It's the final countdown!
See ya later . . .
The countdown to adventure is almost over! It's been a month or so since I first made a silly online counter and started counting down the days on our whiteboard at work . . . and this weekend we're off to Australia to attempt to get down the Snowy River (mainly) on foot.
I'm ready to go. We've been preparing for a while now (see this and this and this). We've bought all our bits and pieces over here, we've practiced pitching the tent (sorry for being so bossy, Dan!), done a few walks ("We'll get fit on the trail," we keep telling ourselves) and I've pored over the maps to commit emergency exits to memory.
We couldn't have got this far without a bunch of support from people in Australia. Kate has made us a selection of home-made dehydrated meals and Emily has bought a stash of noodles and porridge and boxed it all up into various food drops. I bet you nerds would like to see a satisfying, 26 second time-lapse video of the packing process, wouldn't you?! Here's one Emily made while talking to me on Skype!
We don't really know how we're going to fit all the food in our bags, but I'm sure we'll manage somehow! My parents have bought and registered a PLB and I've uploaded our itinerary to the PLB website. I've printed out all my notes. I had a leg massage earlier this week. I still don't know if it will be possible for the two of us to do this thing - but there's only one way for us to find out: try.
I'm looking forward to hearing magpies and kookaburras calling in the day, seeing the Southern Cross and the Milky Way tilt across the night sky, spending time among trees and hills and rocks, watching the landscape change as we move downstream, learning the smells and rhythms of the river, hanging out with Dan all day every day (hopefully we both feel the same about this after a few weeks on the go!), seeing wildlife, hearing birds, walking hard, getting dirty and exhausted, swimming myself clean, having some time away from the work desk, being super excited about fresh food and company when we meet people for our food drops, exploring the places I've read so much about, learning more about the river I grew up beside, about its ecosystems, about its natural and cultural histories.
I probably won't update this blog while we're away. We don't have a spot tracker, so you can't follow us online. We don't have any sponsors or funders, so there's nobody we're obliged to report to. I might tweet occasionally (here and/or here) - more so in the first and last week - but for the most part I doubt we'll have much mobile signal and we'll be conserving phone battery for necessities and emergencies. But don't worry: I am sure I'll have plenty to write about when we get back! I've got notebooks and my camera and a digital recorder, so you might even get some delightful film or audio pieces at some point.
A few people have asked if we're taking collections for a charity (or for ourselves). We're not - although we are very grateful for the assistance of friends and family with transport, accommodation and other logistics. If you are inspired by our journey to give a donation to an organisation of your choice, please do. I would like you to give to an organisation that not only offers support to but preferably campaigns/advocates for and is run by Indigenous/First Nations people, asylum seekers/refugees, trans/queer people or other marginalised groups. Dan would like you to support libraries, literacy and education. If you can combine elements of the two, brilliant! Feel free to share links to the organisations you support in the comments.
It's the final countdown!
See ya later . . .
Oh, by the way, did you see my interview over on The Urban Wanderer? I talk about long distance walking, adventure plans . . . and tea, of course. Go and check out Sarah's blog - she's got some lovely stuff on there.
Last weekend we headed up to Sissinghurst in Kent. I took a few photos and made an audio blog of our walk.
There's no transcript of the piece, but it includes:
This was a bit of an experiment to see how well the digital recorder worked and if the recordings might be edited into a single piece, so it's not the most polished thing ever. It's probably best to use headphones to listen. But hopefully it gives you an insight into what it's like to go on a walk with us!
Please do let me know if you enjoyed the audio! I'll post a Snowy River adventure update later this week and then the blog will be taking a break until after we return from Australia in late April.
How much is there to say about a tube of fabric? Turns out, quite a bit.
Buff is “the original multifunctional headwear” - a (usually) seamless tube of fabric that is most often worn as a scarf, beanie or combination in colder climes, or for sun protection and as a bandana where it’s hotter. The word is derived from the Spanish “bufanda”, meaning “scarf”. Most of my outdoorsy friends will have heard of Buff, though it’s a brand that teeters on the edge of its own success - in my view, it’s verging on becoming a small-b generic trademark, if it hasn’t already become one (like Hoover in the UK or Texta in Australia). I’m not surprised, because if the true generic alternative to “Buff” is “neck gaiter”, I know which I prefer.
