling through dreadful weather for days on end the one thing you have to forward to is your evening meal. (yes, I know it is summer but I’m being realistic here).

I’m also very keen to avoid the taste of additives. Dehydrated food has come a long way in the last decade but I can still taste some of the stuff I used 15 eyes ago! That horrible preservative taste is something that drove me to dehydrate my own food.

So to the food …


You can see a main meal here. It comes in a vacuum packed plastic packet. Everything is about as compact as can be, as you can see from the size of my cooking gear.

I was sent three main meals; a Moroccan style main meal; and Italian style main meal and an Almond Jalfrezi main meal


This is simple enough though those plastic bags are tough — you will need to use your knife carefully. These meals are designed to be cooked in your cooking pan, there’s no pouring boiling water (300 mil) into plastic bags (thank goodness). I simply added water to my pan, poured in the meal and then cooked on top of a lightweight alcohol stove. The packet said to add to boiling water and wait 7 minutes. I simply brought everything up to the boil and then placed the pan in my pot cozy for 7 minutes or so.  Seven minutes was about right so long as you make sure you mix the ingredients well before heating and again before you place in the cozy.

Portion Size?

The good news is that these are decent portion size, well the 800kcal size is (there is a smaller 500 below). Some of the commercial brands I’ve tasted are not enough. If you have been eating properly through the day (and maybe had a second breakfast) and then had some chocolate or other stuff with you for the evening, this size will be OK.


The first meal I tried was the Moroccan Main Meal. This is basically couscous with herbs, some finely diced vegetables, dried fruits and almonds.  This rehydrated easily enough and was certainly a good portion. I felt it lacked a bit of punch in the taste. The  dried fruits as herbs were there but very mild.  I may have added just a little too much water. 300 mil is about one backpacking cup of water. It is always easy to over estimate the amount of water you need for rehydration. It was not bad and certainly didn’t taste of preservative.

The Italian Main Meal was not dissimilar. The main ingredient was again couscous  this time with tomatoes, winter veg (carrot) and parmesan (style) shavings — whatever those are. And those almonds were there once more. Again this was a pretty mild taste, It was discernibly different  to the Moroccan but only if you concentrated hard.

To, both were fine but I would have been inclined to take some extra stuff along with me. Dried chilli flakes, some powdered cumin and some dried herbs would have made a big difference I think

If this two were a little underwhelming in the taste department the star of the show was the Almond Jalfrezi. This had a rice base and a nicely flavoured base sauce. Almonds were there in force again but this time accompanied by flakes of coconut flesh. A good dollop of coconut milk also dropped into the pan. Once this was all cooked and broken up it was rather delicious. Jalfrezi is traditionally a hot and spicy curry but don’t worry this is really quite mild. I would add a little more in the way of chilli flakes if it was me. A nice meal though.

Size options

I mentioned above that I tried the 800kcal (200 grams) sized meals. Each of them is available in a smaller combination of 500kcal (100 grams) — £5.50 and £4.50 respectively. On long and harder trips — particularly when the calories are being eaten at a high rate — I would be inclined to be repaired to combine and large and a small packet for one meal. However, for the simple overnights I have used for testing the main portion has been enough.


You can easily create meals that are as good, if not better, yourself. Most us though don’t have the time.

TentMeals are a good vegan or vegetarian alternative. They are seriously addictive free and free from any nasty aftertastes. Portion size is good and they taste nice — though a boost to the herbs and spice would probably work well.

These might also appeal to backpackers flying abroad. In these circumstances I tend to avoid trying to carry dehydrated meat in my pack. Sniffer dogs love it. None vegetarians could easily use these as a base to which they could add other vegetables, cheese or dried meats.

All in all these have been a pretty decent offering so far. So, next I’ll be looking at porridge and breakfast meals.

TentMeals: High Energy Health

Walt Unsworth — Thanks for Everything

I’m a bit slow with this but I’m gradually catching up with the real world after the General Election campaign.

Walt died on the 7th June and all of us who are keen walkers and hillwalkers, here in the UK, owe him something of a debt.

Walt was a prolific writer but it was his creation of Cicerone Press — along with his wife Dorothy — that impacted on most of us. Cicerone not only gave us guide books for the great outdoors near and far, but the company effectively launched and sheltered the careers of many of the guide book writers that many of us still depend on.

Walt retired in 1999 and was determined to ensure — if he could — that Cicerone was passed on to new owners who would love and cherish it. He passed on ownership to Jonathan and Lesley Williams who were then unknown in the outdoors world. Jonathan was working the City down in that London. he was looking for a new challenge. Jonathan once told me that the deal was done very quickly and before he really knew what he was doing he and the family were moving North. I sense that Walt knew  that his baby would be in good hands. Jonathan and Lesley have, of course, taken the company on from strength to strength. Walt’s legacy will live on for many years to come.

Walt was also the Editor of Climber magazine. He saw an opportunity for the development of a new magazine for walkers and walking based mountaineers. He took this idea to his publishers and the The Great Outdoors mag — TGO — was born.

Thanks for everything Walt!

Does Social Media Destroy the Magic and the Mystery?

I can remember the first time I really became aware of the use of social media by hill walkers.

