Injury update (March 2017) – I’m back

Blimey, this has been a much longer saga than I ever could have imagined.

First run in over a year!

Way (way) back in December 2015 I was doing sprints with the lovely folk from Project Awesome and on one of the turns (nothing special) something clicked. Of course I just carried on because that’s what I always do. Later that day in a meeting at work my leg collapsed under me and I couldn’t walk at all.

I went to a physio and eventually my doctor who in turn referred me to a joint specialist. I was (officially) diagnosed with a meniscus tear (a bit of cartilage inside the knee). The consultant even delighted in saying that I had ‘fat knees’ which was tough to take from a basically pretty corpulent man.

For over a year I have been (mostly) doing my physio (a LOT of squats), switching my exercise to cycling and generally being ultra careful not to twist my knee. The pattern then followed that I would feel a bit better, push things on the exercise front and re-injure myself. At the beginning a re-injury would have me limping for a week but over time the recovery time reduced and the gaps between injury increased.

I’ll be honest, there were times when I thought that I was going to have a permanent (albeit minor) disability and never run again. I love running which meant this thought was pretty depressing. As much as I know how minor this is and how lucky I’ve been physically in my life it has gotten me down.

Since the turn of the year though, things have improved a lot. I’ve not had a relapse and whilst I can definitely still ‘feel’ the knee throb a bit after exercise it seems more or less ok. The big news was last weekend when i did an actual bonafide real proper run. It was very slow (by my old standards) but a solid 4.5km round the park.

I felt quite emotional afterwards. Doing a proper run again felt HUGE. Oh yes, i’m back baby! [cough]

Project awesome 'happiness day'

Photo by www.annarachelphotography.com/

 

How to winter bivvy on a budget

The last two years i’ve enjoyed going on campouts throughout the winter. In the UK this rarely gets too extreme (sub-zero temps are rare) but it is undoubtedly a very different undertaking for someone who has only tried a summer microadventure.

frosty leaf

The obvious answer to this is to pony up and invest in some decent winter kit. A three or four season sleeping bag and maybe an arctic puffa jacket. The trouble is a decent down sleeping bag will set you back several hundred pounds at least. One of the things i truly love about microadventures are that they are pretty inclusive and expressly don’t require a major financial outlay. What to do then?

I have some thoughts on how to stay cozy on those cold cold nights without breaking the bank. I’ve assumed here that someone owns at least a bivvy bag, a sleeping mat and a summer sleeping bag.

Sleeping bag solutions
Ok, so a 1-2 season bag isn’t going to cut it in the winter months. How about buying (or borrowing) a second 1-2 season bag and put one inside the other? Decathlon (one of my favourite shops) do a 2 season synthetic bag for £30.

If you don’t quite want to lay out for (or have to store) another sleeping bag but need a bit ‘extra’, how about a sleeping bag liner. Silk is ideal but expensive so why not try a micro fleece for £15?

Boxhill awesome Campout

Sleeping mats
Some kind of insulating mat is a good idea even in summer months but on frozen ground it’s a good idea to double up (or is that down?). Foam roll mats are relatively cheap but if you want to maximise your ‘bang for your buck’ try something like this aluminium backed roll from Amazon for only £5.70.

Insulating yourself from the ground will make a huge difference in winter.

Hot water bottle
A few pounds will buy yourself a hot waterbottle that you can fill from a stove just before bed. It won’t last all night but it will start you off toasty. You can also get some chemical heaters that may make a useful contribution.

Shorne Woods Country Park

Pack on the layers
I’ve heard quite a few times how not wearing much to bed somehow makes you warmer. The basic laws of thermodynamics refute this i think. In a frosty situation wear many layers, even your coat if you have to. In the morning you can get up and move around to stay warm.

Get some extra socks to go over your normal socks. If you have a spare jumper or coat, put it down the bottom of your bag to keep those toes toasty.

WEAR A WOOLLY HAT, a scarf (or a buff) and some light gloves if need be. If you have a hoody pull it up. The neck and head areas lose a lot of heat otherwise.

Don’t breathe in your sleeping bag
I realise that this is a tough one but try to keep at least your mouth and nose exposed to the air. One of the enemies of warmth is being wet and breathing inside your sleeping bag may keep it damp.

