30 August 2011

Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis

Getting out and about in the great outdoors is brilliant. Sometimes there's nothing more required than a bit of exercise or looking at some great, or even some fairly mundane, views. Sometimes, however, you get to experience a bit of wildlife that can be a bit out of the ordinary and unexpected. This is what happened to Lucy and myself a couple of days ago on one of our local wanders. We saw a Kingfisher. We weren't looking for one and we certainly didn't expect to see one at our local river, the river that has a stinky, old tyre factory next to it!

It was like an arrow fired from a bow, that's how fast it was. If it was any colour other than electric blue, I'd have missed it. Luckily as quickly as it fired past us, it settled on a branch across the other side of the river. It was fishing, that was our thought anyway. These thoughts were soon validated as it darted off again, but a minute or two later came back with a little fish firmy held between its beak! We've seen Kingfishers before, we even 'chased' one in a little boat in the Norfolk Broads (where the photo above was taken), but we've never seen one at tea-time!

As it settled to eat its catch it became hard to see. It was face on to us, so it's rusty-orange front merged into the surroundings. Luckily it took a few attempts to arrange the fish head first ready for eating.

Lucy did wonder if maybe it had chicks. I wasn't sure so sure, as I felt it was quite late in the year. But the books do say that eggs are laid between April and July and that incubation is 20 days. So maybe it was having a quick break from feeding the kids. Or maybe, as it takes 25 days from hatching for a young one to fly and start hunting for itself, this was a parent enjoying some time off before starting the whole cycle again next year!

Either way, it was a brilliant sighting and a great indicator that the stinky, old tyre factory isn't doing any damage - as Kingfishers are indicators of a healthy river. Those 10 minutes will bring enjoyment for years.

Date photographed: May 2009
Location: Melksham - River Ant on the Norfolk Broads
Resources: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/k/kingfisher/index.aspx


Just a quick post today. I just noticed a TV series on BBC 4 about weather. It's already on the third programme: Wind.

It's available here, but only for 6 days. It seems that it's from a series that was initially shown in 2009.

For more information on weather, here's a really handy blog from the BBC.

23 August 2011

The Countryside Code

I'd forgotten all about this, as I don't remember being made aware of it since I was a child! But I keep coming across this Code on various websites, so I thought I'd replicate it here - just as a quick and handy resource.

Five simple messages summarise the Code:

1.be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs
2.leave gates and property as you find them
3.protect plants and animals and take your litter home
4.keep dogs under close control
5.consider other people

The government website that discusses the Code and links to related websites can be reached here.

Red Tape Challenge - Step up and Be Counted

The Red Tape Challenge is a Government initiative that aims to reduce and remove bureaucracy where it isn't working. This is a massive task as there are 21,000 active regulations in the UK. To help with this the Government want your comments, specifically thoughts on the following questions:
•Should we scrap them altogether?
•Could their purpose be achieved in a non-regulatory way (eg through a voluntary code?) How?
•Could they be reformed, simplified or merged? How?
•Can we reduce their bureaucracy through better implementation? How?
•Can we make their enforcement less burdensome? How?
•Should they be left as they are?
(redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk, 2011)

It's at this point I imagine you're wondering what you should be commenting on!

CROWA 2000, otherwise known as Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (viewable here), is an Act that opened up large areas of the UK that were previously closed including areas of mountain, heath, moor and down. It also provided much needed protection in relation to wildlife and conservation. This wonderful Act is up for review - what if we lose it? What if all the places we're able to wander now are closed again? What if the environment loses its protection?

The Government, through DEFRA have stated that there are no 'plans' to remove environmental protections. Although we need to understand that after this consultation closes, the Government will have 3 months to make plans in response to the comments of individuals and groups regarding the this subject. Therefore we need to comment, let's try to ensure that this legislation remains. But not only that it remains, but is made stronger.
You can do this by signing up to the 38 Degrees petition website - the people that successfully petitioned to ensure that the Government didn't sell off our woodland. You can do that here, it will take less than a minute.
You can also make comments on the Red Tape Challenge website here, as well as reading the over 1000 current responses from others. You can also Tweet these comments, or share them on Facebook.

Let's not lose what so many people had to fight to get us. Let's not lose our country from underneath our walking boots. If we do, activities such as widespread canoeing throughout inland water sources, and Wild Camping, will never have a chance.

