Monthly Archives: November 2011

Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Those of you who already use a GPS (or an iPhone for that matter) will probably roll your eyes throughout most of this post. But for me, both are a novelty, and “the new” hasn’t quite worn off yet, so I appreciate you letting me have my moment.

A couple weeks ago I blogged about my trip to the Brecon Beacons and learning (the hard way) that a GPS would be a very handy device for the lone walker to carry around. I actually had a Garmin eTrex GPS, but sold it for two reasons: (1) I barely ever used it because the Mac software was crap and I usually didn’t have the time or patience to spend hours configuring it before each and every trip; and (2) I just bought an iPhone, which I knew had GPS and could could get me out of any scrapes if necessary.

When I first moved to Orchard Cottage and “went country”, I always had this idea that I’d spend a fair bit of my time walking and exploring the Cotswolds, especially on the weekends. But as reality would have it, I do most of my walking from the cottage in short 30 minute to one hour bursts. Where is my sense of adventure? And if the walks in Brecon taught me anything, it’s that I need to walk up more hills. I just don’t remember hillwalking feeling as hard as it’s been on recent trips. The only way to make it easier to is to walk up more of them.

Which brings me to today. I decided to take a 7.5 mile walk in “Laurie Lee Country”, a route detailed in my Pathfinder Guide of Cotswolds Walks. Now seemed like a good time to test out the iPhone as handheld GPS unit. A little Googling turned up ViewRanger, “the Mobile App that will turn your Smartphone into a Complete Outdoors GPS.”

Discovering GPS on my iPhone

Within ten minutes, I’d installed the app on my iPhone, figured out how to use it, and loaded it with OS Explorer maps for the walk I planned to do.

After the Garmin, this experience just totally blew my mind. Admittedly, I didn’t do anything fancy like program my route or add waypoints, but I did have maps on my phone that gave me a bit of security and peace of mind.

Of course, the real test was how it faired on the walk. It was all very straightforward: I hit a “Start” button when I set off and it recorded my trip, which I was then able to upload to the ViewRanger website and save as a “route”. How cool is that? Almost as cool as the typo in their embedded iframe map:

I will forgive ViewRanger the typo (UPDATE: the typo is now fixed!), because everything else about it was awesome. It proved extremely useful on my walk: a large part of my journey was through forest, completely covered in fallen autumn leaves that obstructed path visibility just like snow. I referred to the ViewRanger app many times. Sure, I probably could have made my way without it, but this in conjunction with my book and compass eliminated most navigational questions so I could actually relax and enjoy the walk.

And what a beautiful walk it was, on a most splendid, blue sky autumn day:

More nice valley

Of course, the big downside to the iPhone-as-GPS is battery life. I started with a fully charged iPhone and by the end of my walk (about 3.5 hours), there was about 20% battery power left. This just won’t do on really long walks. Of course, this morning I was using the GPS constantly – in the future I will skip recording my track and possibly even turn off the phone unless I need it. Another question in my mind is: what if I went camping for a few days or weeks? How will I charge my phone? I know there are portable chargers for such purposes, but that is research for another time.

The ViewRanger app cost £7.99 and came with 1000 “credits” for downloading maps. You get a Great Britain overview map for free, then you can select small portions (“grids”) of the map to download detailed OS Explorer or Landranger maps. I downloaded two “grids” to cover my walk, which cost 48.5 credits each. I felt this a very fair price.

One other thing I discovered I love about the iPhone: Instagram! I took these shots while on my walk. I’m really impressed with the iPhone’s camera and Instagram seriously ups the fun factor:

Good morning Slad




I just really loved the name and the signage. Stroud 2m!

And since I’m sharing photos, I saw a few funny things on my walk, including this bizarre collection of rubbish on the trail…

A funny collection of trash on the trail

… is she the gatekeeper?

Goddess of the footpath?

And this motley crew of old disused motorhomes:

Has-been motorhomes

The morning has left me thoroughly exhausted: this is why I need to walk up more hills – so that it doesn’t total shatter me every time I do so. Not sure where I’ll go next but I’ve only ticked off a few walks in the book and the next weekend isn’t far away. Bring it!

More photos on Flickr: Laurie Lee County

Apple mini cakes

Apple mini cakes

So many people commented on this picture that it seemed like a blog post was in order to explain the story behind it.

I guess it all begins with apples. When the apple glut arrived a few months ago, I started amassing apple recipes, including this Apple Brown Sugar Cake by Azelia’s Kitchen.

Meanwhile, I’ve recently been very lucky to work with Rosalind Rathouse, the one-woman powerhouse behind Cookery School at Little Portland Street in London and Rosalind’s Kitchen, a hidden little gem of a takeaway that does beautiful, healthy lunches using amazing ingredients including loads of beautiful fresh vegetables, organic produce and good-to-think sustainable fish (watch the video).

One of the things I keep hearing about from Rosalind and her customers are their cupcakes, which Rosalind says should really be called “cakes in cups” because they’re made using artisan cake-baking techniques but are baked in cups so as to be more portable.

