Archive for December 2011

It’s that time again

Posted by on December 21st 2011 in Celebrations

Time to wish each and every reader a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Whatever you do and wherever you go...

stay safe!

Into the Underworld

Posted by on December 17th 2011 in My reviews, Shiny new kit, Testing for review

For many years I didn't need baselayers. Youth, hair and a suitable metabolic rate ensured my warmth in all conditions. I well remember frosty days of winter fishing with my dad, I'd sit there all day long with just a light covering of clothes while he was wrapped up like an Eskimo and still he shivered.

The years crept on and eventually I relented and invested in some synthetic blue wonder-fabric LJs and top from SubZero. Indestructible they are, and mightily effective. If middle-age hadn't made me too big for them, I'd probably still be using them. They've been passed on to the next generation and are still doing well 25 years after purchasing them.

Those blue Meraklon things were replaced by some more-modern polyester Spiderman sets made by Five Seasons. They were ultra-cheap, I figured that they'd not be much cop and wouldn't stay the course, but they still work fine. The problem with them is, well, aromatic. Two days on the hill and they reek. I needed something more walking-partner-friendly.

Reading through a few relevant websites/forums/blogs confirmed what I already knew - that Merino's where it's all at. I decided to go there, I just needed some directions.

But how much to spend? And what to get? Hood? Thumb-loops? One-piece? More research was required. Opinions would be sought. Specifications would be pored-over and pics would be scrutinised.



Joe Newton's review of the Ibex Hooded Indie was interesting. At $170 for a set it would have been a stretch.

Hendrik Morkel's review of the Woolpower long-john and crew-neck set was equally interesting. Just over £110 for a set of these (or save six quid make do without a fly).

The I/O Bio Merino Contact Pilot Suit was recommended by a friend, but he ended up with a slap around the head :mrgreen:

No, I wasn't about to splash large amounts of cash on such sartorial elegance.

Aldi saved the day. LJs £15.99 a pop. Same price for a short-sleeved top. No hood, no fly, no thumb-loops. Any colour you like so long as it's black. I bought a set for me and a set for Chris.




They're basic but they're good for the money. The top stays tucked in and the LJs don't migrate anklewards. The top's neck is a tad more open than I'm used to but it's bearable, I'm getting used to it. The seams are fine, there are no scratchy labels, the fabric doesn't make me itch.

But do they pass the pong test?

Well, in the interests of pseudo-science I've been power-wearing them. Since buying them on December 1st, I've worn them every day dawn-to-midnight and also ten times overnight. While hostelling and winter-walking last weekend they were worn 24/7 except for when I was in the shower. They performed perfectly on the hill, I teamed the top with my Rab VR Climb jacket and the LJs with my Quechua Bionnassay trousers and all was fine. Perspiration was handled well during exertion, warmth was retained during stops.

My hi-tech testing-equipment consisted of my two daughters' noses... yesterday the as-yet unwashed armpits of the top were duly sniffed and it was declared that said garment "smells fine, just like a warm tee-shirt".

That's good enough for me.

Now, how much longer can I keep wearing these things before they are introduced to the washing machine?

Soloing from Patterdale

Posted by on December 15th 2011 in Great Escapes, Testing for review, YHA

After Friday's nightmare seven-hour drag up the M6 I was glad to be back on the familiar A591. The further I drove the deeper the surrounding snow was, and I was unsure as to whether the Kirkstone Pass would be navigable. In the end, after discussing the conditions with a few local folk, I decided to go for it and found that although the road-snow at the top hadn't iced over it was beginning to do so on the leeward side and that made the descent into Patterdale quite interesting.

After getting installed at the hostel the evening was spent planning routes, chatting with a Mary and Paul (a nice couple staying at the hostel) and going out into the frosty night to take some pics of the amazingly clear sky.

Saturday was cold and windy but dry with the odd bit of sunshine - perfect weather for taking in a few easy fells. I decided to nab Red Screes and Middle Dodd via Caiston Glen and the Scandale Pass. Not too far a journey, but walking into the wind and spindrift on the way up towards the Pass and then with a strong ice-laden side-wind on the pull up to Red Screes made it seem twice as far. I'll let the pics do the talking for a while...


The Red Screes and Middle Dodd route - about 4 miles and 2000ft of up and down.

Middle Dodd and High Hartsop Dodd from the Kirkstone Road.

A better view of Middle Dodd.

Looking back towards Hartsop.

Caiston Glen.

Little Hart Crag and High Hartsop Dodd from Broad Crag.

The wall above Broad Crag.