Visit the following websites to see what the groups acting on our behalf are saying about this:
Rambler's Association
Rambler's 'How to Respond' web page

Here are some resources relating to Rights of Way:
Rights of Way in England and Wales
Maps available for the UK
Freedom to Roam
CROWA 2000

22 August 2011

Safe in the hills - a Mountain Rescue Website

I recently registered on the WalkingWorld.com website and have been sent an email about the website created for the Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Team.

This is a mountain rescue team providing services over the Howgills, the North Western Yorkshire Dales, part of the North Pennines and the Orton Fells as well as Kirkby Stephen.

The website aims to educate walkers through the experience of the rescue team. There is short concise advice on topics from preparation all the way through to rescue (the part you hopefully will never need). Below some of the advice, there are books that are recommended for further information. There is also a link for practical courses run by the team.

The website is very new, with development beginning earlier this year. So I imagine that much more information will be added to the site in future. It's also possible to make a donation to the team directly from the page - something you might think about doing especially if you're intending hill walking in this region!

To visit the Safe in the Hills website, click here.

For more information about mountain rescue and the important work that they do, visit their site here.

21 August 2011

Geocaching: Puzzle Cache

We've just completed a puzzle cache. It's a traditional cache, but has a puzzle or a cipher included that needs to be successfully worked out before the coordinates to the final cache site are revealed.

The one we've just done was about a 'The Ugly Bug Ball' (put this term into YouTube if you need a reminder...or an introduction as I did) based on the song created by Disney. This got Lucy very excited, spurred on by childhood memories, and she was raring to go immediately as we'd uploaded the coordinates to the GPS! There were 3 caches, in each cache there was a card with the 'cordial invite' of two bugs. Then we needed to come home to work out the answer, for this cache there was a cipher to decode.

The clue was that two of these six bugs would act as the keyword leading to the decoding of the encrypted coordinates. Luckily the Internet is filled with lots of web pages that will decode enciphered text!

So, tonight we took Curious Luke, the Travel Bug discussed in a previous post, and placed him with the bugs in the ugly bug ball! Hopefully he'll have a great time. These puzzle caches can be great fun, can't wait until the next one!

19 August 2011

Geocaching: Travel Bugs

Travel bugs add a lot of fun to Geocaching in that you can see where the bug has been, in many cases it's been through many countries during its mission, and you can help it on its way by assisting it in the mission objective.


As you can see in the photo above, a travel bug can be attached to anything (as long as it can fit into an actual cache). The bug itself is the tag with the unique identifier and in the photo above we can see a photo key fob with a photo of a cat called Shadow and one of a rubber fob; Luke from the Professor Layton games!

Shadow was easy to move on, she just wants to see the world and to one day see Wiltshire again. We moved her from the canal in Seend over to the Cherhill Downs.

Luke is a bit more difficult, he wants to move to Geocaches with puzzles or stories. So Luke will be with us for a few weeks while we find a puzzle cache to complete. If you have a login for the Geocaching website, you'll be able to see Luke's journey here.

Travel bugs and Cachekinz, among many other Geocaching goodies are available here.
There are also many amazing Geocoins, which can be trackable just like the travel bugs. Here are some pretty awesome navigation themed travel bugs.

17 August 2011

Upcoming TV programmes - Exciting stuff!

I thought I'd write a quick post to let you know about three exciting programmes that you all may be interested in.

All Roads Lead Home
I'm currently reading The Natural Navigator, so understably I'm really excited to see that there is a series of three programmes being broadcast later in the summer or in the Autumn on the BBC. The programmes challenge Stephen Mangan, Sue Perkins and Alison Steadman to learn natural navigation. It will be brilliant to see the concepts and ideas that I've been reading about being put into action.

Origins of Us
There are also two other series being shown on the BBC, both featuring Alice Roberts. The first is Origins of Us, which concentrates on human evolution. Quite importantly it discusses how the way we relate to each other helped us in our struggle for survival, which is ideal for readers of this blog.

Digging for Britain
The second series isn't directly related to the topics of this blog, but still quite interesting as we can see how our forebears used the land and how they lived. The series is Digging for Britain, a series that had its first outing last year and shows Alice visiting digs and the lab to show and elaborate on artifacts that have been found in the past year.

More information on all three series starting in the BBC summer/autumn schedule, click here.

16 August 2011

Nature Identification Swatches

A few years ago my girlfriend surprised me by giving me a couple of Woodland Trust swatches as Christmas stocking fillers. However, they've definitely been more useful than your average stocking filler gift (Thank you Lucy)!

