Thursday, 10 April 2014


I've just come across the folder with the photo's from this planned post and realised that I never stuck it up here. I think it was when the new camera arrived and I was busy playing around with different editing software, getting distracted by playing with the new toy, etc and just ended up forgetting.

Anyway it was also around the time I was starting to consider taking the dug wild camping and I got to thinking about gear for her. I know she doesn't need much but one thing that concerned me was if she might get cold in winter, especially when sleeping at night. I realise that she's a collie from working stock and therefore a hardy wee breed, but lets be honest here. She can pretend she's a rufftie tufftie mountain dug all she wants but at night she normally sleeps in a flat with central heating and for at least some of the night she'll be on top of my feet. It just wouldn't be right for me to be wrapped up in down while she lies on a mat with no extra insulation.

What to do then? Well there's no way she's getting into my sleeping bag and I've never seen sleeping bags for dugs. I did briefly consider a kiddies sleeping bag before common sense took over again. Then it hit me, an insulated jacket for dugs could be just the ticket! It'll keep her warm, won't fall off and she can move around in it. Sorted I thought, until I saw the price of them!

£85! Who do they think they're kidding! It's for a dug for f*cks sake. I'd have to seriously weigh that price up even if it was for me to wear, and I can just imagine the sinking feeling as I stood and watched Nellie rolling in a stinking bog wearing it. 85 quid, aye that'll be right! Anyway, determined not be be beaten, I put my thinking cap on and came up with a far better solution...

MYOG and even if it ended up looking horrendous the dug wouldn't care as long as she's warm.

I took a punt on this at £8 from Asda. The price was right, the colour was spot on and the child's size for ages 7 to 9 (iirc) turned out to be about right too. I tried it on her and immediately it was obviously cutting in under whatever the dog equivalent of under arms is called. The hood was just stupid and it was a little short in body length although around her chest it seemed about right.

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How does the story go again? That's right, you make the blanket a little longer by cutting a bit off the top and sewing it onto the bottom. Seemed logical enough so I immediately broke out the sewing kit and got to work doing exactly that. The hood came off first and was sewn up to stop the insulation (we can pretend it's Primaloft for dugs) falling out and then put aside for attaching to the bottom later.

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Next came the arm holes. After a bit of footering around with the measuring tape I gave in and just stuck her back in the jacket and simply put a dot with a marker roughly where I thought I should extend the arm holes to. Lines were drawn from the dots to the existing arm hole edges and then I simply cut out a triangular piece of jacket from each side and sewed up the edges again.

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Lastly the hood was sewn onto the bottom of the jacket. I ended up cutting two slits up the hood so it would lie around her arse neatly at the base of her tail. The slit edges were also sewn up to keep the insulation in and that was pretty much it.

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Looking at some of the photo's again the actual order of some of these steps may be a little out, but you get the general idea. I reckon it turned out great (doesn't even look as stupid as I feared it might) and for less than a tenth of the price for a "proper" one and just a few hours of my time it'll do just nicely. All we need now is for some time to get out and wild camp somewhere before all the snow melts!

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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Auchengilloch Covenanters Monument. A wee Sunday morning wander.

I'm aware that it's been pretty quiet on here recently. I've not been hiding but I can't say I've been inspired to write much about anything. The incessant high winds every weekend have kept me from attempting to ascend anything even remotely tall and pointy but that doesn't mean I've been completely idle. There's still been a few lower level walks, there's been plenty of thought about the state of my outdoor kit (some of which I may write about soon) and we recently had a cracking day out in Glasgow to celebrate my birthday with a visit to the Transport Museum, a few beers and the best curry I've had in a while...and just to prove to the world that I've not become a hermit here's the most recent walk.

This was one we'd been saving for a nice weekend wander in the morning. I've recently been starting to seek out some more local, lower level alternatives for walking when the weather is pish and I keep finding more and more places we can go and explore both the countryside and the local history. In fact I wish they'd taught us more about the local stuff at school...maybe I'd have paid more attention and stuck in a bit more! Anyway, I came across Tookie's write up for this a while back and when we woke to blue skies a few weeks ago we quickly packed and left after breakfast.

The drive out to Lambhill Steading was short and we parked up in what appears to be a bit of waste ground which has either been used for fly tipping or disposing some stuff from the builders of the nice new but empty and abandoned looking 12 houses built there. I can see the potential for them but I wouldn't buy one just yet going by the state of them at the moment. Hopefully they'll finish them off and clear up the mess around.

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Packs on backs, pole lengths sorted and with the dug let loose we were on our way. Round the gate and along the track it's more open than the map would lead you to believe. The trees don't come right up to the track which give the walk a nice airy feel not often found when traversing along forestry commission tracks. The conversation was mainly me extolling the virtues of trekking poles and trying to convince and advise Louise on their benefits and correct usage. The dug however wasted no time in acquiring and using her stick!

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The sun came out, brightened everything up for while then went back to hiding behind the mass of clouds skudding by above us. Despite the wind and the openness of the track I was still comfortable in just a wind proof over my base layer. I'd stuffed my Rab VR (heavy old style) smock into my pack just in case it was colder and for lunch stop insulation. It was never once deployed.