I was approached by KitShack, who asked if I’d like a Buff to review. You betcha. To make this review a bit more meaningful, I’m comparing the Buff provided by KitShack with a Peter Storm Chute I got cheap from Millets.
Design and production
I was offered a choice of Buff products from the huge range at KitShack (seriously, who knew there were so many Buffs?) and I ended up going with a Merino Wool Buff in grey with a wintery knit-style design. I can confirm that the wool is grey, but the pattern is not woven through (i.e. when you look at the inside, it’s all grey). This Buff has a flat hem at either end, which I think you kind of have to have with wool, but the original Buff and many of the other designs do not. Being wool, this is obviously not a vegan product, though Buff notes it is "mulesing free". The Buff is made in Spain, which is where the company originates. (Incidentally, the Merino sheep also originates in Spain, though they were first farmed in earnest in Australia. Now I’m remembering visiting the Big Merino in Goulburn. What an attraction.)
There was a much smaller collection of Peter Storm Chutes at Millets, which is partly because I was visiting a physical shop rather than an online retailer and partly because there are just not so many designs available. I bought a dark blue one with a water-drop outline design in light blue. The Chute is made of polyester and the colour is printed rather than woven (i.e. the inside of the Chute is white). It is completely seam- and hem-free.
I’d been considering getting one of these for a while, to replace a scarf when I go on long walks. I figured it would be more compact, less likely to blow around in the wind and catch on things and - importantly - it could be used as a beanie or bandana, too. Having tried the Buff and the Chute I think I’ll probably never take a scarf on a multi day walk again. I love scarves (as in, I have at least half a dozen winter scarves and I end up buying all these delightful floaty floral scarves at op-shops, even though I almost never wear them!) but this style is clearly the way forward, especially if you’re interested in reducing your pack weight.
The immediately obvious difference between the Buff and the Chute is size. The Chute is quite snug, which doesn’t make much of a difference when wearing it around the neck. Once I pull it up over my chin and mouth, however it starts getting tight. If I try to pull the tube up so that only my face peeps out (this is how I might wear it on a cold day under a raincoat), I can barely open my mouth. (NB: We met with a friend of ours last week who happened to have an original Buff. It seems to be only slightly bigger than the Chute - see below.)
The Buff is longer, wider and stretchier making for a looser, scrunchier fit around the neck. It’s easier to wear this as a hat or as a full head/neck tube - in head/neck tube configuration, there’s a bit of extra fabric around the face, but if you tuck the sides away nun/hijabi style it sits nicely under a raincoat. At first I was concerned that the Buff wouldn’t stay up when I pulled it up over my lower face, but it seems to sit there OK without falling down - the slightly rougher wool texture probably helps with this.
That is the other thing to note is the feel of the two items. The woollen Buff is rougher than the polyester Chute against the skin. It was a tiny bit itchy on me to start with, but not enough to put me off. It softened up after a week or so, but anyone who’s more sensitive to wool might want to choose a different style. (For reference, I sometimes wear merino wool thermals, which are silkier than this Buff.)
All things considered
(Well, more things considered.)
I’ve been wearing these both for a few weeks, now. I wore the Chute on a 14km/8.5mi walk from Battle down to the sea (mostly following the Bexhill link of the 1066 Country Walk) on a cold day. It worked well. Once we got to the sea, the wind picked up, and I was glad to have my beanie to cover my ears as well as the Chute to use as a scarf.
I wore the Buff on a 21km/13mi walk around Bewl Water and on a snowy day trip to Hastings. It was nice and versatile - I wore it as both a scarf and beanie at Bewl water and it worked well. Once again, when the wind started to blow, I went back to my fleece-lined beanie to protect my ears. After that, the Buff was my go-to for most outdoorsy exploits, come rain or snow! I’ve also worn the Buff to work in the morning a few times and a couple of people have commented on it (favourably, natch) - it kind of matches my suit!
