Tuesday, 22 April 2014

How do you heat your home?

Something I have never quite understood is why thermostats for central heating are located in the hallways of most homes. From my experience, hallways are often the coldest in homes because they are close to the draughty front door that sucks in freezing air when someone enters or leaves the house.  So why are thermostats placed there?  Surely that just means that the thermostat won’t kick in until the draughty hallway has reached the desired temperature, meanwhile all the other radiators in all the other rooms are working and the temperature in those rooms is higher than what the thermostat is set to? So basically the used rooms in the house are much hotter than the home owner intended them to be. Surely it would be more efficient to have a thermostat in every room so homeowners can control the temperature level of each room individually to prevent energy being wasted. The temperature of rooms can vary depending upon the size of the room and the location of the room in the house, resulting in some rooms reaching ridicules high temperatures before the thermostat in the hallway clicks off? I get that most radiators have a temperature setting but it isn’t practical to go round the house every day adjusting them to suit.

This traditional system is incredibly uneconomical and one would have thought a more modern approach would be widely available in this day and age, especially since the cost of energy and the cost of living is a subject often in the news.

I only experienced the traditional 'combi' system while living in student accommodation. My room was unbearable hot. Because it was small and located on the second floor and because my housemate who had a room twice the size of mine on the ground floor whacked up the thermostat to get her room to a moderate temperature.

 A combination heating system

The central heating in my parent’s house is run by a wood burning stove and there is no thermostat at all. They just reduce or increase the amount of wood put on the fire accordingly. This may sound inefficient but the house is quite small, all rooms are used equally and my step dad runs a business called Yorkshire Woodland Products and sells firewood so fuel is readily available.

In our current tiny home we only have electric heaters. Each one has a timer and these were set to come on an hour before the room would be used in winter (they are switched off now it is spring and only used now and again). We only have three rooms, though, so this system works very well for us. The bedroom heating only comes on an hour before bed time and the bathroom heating is manually turned on before we use the shower. The water is heated by an immersion heater which is know as a 'conventional' heating system but without radiators.

 A conventional heating system

My brother-in-law is attempting is own home made system using a Raspberry Pi computer. He intends to have sensors in each room which can be controlled via the Pi, and hopefully by Wi-Fi, so he can change the settings using his phone. I would say this attempt is only for uber geeks and those who have hours and hours to spend playing about with electronics if the time he has spent on it is anything to go by!

Much to my joy, there is a device called the evohome by Honeywell that has recently come on the market and controls every room individually, It promises a perfect balance of comfort, control and energy saving. The device controls hot water and heating via an app on any mobile device and could save as much as 40% on energy bills when replacing basic timer and thermostat controls. It does sound like a fantastic little device.

 The evohome heating system

The system is tailored to each home depending on how many rooms or ‘zones’ you wish to control, and depending on the heat source those rooms use. For example, if your kitchen has underfloor heating and all your other rooms have standard radiators, that’s ok because your system will be uniquely fitted to match your set up.  Because the evohome system is uniquely set up for each home a qualified plumbing and heating installer will be required. It all look really easy though as there is a sit you can visit to work out which components you need and it also recommends qualified installers. You can find out your potential household saving by filling out the details on this page. Their YouTube video explains the benefits well and is nicely done too. Check it out here.

D and I would love to build our own quirky home one day and we will be putting a lot of thought into how we heat it in the most environmentally friendly, yet practical way as possible. I certainly won’t be having one thermostat in my hallway!

I would be interested to hear about your set up at home. Do you have a standard one thermostat system? How do you manage the temperature of your rooms effectively if you do? If you have some new snazzy system like the evohome I would love to hear what you think about it.

Monday, 21 April 2014

A little gem revealed: Low Farm Campsite near Dalby Forest

This Easter we spent a couple of nights at our favourite campsite in the North Yorkshire Moors. I was in two minds whether to share the location of this fantastic campsite because it is a place that not many people know about (and it would be nice for it to stay that way) yet is so wonderful and anyone who loves basic yet beautiful camp spots like me will be delighted to be informed about it.