You’ll need the BIG rucksack
Quite a few of the tips i’ve suggested here will add considerable bulk to your microadventure kit – 2 sleeping bags, 2 roll mats, extra clothes, a stove etc.

There is an old trope – light/small, effective, cheap – pick two. In this case i’m suggesting we go for effective and cheap.

Good luck microadventurers! If you have any of your own tips, let me know. 

Boxhill awesome Campout

A Walk across London – North to South

Having ‘conquered’ a walk across London from east to west (Part 1, part 2, part 3) it was time to tackle North to South. London is a lot shorter than it is wide and I reckoned that this route could be done in just two days of walking. I was also really fortunate that my friends Nickos and David were keen to join me on the challenge.

Part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

It turns out that the most northerly part of Greater London is a lonely country road just inside the M25 near Crews Hill station in Enfield. This required walking along an unpaved verge for a kilometer or so. The completest in me meant that we had to make the border. My companions were less fussed. At least there was a sign to mark the start. It was exciting that almost from the start we could see the half-way point of the Shard in central London.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

The morning was quite cold but very sunny and it was a pretty lovely walk alongside fields and trees. It wasn’t too long before we found suburbia though in the form of Enfield town. There some very nice parks though and my old friend Google maps took us through as many as possible.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

I did take us slightly away from the most direct route firstly by insisting on walking by a street near Bounds Green that I used to live in and second by climbing up to Alexandra palace. The views from here are magnificent and the ‘palace’ itself is still pretty great.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

By this point, however, the beautiful sunshine gave way to threatening clouds. It wouldn’t be long before it turned into drizzle and finally a proper downpour. Good old British weather.

The revelation of the walk was quite how nice Crouch end is, a place that none of us had been to (at least in many years). This is one of the best things about walking round your home town. Discovering or re-discovering places that life hasn’t taken you to.

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

It’s fair to say that once the rain got heavy the walk was a little bit of a trial and we didn’t dawdle. Also the central London Sunday shoppers were out and making fast walking a bit tricky too. When will there be a ‘locals lane’ on London pavements?

A walk across London (north/south) part 1

We ended our day on Waterloo Bridge, the northern part of our walk completed. Damp but undefeated we celebrated with a beer and a burger. Yay!

Part 2

The weather couldn’t have been better for the second part of this walk (about three weeks later) – a crisp cold blue sky day. It may have been cold but it was glorious. We started off from Waterloo bridge and made our way down the river to Vauxhall.

A Walk across London - north to south

Leaving the river we passed through Stockwell and made it to Tooting Bec Common where we stopped for some excellent brownie (thanks David).

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

From here our journey took us through the unremarkable suburbs of Mitcham and then Carshalton and Wallingford. It included passing the aromatic Beddington sewage works.

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

With daylight starting to go we finally arrived in Coulsden, the last bit of town before our destination. Farthing down would have been a superb end to the trip. It is a pretty bit of heath with lovely views into happy Valley and beyond. We even got a majestic sunset.

A Walk across London - north to south

A Walk across London - north to south

Sadly, however, the edge of Greater London was a further 1.5 km down a small unpaved lane. I was checking our position on my Ordnance Survey app on my phone which eventually told us we were there. We had made it. We had a nip of whiskey and a celebratory photo.

A Walk across London - north to south

All that remained was to walk several miles back up the lane and across farthing down to Coulsdon where we could have a drink and a curry.

A huge thanks to my companions David and Nickos who were brilliant company. Even when it rained or I made them walk to the middle of nowhere ‘because that’s what the map says’.

This was a really nice project that I’d recommend.

The Invisible Adventure

Why do I like to go to the top of mountains? Why do I like to sleep outdoors on a winter night? Why cycle 200 miles visiting 12 castles? Is it because I love these things for themselves or is it because I can brag about them on facebook and instagram? Is success measured by how I felt or by how many ‘likes’ I get?


The last question has been haunting me a little bit lately. It is a sign of modern times that we (or at least I) judge myself and others at least partially on the ‘cool’ stuff that they do and then share. I’m not proud of this.