My first impressions are still pretty accurate. In this winter weather, my tendency is to go for the Buff rather than the Chute - it’s warmer and there’s more of it to go around. The additional length makes the Buff easier to fashion into a beanie-replacement, but neither item is a substitute for a proper, fleece-lined beanie when it’s both cold and windy - the wind cuts right through, even when the fabric is doubled over my ears. Again, for winter, the Buff feels a little snugglier, which is one thing I still prefer about a big scarf - the other being the ability to stuff the ends of the scarf down my top to help keep my chest warm. Having said that, I can still fully do up the zip of my raincoat with the Buff underneath, which isn't possible with a big scarf. I've worn the Buff more than the Chute, and I do wonder if it will get too loose to stay up around my ears - though it might spring back after washing.
The question that's been on my mind is which one to take to Australia. It’s unlikely to get very cold - 15-30 degrees (celsius) during the day, dropping to 5-15 degrees at night - but temperatures fluctuate more widely and frequently than in the UK and it might get stormy at times. The Chute is lighter, more compact and easier to wash (the Buff care instructions specify a warm hand wash). The Buff is warmer, more comforting and more versatile. Something for me to mull over for the next couple of weeks. Probably in the end we’ll take both and Dan will wear whichever one I don’t. We'll see.
In the meantime, the crux of any review: would I recommend these products? To anyone sitting on the fence about trying a Buff (or similar style item), I’d say go for it. They really are convenient. If you’re after just a little extra warmth around the neck and want to do it on the cheap, the Chute is fine. However, if you want something warmer and more cosy, with a wider range of styles and designs to choose from, check out the Buff collection - the range available at Kitshack runs from the original Buff style to reflective, windproof and polar versions, as well as neckwarmers, hoodies and, uh, the Dog Buff. Knock yourself out!
I hope you found this review useful. The Buff was sent to me free for a review by KitShack. As noted elsewhere on this site, when given gear for review, I review honestly and retain authorial control; I am not interested in publishing promoted content.
The last of my 2016 posts - two months together, as there's not much I haven't blogged already!
We celebrated two fortieth birthdays (not mine!) in November. I was very proud of the ridiculous quantities of decorations I managed to find. I think my favourite was this pirate and sea-themed banner, which is customisable for any age. Genius.
We went for a very windy (but beautiful) walk along the beach from Hastings to Bexhill with a couple of friends.
I might as well share this video of the waves again. I find it quite soothing. Maybe you need soothing, too.
As the days got shorter and the weather colder, we scaled back to smaller trips in order to get outside without the pressure of completing long walks. We climbed up East Hill in Hastings . . .
. . . and went for a walk near Herstmonceux with our local LGBT walking group.
Later in December, we headed up to Norfolk for a week-long holiday. We stopped off in North London for a night, then broke the next day at Wandlebury. We'd briefly vsited Wandlebury a couple of months before and I wanted to check it out again.
I also wanted to go for a walk every day in Norfolk - and we almost managed it!
That's it! I quite enjoyed this reflection on what was a pretty good year (personally, if not globally). You can find my other 2016 year in review posts here: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October.
(Try saying that five times fast!)
We spent a week of winter holidays in Old Hunstanton, a pretty village tucked up in the northwest corner of Norfolk, where The Wash becomes the North Sea. We have several favourite short walks in the area - these are a few of them. I've included GPX files so you can download them if you want, but most of them are pretty easy to figure out for yourself once you're there! They’re all circular or there-and-back strolls that will take 1-2 hours, so they’re perfect for stretching your legs in the morning or for catching a breath of fresh air after lunch.
1. Above and below the Hunstanton Cliffs
Although on paper this walk is pretty much a there-and-back-again kind of affair, the 'there' along the beach is very different to the 'back' along the cliff top. We started in Old Hunstanton, walked up the beach below the famous two-tone cliffs, had a cuppa in Hunstanton at the lovely Norfolk Deli, then wandered back via the lighthouse and old ruins. You could just as easily do it the other way around. (NB: check the tide times if you want to make sure you can get around the bottom of the cliffs.)
Another diverting feature of the beach, the wreck of the Sheraton, a steam trawler built in 1907 and wrecked in 1947.
2. Up through the Ringstead Downs
Norfolk is famously flat - but it turns out there are some "hills" just out the back of Hunstanton, at Ringstead. We drove out one beautiful frosty morning and parked at the Ringstead end of the downs, following the path straight up between two low, mainly wooded rises. The return walk was much the same, though we detoured up to a lookout over the little park in an old chalk quarry and then down through said park before heading to the car.