Located only a couple of miles walk from Dalby Forest it is the perfect base for walkers, mountain bikers and families wanting to explore the forest. Even better, if you follow the footpath to the forest you don’t have to forfeit the £7 car parking charge you need to pay to get your car anywhere close!

Low Farm campsite is located in the very small hamlet know as Ellerburn which is around 1 mile from the picturesque tourist village Thornton Le Dale near Pickering. The campsite is pretty much just a long field, complete with sheep, chickens and 2 resident goats and is surrounded by a stream along two sides. It is extremely basic with a scruffy toilet block which has no hot water and with no toilet paper provided but there is a shower block over the road. If a scatter of sheep poops doesn't bother you and you aren't fussed about the limited facilities then I assure you that you will love this place. I have been coming to this campsite for 20 years and I'm sure the price hasn't changed for at least the last 10!

It costs £10 per tent. Whether you have a one man pop up or a huge 6 birth tent, it doesn’t matter. It will be still £10 per tent and that’s it! You cant book, you just turn up at any time day or night. The farmer will be sat in the porch and you just take the money to him before opening the gate and driving into the field. If you arrive after dark, just pay in the morning. You can pitch up any where you choose. We usually head straight to the bottom if it’s quiet but it is the furthest away from the toilets. However, if you are feeling nimble you can cross the stream here to get to the footpath to the forest using a rope swing. It saves you having to walk all the way back to the farm to cross the stream just to come back down the other side along the road.

Camping near Dalby forest

Man on a rope swing over a stream

Anything goes at this site and the farmer just leaves you to it which is lovely. However, it does mean you could get a rowdy group playing music on some nights. I love the fact that we can turn up whenever we want and don’t have to worry that we are a big group or want to play music. At many sites you can’t have same sex groups and cant even kick a ball around! 
The site is great for children who love to splash in streams, fish and play on rope swings so don’t forget wellies and a net!

View Larger Map

As you can see from the map, the campsite is conveniently located close to the coast road to Scarborough and is the perfect base for anyone wishing to visit the seaside, Dalby Forest or the rest of the North Yorkshire Moors. Both Eden Camp and Flamingo Land are just a few mile away and it is also close to the Pickering showground which hosts a variety of events from steam rallies to game fairs throughout the year.

We return to this campsite year after year because of its beauty, rural feel, spaciousness and because it isn't restricted by silly rules and regimented pitches. If you visit I assure you you will think twice about whether to tell others about it too!

Miss Tulip's signature

PS. Which is your favourite campsite? I would love to hear your 
recommendations for us to explore this summer.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: Live bird cams

Last Wednesday I introduced a new series on The Thrifty Magpies Nest called Wildlife Wednesday and talked about how easy it is to watch wildlife and that it’s an activity that anyone can do for free.

I love this time of year because it is nest season. All the birds are frantically making nests, sitting on eggs and some have already got little beaks to feed. Many nests are too far away to be able to see much going and poking around a nest can disturb our feathered friends so it can be hard to get a good look at what actually goes on in a nest.

Let me introduce you to my favourite live streaming websites and web cam videos that allow anyone who can get on the net a fantastic ‘bird’s eye view’ of nest activity and feeding frenzies.

The Dyfi Osprey Project

The Dyfi Osprey Project is run by The Wildlife Trust and is located on the Cors Dyfi reserve in Montgomeryshire, Wales and is the summer home to nesting ospreys. The reserve and hides are open to the public and offer a fantastic opportunity to get up close to the fantastic birds as they raise their chicks in front of a stunning backdrop of wetland, estuary and distant Snowdonia. D and I visited the ospreys last summer; it was an amazing experience to see the magnificent birds tending to their chicks in such gorgeous countryside.

Ospreys are rare birds with only 200-250 pairs breeding in the UK. They spend their winters in the warmer climate of Africa so they can only be seen in the UK between late March and September. But you don’t need to travel all way to Wales to see these fantastic birds; you can watch them from the comfort of your office chair or sofa!

You can connect to live streaming of the nest right here, but if you want to just see the best bits, check out these awesome recording of their recent activity.