Now enter Eleni and Eni’s birthday part last Sunday. Eleni is a friend from my past life in the City as a banker. Her and her partner are from Greece and cook amazing food – a dinner party at theirs was not to be missed. As this was a birthday, I thought it a great excuse to try another apple cake recipe and impart a bit of the orchard harvest into the festivities. I also knew a lot of people would be there, and “cakes in cups” seemed the perfect way to easily share the cake amongst many people.

One final bit of inspirado came from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Apple and Pear Crumble Cake, which has a tasty crumble topping to make the cake extra special.

So here is how I made the apple mini cakes:

  1. Get two mini muffin trays (about 48 muffins) and line it with cupcake liners. (You can also halve Azelia’s recipe and use one tin, or do one tin of muffins and one mini loaf tin!)
  2. Make a crumble topping with 200g cold butter, 300g flour, 100g caster sugar. Put the mix inside the fridge until ready to use.
  3. Make Azelia’s Apple Brown Sugar Cake batter and spoon into the muffin tins.
  4. Sprinkle a generous amount of crumble onto each muffin (it will go everywhere and be a mess – don’t worry about it; you will also have lots of crumble leftover – put it in the freezer and save it for later!)
  5. Decorate each muffin with a sliced almond or two.
  6. Bake at 180 C for about 20 minutes (check half-way to make sure they are baking evenly and rotate the muffin trays if needed).

Apple mini cakes

Camping in the Brecon Beacons

Sunday morning at Priory Mill

I went to Wales last weekend to do some camping and walking in Brecon Beacons National Park. Camping and walking I did, as well as a bit of thinking, but not about life, the future, and other deep things I thought I’d have headspace for. Instead, I kept my head in the trip, looking at maps, planning my adventures, plotting my next campfire meal and often just willing one foot after the other up the slope of a big hill.

The result was a much needed break from thinking about life, the future, and other deep things that I seem to think are so important on a day-to-day basis. Here are some of the things I thought about instead:

On Wales and the Brecon Beacons

The last time I was in the Brecon Beacons it was for a short holiday and I swore I’d come back soon to do some real walking in the hills. In my momentum, I even bought Bob Greaves’ Walk The Brecon Beacons book of circular walks. That was August 8th, 2010, and it’s taken me this long to use it.

I was away for three days and managed three big walks on each day:

  • Day 1: Walk up Pen y Fran (886m), the highest point in Southern Wales and south of Britain. It was about 10 miles, and took about 6 hours.
  • Day 2: Shorter, low-ish level walk up Fan Frynych (629m) near the Visitor’s Centre. It was a miserable, windy, wet day, but I had the will and the waterproofs. It was about 5.5 miles, and took about 3.5 hours.
  • Day 3: Waterfall walk in the Fforest Fawr. All of the rain on day 2 was so worth it for the spectacular waterfalls I saw on day 3. I even got to walk behind one (“Sgwd yr Eira”, pictured below) – awesome in the true sense of the word and the highlight of my trip. Who cares how long I walked or how long it took – I was totally lost in the moment. (Ok, it was about 5.5 miles and took about 4 hours.)

Sgwd yr Eira waterfall

In between walks, I paid a visit to Penderyn Distillery, Lllanthony Priory and Sugarloaf Vineyards, an unexpected pleasure and the second highlight of my trip. It was Sunday, nearing sunset, and the sun was actually shining and it was warm enough to go without a jacket. It all just felt perfect, exactly what I was after: a stroll around the vines in warm sunshine followed by a sit-down at their outdoor cafe to write postcards and taste some of their (fairly decent) wine.


On Walking Alone

This was the first time I’ve ever done any serious walking by myself. I hadn’t really thought about this ahead of time, but in retrospect, I definitely should have given this greater consideration.

Don't jump!

I’m not sure if my American friends quite grasp what it’s like walking in the British countryside. There is an amazing array of public footpaths across the country that allow you to walk almost anywhere. But many of these footpaths are not well marked, they intersect other footpaths and little roads, and are often times not hugely travelled (I’ve been on many walks in the countryside where I haven’t passed a single person the whole time).

These aren’t the well-marked “hiking paths” that you get in the States, with maps along the way and colourful markers guiding you back to the car park. This is proper adventure territory, and it’s one of the things I love most about living here. But after last weekend, I see now that I’m going to have to be extra prepared if I take them on alone.

Yes, there is a story here. After I walked up Pen y Fan, I accidentally came back down the wrong side of the ridge and had to walk an extra two hours to get back to my car. I only had my silly little book of walks with a tiny map that didn’t cover the side of the ridge I found myself on. Fortunately it was a beautiful day and lots of people were walking. I met a really nice couple with an OS map headed in my direction, so I found my way back with them, along a myriad of winding, intersecting small country roads, and had a really nice conversation about Spanish cheese and Somerset pubs along the way.

Beautiful autumn day in Wales

Later that night it occurred to me that if I hadn’t ran into that couple, I would have been thoroughly lost (need I note the irony that I actually sold my GPS on ebay a week prior?). Thinking about this made my heart skip a beat, and the very next day I went to the Visitor’s Centre and bought OS maps.

