Saturday, 28 March 2015

Reboot to get 20% of new walking boots at Mountain Warehouse


My boots have walked their final mile.

Last summer one boot got ripped down one side. I’ve been filling it with silicone and covering it in wax since then (see the pics), which has held up quite well. However on my last walk I got that feeling in my feet that made me stop, wiggle my feet then wiggle some more. Wet. That’s what I could feel. Damn.

 I trudged on to the finish then removed my boots. My socks we damp down both sides of each foot. They had let water in and I was devastated. The seams must have broken and let water in.

Good fitting, long lasting and, of course, comfortable shoes are very important for hiking and to meet these qualities one has to dig deep into one’s back pocket.

When I heard about Mountain Warehouse’s Re-Boot campaign I was super pleased because they are offering 20% off a new pair of walking boots when you hand in your old ones to be recycled. Funds raised go to their chosen charity, British Exploring Society- how fab is that?

Mountain Warehouse is also running a competition across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to win a new pair of boots. Just upload a picture of your well-worn boots to one of their Social channels along with a story behind your laces. Last of all hashtag with #MWReboot and a winner will be picked at random each week.

Here’s my entry I uploaded to Instagram.

What do you think?

It will be sad to see them go. They have been with me up Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn. Cadair Idris, and up Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Gehnt when I did the Yorkshire Three Peaks, among many others.

This year I'll be walking the 40 miles across the North Yorkshire Moors that make up the Lyke Wake Walk. I'll be taking on the challenge alongside the super adventurous blogger Zoe of Splodz Blogz and the aim is to complete the walk in under 24 hours. It's a long, long long way and my new boots will be the most important piece of kit I take.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Staying at Cae Mabon, the Welsh Shangri-la

A couple of  weekends ago we stayed at the wonderful Cae Mabon; an eco village hidden away in stunning oak woodland close to Llanberis on the edge of Snowdonia, Wales.

Dubbed the ‘Welsh Shangri-la’, Cae Mabon is a peaceful haven made up of hand built huts constructed from sustainable materials.

We arrived before dark, following the comprehensive instructions from the website. We were directed down a back road which proceeded to get narrower and narrower before taking a steep decent to the car park. The view from the car park was stunning. It looks over Llyn Padarn lake, the town of Llanberis and Snowdon.

After a short walk under a green man carving and downhill on a slate path we reached the village.

The village circles a magnificent thatched Celtic roundhouse where visitors can choose from an array of drums, tambourines and maracas to play around the central open fire. Seven individual huts surround the roundhouse, each with their own unique construction and characteristics.

The owner, Eric Maddern, built the village with help from volunteers and has since been named ‘the number one natural building project in the UK’.

Cae Mabon can cater for up to 30 people. There were 25 in our group plus a toddler, which we felt was a comfortable limit.

I started a group on Facebook as a place to plan hikes and weekends away with my family and friends. In previous years we have scaled Helvellyn and Scafel Pike and this year we wanted to reach the top of Snowdon. One friend is currently studying at the Centre of Alternative Technology, an education and visitor centre in Snowdonia demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability. His friend, who joined our group and brought several friends with her, recommended Cae Mabon as it just across the lake from Llanberis; the town that stands at the foot of Mount Snowdon.

The kitchen is located in a restored cow milking barn and is equipped with a cooking range and all the crockery and cutlery for 30 people. A verity of teas and even hot chocolate is provided, which we obliterated, so left a few pound coins on the shelves to cover the cost of replacing them. The building is a good place for visitors to gather as there are benches, a white board, a stereo and a couple of sofas.

Dave and I slept in the ‘Cob House’ which had a great view across the village, with the tops of the mountains rising above the trees in the background. It's the cream building in the photo above. The huts are basic but are fitted out with beds and mattresses. Visitors need to bring their own bedding and head torches are essential as the village has limited solar powered lighting. We shared our hut with 3 other friends. Dave and I slept in the bunk beds which I found surprisingly comfortable and cosy (and it was quite nice to have a bed to myself!).

The composting toilets are a novelty to those new to the experience. We are well accustomed to them but they may, at first, feel a bit weird to those who haven’t used them before. They are perfectly clean and comfortable, if a little whiffy.