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Just before the wee lochan at Long Knowe we were passed by a bloke on his mountain bike and a tiny wee terrier sized dug running like the clappers to keep up with him. I happened to be messing about with the camera on the tripod at the time and his wee dug came up to say hello and then didn't seem to want to leave. I reckon the wee thing was well and truly puffed oot and just procrastinating for a wee breather. A tactic I'm often employing in fact when pointing the camera at stuff. The photos are just a nice side benefit.

We ambled along past the lochan till we met the biker and his wee pal coming back the other way again and then eventually the track ran out and we found ourselves following the white marker posts through the heather.

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Picking our way through the heather we found ourselves just following the shorter flatter bits where foot traffic has worn a very faint path. The few markers we saw didn't have much white paint left on them and they were mostly obscured by the heather anyway. It wasn't a problem and in a strange way lent a hand to the feeling of looking for a wee hidey hole where secret gatherings were once held away from prying eyes.

It didn't take us long to spot the monument in the distance and when you get there you can immediately see why this place was used by the covenanters for their field meetings. It's sheltered and you're hidden away down in the tiny glen and I can easily imagine someone standing atop the hill holding forth and preaching to his flock. It would also be easy to place a few lookouts to spot any soldiers coming across the moors allowing you plenty of time to leg it.

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By the time we had dropped down into the wee pint sized glen and climbed up the hill that the monument stands upon, the sun had decided to come back out to play. We spent a bit of time reading the inscription, admiring the views in all directions and wondered what it must've been like to live in those uncertain times where your beliefs and faith could see you killed.

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It was very pleasant atop that wee hill and we didn't fancy going back down into the wee glen but it was windy so I set the tarp up quickly as a wind break and got the stove on for a hot brew. As I've decided to go back to playing with meths stoves and they take a while to boil I left Louise watching it while I went for a wee poke around the hill top.

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We sat and had lovely wee quiet picnic enjoying the warmth of the sun on our faces and cheating the wind from behind with the tarp. There should be more Sunday morning brunches spent like this. We lingered for a while but the call of Louise's never ending pile of marking eventually had us packing up and heading for home.

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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Back to basics - Cooking

A while back I spent some time thinking long and hard about my cooking kit and its shortcomings. Eventually I came up with a new system that gave me a lot more flexibility, especially in colder conditions where I want to be able to melt snow and have a hot meal/drink fast with minimum fuss. I got this but it cost me in terms of weight. I'm still happy with that set but recently I've been having a long look at my pack weight and I'm slightly shocked by how much it's crept up. Things have been getting heavier all round and  I've kept on justifying it by thinking that extra weight is worth it for the ease of use, luxury etc.

So in a bid to lighten the load I've decided to go back to basics a bit. I got to thinking back to when I had just started heading to the hills on my own and remembered carrying some crazy light meths set-ups (home-made out of old Irn-Bru cans too) and I never really had any issues with them. So why did I move away from them then? Well sometimes they were a faff, especially in the wind. They were never very fast and I suppose I was seduced by the roar of a gas stove reaching a boil in less than half the time.

Could I go back to meths then? Well I thought I'd be willing to give it a bash if I could fix those problems. I already knew about the now classic Caldera Cone system but had never tried one. Reading up old reviews I struggled to find anything really bad about them other than the packing of it. As they're not expensive I decided to take a gamble on one . I specced it for my old MyTi mug as it's the lightest pot I have already and it is a good size for one.

Whilst waiting on delivery I got to thinking about the MyTi mug and remembered all the burnt fingers I'd suffered lifting it by handles that had gotten too hot in the flames licking up the pot sides. I already had one of those silicone charity band that were all the rage a few years back around the rim to prevent burnt lips so would silicone tubing work on the handles? Well luckily for me I came across some at work (machine spares) so decided to "re-purpose" it. The 10 gram weight gain would be worth it I thought.

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When it arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that the supplied caddy fits nice and snug in the pot, so that makes packing a little easier than expected. I'm not sure if it's by design or just coincidence but either way it works. I like the 12-10 stove supplied with it and it does seem to work better with the cone than any of  my old stoves. I ditched the trail designs meths bottle and I'm using a 120ml bottle that used to contain fancy bike chain oil. It's clear, leak proof and has a squirty nozzle. The supplied measuring cup weighs nothing and does what it's meant to. The folding spork has gone and been replaced with an old light my fire one. Half the weight, fits in the caddy, orange and basically free because I already own it. A fire steel for lighting and a old handkerchief for drying wiping out pot etc and I think that's it.

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All together with enough fuel for several day's (by my calculations) and it weighs in at 479 grams. That's not too shabby for stuff I've just flung together and embarrassingly its a good bit lighter than the previous set up. I've had a play about with it (indoors admittedly) and I like it. I think it'll work nicely for me in the hills. I'll get the weight down on it a bit more with a little time and some more thought but so far I'm very pleased.

