Summer on the Ridgeway

[This post was originally written for and published in The Backpackers Club magazine. It’s a write-up of the backpacking meet I arranged for the club this summer along the Ridgeway from the Court Hill Centre to Britchcombe Farm.]

Ten people turned up to the Court Hill Centre near Wantage, Oxfordshire on Friday night for our Ridgeway weekend. It’s a great site as it commands fine views across the countryside and feels like a wild pitch with facilities. Keith the manager made everyone very welcome and is a font of local knowledge. We watched a beautiful sunset and then headed to our tents with some trepidation considering the weather forecast for heavy rain and thunderstorms overnight. Clive and Nev saw lightning on the horizon but we couldn’t hear the thunder and despite the ominous forecast we had a peaceful night.

Watching the sunset at the Court Hill Centre.

We took the Nemo Meta 2P. A great warm weather 2-person tarp/tent.

In the morning David, Howard, and Glenn headed home by bicycle and car and the rest of us walked west to Uffington along the ancient road. Despite the humidity and occasional rain shower the views were long across the downs. There are some interesting features on the way and we explored the earthwork remains of Letcombe Castle and the naturally carved landscape feature, the Devil’s Punchbowl, now open access land. Frank and Sean turned North to investigate the local pubs, Clive headed off to visit Waylands Smithy (a neolithic long barrow), and the rest of us made a beeline for cream teas at Britchcombe Farm.

As we relaxed by our tents during the hottest part of the afternoon we watched one storm pass over Dragon Hill to our left and across the valley. Then a second storm came over Uffington Wood to our right. As the third black cloud came over the crest of Uffington Castle behind us we thought we’d better not push our luck and headed back to the tea room for ice creams.

We met Tony, Lynette, and Lisa there who’d just arrived and were checking in. Just after Lisa went off to pitch her tent we had an almightily hailstorm. The rest of us sat in the tea room watching hailstones bounce off the flooded cobblestones and ate ice creams, cream teas, and drank coffee. Some concerns were raised when we realised the farmhouse back-wall was leaking rain water but mostly though, of course, we were worried about Lisa, Chris, Frank, and Sean who were out in the storm!

One of a number of storm clouds that skirted us while we lazed at the campsite.


When it passed and the sun returned we left the tea room to find Lisa safely tucked up in her tent and Sean and Frank arriving in full wet-weather gear. They’d found two pubs, local ale, good chips, a ploughed footpath, the hailstorm, and a bull! Chris and his dogs arrived too after a long walk and we all settled in for the long summer’s evening, enjoying some real ales brought by Lisa (thanks Lisa!), the warm weather, and good company.

View of Britchcombe Farm from Dragon Hill.

Sunday morning we climbed Dragon Hill behind the farm, visited the earthwork remains of Uffington Castle, and saw the White Horse, a carved chalk figure in the hillside that dates from about the same age as the Iron Age hill fort. Then Frank and Lisa went west for a long walk back to Court Hill Centre, Chris did another long walk back, while the rest of us headed straight east. The humidity was high and the Ridgeway was covered in very hot, tired people coming the other way on the 100 Km “Race to the Stones” event. I’m not sure all of them appreciated our sense of humour.

With the hot sunshine, still air, and high humidity we were very grateful for the well-maintained water tap half-way between the two sites. The best refreshments though were the bacon sarnies, chips, and cold drinks waiting for us at the Court Hill Centre tea room when we arrived back.

Thanks very much to everyone who came along and made it such a fun, memorable weekend.


Surprising Kit! Merrell Siren Sport Trainers

Yesterday I cleaned my walking trainers. This is a rare event but after a 7 mile bimble along the Ridgeway with @krider2010 my shoes were 2 heavy bricks of brown mud. These are shoes that get worn for dog walks, supermarket trips, pub outings, and long treks. They’re unappreciated, used, and abused daily.

Hence when they came out of the washing-up bowl looking remarkably healthy I was surprised enough to blog about them.

They’re are a pair of Merrell Siren Sport GTX (Gore Tex) bought in late 2010. Actually they’re replacements for the originals I bought in early 2010.

My first pair of Siren Sports cracked on the edge where my toes flex and did so well within a year. This crack led to water seeping in otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed as they were extremely comfortable. In fact, when brand new, I rather stupidly wore them for a long walk in the Brecon Beacons and amazingly suffered not a single blister.

