Posts Tagged ‘Outdoors’

Bearing up to travelling glories

Friday, June 24th, 2022

Back in the days when I was reviewing clothing and equipment for outdoors and travel magazines, I was sent a lot of products which would be used for the period of the review, and then might end up being stored away somewhere. Ultimately, I gave away piles of clothing items to the likes of Rohan’s “Gift your Gear,” or to homeless charities. There was a point when I wondered whether every homeless person in Norwich was wearing something I’d donated.

But my early 1990s Karrimor Alpiniste fleece jacket kept on going. It travelled extensively over the past 30 years or so, but has also seen vastly more use at home – what these days you might call my “Go To” fleece jacket. Why? It was a combination of the slimline cut in a lightweight Polartec fleece fabric, comfortable across a wide range of conditions, and the pocket layout. It had a very shallow scooped back – just enough to make some difference when in more active use, but not so much to look out of place when worn to the pub! It also had a detachable hood which snapped on to press studs around the collar, although I tended not to use that so much. I suppose I could have kept it going by having a new main zip fitted, along with new Lycra trim on the cuffs and bottom hem, but the fabric itself was wearing a little thin, so it was probably not worth refurbishing.

It’s also taken several years and one or two medical episodes including Covid to make me realise that I’m not going to be travelling up to six months a year the way I used to any more, but it would be nice for that favourite jacket not to end up simply in a recycling bin. So how to draw a line under a particular part of my life without forgetting it entirely? I’m something of an arctophile – whenever I travelled, I always had a small bear called Bill with me. Apart from being my devoted travelling companion, he was a great icebreaker in situations that might warrant a little levity, and on occasion he also conspired to get me into trouble! And so I asked talented bear artist Marcia Hastings of Clumsy Bears to transform my Karrimor Alpiniste fleece jacket into a keepsake bear, something that will sit in my lounge and remind me of extraordinary times past.

Apart from the Alpiniste fleece, my travelling clothes of choice tended to come from travel clothing company Rohan. I was great friends with the company’s founder Paul Howcroft, and pretty much every time I saw him he would thrust a pair of trousers or a jacket into my hands with “Tell me what you think of this.” Rohan’s lightweight, pack small, easy care clothes matched my style of travel perfectly, and there wouldn’t have been a single trip on which I wasn’t wearing something from Rohan. So to complete my keepsake bear, made from fleece which has travelled all over the world, his dungarees have been carefully crafted from a pair of Rohan Bags shorts which no longer fit. Here we have the only Rohan Bags dungarees in existence!

Marcia admits that some aspects of the project were rather more challenging than usual, not least because I wanted to retain a flavour of some of the features of the original garments, including zips and embroidered logos. And the fleece certainly had worn pretty thin – she had to add some subtle reinforcement here and there to ensure the bear kept his shape.

As you can see, the resulting bear is a truly handsome little chap, and a credit to Marcia’s artistic skills. The only thing left now is to come up with a name for him!

100 walks later

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

While I’ve been Camping magazine’s lightweight camping equipment expert for the last 20 years, since 2010, I’ve also devised a weekend backpacking walk for every issue, which has always made a very nice double page spread. As the editor told me recently – knowledgeable yet accessible. But increasing demands on my time have led me to decide to call it a day on the monthly walk.

The June issue (on sale May) will be the last to feature one of my weekend walks, and while it is purely a coincidence, that last walk will be number 100! I’d originally planned this in order to free up some time to spend on the Spirit of Cardiff documentary which I’m making, but some very exciting developments with Team Britannia‘s round the world powerboat project are also about to happen, and they have already soaked up some of my spare time.

I’ll still be reviewing lightweight tents and outdoors clothing and equipment in Camping, but the walks won’t be forgotten. With 100 weekend walks spread across the country, I’m already thinking that at some point they’ll enjoy a second lease of life either in a print or electronic book. In the meantime, there’s a big red boat to get into the water, and the time is coming close!

AA updates

Monday, February 25th, 2013

The last month has seen me out and about with my walking boots on, updating a batch of walks for the AA’s book “50 walks in Norfolk”. I last updated Norfolk for AA Publishing just over five years ago, and while some of the walks I’m doing this time around are different from the previous exercise, some are the same ones. It’s been interesting to see where changes have taken place – in the most part, improvements such as better defined footpaths, new gates or stiles, and new signposts.