The door of the hobbit hut in the above photo was modeled on the hobbit house in the Lord of the Rings films.

We were extremely lucky to have had dry weather. It wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if it had rained because the majority of the experience was being outside, enjoying the surroundings. And, of course, the hot tub!

The hot tub is made from oak with a snorkel stove to heat it. It’s filled from a hose pipe direct from the stream that runs alongside. It takes around four and a half hours to get hot. So hot, in fact, we couldn’t get in it! There was a fine balance between keeping the stove stoked with wood and cooling the water down with more water from the stream. It’s a satisfying and rewarding process. The challenge is to take a dip in the freezing stream in between soaks in the hot tub. I didn’t get past my feet but a couple of people laid down in the steam, fully submerged!

The construction of the dwellings is beautifully irregular; wonky windows and doors, and reciprocal roofs in several of them. These touches really add that magical, fairytale feel to the place.

I imagine the village is even more magical is summer time, with lush grass and leaves on the trees. But March was still beautiful. We could see the mountains through the leafless trees and the stars at night from the warmth of the hot tub.

This short video tells the story of Cae Mabon in the words of its owner, Eric. If my photos haven't yet made you want to be transported straight to this magical wold, then this video certainly will.

Cae Mabon is the perfect refuge for a break from everyday life and an opportunity to experience living with the just the basic necessities in a magical setting that truly brings you closer to the natural world.

The website has good descriptions of each dwelling and an abundance of information for anyone who is thinking about staying at Cae Mabon. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and can't wait to return in the future. If you are looking for a fairytale holiday right here in the UK then this is the place to stay. It's not luxury and it's not immaculate . But it is cosy, it is magical and it is down to earth.

P.S. I'll be posting about our Snowdon hike
 and my thrilling zip wire ride soon!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

New hens and the horrible truth about debeaking

In the last post, I announced the arrival of the 6 new ladies in my life. They join our existing flock to bring us to a total of 12 hens.

I intended to re-home some ex-caged hens but the person I was put in contact with said they weren’t having a clear out for a while. She was, however, getting some new stock and said I could order some point of lay hens for just £6 each, from her. That’s a good price as I paid £10 per bird from another local breeder.

There were a couple of weeks to wait before they were ready to go and I eagerly awaited the phone call. When the cal came, Dave and I popped down the road to collect them the following morning.

They were in a very small crate when we arrived and their feathers were scraggly from the cramped conditions. I instantly noticed that they have been debeaked which saddened me, but at least these 6 hens have escaped their original destiny. You may notice in the first picture that the end section of the hen's top beak is missing. Debeaking is the process for laying hens having their top beaks removed, usually with a hot blade, without anesthetic.   It’s a treatment all industry caged hens, and even ‘free range’ hens get, to stop them damaging each other from pecking. They live in such small spaces that they can’t run away from each other and can therefore sustain constant pecking from hens higher up the status ladder.  The cramped nature also makes hens attack each other more aggressively.

The process is controversial and there is pressure for it to be banned. Studies prove the birds feel the pain at time of removal and also long term pain is endured, often changing their natural behaviour; they peck at their environment less and shake their heads less after drinking and eating. You can read more about it on this website I researched.

The ban hasn’t gone through yet, with the argument that an alternative solution to protect hens from being pecked is required for their welfare.

Surely the solution is obvious; more space to roam and act naturally? Pecking is completely natural as chickens need to establish a hierarchy among their flock.  But the change in behaviour due to cramped conditions leads to cannibalism. It’s not natural.

Anyway, back to my hens…

They were destined to be caged hens and so far they are acting like them. For the first week they didn't dare come out of the coop and when I carried them out of it, after two days of hiding in there, they ran back in! The original 6 ladies, Clementine, Peach, Sienna, Ginger, Pumpkin and Paprika have been hen-pecking them a lot. It’s upsetting to witness but it’s natural and they have lots of room to get away from each other.

One of the new hens is definitely bolder than the others (the one stood in the doorway of the coop in the photo above) and will peck seed from the tray at the same time as the original ladies. They have started to establish a new order and should start hanging out together in a few weeks. At the moment they are divided into two distinct groups.