I originally had the Wild Flower swatch and the Leaf swatch, which I took with me on most walks as the images are really accessible being large and able to move around a central pivot really quickly. (It reminded me of being a child and collecting football stickers with the way you can quickly shuffle through each page! Got, Got, Got...Need!). This means that you don't necessarily need to stop your walk to identify your find as you do with a field guide because a quick shuffle will have you reading about the find within a few seconds. These swatches even come with good information on the obverse of each page of the item in question.

Here's the stock image of the Leaf swatch from the Woodland Trust website:

Last year the Woodland Trust created the Fungi swatch and the Butterfly swatch, which I requested for that Christmas! And already they've become required equipment for wildlife walks!

For more information and to buy the swatches, click here.

The Woodland Trust
The Woodland Trust are a charity that manage existing woodlands and create and help to create new woodland areas. They also act on behalf of interested parties (members and non-members) by campaigning for additional woodland, positive management of woodland outside of its control and for the protection of Ancient Woodland.
Most of the woodland conserved by the Woodland Trust is free to access.
To donate to the Woodland Trust and help them look after woodland for us and future generations, click here.
To find your local Woodland Trust wood, click here.

15 August 2011

Which way North?

This post deals with finding North in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are 3 Norths that we need to know for navigation:

1) Grid North: This is the direction of the grid line that aligns with the central meridian on the Nation Grid, which is based on the Transverse Mercator projection.
2) True North: This is where the longitude lines meet up with the North pole.
3) Magnetic North: This is the North that compasses align to. Unfortunately this north doesn't sit still. It moves at a variable rate.

If that wasn't bad enough, North and South actually switch positions every few hundred thousand years - let hope we don't experience that one!

Using Grid North and Magnetic North

So when navigating by map and compass, we need to find what's called the magnetic declination. The declination is the angular difference between Grid North and Magnetic North. To account for this, your compass will need to be adjusted. First though, ensure that you have adjusted your compass to match Grid North on your map.

To find out your declination, you can look at your map, which should state the declination for the year that it was produced and give you an idea of how that declination changes each year, normally between 1/2 and 1 degree per year. Another way is to check a website like this one at Magnetic-Declination.com. It will grab a location from your IP address, but you can enter in your location and country to get a better idea.

As we can see on the screenshot above, I have a magnetic declination of just over 2 degrees West. Therefore I need to adjust the compass using the following rhyme: "West is best, East is least".

Therefore if the declination is West, as in the example above, add this to the compass reading when going from the map to reality. If it was East we'd subtract the value from the compass reading. This is because we're going from Grid to Magnetic.

If we had the reading from the ground (reality), we'd reverse this when going to the map. Subtracting west declination and adding east declination. This is because we're going from Magnetic to Grid.

So to say this a different way:
West Declination: Map to compass = Add. Compass to map = Subtract.
East Declination: Compass to map = Add. Map to compass = Subtract.

Finally here's a handy mnemonic to help remember which way the calculation goes:
"Empty sea, add water"
Which becomes: MTC (Map to compass), add West.

Using True North

If you don't happen to have a map and compass, then there are a couple of ways to find True North.

The first is with a watch with an analogue watch face.
1) Ensure that the watch is at the correct time. Point the hour hand to the direction of the sun.
2) Half the angle created by the hour hand and 12 (1 during daylight savings).
3) The position between the hour hand and 12 becomes South. For example the bisected angle between the sun hour hand of 8 and the position of 12 is 10. Therefore the direction of 10 is South.
4) Follow the line from South across the watch face and this is North. In the same example as above, if 10 is South, then 4 is North.

If you don't have a watch, or it's not at the correct time, then we can use a stick to find North.
1) Stand a stick in the ground.
2) Mark the spot at the end of the stick shadow created by the sun.
3) Wait 15 minutes (or what feels like 15 minutes if you don't have a device to tell the time!) Mark the spot at the end of the stick shadow created by the sun.
4) Draw a straight line between the East and West points. Stand with your first mark to your left and the second to your right. This is approximately True North.

13 August 2011

Book Review: Just a Little Run Around the World

When Mum gave me this book, I wondered if it would be worth the time to read it. Quite simply, the answer to that question is, yes.

Rosie lost her husband, Clive, to cancer. Heartbroken and lonely, Rosie decided to do something positive with her grief. Rosie decided to run around the world.