A wider view of Broad Crag and beyond.

Light over Morecambe Bay.

The Red Screes trig-point.

The Red Screes summit-cairn and shelter.

Looking down Smallthwaite Band towards Middle Dodd and Brotherswater.


Looking northwards from the upper cairn on Middle Dodd.

Red Screes from the upper cairn on Middle Dodd.

Westwards towards the Little Hart Crag and the Fairfield fells.

Eastwards - a glimpse of the Ill Bell ridge.

A better view of the lower cairn on Middle Dodd.


Steep ground on the descent.


As the descent got steeper, the views got better.

Moraines and fields.

A bit of blue sky above Little Hart Crag.

Sunlight on Angletarn Pikes.

The evening was spent much as before but without the photo-opportunities - rain had set in and cloud-cover was almost total. After a fine hostel meal and hours of chin-wagging with Mary and Paul I turned in for the night.

Sunday morning was different again - full of incessant driving rain and low clouds. Looking out from the hostel during breakfast I had half a mind to bail to the shops of Ambleside and Windermere, but managed to summon enough gumption for a quick slog up to Shipman Knotts. Another minor walk, but the clag, the wind and the abundant run-off made it quite an ordeal. There was still plenty of deep snow up there but sorry, there are hardly any pics from this walk - for most of the time the conditions were just too wet to risk soaking the camera. Here's what you get:

The Shipman Knotts route - about 4.5 miles and 1250ft of up and down.


Plenty of water in Stile End Beck.

A clagged-in Shipman Knotts from near Stile End Farm.

In spate - the Kent in Staveley.

And that's about it. I negotiated the A591/M6/A5 and was home in time for tea and a long session of sorting/washing/drying the gear. Job done.


Wainwright tops reached: Red Screes (2541 ft), Middle Dodd (2106 ft), Shipman Knotts (1926 ft). All first-ascents for me.
Number of Wainwrights still to do: 9

On Saturday I was expecting that the overnight freeze would mean that the tops would be more icy than snowy, so I carried crampons. My expectations were wrong, though, and I didn't need them. I really should have taken the snooshows and the clackysticks instead - they would have saved a lot of post-holing in the seriously-deep drifts. The axe saved me several times on the steepest bits of the descent of Middle Dodd. On Sunday I took no such metalwork, I'd have been better-off taking a diving-suit and flippers!

Regarding gear taken for test-and-review... I took one item supplied by Adam Smith representing Go Outdoors. Yes, I actually got around to properly using that Montane Lite-Speed H2O jacket that I've had for months! Conditions on Sunday's walk were so wet and windy that I decided to use it as a shell over my Rab VR Climb jacket as an extra layer of defence. It kept out most of the driven rain and the hood worked well underneath my L.A. Mountain Cap. My only gripe with it is that because there are no pockets in the Lite-Speed I had to resort to gloves, and the cuffs of the jacket aren't glove-friendly. On the plus side, it kept me warm and dry and I didn't have to walk around with pockets full of water!

I was also trying out some base-layer stuff, but more about that later.

Back from Patterdale

Posted by on December 12th 2011 in Astrostuff, Great Escapes, YHA

The weekend stay at Patterdale was great fun. To tide you over until I've finished the report, here are a few pics from Friday night:


 The Plough above Place Fell

 Jupiter over Kirkstone

Orion rising over Angletarn Pikes

Sorry about the poor quality pics. Doing hand-held long-exposures in sub-zero conditions wasn't easy....

and neither was the photography.



Posted by on December 8th 2011 in A bit of a rant

Last Christmas I had an uncharacteristic fit of generosity which culminated in me buying Chris a laptop. I took all the necessary steps to ensure that it was well-insured and I completed the warranty submission at the point of purchase. So far, so good. Manufacturer's Warranty cover is active until January 3rd 2012. Buildings and Contents insurances are paid-up. Even the Pet Insurance is paid-up.

A week or so ago one of the cats decided to piss on said laptop. Yeah, I know, you can see where I'm going with this.  🙁

Anyway, Muggins here had the job of mopping-up and drying-out said laptop and associated battery. After several days said laptop and battery were dry, so we reassembled the thing and fired it up. One long beep on boot-up, and eventually XP loads and everything looks fine. Some keys don't work, though, and the touch-pad screen/buttons are dodgy. All subsequent reboots are the same as this. So it's broken. No problemo, it's covered.