Luckily I’d kept the receipt for this original pair and Cotswold Outdoor were more than happy to swap them. At the time they didn’t have anything else that fitted so I ended up with another pair of Sirens despite my concern that these too would fail within a year. However they’ve survived so I can only assume the originals had a fault or Merrell redesigned the shoe in 2010.

Looking at my current, now clean, pair I can see hairline cracks at the sides where my toes flex and the sole has worn down on one heel. The lining is still remarkably waterproof. The Ridgeway was covered with giant brown puddles (in a drought, in June) and it was only when water flooded over the top of my foot that I got a soggy sock. (At the time our tiny Jack Russell Chihuahua was practically swimming so I wasn’t surprised.)


Hopefully they’ll be around for a while yet but, when they eventually go to shoe heaven, I’ll be buying another pair. Merrell are still selling them and I’ve included some marketing bumpf below.

“A Siren that sounds the alarm when the weather comes up bad, and keeps pace with the worst it can throw out. Mesh upper backed by GORE-TEX® membrane has the highest level of breathability while being completely waterproof without any unwanted bulk-up. Narrow gauge webbing and synthetic leather strapping provide support while anchoring speed lacing. Underneath it’s all about cushioning and alignment, with proprietary Merrell® Air Cushion matched to QForm® stride-centering.

• Strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort
• Synthetic leather and mesh upper
• Bellows tongue keeps debris out
• GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort Footwear lining keeps feet dry and comfortable
• Lining treated with Aegis® Antimicrobial solution maintains foot comfort
• Ortholite® Anatomical Footbed

• Molded nylon arch shank
• QForm® Comfort midsole provides women’s specific stride-sequenced cushioning
• Merrell Air Cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
• 5 mm Sole lug depth
• Vibram® Siren Song Sole/TC5+ Rubber

UK Women’s Sizes: 4-8 full sizes only
EUROPE Women’s Sizes: 36-42
Weight: 11.5oz (326g)”

(I have size 6, narrow feet, with a prominent arch. I find Merrell shoes to be very comfortable and, for example, Keen shoes to be way to wide for me. Getting shoes that fit properly is as much dependent on whether the manufacturer’s styles suit your shape of foot as anything else. In other words, your milage may vary and, if you can, try on shoes in a good outdoor store with a personal fitter. My pair weigh 720g in comparison to the 326g quoted by Merrell but they are an older design and a size 6 rather than a size 4…)

Comment: Google + Meh

Those who follow me on Twitter or read this blog have probably guessed by now that I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. The initial idea was a work of genius but over time the site’s evolved into an insidious mess. Adverts and games that spam your friends. An unintuitive interface. Constantly changing privacy settings that seem designed to be confusing. Mystifying groups and pages (does anyone understand the difference?) Plus, if you’re naive enough to “Like” something on the web, waves of marketing updates.

The evolution of a shiny new prime social network is long overdue.

Google+ is the latest challenger. At first glance it seems refreshingly clean and simple. Selective Circles of contacts are definitely a power-up. However Google+ feels like Google’s Facebook. It’s not innovative enough. It’s CDs to MiniDiscs not CDs to MP3s. To get the crowds in there needs to be a real advantage to moving.

Then there’s the thought of putting it all into Google’s basket. If they’re handling my social networking, my diary, my address book, my documents, my check-ins, and my email they know everything there is to know about me and everything about my friends too. It doesn’t matter if only select Circles of people can see only what I let them see. Google can see the lot. That birthdate, mobile phone number, and home address that I so carefully avoid putting out there is now in the hands of the behemoth that is Google. And yours too because you’re in my address book.

In my view, any company hoping to make money through data mining and marketing via a social networking site will invariably fail to build the next big thing. The shiny new social network will be built by a genius seeing a way to significantly change people’s social lives for the better along with a userbase that grabs it with both hands because they recognise an honest revolution.

Google+? Meh.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 39 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 19 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 3mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 21st with 51 views. The most popular post that day was Riverford Fruit & Veg Deliveries.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and http:///.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for iphone bumper review, trainyard express, chicken and bacon tagliatelle, cut the rope game, and hat patern for crosh.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Riverford Fruit & Veg Deliveries July 2010
3 comments and 1 Like on,


iPhone Bumper Review August 2010


Cooking: Chicken & Bacon Tagliatelle November 2010


Games: Cut The Rope Lite & Trainyard Express October 2010
1 comment


British Grand Prix 2010. Whittlebury Park Campsite Review July 2010

Camping: Quechua 2 seconds III tent review

Ever since Beer-Festival-Mike sent me some video footage of their pop-up tent I’ve been anxious to get my hands on one. Back then no Decathlon stores were delivering to our area and I couldn’t face driving for hours just to buy a tent. So I put the desire in a drawer and forgot about it.