During this run around the world Rosie stomps along 20,000 miles visiting the most populated and the most desolate terrain known to man. The one thing that is inspiring about this story, isn't just that Rosie began this journey at the age of 53, but that in every event that happens on the way is seen by Rosie in a happy, positive way. I feel that I've grown by reading how Rosie grew during those 5 years.

There was definately lots of danger - wait until you get to read about the naked man outside of Rosie's tent. There's also a lot of injury - including 3 seperate times a slip became broken ribs. But overwhelmingly, there is lots of love and kindness, especially from the people who haven't necessarily felt much love and kindness in their own lives.

This is definately a book for anyone who loves to read about something good happening because of something bad. But it's also great for getting ideas about longer outdoor trips. Due to budget constraints, Rosie sleeps in tents or Bivvis for the majority of the trip. For the majority of her run, she's also having to melt ice for drinking water. There's also a wake up call about frostbite as Rosie frantically calls for advice about how to treat it - warming it up quickly seems to be the key.

I thoroughly recommend this book. It's brilliant. It makes me realise that there are never really any excuses if you want to do something. Just plan well and get it done - enjoying every moment along the way.

Own or Loan:         Loan
Read Again:           No
Recommend:         Yes
Overall out of Five:3

10 August 2011

Rucksacks Part 2: Packing, Terminology, and Features

Part 2 concentrates on best practice for packing your rucksack so that weight is distributed well and that you can get to what you need quickly. Then features and the accompanying terminology is discussed with the hope that it makes plain what a rucksack has and what you can expect it to have. This is information found on my quest for a new reasonably priced rucksack

Packing the Rucksack

Heavy items go in the middle, the prime example being additional water. Items not needed until setting up camp, for instance, being stored at the bottom (sleeping bag), and things that will be needed throughout the day or things that you need to get to quickly, like your first aid kit, stored at the top.

It’s very important that you remember where everything is stored in your bag. You never know when you might need a bit of kit with urgency, there’s no need to fully unpack your bag if you don’t have to. Also this way you’ll the quickest entry to get to the equipment, for instance, side pocket, top lip, or base opening. If you need to write an inventory stating the area of the rucksack each bit of equipment is stored. This will also help when it’s time to repack the bag in the morning!

If you can, store clothes in bags to keep them dry. I use a vacuum bag for mine and just squeeze the air out by resting on it with my knees.

So to recap:

Top: Items you need access to quickly or regularly

Middle: Heavy items

Bottom: Items you don’t need access to quickly or regularly

Rucksack Terminology and Features

Hip Belt – Quite often reported to be padded and / or shaped. This is the belt that is worn around the hips to direct the weight in the bag to the lower back for safe carrying.

Sternum Strap – The strap that goes across the chest to assist with weight distribution.

Compression Straps – These straps allow the rucksack to be compressed to make it less bulky and more comfortable to carry.

Adjustable Back System – This allows the shoulder straps to be moved up or down to fit the length of the wearers back. This may also allow for the hip belt to be adjusted.

Grab Handles – Handles that allow you to carry the rucksack easily when not being worn on the back.

Air Flow System – This means that the bag has been shaped to allow a space between parts of the rucksack and the wearers back. The intention is to minimise the points of contact on the back and to keep the back cool and sweat free.

Hydration Compatible – A rucksack with this feature will have a separate pocket for a water carrier, a drinking straw hole and it should have a fastening to allow a mouth piece to be attached.

Rain Cover – This is the cover that it normally integral on the rucksack, sometimes stored in a small pocket at the bottom of the rucksack. This allows the user to ensure that the rucksack and contents remain dry during rain, as most rucksacks are only shower proof. Most rain covers are a very bright colour, for instance, orange. This is a great feature if you need rescue, not so great if you’re trying to blend in with your environment. Separate rain covers can be purchased.

Wand Pockets – These are normally mesh pockets on the side or back of the rucksack. They hold the items stored there by elastic for quick retrieval.

Top lid access – The bag is accessed by a lid at the top of the rucksack.

Expansion Pocket – This is material at the top of the bag that allows additional storage capacity. This pocket is held in place by the straps on the top lid. When you see a rucksack state that it is 65 + 10, for example, it normally means that these pockets allow an additional 10 litres worth of space.

Base Opening – This allows the equipment at the bottom of the bag to be retrieved by a hand zip at the bottom of the bag.