3. Beach huts and holiday homes . . . next-the-sea
This walk follows the River Hun (which is not very big, for a river) from Old Hunstanton to Holme-next-the-Sea, with the golf course on your left. At Holme, walk out towards the beach, then follow the Norfolk Coast Path back to Old Hunstanton. You'll see all manner of holiday accommodation, from hotels to beach huts, caravans to fancy houses - especially if you explore the villages at each end.
Holme is where the Peddars Way joins the Norfolk Coast Path (they're treated as one national trail). More warning signs!
Now we're talking! Beach huts (or beach boxes, if you're from Melbourne). We slept on the verandah of a box like this last December. Not this time!
4. Handsome Holkham Hall
This final walk is a little longer and a bit further east along the coast at Holkham. Holkham is a large, walled estate with a fancy hall, a landscaped and well maintained park, farmland, various monuments and loads of deer. They have a number of suggested walks, both shorter and longer than the one we did. We set off a bit after 9am on Boxing Day and by the time we had finished the carpark, the village and the nearby nature reserve were heaving. We'd chosen a good day to come early!
Probably my favourite building at Holkham (and one of the oldest): the ice house. Not spectacular, but very cool. (Cool, haha.)
I hope you found those little walks enjoyable to read about - and if you ever visit that corner of Norfolk, I hope you give them a go. Let me know if you do!
Picnics and walks - an autumn to enjoy . . .
Fine weather continued on and off into October and we took advantage of it by having an impromptu picnic in the fields behind our house. It was a good opportunity to start properly trialling our Brukit, which we'd bought as part of our Snowy River adventure preparations.
We did get a few misty mornings, though, and it was clear that the seasons had turned.
The same morning as above. The mini roundabout in the foreground was the epicentre of the Battle of Hastings (according to Time Team).
In the October half-term break, we went for a two day walk near Cambridge. I posted a lot of pics at the time, but I took quite a few more! Here's a selection.
I also made this little video from footage I took on the walk. One thing I've noticed is that when I don't go out with the intention of making a film, the footage I take isn't consistent or well considered. It's something to think about if I plan to make any videos in 2017.
Oh my gosh! In less than two months we will be in Australia, setting off the most exciting (and physically challenging) adventure we’ve ever attempted. Eep!
View of Mount Kosciuszko and the Etheridge Range from the headwaters of the Snowy River - Trevar Alan Chilver.
I posted about our Snowy River adventure plans back in July and again in October. So, I reckon it's about time for another update.
We’ve organised most of the transport and food drops that are essential to completing the journey. I’m really grateful to all the friends and family members who have offered to help (or allowed themselves to be roped into it). From our perspective, it’s not only about getting a bit of food and a pair of clean socks: I think sharing our trip with other people, even if it’s just for an afternoon or an evening, is going to be a real highlight. We’ve also booked accommodation at the three spots other than my parents’ house where we’ll have the opportunity to sleep in actual beds (Jindabyne, Dalgety and Buchan). Luxury! It remains to be seen if we actually make it to said accommodation on the booked nights. Who knows what might happen?
Now that transport, food drops and accommodation are pretty much sorted, we’ve given Kate, our dehydrated-meal-producing-kitchen-wizard, a proper breakdown of how many meals we need. These homemade delights will be supplemented by a steady stream of instant noodles, sachets of porridge (not as fancy as Elizabeth's!), scroggin and chocolate bars. I have a spreadsheet. (Of course I have a spreadsheet!) Emily, who is as big a planning nerd as me, is going to do the supermarket shopping side of things and divide everything up into food drop tubs in advance of our arrival. I admit that I’m a bit envious that she gets to do this, but she’s promised to Skype me for a “boxing” video and to take a few photos. I will no doubt share them here or on Twitter.
Thanks to family in Australia, we have a full set of paper maps for the river - nine of them, in fact. I’m in the process of comparing them to satellite images, photos and other sources to make sure they’re accurate where it counts (e.g. emergency access, fire trails) and to see if there have been any major changes since they were printed (e.g. new developments and roads). It might also give us an idea of which side of the river we might like to be on - for example, to avoid cliffs, bluffs and flowing creeks, or to take advantage of wide sandbanks and flatter areas for pitching our tent. Of course, satellite images aren’t necessarily up-to-date and it is the nature of rivers to reshape their immediate surroundings, but this should give us a good overview.