Osprey chicks hatching

Osprey chicks being fed

To watch more recorded videos of the birds visit The Dyfi Osprey Project website. I really recommend following The Dyfi Osprey Project on Facebook, too, for amazing facts, recent footage and wonderful stories.

Wildlife Gadget Man

I have only recently discovered Wildlife Gadget Man aka Jason Alexander and his fab website where he hosts live streams of carious nests and feeding stations of birds and videos of mammals recorded by motion sensor cameras.
If you have a nest box and have seen a bluetit or great tit popping in and out of it I bet your are desperate to know what goes on in there. Well, watch this video and I assure you it will be something along these lines.

Blue tit chicks being fed

How amazing are those parent birds feeding all those hungry mouths. Notice how brightly coloured and wide the beaks of the chicks are. This is known as their ‘gape’. It is the perfect ‘stuff-food-in-this-hole-please-mum’ sign.

Now play the video of these gorgeous fuzzy headed robin chicks as they are fed. Notice how camouflaged the chicks are while they sleep in their next then suddenly their hug yellow gape opens as their mother arrives at the nest to fed them. Even more interesting; watch how the chick positions its bum over the edge of the nest to poop and mother collects the perfect little sack to carry away and dispose of in order to keep the nest clean. How clever is that!

Robin chicks being fed

He also has two live streams; my favourite one being of a blackbird sat on her eggs, You can watch it here.



My third and final recommendation I actually spotted on Little Outdoor Kylie’s blog on Monday. Some Norwegian TV station came up with the absolutely fantastic idea of building a miniature café for real birds and even squirrels. Check out the live stream here and watch as birds visit the café live!

For recorded footage of café customers and of the other ingenious set ups including a blue tit nest box decorated like a front room complete with portraits, side board and books click here. Absolutely bloody clever that is!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review: ScentedCandleShop.com

We have scented candles in each room of our tiny house to make our home smell lovely but also because I
think they are super relaxing and romantic. Throughout winter D and I spent many evenings chatting away on the sofa with the front room lit only by candlelight. At least one evening a week we treat ourselves (switching on the immersion heater is a luxury when you are on a budget) to a bath together with the light off and just a couple of candles flickering gently while we chat and relax among the bubbles. There’s something about the soft glow of light candles fill a room with that makes all my worries drift away and brings on a deep sense of relaxation.

ScentedCandleShop.com offered me a number of candles from their online shop to try out and write about. Their online shop is easy to navigate and stocks several candle brands including Yankee Candle, WoodWick and Price’s. I selected a small Yankee Candle called Pineapple Cilantro for £7.99  because the description made it sound like it would smell of Pina Colada cocktails- one of my favourite smells. I am very happy to confirm it smells like a fresh cocktail of pineapple and coconut; perfect for spring.

I also chose 12 Bolsius Lowboy jar candles which are made from glass and embossed with a lovely vintage design. They are sold individually for £1.89 or in packs of six for £10.20. These will be perfect to place around the garden when we have BBQs. With a burn time of up to 75 hours they should last all summer!

The candles arrived well-packed and extremely quickly. I was slightly concerned by the prospect of ordering candles from a website because the glass could get damaged during transportation but ScentedCandleShop.com carefully wrapped each candle in bubble wrap and packed them all into a box tightly.

I certainly recommend ScentedCandleShop.com on the basis that they have such an extensive range of candles and the fact they are delivered so quickly.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The magpies nest

Let me introduce you to a new feature here at The Thrifty Magpies Nest; it’s called Wildlife Wednesday and will be all about, you’ve guessed it… wildlife!

Wildlife watching is something anyone can do, pretty much anywhere, at any time and best of all, it’s free! Observing the natural wonders around you, whether it is in your garden, outside your office window or as you are driving along bushy verges, is easy peasy. Wildlife is pretty much everywhere you look. Many aspects of wildlife get over looked; to many a bird is just a bird and tree is just a tree, but taking on board some simple knowledge will suddenly open up a whole new world and wildlife becomes even easier to notice and even more wondrous. 

Toady’s spotlight is on the wildlife wonder this blog is named after; the magpie’s nest. The magpie is one of my favourite birds due to their intelligence, Cheeky characters and beautiful striking looks. I have hand reared magpie chicks in previous years which you can read about here.