I really hoped that this helped clarify some things. Finding this information definitely helped me, as a lot of it is common sense, but it's always helpful to take a minute and really think about a thing and understand why you're packing your rucksack this or that way. Most of the features above will come as standard with most rucksacks, from what I've seen, it's mainly hydration compatibility and air flow that cost a few quid more. As with most things it will depend on your budget and expected use of the equipment which will be the decider on whether they're worthwhile or not.

Money Saving Expert: £1 Camping Gear from B&Q

Just had the weekly email from the Money Saving Expert (MSE) website advising about £1 deals and cheap deals on camping equipment. It's nothing hardcore, but http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giftherehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif are things like groundsheets and cooksets available.

To visit MSE and read about this deal or to sign up for their weekly newsletter, click here.

To go directly to the deal, click here.

This is a while stocks last offer and is only in store - but you can reserve online.

If you hear of any other deals, let us know in the comments.

Happy Shopping!

Rucksacks Part 1: Capacity, Size, and Fitting

I’ve had the same rucksack for about 6 years now and it’s getting a bit worse for wear. So I thought I’d have a gander online and specifically look for information about fitting a rucksack. What follows in this post is a summary of the information I’ve found along with a list of websites where I found the information. In the next post I’ll cover packing your equipment into the rucksack and looking at the terminology surrounding rucksacks.

Actual correctly fitting a rucksack isn’t something that I’d really thought about. I just assumed that if it didn’t hurt then all was good. Apparently this is not so! Before I get on to this, we need to think about the size of rucksack that we’ll be needing.

Rucksack Capacity

The rucksack that’s required will be determined by what you want to stuff in it. General guidelines seem to be:

· 0 – 40 litres for day walking. Dependant on the activity that you’re doing (smaller for short walks or in the summer, larger for long winter walks or for photographic equipment, etc).

· 25 -60 litres for activities such as climbing or any activity that requires a large amount of equipment.

· 40 – 80+ litres for multi-day activities, like hiking, camping out to ensure you have enough space for equipment, tools, food, etc.

Rucksack Size

Most rucksacks have the functionality to fit to varying back lengths. To find out the length required you need to measure your back with a tape measure from the C7 vertebrae to where your back joins the hip bone. The tape measure needs to be flexible as the measurement needs to include the curve of your spine.

· Top measurement: As you can see on the illustration below the C7 is the last vertebrae in the cervical part of the spine and can be felt when you touch your chest with your chin.

· Bottom measurement: Run your hands down your waist, with your fingers pointing forward and your thumbs on your back, until you reach the top of your hips. This is the iliac crest, indicated by the red markings on the illustration below. Your thumbs should be horizontal at this point and this indicates the bottom measurement.

Now you have your measurement you’ll have an idea about which rucksacks will fit your back. General sizes seem to be:

· < 16 = Extra Small

· 16 – 18 = Small

· 18 – 20 = Medium

· >20 = Large

But bear in mind that as with clothes, bag manufacturers may choose different measurements for their rucksack sizing.

Fitting the Rucksack

This is where I always go wrong. I chuck the rucksack on my back and pull the shoulder straps until they’re nice and tight, then I tighten the hip belt for good measure (plus a hip belt makes you look like you know what you’re doing...right?). Well regardless of look, I was doing it wrong. Luckily my rucksack was about the right size for my back length, but still, in future I will follow the advice from the websites I visited.

1) If you have an adjustable rucksack, ensure that it has been adjusted to the length of your back as discovered in the measurement above.

2) Put the rucksack on your back with all straps loosened

3) Adjust and tighten the hip belt so that:

· Men: Top of the hip belt is be in line with top of the hip bone.

· Women: Middle of the hip belt is be in line with top of the hip bone.

4) Now tighten the should straps so that the rucksack hugs the back, but not tight enough to lift the hip belt from its position.

5) To ensure that the rucksack is good to go, tension the load adjusters and the chest strap so that around 70% feels like it’s on the hips and the remaining 30% feels like it’s on the shoulders. If too much weight is on the shoulders you may find yourself either being pulled back by gravity or leaning forward to handle the weight.

6) Get going!

Websites that discuss the same topics as above include:





(This link opens a PDF)

http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/backpacks+torso+hip+size.html (this link has a nice little video clip showing a person having their back length measured)

As with everything, make sure you research from many sources until you feel confident and comfortable that you’re clued up enough, for me it took a few hours, for you it may take a few minutes. Either way you don’t want to know that you’ve made the wrong decision a few hours into a multi-day trip.

Happy bag shopping!