I’ve been telling myself that I really do love the outdoors for the joy that it brings to my heart and that I don’t need any recognition. Or do I?

The test is to think up something that I think is super cool and then do it without posting a thing about it. Don’t say where I’ve gone, don’t post any pictures and don’t blog about it. Simple right? Well, I’ve planned a mini trip and if I was going to put my money where my mouth is, this is a great opportunity. The problem, and why I’ve written this post at all is that when it has come to the crunch, I find myself being pretty disappointed not to be able shout about it. What have I become?

It has made me all the more determined to try it out anyway.

 

Microadventure: Bath Skyline

I’m lucky in that my job occasionally takes me around the country (and sometimes even abroad). So when I had a speaking engagement booked in Bristol it was obvious to see if I could squeeze in a #microadventure.

Bath microadventure

My adventure friend Emma is lucky enough to live in Bath (conveniently close to Bristol) and was kind enough to scout a few locations for us. By the time I arrived though, lady luck did initially look a bit against us. It was raining steadily and all the pubs were completely full due to the Bath vs Bristol Rugby match. After a swift half and a gastro pub dinner (we are classy microadventurers!) we were on our way climbing up the steep atmospheric streets of Bath.

Bath microadventure

I like to think that I’m not overly superstitious but when crossing a field our head torches caught what seemed like a thousand devil eyed creatures charging towards us. Don’t panic, it wasn’t devils, it was cows but they were definitely running our way which is worrying enough. I did my usual tactic when confronted by cows which is to stand my ground and wait for them to stop. They stopped. Big sigh of relief all round.

Bath microadventure

We made the skyline and were able to find a mostly convenient spot away from the path with some trees to rig a tarp. At least by now the rain had stopped and there were even a few stars about. As well as a shelter the (camouflaged) tarp also made us very tricky to spot. The night was cold but it was dry and I was warm enough in my sleeping bag plus a few more layers.

Bath microadventure

The morning was bitter cold but a warming cup of coffee and a bit of malt loaf did the trick of reviving us enough to get going.

16 campouts in 2016
Instead of just coffee I had been tempted to bring some booze as this was my 16th campout of the year and the target that I set myself in January. In just over a year I’ve gone from someone who had never slept outdoors without at least a tent to what feels like a microadventure veteran.

The question did arise as to what I should do next year – 17 challenges in 2017. Some early thoughts:

What was definitely a wonderful bit of luck was the amazing sunrise over a frosty field that welcomed our walk back into Bath. About five minutes after this it started raining. Every gorgeous sunrise just fills my heart with joy and makes it sing.

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

Bath microadventure

A fantastic night out to complete this challenge. I’m sure i’ll be doing more campouts but I’m sure I won’t be keeping score from now on.

A huge thanks to Emma who was such a great adventure companion!

Expedition: The Tour de Turret

If you read my plan for this trip you’ll know that I was excited but also completely terrified. I have friends who have done much bigger things than a few days of cycling but i’m a believer of finding one’s own level of adventure. For me this is a huge thing (for now) but I hope that it will be another step towards bigger and more ambitious things in the future.

The Tour de Turret would (hopefully) take me 200(ish) miles from Nottingham, via twelve castles, to London. I reckoned on this taking four days with about 50 miles a day and bivvying out the nights in between. I had no exact plan on where I was going to stay, it was going to be ad-hoc microadventure/stealth camp style.

Things started with a bit more excitement than I’d wanted with realising a bit late that I wouldn’t be able to get the tube to St.Pancras (or even into central London) as it was still rush hour. I wanted to conserve my legs but ended up hammering it into town – let’s not start by missing my train!

Day 1 – Nottingham to Tamworth
Despite doing quite a bit of public speaking for my job, I feel very uncomfortable filming myself. Feel lucky that i’ve posted this!

Tour de Turret

Nottingham Castle didn’t actually have much ‘castle’ left after it was razed during the civil war and a previous house was burnt down. The gateway looked alright though! I really felt that if I was going to have any chance of completing this adventure then I needed to get my quota in today and that meant reaching at least Tamworth, 43 miles (70km) away which is on top of the 17km that I cycled to St. Pancras this morning. It was a tall order (but i’m taller).