Mr and Mrs Magpie’s nest is easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. At this time of year most maggies will have almost completed their nest and many will already be sitting tight on their egg. It is also the best time of year to spot their nests as the leaves on the trees are not quite out yet making them easy to spot.

Magpie nests are dome shaped constructions made predominantly of twigs and are typically built high up in low trees or shrubs. The domed top is actually a roof built to prevent crows and other egg-stealing predators from getting in.

The nests can easily be spotted from roads bordered by hedges and shrubs. If you see a density of twigs about 50cm diameter you will most likely be looking at a maggie’s nest. If you see 2 or 3 nests fitting the description, it is likely that the other nests are from previous years as magpies often use the same tree several times if they like the spot. The male and female build the nest together and can often be seen carrying twigs on the wing and making a hoo-ha as they go about it. The pair communicates to each other in high pitched squawks and shorter ‘cha, cha cha’ sounds. 

There’s a magpies opposite my house I have been watching the couple visit the garden each day looking for stray twigs and scraps of food. Unfortunately I can’t get a decent picture of it so have included some pics from some other lovely snappers on Flickr. 

Image source: Marc Watheiu

Image source: Dvortygirl

If you spot a magpies nest, do let me know :)

Monday, 7 April 2014

Testing the UK Open Maps app on a walk from Bolton Abbey to Simon’s Seat .

A couple of weeks ago we did a circular hike from Bolton Abbey to Simon’s Seat in the Yorkshire Dales with our friends. It was the ideal opportunity to put the Open Maps app to the test. I handed over my responsibility of walk leader to D for this one as tech stuff is his department.  I love navigating the old fashioned way; using OS maps, but now D was in charge the map was packed away into rucksack to make way for modern technology.

UK Open Maps costs 69p to download on the iPhone and we tested the app on the iPhone 4s. The app allows you to search for walks which are then downloaded onto your device free of charge.

I wanted to include Simon’s Seat, a rock formation, in the walk so did a quick search on Walking Englishman, a walking website, for a suggested route. The website has hundreds of walks with pictures, a map and details such as length and difficulty of walk and even specifies which OS map is required- but we weren’t going to be using the OS map; we were going digital!

We searched for the route on the app and the exact one was available. I was quite impressed! The app claims to have 250,000 British place names available to search in total. The app uses Google Maps and routes are defined with a blue line. Being the thrifty people we are, we looked for a spot out of Bolton Abbey for parking and starting the route as the tourist trap charges around £7 for one parking space! The app enabled us to identify a road close to the route where we could park for free and save a total of £21 between us.

The maps are available to 1:25k and 1:10k scales and the maps are stored on your device meaning that GPS signal is only required if you wish to pinpoint your location on the map. When using GPS it tracks your current speed, average speed, distance, altitude and time elapsed, much to D’s excitement. D updated our group regularly on our progress and got much delight informing us when our pace slowed.

The statistics and map of final route

Our location throughout the walk was pinpointed on the app using GPS and our movements were recorded with a red line which helped us to see whether we were sticking to the route. A downside to the app is the map lacks the intricate detail a paper OS map provides, making identifying our location in relation to the surrounding area quite difficult. Landmarks are easy to see on an OS map but were barely visible on the app meaning we either adopted a trial and error approach by walking until the GPS showed we had gone of track, or taking the OS map out of the rucksack which felt a bit like cheating but more reassuring. Another downside was that the GPS and app would stop tracking our moves if the iPhone was locked. When the iPhone was unlocked the GPS would kick in and pinpoint our new location again but the line drawn by the app wouldn't trace our steps accurately as a result; it just created a straight line from our previous pinpointed location to the new one. As a result, D decided to keep his phone unlocked which would deplete the battery quicker. D had his iPhone connected to a back up battery so it wasn’t much of an issue but the weight of the battery pack is a definite downside in comparison to an OS map.

