Tallship Sailing Adventure #AdventuresWithSightloss

Tallship adventure with the Jubilee Sailing Trust

On the 28th of October we jumped in a car bound for Portland, where we were to set sail for Lisbon. You might be thinking, why did it take you so long to write a blog about it? Sometimes adventures are so epic you just feel relieved that it’s over. It doesn’t last; with time the good bits sink in and the bad bits don’t seem quite as bad. It was tough and it was challenging but we are so glad we did it.

The first day

We arrived at Portland and saw Tenacious (well, Lauren saw 100% and John saw about 3% which is how much vision John has), the ‘pirate ship’ we’d seen parked up in Poole earlier in the year. Looking at it from the quay in Pool while eating an icecream, we’d never expected to be making our way on board just 6 months later. “Wouldn’t it be cool to go on a pirate ship”. “What do you think JST stands for” We we’re stoked to find out you could sail on it that it was designed to enable disabled people to join in too.

“Maybe we’ll go on a pirate ship one day” We almost forgot about it for a while, until something popped up on facebook. That’s when we thought we’d seen the ideal voyage for us. Two weeks from Weymouth to Lisbon. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for!

Lauren and John standing on the deck of Tenacious

We got out the car with our single bag of carry-on luggage each (and a secret stash of snacks) and headed over to what seemed like organised chaos. A van full of food was on the quayside and an endless stream of people were putting boxes of squash, biscuits and pasta on to the ship. As directed we headed down some stairs and were shown to our bunks. We we’re on opposite sides of the ship. Lauren on a top bunk and John on a bottom. We were sharing a room with about 8 other people each. Many who had lots more stuff than us. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t!

A view from a bunk. The sheet on the left stops you falling out of bed.

After dropping our stuff and making our beds we joined in with loading supplies. Countless times we were directed with a box of goodies to somewhere we were unsure of. The ship felt like a complex maze of corridors and stairways. It was like playing a giant game of snakes and ladders. Emergency procedures were practiced. We had different jobs so John had to learn how to find his own way out onto the deck – not an easy task for somebody that can’t see.

John nailed it and the people we were sailing with were really helpful too. We also had a chance to practice climbing up and down a mast. Here the permanent crew were super. The weather was pretty cold and breezy, but taking the time to show John the equipment was never any trouble.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, sky, ocean, outdoor and water
John and Lauren stood on the first platform in the harbour

Later that evening another blind guy, Jacob, gave John a tour of the ship, sharing all the tips and tricks he’d learnt from previous trips on how to get around the ship. The tour was a great help, and again, permanent crew were brilliant, taking the time to explain and show where we’d be heading tacitly on a map.

Jacob and John stood next to each other on the deck with the ship’s masts in the background

The first night was calm, in the shelter of the harbour.

Setting Sail

We woke up prepared to leave Portland, but unsure whether we would. We had breakfast and a watch meeting and news was that we’d need help of two boats to get us off the berth but if it didn’t work we’d have to stay a little longer and wait for a break in the weather. We practiced more ropework and everybody helped prepare the ship to leave. To begin with, we we’re really happy it worked, we headed out of the harbour and that’s when we realised how stormy things were. People began to feel ill, including John, and on the whole, moral took a little bit of a hit.

One of the two boats that helped us off the berth at Portland

The next few days were spent learning what to do and getting used to the daily routine. We had our first watch in the English channel at night and it was busy. A watch is a team of people that take it in turns to take responsibility for helming and keeping watch. We had to look out for other ships and steer. On the first watch Lauren had a go at helming the ship. We were in the middle of the English channel and it was busy with ships left, right and centre. Initially all went well and then, not quite so well. In a muddle, Lauren had turned the ship a long way off the heading.

Lauren helming the ship using a large compass

“Tenacious, Tenacious, Tenacious” another ship called on the radio. Our permanent crew member responded with an apology for the dodgy steering to the ship we were heading towards. Apparently these things can happen when you are tired and have been helming a while. Oops!

John’s attempt in daylight went without a hitch. Tenacious is set up with a talking compass. It reads the heading every few seconds allowing blind people to steer the ship, and as long as it wasn’t too windy for John’s hearing aids, he could too. Keeping watch, for obvious reasons wasn’t his calling but you’d be sure to find him on the ‘warm’ side of the ship (the side sheltered from the wind).

Sea legs

We had no idea of the Bay of Biscay’s reputation before joining Tenacious but we’d heard that it wasn’t a great place to be in a storm, and that there was one heading our way. We kept moving with the use of sails and engines to make as much progress as we could as quickly as we could so we could ‘hide’ in a little town called Muros while things calmed down.

Some of the waves appeared to rise above the ship.

The sea-sickness tablets were starting to do their job for most people and moral was on the up. We saw the occasional dolphin and even a whale. A break in the weather allowed for us to have ‘Smoko’ (11’s on a ship) out on deck. We were starting to enjoy ourselves. It was hard to believe we’d gain the mythical sea legs we’d heard about. Life on a ship being tossed about on the sea wasn’t easy: Walking from A-B, keeping coco-pops in a bowl and lying still enough to get to sleep were all a challenge but sure enough, we switched into ‘sea mode’ and while everything was just as difficult as before, the sickness stayed away.

That was at least until we got to Muros. We’d heard a rumour that when going back on land you’d still feel like you were moving. Turns out a lot of ships rumours are true.

Muros was a lovely town to visit and enjoy a meal with our shipmates. We stumbled around the place with our land legs, found a geocache, ate lots of food and sat and watched the sea. Lying on the floor gave some respite from the ‘land leg effect’ but getting back to Tenacious was the only real cure.