Tour de Turret

The first leg of my journey took me through Nottingham and soon out into a bit of countryside. A feature of this trip is going to be canals and like many things in life, sometimes they are my friend and sometimes my enemy. Today though, canals were mostly my friend and Google maps (cycle) took me across or down a few so as to avoid roads.

Tour de Turret

Before long I’d arrived at Castle No.2 – Elvaston Castle. ‘But its a house’ I hear you cry! Yes it is, BUT it has castle in its name and look at the crenelations! Plus if you’re going to be picky about this one, there is worse to come I assure you. I, at least, was very happy to have stopped by here.

Tour de Turret

Feeling the pressure of time and the limited daylight hours I pressed on to my next target, the brilliantly named ‘Ashby de-la-Zouche Castle‘ (No.3). Another feature of this trip and another ‘sometimes my friend and sometimes my enemy’ is Google maps (cycle). On the whole it seems to be my friend on the open road but it gives me the right old run-around in any built up area. In Ashby it led me around three sides of the castle including a back alley instead of the short, direct route. I’ll leave further ranting about google maps for later!

Tour de Turret

After Ashby, I started to get a bit tired but promised myself a good meal in Tamworth. This section was mostly an internal argument about whether I wanted a curry or fish and chips or maybe a pizza. Plus where was I going to leave my bike where it wasn’t going to get nicked (I only brought a light flimsy lock).

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

I made it to Tamworth (and its castle) just after five’o’clock and in the end I had a superb curry and a beer and it went a long way towards re-energizing my batteries! By the time I was finished it was dark and I had the small matter of finding somewhere to bed down for the night. No formal campsites for me, I was out to stealth camp!

I had ear-marked some lakes south of Tamworth as having good potential for a bivvy out but getting to them was harder than it seemed. Firstly it was now dark and secondly good’ol google maps sent me down the canal which was narrow and muddy. I ended up walking my bike for at least 2-3 km. Finding a campout spot in the dark is always tricky but even more so when you need to hide a bike as well. Especially when the bike is covered in reflective stickers especially made to be seen in the dark.

After a bit of anguished searching I found what I thought was the perfect spot – a fisherman’s seat/place/hide [not sure what you call them] that was not obvious from the path and would give me a great view of the sunrise in the morning. I unpacked and bedded down for the night only to be woken about an hour later by a couple of guys (fishing wardens I think) who were apparently looking for poachers. Despite not having any means to catch fish (plus I WAS ASLEEP) they insisted that I move on to be on the safe side. For the record this is the first time I’ve ever been moved on! Apparently they caught the reflections of my bike from across the lake.

No one likes being woken up and I had the hassle of packing my gear and then finding somewhere else. About a mile away I found a place set in from the path and hidden by trees that looked ok. It was a lot damper here and as a wildlife bonus I was pooped on by (i think) a bird above me. It was pretty sizable and the thud on my bivvy bag actually woke me up.

Tour de Turret

Day 2 – Tamworth (kind of) to Broughton Castle

At least the night hadn’t been all that cold. That is about as positive as I can make it. The morning was all foggy and dark (no ace sunrise) and after brewing up some coffee and a small bowl of porridge I was actually grateful to be getting on my way.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

My first castle of the day (No.5 overall) was the privately owned fortified mansion of Maxstoke. With the scary signs in the drive plus some actual people in the gatehouse lodge I didn’t go in. You can (just about) make out a tiny bit of the castle from at the end of the drive.

Tour de Turret

It was a grey, cold cycle and I was more than a bit grateful when I reached Meriden (it claims to be the centre of England) and more specifically a cafe where I was able to get a fry-up and a coffee. On this trip I always ensured that I had enough to eat in my panniers but also took every opportunity to get a proper meal (and get my waterbottles refilled). At the table next to mine was a fabulous couple of old guys having a chat. They seemed so happy and cheerful, even on such a grey morning. Cheered me up a bit too!

Tour de Turret

Back on the road, it wasn’t long before I got to castle no.6 the fabulous looking Kenilworth Castle. Unlike yesterday I actually had a lot more time today to actually look around if I wanted, however, when it came to it I preferred to get some miles clocked while I was still feeling good.