Flash forward a few months and Nev and I are having conversations about single-night camping. We adore our Vango Orchy 500 and Wild Country Duolite Tourer but neither tent is particularly quick to pitch. We’d felt the irritation of spending over an hour setting up camp when it was going to be taken down less than 24 hrs later. When we’re just away for one night the less time spent pitching and packing up the better. For one night escapades comfort and space isn’t a priority and if we’re taking the car weight isn’t an issue either. So what we needed was a quick to pitch, pack, and dry tent.

I checked the web and found a Decathlon store willing to deliver to us! Woot Woot. Tent ordered and delivered in a flash. These tents aren’t expensive and the Quechua set me back £50 including postage and packing. We went for a 3 person tent as they say that’s comfortable for 2 people.

This is how simple they are to put up. Be careful not to hit anyone when you pop them, Nev managed to get me and Dogface his first time.

We took the tent away with us for one night at Forgewood earlier this month and the results were…

  • Super easy to pitch. Took about 5 minutes as we didn’t bother with the guy ropes. Just threw it on the ground, moved it to the right spot, and shoved in some tent pegs. We did use some lightweight alloy tent pegs rather than the cheapy ones that come with the tent.
  • It’s warm as toast as it’s small. Perfect for Spring/Autumn breaks.
  • There’s no real porch to speak of, just a small space for shoes.
  • Ventilation isn’t great but it was perfectly adequate for us for one night and you could unzip the inner tent to get more fresh air. The inner has small mesh ventilation panels on both the door and the back. (See above pic.) Quechua also do have a more expensive version with flip up side ventilation panels.
  • It’s super short! Nev is 5’8″ and I’m 5’6″ so we’re not tall and it was JUST long enough. Width was fine for two and a dog and a few bags.
  • Inside there are hanging pockets on both sides for bits and bobs.
  • It’s obviously not an expensive tent but it seemed fairly robust. Didn’t get a chance to test it’s waterproofing.
  • Packing away is very easy. However I’d forgotten how to do it and misinformed Nev. Luckily a kind fellow camper came over to show us the trick.

In summary we’re very happy with Chicken Tent (easier to pronounce than Quechua). Perfect for overnight camps with a car when you just want to chuck down the tent and get on with the serious business of relaxing. I’d also recommend it for kids as it would be loads of fun for camping out in a backgarden or as a playhouse.

The Quechua is available in the UK at Decathlon stores.

Follow up to “A big pain in the back”

Never have I ever had so made replies to a blog post! Thanks to everyone who suggested remedies and sympathised. Seems like everyone has had their (un)fair share of back pain. I personally think the problem started when humans stood up.

I went back to the doctors last week and saw a different doctor. She has a very different approach and has referred me for physiotherapy. It’s a long wait on the NHS but I’m happy to wait as I know there’s something positive happening. In addition she recommended Tiger Balm (dementholised mint oil in a paraffin base) which I’ve used in the past for tension headaches. At first I was very sceptical of essentially putting vics on my back but this stuff is ace. Whether it’s the odd cold feeling that distracts the body from the pain or it actually stops the pain who knows, I’m not complaining so long as it helps. Works better than Deep Heat or the diclofenac gel I have. She also printed out some physiotherapy exercises for me. They’re the same ones that I found on the net myself but I appreciate her help especially in comparison to the negative response I had from my regular doctor last year!

Here are just a few of the replies and comments I received to share the advice around…

@nerdcoresteve “I hope yoga helps! I’ve just started this semester and I feel much healthier.”

@SuzShoes “I love yoga! I’ve got a new teacher now and I’m much happier in my class. She doesn’t push. Stick with it, you’ll feel great!”

@MatCurran “I recomend Wii fit, since I started Wii fitting again my back has been much better” “Oh and what worked best, sit up stretch your back and lift the height of your chair so that your hip is higher that your knee…”

@FunkJem “I use an orthopaedic mattress, hard back chairs and I’m thinking about Tai Chi.”