The new hens have learnt to enjoy the outside and dash around the enclosure, in what appears to be joy, with their wings open when I let them out of their coop on a morning.

I'm sad that my hens look quite ugly with their wonky beaks and the thought that they may still endure pain, but I am happy that they are now enjoying a new life in a woodland environment with lots of space to roam. I let them all out of the enclosure and into the wood to roam freely last weekend. The new hens were cautious but curious. They scratted the ground in search of food which was lovely to watch.  I don't let them out of their enclosure when no one is around because we have foxes in the wood and don't want to risk them being killed!

One last word…

Please support local, true free range hen owners and buy your eggs from them. These hens will lead a happy life, with space to roam and full beaks!

PS. If you don’t already, follower me on Twitter and Instagram 
for chookdates (yer, I just came up with that).

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Catching a fox on camera in the wood

This photo may not look like much but I am super happy about it.  That's a fox's blurry back end in the left of the photo!

Last Monday I set the camera up overlooking a ground hole in the wood that had recently been excavated by an animal. The smell around the hole indicted that it was a fox that had been digging in the area.

We raked the soft sand that had been dug from the hole so that any new footprints would be visible and indicate an animal had returned.

I left the camera for 5 nights and retrieved it this afternoon. We were excited to find fresh prints in the soft sand. They are definitely that of a fox.

The hole is at the bottom of the photo in the centre. The orange sand that has been excavated has several paw prints from a fox.

Impressions from the claws are clearly visible on the left side of this print.

Excitedly I removed the camera quickly and retreated away from the hole so as not to disturb the fox if it is down the hole, and so that as little of our scent as possible is left lingering around the area.

Hurrah! Two photos and one video of a fox!

 The fox is just left of the orange coloured sand.

The fox tail is easily identifiable and the entrance to the hole is the dark area just to the right of the tail.

The fox appears to stop, look directly at the camera and tilt its head inquisitively. Maybe the fox could smell my scent on the camera.

The camera was set up to take a photo followed by a 60 second video. Annoyingly, it looks like the fox has come out of the hole and taken several steps before the camera has snapped the photos.

The photos are blurry but the video is clear. Still a fantastic result for my first time catching foxes on camera.

I shall recharge the batteries and place the camera back by the hole but try a different position. If the camera looks towards the entrance as though it is looking inside, then maybe it will have a better chance of capturing the fox coming out of, or going into, the hole.

It will be amazing if the fox has a mate and they plan to have their cubs in the earth. Foxes mate between January and March and cubs are born 58 weeks later. Cubs will venture out of the earth at around four to five weeks of age. So hopefully we may see some cubs around April or May time. This gives me plenty of time to get the camera settings and location perfect for capturing them on camera.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Forest gardens and the future of sustainable farming

source: shikigami2011

We’ve spent the best part of 5 weekends preparing an area of the wood to become a forest garden. It’s taken a lot of work and it still isn't ready for all the plants quite yet.
The fruit trees are in but the black current and redcurrant bushes need relocating to the area along with the raspberry canes. Vegetables will be sown next month, as will the herbs.

Until I had seen an awesome documentary called ‘Farm for the Future’ while studying Countryside Management’, I didn’t fully understand the purpose and role of forest gardens. However, seeing real case studies and interviews with people who run forest gardens inspired me, as did the motive for a more sustainable way of farming. If you haven’t seen it, you can see it here. I recommend it to anyone.

The documentary tackles the issue of intensive farming and their practices that are ultimately leading to a monoculture environment that is killing biodiversity, and our future. It’s a subject close to my heart and their solution is forest gardening. Ironically, forests are also close to my heart and I am lucky to be in a position to be able to grow one.

Our long-term aim is to become more self-sufficient; growing as much of our own food as possible, keeping livestock and ultimately living off the land.  However, we are both career focused people who enjoy working in offices and the money we make. We love travelling, visiting friends and the finer things in life such as eating out and staying away.  This may be contradictory to the typical ethos of self-sufficiency living, but we aren’t the type of people to conform to expectations.  We just do what we feel is right for us. We aim to find a balance between enjoying our corporate careers while living a bit more sustainably than the average Joe.