Learnings from this: when walking alone, be super well-equipped for navigation. This includes proper OS maps, a compass, and dare I say a GPS. Also bring LOTS of water and snacks just in case you do lose your way. The Ramblers charity also has an excellent article on Health and Safety for Walkers that advises a survival bag, torch, whistle, additional warm clothing, high-energy food, water purification tablets and a first aid kid.

As I thought about all this, I momentarily had to ask myself: “Are you crazy??” But I don’t think so. The thing to do is to learn from this and make sure I’m well prepared next time. Adapt or die! (Or at least, adapt or miss out on seeing some really amazing parts of the world!)

On Finding the Perfect Campsite

I had a fantastic campsite at Priory Mill Farm just outside of Brecon, perched on the river Honddu. The weather scared most people away and I had the place mostly to myself. The facilities were basic, but clean and modern, and best of all, they had big braziers so you could have a campfire in the evening: an essential element of camping in my world.

Campsite at Priory Mill

On Camp Cooking

I love a good campfire meal but I didn’t really have my camp cooking mojo on this trip. Part of this was down to darkness and weather. The first night I managed one of my camping guilty pleasures: veggie hot dogs on an open fire. But it was so dark and cold that I didn’t really feel relaxed. And the second night was so rainy that all I could do was huddle in my tent and make veggie chilli in the vestibule (I love my vestibule).

I had grand plans for great campfire meals, including the now longed for veggie chilli with sweet potato and corn on the cob baked on the coals, plus grilled peppers and onions. But these will have to wait for better, brighter weather.

Oddly, I think my favourite camping meals were my simple breakfasts: very milky porridge with raisins, apples, bananas and pecans. Warm and comforting on cold mornings, and happily consumed from within the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Porridge again, but it's so good

Did I say how much I love my vestibule? My tent is a Big Agnes Emerald Mountain 2-person tent. In many ways, this tent is silly, largely stemming from its lack of symmetry. However, the vestibule makes it worth it. With the vestibule, it could be raining but I can still be in my sleeping bag, cooking a hot breakfast and making coffee, without getting wet. Quality!

I love my vestibule

On Camping in Dark Conditions

One thing I hadn’t thoroughly considered before this trip is how early the sun sets these days. I knew it would be cold, and so packed extra blankets accordingly, but the dark surprised me. Headlamps are all very well and good, but what I really needed was a lantern. I was able to pick up a small one for my tent which proved very handy, but a larger lantern that illuminates a larger outdoor space would have been very handy for Friday night’s campfire cookout.

I also wonder how to best approach the perpetual dew that’s on the ground this time of year. I wondered if wellington boots would have been better campsite shoes than my Solomon waterproof trainers. One thing is for certain, as this is car camping, a designated pair of bone-dry shoes for non-walking, non-campsite activities is a must for next time.

On Walking in the Rain

For the most part I’m well kitted out for rain. I have Gore-Tex boots, jacket, and gaiters, plus a cheaper, flimsier pair of waterproof trousers. Despite all that there were a few areas where I was lacking:

  • Waterproof map case – I think about this every time I walk in the rain and I really have no good excuse for not getting one yet. I think I tell myself I’ll improvise but I never do.
  • Waterproof cover for my day pack (and possibly a waterproof liner for my camera and books).
  • Waterproof gloves – I have a pair of VERY warm Gore-Tex gloves for winter but a lighter pair would have been nice, not only to protect against water, but wind too – by the end of my rainy windy Saturday walk my hands were numb.
  • Better waterproof trousers – the ones I have let water in after about an hour of steady rain. Not ideal.
  • I should have waterproofed my boots. By the end of Saturday, water had started seeming in. Grrr. They are usually AWESOME but it’s been a while since I treated them with waterproofing stuff and should have reapplied before my trip.

Walking in the rain can be greuling, but it definitely has its upside:

Up side to walking in the rain

In conclusion…

I’ve been to Wales before, including Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. Every time I go I feel like I’m in a different country: weather and seasons work together to create an ever-changing environment that definitely left me wanting more. Next time I’d like to explore the Black Mountains and the Vale of Ewyas.I had a brief drive through this area on my way home, via a quick look at Llanthony Priory, and looking at the hills and colours at sunset sealed the deal. But this probably won’t be until next year.

Which reminds me, Christmas is coming and this trip has given me lots of ideas for things to add to my wishlist: lantern, better waterproof trousers (Carl Legge recommends Paramo brand, and they even make sizes for short people!), waterproof cover and liner for my daypack, some kind of lighter weight waterproof gloves (do these even exist?). So it seems, as much as I’m usually almost minimalist to a fault, when it comes to camping I’m a bit of a gear head. What can I say, I like to be comfortable. The last thing you want is wet shoes or a waterlogged camera; you want to do whatever possible to enjoy the walk as much as you can. Isn’t that the point?

Downriver from Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn

View the full photoset on Flickr