Monday, 14 March 2016


#Alpkit 650 ml Mytimug titanium Mug. 

Sometimes a trip tests the bit of kit you haven't got but wish you did have. For the past five years i've been using a 400ml titanium mug day in, day out. I've drunk my coffee out of it in tens maybe hundreds of different places, brewed that same coffee in it over fires and stoves and cookers, eaten meals out of it, boiled water in it. It's been great. It was the only piece of cooking kit, bar a titanium spoon, that i took on my 500 mile winter walk from Munich to Paris, when i was bivvy camping, and cooking out each night .

It was good, that mug, but it was just too small. Meant boiling water twice in the morning to make enough coffee, meant boiling water for rice or soup or whatever twice in the evening to have a hot meal out in the woods. Yep, just too small. I mean, i survived...but i did think that a bigger but not too bigger mug i could cook in would be just dandy.

I've got several long walks coming - when i want to travel as light or lighter than on the winter walk - but wouldn't mind just a bit more comfort. More coffee mainly. So, I've just bought myself an Alpkit 650 ml titanium mug. I've already boiled water in it, made soup in and drunk tea and coffee from it. Darn, wish i'd had that last winter. It's the right size! 650 ml? That's a lot of coffee, which is the right amount of coffee. That's big enough to cook up and eat a proper survival meal in/from. It's light, strong. And it comes with a lid, which is another thing i wanted for my smaller mug. So, as a one-piece camp kitchen a 600 ml mug is about perfect. (i've got a litre titanium pot, too, and nice it is, but too big for ultralight simple trips, and too big to drink out of as mug). 

So to sum up, a bigger mug with a lid saves fuel - one brew up is more efficient that two obviously (important when you're using my tiny home-made alcohol stove constructed out of two baby mixer drink cans) - and means one can eat more for less effort and fiddle.

Finally, there's a number of different makes of titanium mugs in many different sizes, out there; i bought the mug from Alpkit because i used one of their torches on the Munich to Paris walk when i was moving at night in thick forest, open country and across mountains for a lot of time, and it did everything i wanted - (which was to provide all the different lights needed, including high beam white, low beam white, red for keeping night vision, green for map reading). And you've got to respect a company who are in the business of selling well designed, tough simple kit for lightweight trips, but who still suggest on their website that to travel lighter one should just take less. Respect indeed.

And as bonus - if i want to get fancy and have an actual batterie de cuisine, the smaller mug fits exactly inside the bigger mug. Two course meals on the menu, then.

You can find the mug and other kit here:

Tuesday, 31 March 2015


Book of the Week on Radio 4 is Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks. 

Today's reading was about A H Baker who wrote The Peregrine about the ten years he spent following and watching - and entwining his life and senses - with passage peregrine falcons in the south east of England in the 1960s. An incredible piece of writing that compressed the decade of observation and obsession into a poetic narrative set within one winter's turning. 

Of the process behind researching and writing the book, Macfarlane writes: '...Baker resigned from his job at the Automobile Association in order to commit to the falcons and to work on the book he was starting to compress out of his field journals. By day he watched and by night he wrote. It was a frugal, focused life. He and Doreen [his wife] lived off savings, a meagre pension and national assistance. The house had no telephone and he seems to have communicated little with friends. These were the circumstances he needed to convert the sprawling journals into a crystaline prose poem. The style he created up in his Chelmsford spare room was as sudden and swift as the bird to which it was devoted.'

I first read The Peregrine in the alien world of a hospital ward and it provided the promise of a natural world outside to return to as quickly as possible. At the same time its brave, harsh poetry had an even greater force and effect read through a cocktail of drugs and as an antidote to pain.

For the coming weeks you can hear the Radio 4 piece here:

The Peregrine, by J A Baker (NYRB Classics, introduction by Robert Macfarlane) is available in paperback. Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton) is a recent hardback publication. (Do try and buy from an independent bookshop before resorting to the internet).

Sunday, 21 December 2014


When i set off to walk from Munich to Paris in early November one of the aspects of a long winter trip where i would be sleeping out in a hammock under a tarpaulin for more than a month were the long hours of darkness. I was apprehensive that spending more than 14 hours a day in darkness would be oppressive, or boring, or genuinely take me off into corners - dark corners - of my mind that i'd rather not visit or revisit.

The very start of the trip was in darkness. Just past midnight walking out of central Munich in sleet and wind. Coloured lights, neon, then street lights, then just the odd security light and finally the countryside and only distant pin pricks of illumination and the
reflected glow of the city behind me. In front of me i could see the
shadows of forests and fields against the sky. The wet road shimmered as a slightly less dark darkness. I loved it. There was a full moon that night - obscured behind clouds but just once or twice shining through a rip in the sky.

And it got better and better as i walked on through the 500 miles. I
started walking into the night from choice. Long marches through old forests. Trotting through silent, darkened villages. Following roads as the traffic slowed. My senses became sharper. I often didn't need to snap on my torch for several hours at a time.