Tour de Turret

A short eight miles further down the road I was in the lovely town of Warwick with what might be one of the best castles on my trip (No. 7 Warwick Castle). I was slightly pre-prepared for the fact that the castle is now more of a theme park than an historical building and I can’t say I was very tempted to go in (not least because of the ‘premium’ cost). I settled instead for an old world looking teashop and a lovely cream tea.

Tour de Turret

Refreshed by coffee and clotted cream I was on my way again. Not far from Warwick I found myself in a suburb of Leamington Spa called Heathcote, which also happens to be my mum’s family name. Is this where my ancestors are from?

Tour de Turret

The countryside for the rest of the day was distinctly more undulating than i’d been used to so far and the hills started to take their toll a bit. At one point near the village of Avon Dassett I saw what looked like an iron age hill-top fort. Bonus ‘castle’ here I reckoned.

Tour de Turret

Although not a fort it did turn out to be excavations from mine workings and they are now a nice looking country park. From this point onwards I was looking out for potential campout sites. I felt that unlike the previous night I wanted to be settled before dark this time.

Tour de Turret

It was a gorgeous late afternoon and castle no. 8 – Broughton Castle (another fortified manor house) looked good in this light. After this my radar was set exclusively to ‘bivvy site’ and I spent an anxious 45 minutes looking for somewhere that was a) near my route, b) hidden from the road and any houses and c) would give me a good view of the sunrise.

Tour de Turret

I still enjoyed the sunset of course! I found a good place in a field, behind a hedgerow. Once dark I unpacked and got in my sleeping bag, even though it was only 1830. It got cold quite quickly but it didn’t matter as I was snug and reading my kindle. I think I was asleep by eight-thirty!

Day 3 – Broughton Castle to The Tower of London

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

After carefully ensuring that I would wake up facing east I was a tad disappointed to find it was grey and cold again. No sunrise for Jason [sad face emoticon].

Sunrise disappointment aside, I’d slept a lot better last night (I did have almost eleven hours). Usual coffee and porridge and I was away. With bivvying there is at least not a lot of faff in the mornings. After a short few miles I was in the twee village of Deddington where I was lucky to see a sign for ‘cafe’ and ‘coffee and breakfast inside’. I wandered into what turned out to be a posh Inn. The staff may have spotted something of the fact that I’d been wearing the same clothes for two days and nights and that i’d literally slept in a hedge. They put me well away from the other normal, I assume sweet smelling, guests. I didn’t care too much and just enjoyed my belgian waffle and bacon.

Tour de Turret

There was not a lot of suffering on the food front on this trip I can assure you! My time filling up on coffee and brekkie also gave the day time to perk up a bit and by the time I got to (Castle no.9) Deddington Castle there was even a bit of sun.

Tour de Turret

From the picture i imagine you’re thinking ‘sure, nice field but where is the castle?’. Well, it got knocked down ok and we only have the earth wall and ditch left. I did warn you earlier that it would get worse. I promise they get better from here on!

Tour de Turret

From here I had a pleasant morning cycling in the chill sunshine, the highlight being to briefly overtake a group of cyclists in lycra (and definitely no panniers). To be fair I think they were going slow waiting for someone to catch up. Or am I just really fast? It is the first one. I caught up on some provisions outside Bicester at a military base before reaching Castle no.10 Boarstall Tower.

Tour de Turret

I knew the tower was closed to visitors and in any case I wasn’t that worried about going in. I was just eating a snack outside, however, when a car comes up the drive and an incredibly posh woman winds down her window to tell me the place is closed. She sounded quite annoyed as folk apparently don’t read the sign and just knock on the door. It turns out that she lived there and its a house when it isn’t an English Heritage tourist trap. I told her about my trip and interest in castles and she softened considerably and said I was welcome to look round the gardens. I think she was on the cusp of inviting me in for tea when I said I had to leave.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

Following a caffeine top-up in Thame I joined the wonderful Phoenix Trail (and old railway line) where I saw a deer (a mountjac), one of several I saw during the day. The end of this trail brought me to Princes Risborough and the Chilterns.