Having decided to try getting from McKillops Bridge to the Buchan River on foot, I’ve been turning my attention to another problem stretch in terms of access. From the dam wall at Jindabyne to where the river runs back into the Kosciuszko National Park, we’ll be travelling through the Monaro. We’ve been asking around and most people have suggested it’s not possible to walk this section either. I’m not sure if that’s because (a) it’s legally dubious (in Victoria, the river is bordered by a strip of Crown Land which is technically, if not practically, OK to walk along - in New South Wales, only the water itself is public access), (b) it’s not physically possible to walk or (c) it’s not possible from their points of view, although it might be from ours. Other options include wide detours away from the river (probably on bikes, considering the distance) or paddling. We shall see.
Back in October, I wrote that we were a falling behind in our gear acquisition. This really started to stress me out, but I think we’re back on track. We have sleeping bags (two Pipedream 400s from Alpkit) and new shoes (originally I got Merrell Moabs, but I had to return them as they didn’t work for me, so I am now the proud owner of a pair of vegan-friendly Merrel Grassbows which are amazingly light; Dan got Meindl Responds). I gave Dan the job of sorting out our electrics - he’s bought spare camera batteries, a nifty little USB/international charger, memory cards and whatnot. My parents got a PLB from KTI - which we’ll borrow for the trip (working out the international registration and transport was just too difficult). Excitingly, our tent has arrived! We ended up going with the Alpkit Ordos 3, which feels huge for its weight. We had fun last weekend setting it up in our friend’s garden. There are a few other bits to get, too: gaiters (to help fend off snakes), a decent digital dictaphone/recorder for note-taking, gas (has to be bought in Australia), toiletries, first aid kit top ups, a map case and so on.
We really have done bugger all physical training. We’ve gone on some short walks and are planning a few middle-distance day walks over the next month. It’s just so cold and wintery. Bleh! I’ve pledged to carry my bag (with some stuff in it) for all our walks from now until we leave. Speaking of bags, we need to do a trial pack at some point to make sure we can carry everything. No doubt we’ll end up jettisoning a few bits and pieces. I’d also like to set the tent up again - and sleep in it at least once! - before we leave.
Mentally and emotionally, I’m still not really sure how to prepare for this trip. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve never done anything like this before, never set off on a trek without knowing it was possible. Last week, I realised a lot of my anxiety stemmed from uncertainty - not only about what we’ll come across, but how we will deal with it. So I turned all managerial and decided to write down what I wanted to get out of the journey - a kind of aims and objectives, if you will. What a dork. I came up with six main goals:
So, that’s where we’re at. I’ll try to write another update before we leave (maybe about food!). I hope you’ve found it at least mildly interesting to see all of the things that go on behind the scenes in planning a big trip like this. Let me know if you have any questions . . .
Summer started to quietly settle towards autumn and we went back to work . . .
I made this recording for Allysse's Nature Sound of the Month series.
We started the month with the end of the holidays and another go at Champing with friends. The days grew shorter and the mornings darker, which gave us the chance to see some gorgeous sunrises.
We still made it out for some walks, though, including our monthly outings with the HRRA walking group and our weekly strolls around Arlington Reservoir on the way home from work.
We also walked the whole of our local long distance path, the 1066 Country Walk. Handily, it goes right past our front door (literally, as our front door is directly onto the street) and Battle is slap-bang in the middle. A good place to rest overnight! Allysse came down to join us and she wrote up a blog about it. A few of our HRRA friends came along for the second day, too. It was a fun weekend.
Wales, Malvern, Birmingham, London, Sussex, Kent . . . August was jam-packed with activities as we made the most of our summer holidays. This is a bit of an epic post - though, to be fair, it's mainly photos.
After walking from channel to channel, our holiday continued with a short stay in Monmouthshire. Our Airbnb wasn't far from Rockfield Studios, actually, and the museum in Monmouth had an interesting exhibition about the studio. We were also delighted to discover Monteas, a looseleaf tea shop with a friendly owner. We bought some delicious tea.
From Monmouth, we went canoeing down the River Wye, which was great fun. I'd only kayaked before, so it was interesting to get a feel for canoeing - it feels much more sedate and, if you're in a canoe with others, there's more team work and communication.