And the long hours of lying - often on the edge of chilled - on the
ground or in my hammock, with a light sleeping bag and all my many layers of clothing, under the tarp. Were they oppressive? Not at all. I often fell asleep within minutes of getting into the bag - sometimes as early as five in the evening just as the light faded. Sometimes past midnight. But i always woke up in the early hours. But not in the worried in the black dark hours' way i had feared, but in a floating lightness. Tawny owls love cold clear nights and they were the soundtrack for the nearly the whole trip. But i heard foxes. Muntjac deer. A much larger owl - the deep booming of an eagle owl. Wild boar crashed around me on several nights. But it all seemed perfectly natural.

Historians and sociologists have recognised the existence and
importance - and the normality - of 'segmented' sleep in traditional
and pre-Industrial peoples, and that's the pattern that i was
naturally falling into. My second 'day' in the middle of the night,
untroubled by activity or the need to do anything physical was a time of happy reflection and wake-dreaming and memories; sometimes it was almost trance-like. I could remember friends and people close to me in every detail, but also unexpected events came back to me in total recall. Various things i had been troubled by during the days - and in a few cases - over far far longer periods would seem simpler and solutions obvious when awake in the middle of the night. I would go so far as to say that sharing my walk between hours of dark and hours of light made it easier not harder.

I ended the walk in Paris under another full moon with drifting rain
clouds revealing and hiding its light.

So, today's solstice means i'll have to get more night walking and night waking into less and less hours of darkness for the next six months.

Friday, 12 December 2014


Singing - the least embarrassing way of talking to oneself out loud.

I carried an MP3 player but apart from listening to a few podcasts -
one on solitude, and a series on night walking and darkness subjects
by Jarvis Cocker - didn't use it once to play music. The battery ran
out in the first few days, of course, and it stayed buried in my pack
from then onwards.

In bars - especially the French 'sports and lotto and tabac' cafes'
there were often TV screens playing music videos. I heard Chandelier
by Sia, and David Ezra' Budapest' over and over, as well as random
rap, chanson, flamenco (?), and Europop.

But overall i sang.

My subconscious seemed to provide a random play list of suggestions
for songs that popped into my head, onto my lips and from thence
echoed around the hills and forests (old broadleaf woodland has a
wonderful, and unsuspected, echo that beats any shower).

There were mornings of early Dylan - Tangled up in Blue, One Too Many
Mornings, She Belongs to Me and Song to Woody came up a lot.
Long Beatles sessions - i'd pick an album and sing my way through from
beginning to end.
West Coast rock.

Many days of folk songs - for obvious reasons many fitted with the
pace and sentiments of walking and of the rural life around me. A
world of tramps, pilgrims, rakes, soldiers, solitude, bunches of
thyme, fairs, horses, dark woods and birds fitted nicely. High Germany
was a favourite. And Ewan McColl's Travelling People. And Brendan
Behan's The Captains and the Kings.

Every one of the five Sundays i was walking i sang Kris
Kristofferson's Sunday Morning Coming Down over and over. A little
ritual, if you like.
I sang my own songs. Ones i've already written and sing onstage and
with bands or solo. I finished off or added or improved verses for
songs that needed them.

And i came up with new songs. I've Grown A Beard for Christmas -
sample lyric '....just like Santa Claus, it's not a thing of beauty,
but it keeps me warm outdoors' is one that i probably won't be singing
a lot in the future; it was of its time and place. But Bird Of Passage
might trouble a few ears in the future - especially when i next get my
fingers on my guitar. And faux-Gospe/Work Holler/Sea Chanty number
Climb, Climb, Climb To The Top Of The Hill was created whilst puffing
my way up to the 800 metre high point of my route across the Black
Forest heights (the actual highest peak, Feldburg is 1,500 metres) and
so is ideal as a mantra for exactly that kind of short-breathed,
spirits-up plodding, and was sung lustily across France's Vosges
mountains and beyond.

I had a 'concept album' of road songs that could fill several hours of
rambling-time singing. Further On Down The Road, He Ain't Heavy He's
My Brother, The Long and Winding..., and Walk On were mainstays - but
there were many more.

And themes often provided me with a quiz like game as i tried to
remember and sing as many songs about subjects such as birds, cars,
Gypsies, fires or coffee.

Simple pleasures. And one of the least offensive, really.

One song that i sang a lot - both because of its aptness, and - more -
because it's a great song, was Jimmy Buffet's 'He Went To Paris.
I quoted a few lines in an earlier post. '...warm summer breezes and
French wine and cheeses...' but the end of the song (here's a link - the accompanying video
is a bit close to the most testing parts of the walk. Or better buy
the album, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean; it's all good.)
was especially apt for the walk...

'...some of it's magic, some of it's tragic but i had a good time on the way.

About Me

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I'm an independent writer on wilderness activities, slow adventures, traditional horsemanship and odd stuff. I'm the author of Paddle; A long way around Ireland (Sort Of Books), and i was the story consultant on the IMAX documentary on cowboy cultures across the globe, Ride Around The Word. The Slow Adventure sends reports back from the front-line of a slow and simple life; horses, kayaks, guitars, long walks, travel, books, simplicity, trains, travel, wildlife and the occasional thrill.