Luckily the walk was free of rain but if the heavens had opened, using the iPhone and app would have been risky and could result in a damaged or broken phone. OS maps, on the other hand, are available in laminated versions knows as ‘Active Maps’ by the Explorer brand. I would definitely pick a laminated OS map over the app in wet conditions as a phone wouldn't be reliable and could end up costly to replace if broken.

The app itself is quite fiddly to use as it has so many options. It defiantly appeals to D more than as it has so many features and is ‘gadgety’ but I, on the other hand, feel it is slightly over complicated and I got frustrated trying to find the options I wanted.  

Approaching Simon's Seat

Trig point on Simon's Seat

A bit blowy on top of Simon's Seat

On a more recent walk over moorland in Nidderdale, the app did prove very useful in finding our location in terrain that was difficult for us to navigate. When leaving a well trodden route we followed a less obvious path and we soon found ourselves stood in heather and bog, astray from the path and unable to pinpoint our location on the OS map due to the few landmarks the moors have to offer. The map marked ambiguous places such as ‘Eagles Stone’ and ‘Sun Bank’ that didn't transpire to any particular feature on the land around us. However, when D switched on the app and used GPS to pinpoint our exact location on the digital map, we were able to work out our location from the names on the app and translate this to the OS Map and thus find our way to the path.

Our location shown on the app using GPS 

In conclusion, we will continue to use the app but in conjunction with a traditional OS map when required.  I wouldn't recommend to anyone that they solely use the app as it could be dangerous due to its dependence on 3G, GPS and phone power alongside many other factors. 

On top of the physical benefits the OS map has over any app, is the emotional aspect. To me, spreading open a map to look at the immense detail, accuracy and size brings me joy that an app never will. There’s something about opening a map up, it’s crinkling in your hands and even the satisfaction of achieving to fold it successfully, even if it does take several attempts. 

PS. Have you tried the UK Open Maps app? Do you prefer 
digital or traditional paper OS maps?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Budget round up: March

Budget round up
March has been a month full of fun and this is reflected in our end-of-the-month bank balance. At a first glance, being of budget was slightly disappointing but after assessing where the money was spent, we felt a little less concerned. It’s not as bad as it looks; because petrol and food carries across from one month to another it means money is spent on these thing at the end of the month even though the produce will see us into the new month.

Here's how we did:


We STILL haven’t got internet so no money was spent here.


We did so well in February but we did a full shop at the beginning of March and required another in the last week which meant two big shops in one month even though about two thirds of the produce will be consumed in April. Even this being the case, we still came in £50 below budget. Looking at our shopping pattern over the last three months I feel a monthly food budget of £250 would work well but we shall give it another month to test my theory.


Hurrah! Spring is here and our electricity spend is proof. We have almost spent just half our allowance which is comforting. Maybe we could try and get our spend down to just £30 over the summer as we shouldn't need any heating at all. We are living quite comfortably; the heating is on in the front room all evening and we always put the electric blanket on before climbing into bed.  We could spend a lot less if we really tried but we feel that a good balance of saving money and enjoying ourselves is important.


Oh dear! What happened here? Well, like the food spend, it’s quite easy to explain; we filled both cars up right at the beginning of the month and 3 days before the end of the month (and several times in between) where as in February the final fill up lasted the last couple of weeks of the month. We also visited D’s parents the first weekend in March which costs £70 and then visited friends in Norfolk which cost around £80 in petrol. We went a lot over budget but the under spend in other areas compensates for this.


March was a social month for us. My sister’s birthday was at the beginning of the month meaning some budget was spent on presents compared to no presents being bought in January and February. We ate out a couple of times when we visited our friends in Norfolk and went for lunch together last Sunday. It felt like we spent a lot of money this month on social activities but spent just over 50% of our allowance.

Overall we went £16.60 over budget but we are still happy with the total considering the amount of socialising we have done this month and the far-away places we have visited. We have pleanty of money in the account left over from underspends in January and February to cover the extra we have spent this month which means there is no need to rely on the overdraft. Next month, the council tacx installments drop to around £75 per month which is £20 less than we are currently paying out but we wont reduce the amount we are putting in the account; we shall just let the extra accumulate for rainy days and incase we go over our budget in the coming months. 

 PS. How did you do with your budget in March?