But such is the life of a walking writer having to fit in with the mysterious world of publishing deadlines, all the walks had to be done now in a fairly compressed timescale. So most of my days out have been in pretty grim weather, although I did get one day at Blakeney where the freezing fog lifted for a few hours, so I was out in the marshes in spectacular rosy sunlight. A few more days like that would have been rather nice.

As soon as the walking revisions are out of the way, I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed for some good weather to make an appearance, as I have to do a lot more trips in my inflatable canoe before I start writing about the delights of paddling on the Broads.

Meeting an outdoors legend

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

This week saw me tramping the exhibition halls of the Outdoor Trade Show at Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry. Having already bumped into my old friend Alan Hinkes (first Brit to climb all 14 8,000 metre peaks) earlier on, I was delighted to happen across Hamish Hamilton.

He was there helping to promote his ever-popular Buffalo Pile and Pertex sleeping bags and clothing. But Hamish is probably one of the few people on the planet to have designed a tent which has sold pretty much unchanged for over 40 years.

It was in the 1960s that Hamish Hamilton famously sketched out his design for the legendary Force 10 Mk3 on the back of an empty packet of Senior Service cigarettes. The A-frames and ridge pole combined with a flysheet that came all the way down to the ground, making a tent capable of going pretty much anywhere. And that, indeed, is just what it has done. Despite the lighter high-tech designs available now, schools, scout groups and trekking holiday companies still use the Force 10 Mk3 because it’s so robust, and easily repairable in the field.

But just to dispel one popular misconception – that famous shade of orange didn’t grace the Force 10 for reasons of safety. It was done because Hamish thought the light inside was “more romantic!”

Outdoor recycling

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Back in the 90’s, I remember writing about outdoors manufacturers’ early excursions into the realms of recycling. It started out modestly, with a small percentage of material from recycled polyester drinks bottles going into the fabrics used to make fleece or waterproofs. Then gradually as the technology improved, it became possible to get a decent fabric made using 100% recycled material. A defining point for the likes of we journalists, who could now quote one of those “gee whizz” facts – that it takes 26 one-litre drinks bottles to make a single fleece jacket.

Then there was the company taking used aluminium beer cans, rendering them into a gaseous state to spray onto fabrics as a high-performance heat-reflective coating. All of these efforts were designed to reduce impact on landfill sites, as well as make better use of finite resources. Looking at the other end of the life of an item of outdoors gear, more effort was put into making the products more capable of being recycled. Of course, you could have something like a fleece jacket where the fabric could be recyclable, but not before non-recyclable components such as zips and poppers had been stripped off.

The blunt truth is that whether an outdoors product is made from recycled material, or is capable of being recycled at the end of its life, it’s never been a huge part of the decision-making process of prospective British purchasers. But in Germany, for example, where the environmental legislation is the toughest in the world, outdoors companies like Vaude have been pioneers in making outdoors products which are totally recyclable.

Of course there’s always been one form of recycling which I’ve particularly favoured, and that’s re-use. Walking boots are capable of being resoled several times before the uppers fall apart, but an awful lot of gear gets junked simply because the owner wants a newer model. Charity shops will take in clothing – and will either sell the second-hand garment, or dispose of it as scrap textiles if they consider it unsaleable. Whenever I’ve been on a trek, we always ask fellow trekkers if they have anything like gloves or even socks to donate for their porters, and quite often these days you’ll find charities collecting usable clothing to send off to a disaster zone.

The advent of Ebay has seen a thriving market in second-hand outdoors gear, but now, in a new initiative launched by Rohan founder Sarah Howcroft, you can do it for free. Recycle Outdoor Gear is an online marketplace where you can dispose of usable items of gear, and whether you’re selling or giving it away to charity, your listing will be free. I’ve already seen some pretty remarkable bargains on offer, and it’s nice to think that by supporting ROG, you’re helping the environment, helping others less fortunate than you, and maintaining the development and innovation that goes into new outdoors gear. Check out ROG at

Camping jokes are wearing a little thin

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I sometimes despair of the mainstream media and their endless outdated appetite for getting cheap laughs out of camping. The latest assault was a piece in the Telegraph a couple of days ago by some dimwit who went camping ill-prepared, and then made that the excuse for knocking what for millions of people is a very pleasurable pursuit.