What is a forest garden?

A forest garden is a sustainable food production system based on woodland ecosystems. Plants with yields beneficial to humans such as fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs and vegetable plants are grown alongside each other in a way that they can benefit each other in terms of pest control, pollination, maximising space and providing habitats for beneficial creatures. A layering system ensures vertical space is utilised.  The aim is to create a low-maintenance; sustainable plantation that produces food for humans, that also benefits wildlife.

Beautiful example of a forest garden
Source: London Permaculture

What will we grow?

We are still learning about and planning our forest garden so we only have initial plans. So far we have several fruit trees including pear, cherry, damson and plumb. We already have a redcurrant bush, a blackcurrant bush and have just bought several gooseberry brushes.  The raspberry canes are quite established already but we will move them to the forest garden area. There’s a good ground covering of wild strawberries next to the house that produces the tiniest fruit. Their produce can’t be classed as a yield but the plants may help other plants (need to look into this). I will take some from this area and move them to the forest garden. We may also introduce some domestic varieties of strawberry.  I would love to have a large area dedicated to a variety of herbs that will be great for cooking but also be aesthetically pleasing. The greenhouse is located in front of the forest garden and will be used to house tomatoes and peppers. As for the vegetable area, well, we will grow as many vegetable as possible!

Plants should be intermixed in a forest garden and a layering system applied (see image below). This is the bit I need to research further to ensure plants are put in the right places.  I also need to understand which plants to grow. At the moment I’m planning to throw everything in.

There are several forest gardens around the UK that have open days and work days and some even run course. I would love to visit one and learn directly from the people that take care of them.

I will be posting on the progress of the forest garden area and will be snapping pictures along the way. If you are interested in following our journey then follow this blog on Bloglovin’ here and Instagram here

Stay tuned!

Monday, 23 February 2015

More hens. More money?

Look who’s arrived at the wood! 6 new hens!

Last September I bought 6 point of lay hens in an effort to be a bit more self-sufficient and also because I absolutely love keeping chickens.

I worked out the cost of keeping the hens and the income I could generate from the surplus eggs to prove they are worth keeping.

All six hens were laying by November (it can take a while for young ladies to start laying and the winter weather can slow them down) and we were overflowing with eggs throughout December. We ate boiled eggs for breakfast, scrambled eggs for lunch, huge Victoria sponges and bread and butter puddings to the point we were almost egged-out!

Quite handily (and planned), I work in a city-based office with over 100 employees and they were the target for new eggy business. At the start of the New Year, a group email to everyone in the building was extremely well received and within the same day all unlaid eggs were accounted for, for a full two weeks! I was so eggcited (I’m so funny) about bringing in boxes full of eggs and delivering them to my customers’ desks. It did mean that our household were on an egg-eating ban for around a month as I put the customers first during the initial rush.

The initial influx of orders tailed off and now I have 4 steady customers who I supply to. These customers take a total of 24 eggs per week, generating a net profit of £4 per week.

Considering the chickens eat about £10 worth of food a month, the £16 made from selling eggs is working out nicely. I’m not actually making a profit yet as the initial cost of purchasing the hens (£60) hasn’t been covered but over time I will get there.

For the last couple of weeks, I have only been getting 5 eggs per day, meaning one hen isn’t laying. It’s quite normal for hens to stop laying in winter so I’m not worried. However, it does impact how many eggs we have to sell, and how may we have to eat ourselves.

So, I made a slight drastic decision to ‘invest’ back into the business and increase my flock by 100%!

This is what the balance sheet looks like to date:

Costs to date:
Chickens £96
Food £80 (enough left for another month)

Income to date:
Sales £44


Now, I have one little, tiny-weeny issue; I am starting a new job in a month’s time and therefore will lose my current customer base. By this time the new hens should have started to lay so there is a possibility we will, once again, be overrun with eggs. However, I am crossing my fingers that there will be lots of potential customers at my new office! I also plan to start selling eggs by the roadside, with an honesty box, but fear the lack of passers-by due to it been a back road will mean I don’t sell many.

Either way, even if they don’t balance on the books, I still love keeping hens and it will always be worth my time and effort :)