I was on the TGO Challenge and walking for a week or so with Phil Turner, who was a lot younger than me. Phil spent much of his time playing with a very new innovation — Social Hiking — which I don’t think was quite available to the public then. Phil and I were taking a very early stroll through the Balmacaan Forest. There were no tracks here (well not back then, pre wind farm). We bashed on through the heather on a gorgeously clear morning. Phil rushed on ahead. Every now and then I would loose him. I’d stop and look around up above me. There I would find Phil on the highest point he could easily reach, trying to get a signal on his mobile phone.

[Read more…]

Alternative Mapping Systems: Scribble Maps

It is a while since I have written about maps and mapping services. One of my themes over the last few years has been the impact that new technology will have over conventional maps, with the ability to create new maps from satellite information. I’m still convinced this is the future of mapping and that — over time- conventional map mappers are going to have a hard time.

This is the latest serve that I have come across — Scribble Maps.

Scribble allows you to create a variety of different types of maps, including topographical maps. the site now allows you to play around with demo software and to create your own maps. I created a map of the Cairngorms and — in an area like that — it might be ll you need.

we are some way off these becoming a real challenge to the Ordnance Survey and the like, but I suspect the real challenge is not so much technical as finding a business model that works!

There’s not much information about Scribble on their site — if anybody knows about them, get in touch.

 Scribble Maps

The TGO Song

As I’ve posted before,  I shall sadly not be on this year’s event. However, here is my little contribution — The TGO Song.

This is a marching song with a good chorus — perfected by Challengers as we marched through the Fetteresso Forest on our way to ice cream and the coast.  The song namecheck some of our finest comrades!

When I return next year I shall expect to hear it sung with gusto!

The TGO Song  — mp3

Some clever sod asked me whether there is a B side.  There is.

Here is a ballad based on Iain Thompson’s book — Isolation Shepherd — an account of his life as a shepherd on the shores of Loch Monar —a famous TGO landmark.

The Monar Shepherd  — mp3

Of course, you don’t have to be a TGO Challenger to sing the song.  You never know, it might inspire you to tackle the event yourself!

Pyrenees/Continent — Finding Alcohol For Stoves

I’ve had a couple of queries recently about finding alcohol when you are in the mountains or on the continent. French and Spanish outdoor stores rarely carry clonal for stoves. One of my readers emailed in a slight panic yesterday from a Spanish trailhead town from where he was about to start walking.

Stove alcohol will not be found in outdoors shops. You will find it in hardware stores. Most French and Spanish towns still have stores that sell all manner of hardware products. In my experience the alcohol is of a high quality and burns well, but you will have to buy it in litre containers — containers that look like this:

In France ask for alcohol de bruyer. (The direct translation is Esprits Méthodiques but I’ve never seen it described as this).

In Spain ask for alcohol de quemar

IMG 20170410 120933


You should never have any trouble finding this. It is very cheap, 2 Euros for 1 litre at the moment I am told!

TGO Challenge Abort!

Sadly, Kate and I have both had to pull out of this year’s TGO Challenge! Kate’s mother died a few weeks ago and we are having to spend more time with her father. And just at the same time my mother’s health has taken a terminal nosedive! 

We will be back next year. Meanwhile, I suppose I should finish last year’s journal.

So, it’s back to snatched days on the hills whenever I can over the next few months. I’ll try and make these sound interesting!

For those of you preparing for the off — just make sure you have a great time!

Review (to come) TentMeals

A lot of you will know that I am a great believer in dehydrating my own meals. This is mainly because my past experience of commercial dried foods was not good. However, I’m aware that things have moved on a lot over recent years.

I’ve been recently been sent some samples for review, from TentMeals. I shan’t be using these as Challenge Freebies or anything like that but I will be testing and reviewing them.

It has always been the additives that have done me in the past. This company promise ‘high energy and healthy’ food.

You can see their stuff here:

It all looks promising. I’ll be considering whether the portion size is adequate  as well as taste and quality!  The reviews might not come all at once but will start this week.

The Big Hospice Hike: Saturday 17th June

Those of you who like supporting good cases might be interested in the Big Hospice Hike , to support the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow.


Grab your boots and get ready for our new challenge – the Big Hospice Hike. Not for the faint hearted, our 22-mile walk includes a climb up Ben Lomond, Scotland’s most southerly Munro.

Starting at Balmaha on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, the Big Hospice Hike will take you along a section of the West Highland Way to the village of Rowardennan, the starting point for the main path up Ben Lomond. You will begin your ascent up the mountain, which boasts spectacular views of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Once reaching the summit at 974m, you’ll descend and complete your challenge by walking back to the finish line at Balmaha.

About 1100 patients are cared for by the hospice each year and we are providing support for about 400 patients and family members at any one time. Our new challenge promises not only to be a rewarding experience for you but for our patients and families who will benefit from the funds raised. Teams, made up of friends, family or work colleagues, will all be walking … Why don’t you join them???

Your choices are:

1. Start at Balmaha and walk via the West Highland to Rowardennan where you’ll start your ascent of Scotland’s most southerly Munro – Ben Lomond. Once you’ve descended you’ll walk back to Balmaha where your challenge will conclude (22 miles). £30 registration fee applies. Minimum sponsorship £200.

2. If the 22-mile hike isn’t for you but you’re still keen to ‘bag a Munro’ and take in the fantastic views of the length of Loch Lomond, you can sign up for the climb-only challenge, starting and ending in Rowardennan (7.5 miles). £20 registration fee applies. Minimum sponsorship £150.

Further Details here.