The warranty folk were all prepared to fix it until they were told the cause, then they bailed on the basis that the laptop is now a "biohazard". In short, they're not allowed to touch it so they can't repair it. Indeed, because they're not allowed to touch it, they can't verify that it qualifies for straight replacement on the basis of not being fit for purpose (it's reasonable to assume that such portable devices should withstand a certain degree of environmental factors that would kill a desktop PC, so a bit of moisture should be withstood with ease). So, no joy from them.

The house insurance company declined to help out because their policy specifically excludes "damage caused by chewing, scratching, tearing or fouling by domestic animals." If I'd dropped it, melted it, lost it, ran it over accidentally or anything like that it would have been covered, but there's no cover for pet-damage.

The Pet Insurance doesn't cover anything that doesn't involve a vet.

The Financial Ombudsman believes that if there is any claim to be made it must be against the warranty provider, but "comes-with-the-product" warranties aren't within their jurisdiction (although extended warranties are). The F.O. referred me to the Citizens' Advice Bureau.

The C.A.B. phone helplines were open but unmanned, somehow I got referred automatically to Consumer Direct. They suggest going back to the retailer/warranty provider and making a "not fit for purpose" claim.

But now for the cherry...

The postman delivered into my hand today a letter from Mastercare, tempting me with their Coverplan. Here's some of the blurb:

  • Simply take out Mastercare Coverplan protection and you'll benefit from FREE unlimited repairs for the life of the Support Agreement...
  • Unlimited FREE repairs...
  • FREE replacement if it can't be fixed...
  • Protection against mechanical faults and breakdowns...
  • Protection against unintentional breakage...
  • Speedy repairs...
  • FREE technical helpline for instant advice...
  • Worldwide protection

For this, they want £71.

In short, said laptop would have been covered against "unintentional breakage" (caused by cat-piss) after 3rd January 2012, but wasn't before.

Oh, and just to rub it in, they've recorded my attempt to claim and so said laptop no longer qualifies for their Coverplan.

'Tis the season of good will... allegedly.

Reviews – pulling them all together

Posted by on December 7th 2011 in My reviews, Site update

Yeah, I know that I'm not the best outdoor-gear reviewer out there, but looking at the site stats it seems that my reviews get a fair number of visitors. To make things a tad easier to find by those who visit in seek of my humble opinions, I've knocked up a reference page. I'll tart it up and add some pics later as time allows.

Little room to manoeuvre

Posted by on December 3rd 2011 in Rambling on...

Allegedly it's no longer OK to suggest that a woman's place is in the kitchen.

Fair enough.

In a bizarre twist, however, in the building where I was helping out with some PAT Testing today it seems that the kitchen's place is in the Ladies:

 This must be a one-off, I thought. Down to the constraints of the arrangement of the building, or because of the whims of the planners, or something like that.

But by strange coincidence, the same situation exists at the other end of the building.

Some might suggest that there's just a hint of gender-discrimination going on there.

But then again, all this is in a solicitors' office.

More W.C. than P.C., I'd say.


Observing Report 1st-2nd December 2011 (Two more clusters)

Posted by on December 3rd 2011 in Astrostuff, Observing Reports, Pics

Another night looking at pretty much the same as before. The seeing was better but still not brilliant. Visual observations of Jupiter, Mars, Andromeda Galaxy and several star-clusters. Tried to image M97 (Owl Nebula) but got the settings completely wrong and so ended up dumping the imaging data. Managed to do better with two other Messier objects as follows:

M38 (aka NGC1912), an open cluster in the constellation Auriga.
Subs: 18 light @ 300s, darks and bias frames, ISO400.
1000D on the 6" R-C, guided with PHD.

M103 (aka NGC 581), an open cluster in the constellation Cassiopeia.
Subs: 19 light @ 300s, darks and bias frames, ISO800.
1000D with 2x PowerMate on the 6" R-C, guided with PHD.

Observing Report 22nd-23rd November 2011 (A couple of clusters)

Posted by on December 1st 2011 in Astrostuff, Observing Reports, Pics

This was the first proper night using the warm-room. The excuse was that I was testing the data-cabling and control-wiring systems. It was a nice clear night that started cold and reached minus 3 before dawn. The seeing was awful! Visual observations of Jupiter, Mars, Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and several star-clusters. Pics of Messier objects as follows:

M36 (aka NGC1960), an open cluster in the constellation Auriga.
Subs: 16 light @ 300s, darks and bias frames, ISO400.
1000D on the 6" R-C, guided with PHD.

M67 (aka NGC 2682, King Cobra), an open cluster in the constellation Cancer.
Subs: 13 light @ 300s, darks and bias frames, ISO400.
1000D on the 6" R-C, guided with PHD.

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