In fact, unless you’re camping with a scout group, you’d be hard pressed to find some canvas to sleep under these days, and yet that’s what these tired, hackneyed pieces of journalism still refer to as camping. I’ve spent weeks at a time in a tent, and not once been cold, wet or hungry. Any idiot can be uncomfortable, as this chap in the Telegraph proved when he set off with a tent he hadn’t even bothered pitching first in his garden to check he knew how it went up. And he was mocking his fellow campers for looking as though they were prepared for nuclear war when he hadn’t even brought any cooking equipment of his own. He didn’t even have a torch!

For some strange reason, camping always appears to be fair game for any half-baked writer, TV or radio producer who wants to make a joke out of it, but really, the jokes are incredibly tired. It is no credit to the Telegraph for publishing this sort of tripe. Back in the days when the paper was edited by Max Hastings, the Daily Telegraph Weekend section covered the outdoors authoritatively. Needless to say they were using my features about camping and walking, and I was sharing the outdoors pages with the likes of Nick Crane and Jonathon Porritt. You might think that in these austere times, when more people are staying at home to holiday, and looking at things like camping as an affordable means of taking a break, respected newspapers such as the Telegraph should be producing something on the subject a little more positive.

As a writer, I appreciate the use of self-deprecating humour, and I also accept that some features can entertain rather than inform. But if you’re going to try to be funny, best make sure your joke isn’t one that’s already been done to death.

First rate camping

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Vaude Odyssee XTWith all the recent media hype accompanying the pronouncements of financial meltdown, austerity for the next 10 years, influenza pandemics and parts of my home county of Norfolk likely to disappear beneath the waves within my lifetime, I’ve become rather more introspective than usual. Holidaying at home in the UK (why do they have to use that ghastly description “staycation”?) has seen a big increase this year, and camping and other outdoors activities are enjoying a mini-boom.

But isn’t it a shame that so much of this appears to have come about because people feel that circumstances compelled them into it? I consider myself lucky. My parents camped, and by the time I was 10 I’d slept under canvas (it really was canvas, too!) in England, Wales, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy. So I already knew that camping was nothing to be ashamed of – rather it was something to be enjoyed, and something which gets you on much more intimate terms with wherever you are than you’d ever achieve staying in a hotel or resort. And even though my own circumstances brought about a hiatus till my early 20s, I’ve camped ever since.

It would be no lie to say I’ve stayed in five star hotels where the welcome has been less friendly than that of a good few camp site wardens, and while admittedly a room in the former does have the advantage of ensuite facilities, you can still end up having your lie-in ruined because you forgot to hang the “Do not disturb” sign outside your door. And that’s the beauty of camping. You’re not restricted to other peoples’ timetables. You can have breakfast in bed – dinner, too, if you like. I’ve even had one or two tentmates daft enough to leave a small chocolate on my sleeping bag at bedtime! And on camp sites, you know there’s a good chance of striking up a friendly conversation or two, simply because you both happen to be camping.

My great love is wild camping, not because I’m anti-social, but simply because I’m not a great one for being organised. Out in the wilds, not only am I far away from crunching credit, virulent viruses and global warming gloom, I can pick and choose where I pitch my tent within reason, when I have my meals, and the only sounds to keep me company are the gentle (hopefully) murmuring of the wind, and a babbling stream nearby.

So my answer to all the purveyors of doom and gloom is that there’s nothing second rate about camping. It’s a liberating experience, and once you’ve discovered it is possible to do it without loss of comfort or dignity, you have a different take on all those “hotel” people who look down their noses at you.


Thursday, June 25th, 2009

…to my new website, and welcome to my blog. As a journalist specialising in travel and the outdoors, you might think that I’d keep my views strictly to those subjects, but that would be too easy. Whilst I don’t intend to let it degenerate into a succession of “Grumpy Old Man” posts, I do have strong views on matters outside my professional remit, and every now and then I may just give vent to them.

And one of them is, I suppose, the reason for this new site and blog. Traditional publishing is gradually becoming eclipsed by the internet. And while it’s possible for pretty much anyone to become their own web publisher these days, it certainly doesn’t mean there are lots more decent writers out there. The sad truth is that much of what you find on the web is bland, cobbled together by semi-literates unable to write anything that’s concise, grammatically correct, properly spelt, and yet still informative and entertaining.

So if you happen to find yourself here because you feel you might need someone with the ability to do more than just string words together, do please take the time to browse the rest of my site. And if you like what you see, drop me a line.