@travelling_steve “sorry about your back pain, my father swears by osteopaths. I try to run to strengthen mine to ward off any damage…”

@loop_pool “would say you should defo see a GP again, and if they try and fob you off with painkillers push for a referral…”

@Janine_B_Lewis “oh dear..tis not good :0(  accupuncture?”

Sersie “At least for me I know sort of what is messed up, and even went to physical therapy for a few months for it. It helped, especially the strengthening of the core muscles with exercises.”

Nikki “Insist on being referred to a specialist. Friend of mine had injections into her spine that used to work for a while. Don’t accept that everyone has back ache and nothing can be done!”

Joanna “Hi, having suffered from back pain myself I would strongly recommend that you take up gentle and regular exercises (such as yoga or Pilates) to strenghten the spine muscles and prevent further bouts of pain. Sadly the NHS doctors usually tend to address only the symptoms (hence the strong painkillers prescription you have been given), not the root cause of the problem. And as you experienced it yourself, the side effects of painkillers can be as crippling as the backpain itself. I wouldn’t also expect a chirporactor or physiotherapist to work miracles if you dont strenghten your spine muscles. (Been there, done that myself – lots of money wasted and obviosly these people wont tell you to go home and do some stretches as they couldnt earn their living if they did that).”

Also a big thank you to @carocat and @annie67 who both made me feel better too.

A big pain in the back

I’ve suffered with debilitating back pain for one year now, every day. Happy anniversary back pain! 😛 Time to stop pretending everything’s ok.

I don’t know how I damaged it and there are no visible symptoms. It’s an invisible problem that severely limits my physical ability. On the surface I look absolutely fine so inside I feel like a big fraud.

The pain moves around. Sometimes it’s a sharp pain in the middle of my spine. Sometimes a dull ache from my tail bone down into my legs. Some days it’s intense like a pulled muscle round my sides. Often it stops me standing or sitting up straight without additional support by the end of the day.

I’m currently a housewife. My job is to do our cleaning, cooking, gardening, food shopping, etc. and these are the things I can’t do! Pushing a trolley, hoover, or lawnmower is especially bad. Even spending a few hours cleaning means I’m in too much pain and hence too exhausted to cook dinner without going to pieces.

I went to see my doctor about it a year ago. He prescribed strong painkillers (that make me constipated, dizzy, and nauseous) and told me almost every adult has back pain, there’s no NHS treatment available, and there’s no cure.

I’ve looked into seeing a physio/chiropractor but the cost is prohibitive. Both are extremely expensive and there’s no guarantee either will help. Some physio exercises from the internet have helped a little but it’s only temporary relief.

We get the heavy shopping delivered nowadays. We’ve changed our car to one that’s less sporty and more comfy to drive. Nev hoovers and mows. I go to ‘yoga for backs’ on Weds nights. I rest as much as I can stand. We’ve thrown out the old knackered bed and sleep on the mattress straight on the floor. I’m an expert in gentle pain relief like wheat packs and ibuprofen gels.

These things help but it’s not enough. Sometimes it seems like it’s mending but the next moment it’s back to square one again.

I’m going to make an appointment to go back and see a different doctor at our local surgery. Nev’s been super through all of this but it’s negatively effecting his life as much as mine. I need to do something about it for his sake as much as mine.

At the moment I just can’t imagine what on earth can make it better? Perhaps it’s just a case of accepting it?

This is probably way TMI but I needed to say it out loud. Thanks for listening and may your back be healthy and pain free!

While the rain falls…

With this cold and rainy weather what better to do that curl up on the sofa with a bag of wool and make some Autumney mittens? Check out the site Ravelry. Awesome website with some social networking and lots of great knitting and crocheting resources. I’m on there under the username sahfenn and you can find a link to the above mittens pattern in my projects. With big thanks to Carocat for pointing me in their direction.

Forage for blackberries and sloe berries! This year hasn’t been a good one for blackberries. Not enough sun in the last couple of weeks just as they were ripening. Should have enough for an apple and blackberry crumble this weekend though if you go hunting this week in-between rain showers. I’ve harvested some sloe berries for the first time this year. Froze them overnight to improve the flavour, then put a cut in each one before popping them in a bottle with some sugar and lots of gin. Sloe gin made now should be ready to drink in a few months but best left til next year apparently. It’s turning a beautiful colour already.