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Now that I've a play with it outside a couple of times I'm now a little bewildered as to why I ever strayed from this sort of set up! It's very light and it works fine. I did manage to burn the bottom of the silicone tubing when it was directly in the flames for a while so I've cut it back a bit at the bottom of the handles. Should still do its job insulating me and be a whole gram or two, I think! I'm ditching the fire steel too. It may be great and super reliable for gas but its not that easy to get the sparks to land inside the narrow opening of the stove. I'm also a bit concerned I'll knock it over and spill the fuel with an over enthusiastic strike. Anyway a small cigarette lighter weighs less so that's yet another win. I'll use the set up some more and let it evolve and write it up when it's stayed the same for a while.

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Monday, 17 February 2014

It's not big but it was clever

Plans had changed and I couldn't be far away from home but that didn't mean I couldn't still get out for some fresh air. I'd pulled out of  "the big meet" along with everyone else on Friday night it seemed, and then on Saturday morning the email came in. A member of the party already up there for some mountain fun had taken a tumble. As the scary details came in and I read the weather reports I decided that something low level would be best after all. Muirkirk moors and hills it was then.

As I didn't have too far to drive to my intended destination I had a wee lie in and a breakfast of poached eggs on toast. Packing was done quickly and was finished even before my bath had run. A quick wash, dressed for the occasion and me and the dug were shortly off on our way.

The sky was blue and the air was fresh with a cold bite in the breeze. I could see snow in the distance lingering on the higher tops. I hoped I wasn't missing out on anything up north but this had all the ingredients of a cracking day oot.

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We set off at a brisk pace heading for the boggy lower slopes of Cairn Table. It wasn't long before the ground became sodden, waterlogged and every step was a gamble. Will that tussock hold my weight or is it just floating? I tried not to laugh as we crossed the well intentioned but pointless short sections of board walk that seem to just connect the boggy bits together. Nellie wasn't caring though, she likes splashing about and throwing herself into the wet stuff.

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Before long the ground started to firm up and was becoming ever increasingly frozen. The temperature was also dropping and the breeze was getting up with every metre we ascended. I was feeling the sting of the wind every time I stopped to point the camera at stuff so I pulled my hat, gloves and wind proof from the OMM front pouch. Its really handy having so much stuff immediately to hand and I don't quite remember what it was about the pouch that I never got on with in the past? It's become standard equipment now though.

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Nellie was enjoying herself, running around like the daft puppy she was not that long ago. I suspect she might have been suffering the same cabin fever style frustrations I have as her walks have been shorter these days. It was funny watching her try to pick up the snow or the bits of heather poking through and get me to throw it.

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It was really starting to get cold now in the wind and I confess to just letting the camera make the decisions as I couldn't be bothered faffing with the controls with frozen finger. This was the first real outing with my new camera and despite keeping forgetting to refit the lens cap I'm liking it. I'm really looking forward to some long evenings spent playing with it on a pleasant and quiet summit. I suspect that's where and when I'll learn the most about it. I also started to worry a little about Nellie's feet but she didn't seem bothered at all by the snow. I don't think she'd like those wee dog booties either but I kept an eye on her watching for signs of discomfort.

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We were hitting some deeper drifts and even though it was well consolidated we were both breaking through the crust  every few steps. It was slowing progress down and becoming uncomfortable as I had no gaiters on and the tops of my shoes were filling with snow. It's been a while since I've been out in these conditions. I scanned the terrain and could see the shoulder over to my right with lots more rock and heather poking through. It wasn't as deep so we meandered over and picked our way up it.

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The large war memorial cairn appeared and we were soon on the top having a good poke around, enjoying the view and exploring the older prehistoric cairns. I like it up here. The views are extensive, it's not too far away and there's a feel (and plenty of evidence) about the place that people have been coming here forever. We hadn't been there long before we were joined by a local bloke (I forget his name now) from the village below and we stood talking for a while about the local area. He pointed out a few other interesting routes visible from our vantage point which I've filed away for future reference. Local knowledge is the best and I would never have picked these from just looking at the map as some of the forestry commission stuff has changed shape slightly over the years.

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It was nice chatting to the other walker and even Nellie seemed to warm to him after her initial fright. I could've picked his brains about the area for a good while longer but my feet were starting to get uncomfortably cold standing around, there was no real shelter from the biting wind and he had to get on too. I looked around for some natural shelter but the partially excavated cairn that you can usually hunker down in was filled with snow. I didn't feel like digging so the tarp went up and it wasn't long before I could feel the warmth of the Coffee spreading through me. Nothing beats a summit brew!

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Warm and fed and feeling invigorated I packed up and we had another poke around the hillside. I've found references to partially worked but abandoned millstones on the slopes here but I've never found one. I wasn't hopeful though as they'd have been buried under the white stuff. The cold was starting to creep in again and it wasn't long before a pint in a warm and cosy pub held far more appeal than the frozen wastes of the moors. We soon headed back down to the Landy and the drive home. A short but fun day out and just the thing to blow the cobwebs away.

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I'm glad to report that the Meet member who had the accident up north is off the hill and recovering. Has some serious sounding surgery to go through but appears to be on the mend, and by all accounts he has belter of a story to tell too. Stay safe folks.

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