After a few days on the river, it was off to Malvern to finally visit the Malvern Hills. The short chain of hills is an eye-catching feature in the landscape, rising abruptly from the low-lying surrounds. We've seen them in passing and have always meant to visit, but it took us several years to get around to it! We just had one morning to climb to the top of one of the hills and enjoy a cup of tea sheltering from the stiff breeze. But what a morning! I loved being able to pick out other places we've been (the line of Hay Bluff was just visible in the hazy distance) and other hills we might want to climb.
Malvern was an overnight stop on our way to Birmingham, where we stayed with a friend and spent a couple of days exploring the city (and washing our clothes, because after two weeks of walking, canoeing and sightseeing, we were a bit smelly). She took us around the city and we got to spend a few hours in the fabulous Library of Birmingham, another place we've been meaning to check out for years. We browsed books (and borrowed some, thanks to our friend!), admired the old Shakespeare Memorial Room which has been incorporated in the top floor of the contemporary building and wandered around the roof gardens checking out the view.
On the way back to London, we detoured to visit the Alpkit warehouse and showroom, to look for kit in advance of our Snowy River adventure. That was fun, especially because they let me climb inside the fluffiest sleeping bag I have ever seen. I've always wanted to try one of those out, though I have absolutely no reason to use one in earnest!
In London, we met up with a friend for breakfast and did a bit of city exploring to find some wooden streets. Yep. Did you know that the streets of London (and Melbourne, and many other cities) were once paved with wood? You can read about it in this great article by Ian Visits. I came across this when doing some research for our Snowy River adventure (a proper research rabbit hole) and decided I wanted to see it for myself. Our walk took us down some interesting back streets as well as along main roads, making for a fun afternoon wandering around the city.
Home again, home again. But being home didn't stop us getting out and about. We were making the most of our time before heading back to work.
Wild swimming in the River Rother near Newenden. (Most people venture out in boats hired from the campsite.)
On the last day of August we walked all the way around Bewl Water. We'd been meaning to do the 20km/12.5mi circuit for a while and the weather forecast was fine, so off we set! Our circuit took us anti-clockwise from the main carpark/cafe area, along dirt and paved paths, down country lanes, around a few small hills, through woods and fields and along the Sussex Border Path for a while. It's a great walk if you're up for doing something of that length.
And on that note, let's call it a day (or a month)!
A summer of celebrations and holidays!
A friend came to visit in July. Having visitors is always lovely, partly because it gives us the chance to check out some of our favourite places and share them with other people. One day we went up to Battle Museum and spent some time in the gorgeous Almonry Gardens out the back. A community tapestry to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings was underway, so we all went and stitched a bit of history!
It was a year for anniversaries in Sussex. Brighton was celebrating 250 years of Jewish residency in the town, with a series of cultural events including lectures, concerts and exhibitions. One key event in the calendar was the unveiling of a Blue Plaque dedicated to Brighton's (then called Brighthelmstone) first Jewish resident, Israel Samuel. Israel Samuel is my ancestor and we attended the unveiling along with another two hundred or so spectators and various dignitaries. There were three direct descendents including me, my third cousin from New Zealand and her son who lives in the USA. We were treated very well as guests of honour, invited to a reception in the mayor's parlor, a special opening of the old synagogue and to lunch in Brighton. The Middle Street Synagogue is a beautiful old building which is no longer used for worship and is not often open to the public, so it was a real treat to be able to spend some time inside.
We had a weekend break with friends in the little town of Haddenham in Buckinghamshire. It was lovely to catch up with them and to feed the ducks in the pond on the green outisde the church. (Plus, we just spotted it in the most recent episode of Midsomer Murders - yes, I have seen every single episode ever, don't judge me.)
And then it was the summer holidays. Several weeks off in July and August has to be one of the best bits about working in a school! We set off to walk from the English Channel to the Bristol Channel with nothing but a backpack (and reservations at a number of B&Bs, haha!). I posted lots of photos at the time, but here are a few more from the walk - including some from the last day, which was actually the 1st of August. Shhh, don't tell!
I shall sign off with a very short compilation of video footage taken at various places over the month of July.
In which I
In which I do things and write about them
In which I tag
In which I archive