Pop some dharma talks from zencast on your ipod. I adore these talks. Whether I agree with the speaker or not, they wake my brain cells and bring a lot of perspective on life in general. I wonder also if listening to 3 hours of buddhist wisdom a day will just seep into my brain in a Homer Simpson style. (Can anyone remember that episode? Was is a dictionary, a bible, a language tape, or something else? Google has failed me.) Or alternatively will I be a cow counter…?

“One who recites many teachings but, being negligent, doesn’t act accordingly, like a cowherd counting others’ cows, does not attain the benefits of the contemplative life.” – Buddha.

Walking around Avebury

Last Sunday we decided to do one of the walks from the August issue of Country Walking magazine. A 8.5 mile walk around Avebury in Wiltshire. We got up at 6am and flew down the motorway, arriving there in an hour after what was a breeze of a journey. Motorways are lovely when they’re empty.

We parked at The Red Lion pub in Avebury. It’s a Pay-and-Display car park these days. £5 for all day parking redeemable if you eat at the pub. We assumed we’d be having lunch there and so didn’t give it too much thought. Used the public toilets before we started and they were filled with rubbish. Also noticed a planning permission sign on them saying they were going to be demolished to make way for a cafe. Whole area seemed a bit run down and scruffy.

Anyway, once we started walking everything changed. Perfect weather for it! Cloudy and warm, with a cool breeze and the occasional spot of rain to stop us from overheating. We kept being overtaken by runners and cyclists up the long climb from the village. They’re just show-offs of course and we WERE stopping to take lots of photos.

Dogface was happily running around on the long chalk Wessex Ridgeway path. Although there’s a farm at the start of the path and cows around, the fences are sound and the path is wide. So it gave him a chance to be off the lead and get the bounce out of his system before reaching Overton Down.

Lots of sheep after we crossed the Ridgeway. So Dogface was on the lead and we were mindful of where we trod. Beautiful views across the downs and lots of photos were taken. We chatted about our Ridgeway walk planned for next year and sun and wind directions, considering the best direction to walk it.

At ‘beech circle’ (on the OS Explorer 157) we turned North off the main path. This was the point where our Satmap Active 10 Plus GPS died. The screen faded, faded, faded, and then turned to black. Oh dear. This is what happened to our last GPS that died with the damming coincidence that I was holding both when they gave up the ghost! Luckily we’re belt and braces walkers so we had a map and a compass and my iPhone (includes GPS and maps when there’s a tiny bit of signal). With all three and Dogface finding the paths and avoiding the ant hills we trudged up the hill to Totterdown Wood. Great views from the top and a stop for water and humbugs.

Aside – When we returned home Nev examined the Satmap charger. The plug part hadn’t been pushed far enough onto the charger (til it clicked) and so the connectors weren’t touching. This leads us to believe that while we thought we were charging the GPS we were doing absolutely nothing at all and all that happened was that the battery died. Currently testing this theory by using it around home. Also made a note to always carry spare batteries no matter how short the walk.

Rest of the walk was pretty uneventful except for one diversion where we walked up to a farmer’s front door. Kind lady came out and pointed us in the right direction while her dogs shouted at us furiously. We’d totally missed the sign on the gate that said, ‘not a right of way’ and gone left rather than straight on through the sheep field. The sheep glared at Dogface until his tail went between his legs and he looked very unhappy. Sheep worrying the dog.

It’s hard walking on the Ridgeway as it’s worn into channels and ruts. All three of us are out of shape and so we were glad to turn back towards Avebury, looking forward to some lunch.

The Avebury neolithic monuments (the stone circle, Silbury Hill, and West Kennet Long Barrow) all looked immaculately cared for. Although we didn’t hang around after lunch to visit them all I do very much want to go back there again and spend some time looking around. These sights never grow old for me even though they are over 5,000 years old.

Had a fantastic day out.

p.s. A brief note on the two pubs near Avebury. The ground outside The Red Lion was covered in cigarette butts, broken glass, and other rubbish (no dogs allowed inside). I went in to order some drinks and got the ‘chain pub’ vibe. Instead we drove just down the road back to the Wagon and Horses on the A4 in Beckhampton. It’s a Wadworth pub but looks quite nice from the front. Unfortunately also no dogs allowed and so we were in the beer garden…with the flies. The garden’s well cared for and very pretty but the service was with a stare, the coke was tasteless brown fizzy water, and the food was…um…edible on cold plates. Next time we visit Avebury we’ll be spending our cash on a homemade picnic. Pork pie, scotch eggs, cold sausages, ginger beer…. 🙂