The thing is I’d vaguely planned to camp somewhere in the chilterns and end my day here. The problem was that it was only 3 o’clock and I was feeling pretty fresh. Well, whilst not quite ‘fresh’ I felt that I could carry on ok. Once past the hills I knew it would be tougher to find somewhere to bivvy so I felt I had to either stop or really go for broke.

Every now and again I want to see if I can really push it and this seemed a good time. Time to put the hammer down and just keep going.

I came unstuck almost immediately by a killer of a hill outside of High Wycombe. It defeated me in that I had to push my bike up most of it. Slough was tough in a different way in that google maps directed me down the major roads which were a nightmare. I never thought I’d be glad to see Eton.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

It felt really amazing to get to Windsor Castle (a real proper castle!). I was a bit tired now but determined to finish. My initial thought was to get something to eat in Windsor but the place was rammed with tourists and it occurred to me that I should carry on while it was still light.

Crossing back over to Eton I did have a wee in the school sport grounds (out of sight I may add). It’s about as subversive a thing as I can imagine. From here I suffered a number of miles on the bumpy towpath of the Grand Union canal (curse you google maps). I did stop in Chiswick for a sourdough pizza and [cough] a small glass of wine.

Tour de Turret

The last miles were pretty tough as I had to have my ‘city cycling’ wits about me and I was pretty pooped. I was pretty damn chuffed with myself when the Tower of London finally rolled into view.

Tour de Turret

Tour de Turret

I think I might have clocked up 90-95 miles. Bloody hell that’s a lot! A decent four day cycle in three days! I treated myself to the train home from central London.

This definitely ranks as one of my proudest moments in a while. Beforehand I was incredibly nervous about doing the distance. I also did find it a bit stressful bivvying with the bike, something that I don’t think would have worried me if i’d been walking.

After my epic third day of cycling I was a total zombie and good for nothing the day after. It has made me think though, that if I’d stuck to the 50 miles a day I feel I could have carried that on for some time. Something similar or longer now feels quite doable and I’m already eyeing up ‘Tour de Turret 2’ amongst other projects.

It’s been emotional.

 

Tour de Turret – The plan

A couple of months ago I did a 2-day cycle (and campout) to Ditchling Beacon and back with the awesome Fiona Quinn. It was something that i’d not done before and the total of 110 miles felt like quite an achievement for me. But of course, when you break through one barrier, you need to line up the next one.

One bike, four days – where to go?
At the end of my two day trip I was very very tired and the prospect of doing another day on top seemed pretty daunting. So obviously I’ve set myself the goal of doing a four day cycle this time. It scares the hell out of me and there is a real jeopardy of not finishing. However, it is this very fear that will make  this trip worthwhile. Please let this statement be true!

With my current levels of bike fitness (just infrequent commuting into town) I didn’t want to push my mileage too much. I figure, therefore, that 50 miles a day is challenging but doable. The next question is where to go to and from? I very much like the idea of cycling home so if London is the destination where is 200 miles away? My answer is Nottingham!

A Theme?
Very much inspired by the wonderful adventure themes of Helen Proudfoot (Ham sandwich, Wellington Boot and Sauce to sauce) I was keen to do or visit something memorable. I am quite happy to be gimmicky!

I like a bit of history and in particular I quite like to visit castles. Call it a weakness if you like. So if I started in Nottingham, how many castles can I visit on the way? The answer is less than I imagined (most castles are in ‘trouble’ border areas or the coast). If I dodge about the midlands and squeeze in Windsor it looks like I can get in eleven castles. It also helps if I extend my definition to include folly’s, fakes, towers, fortified farms and in Nottingham’s case just being on the site of an iconic castle. The goal is therefore:

Nottingham Castle
Elvaston Castle
Ashby de la Zouche Castle
Tamworth Castle
Maxstoke Castle
Kenilworth Castle
Warwick Castle
Broughton Castle
Boarstall Tower
Windsor castle
Tower of London

I wanted a cool name to go with this trip (obvs). My ideas included ‘Battlement bike-ride’ and ‘Crenelation cycle’. It took the wonderful Helen to come up with ‘Tour de Turret’ which I think we can all agree is the winner!

I’ve booked a train up to Nottingham and given myself four clear days to cycle back to London. It’s now or never. Here goes.

tower-of-london-aerial-view-132125153