A mast climb with friends at Muros

Lucky for us we had a harbour watch, making sure all was well on the ship and keeping an eye on the wind. Unfortunately it picked up enough for us to wake up somebody from permanent crew who kept a close eye on the mooring lines.

The following morning, after the storm had passed we left Muros which was quite exciting. Lauren, as a nominated Lines-person stayed behind to help let the mooring off before returning back on a smaller boat. Quite an adventure. Outside of the shelter of the bay the weather was up to its usual tricks.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like, but at times we’d almost go weightless in bed and the list (lean) was so extreme that we’d have to hold on to our food to stop it from going everywhere. Talking of food, there was plenty of it and it was nice. Tea and biscuits were always available and we barely touched our snack supply.

Bioluminescence and Porto

Before we joined the ship we made plans for what to do afterwards. We decided upon a few days in Lisbon. Porto was highly recommended but we just couldn’t fit it in so we were delighted to find out we’d be stopping in Porto for 2 nights. Getting there was rough and tough and we certainly starting to tire. Between watches, happy hour (cleaning the ship) and handing the sails there didn’t seem to be much time to sleep but we did the best we could. Snoozing here and there.

John sleeping

“One night I was looking into the water on watch and I was sure I was seeing little blue lights in the water. It was late, perhaps 3am, and I was I was convinced it had to be my tired eyes tricking me but I saw more and more.” – Lauren

It turns out bioluminescence is a fascinating and not imagined thing. At night, you could see them swirl around the port-hole windows and at night glow and flash in the waves like shooting stars. Unfortunately they were too dim for a normal camera or John’s eyes but we’re very cool all the same.

Arrival into leixoes (the Port for Porto) was the perfect break. After figuring out the transport, we hopped on a tram into town where we found custard tarts (pasteis de nata), port and lots of restaurants. On our second day in Porto we visited Churchills Port House which was fantastic, as were the views from the bridge and the pastries. We loved every minute in Porto and we’re glad we were able to visit.

What an adventure!

From Porto we headed west for a good day so we could come back inland to Lisbon under sail. We got lots of sails up which was great to see. We took time to climb masts to the very top and sit out on the bowsprit. Our last watch on the move was into Caiscais where little sail boats, buoys and fishing nets littered the bay. A bit part of the job involved letting the captain know about any obstacles.

Top of the mast!

“There’s a crab pot on the port side” The captain asked “Are we going to miss it?” “I think so”

We safely arrived at the Anchorage and the following morning headed into Lisbon. Totally exhausted, we couldn’t wait to get off the ship. The best greatest memories and best adventures are rarely those that are easy, and that’s certainly true about our trip on Tenacious.

Videos

As with most of our adventures, we filmed and documented our experiences. Here’s a youtube playlist with the videos.

GoTri Skipton

We signed up for the very last triathlon available to us this year to maximise our training time. The drawback was in location. Skipton is a good 3 hour drive from either of our houses, but we decided to sign up regardless.

We didn’t manage as much training as we’d like: 3 swims, 3 runs and our usual tandem rides. We felt pretty good and ready, but with a week to go a spanner hit the works. Two vans out of action!

This is the point at which we sent an email in saying we wouldn’t be there. The response: we’re not going to change things now so there will still be space for you if you can make it. I think that comment stuck with us.

Friday

The van was repaired. We could just about do it. It wouldn’t be easy- logistically speaking the bike, the van and the triathlon were all in the wrong places but we decided to go for it.

Saturday

We dropped the second broken van at the garage, drove from Peterborough to Birmingham, picked up the fixed van and then headed to skipton without a plan. We knew it would be wet and we didn’t want to leave the bike out in the rain. We decided to head to the leisure centre and hope we could park the bike there somewhere and lucky for us there was a porch we were able to lock the bike under.

Sunday: Triathlon Day

We woke up at 5.30am to the sounds of cars joining us in the what was empty car park. We got ready, opened the doors and we’re greeted by a man in the car next door getting ready. In fact, we nearly took his car door off! Oops.

‘Oh John! There’s a huge crowd around our tandem’. ‘It’s been there all night’ said the man. ‘We know, we left it there so we’d have space to sleep in our van’.

Unbeknownst to us, we’d parked our bike in the middle of the registration area. Nobody seemed to mind. We rescued our bike and registered. Registering involves having numbers written on your hand and leg and being issued with a swimming cap. We took our bike and some more helpful people showed us where to park it. Thoughtfully on an end right by the swim entrance.

Transition Selfie!

We left things a bit late after this. We rushed to change, missed most the briefing and had no idea where to leave our shoes. At the last moment we dumped them outside the pool door and jumped in the pool.

John was off like a rocket! We both kept up pace, but on length 5/8 John said he was flagging but didn’t give up.

Transition was interesting. We threw some clothes on over our swimwear and pulled off our swimming caps. We hopped on the bike and went for it. The cycle was tough, there was plenty of downhill but one really long drag uphill too but we did it.

Run! We both got stitches and we’re pretty tired but two laps soon came and went and we crossed the line. Homebakes were waiting. Awesome!

Finish line photo!

We really enjoyed our first experience of triathlon and we’re so glad we did it. Every sensible part of us said we should have dropped out, but we went for it and had a super time.

We’re very grateful to GoTri skipton for really thinking carefully about the accommodations required for us to complete.

Lauren and John are stood behind their green tandem with windsor castle in the background

Introducing our new adventure tandem: Santos DoubleTravel

Riding a tandem is such a cool thing for us. With John being deafblind, riding a normal bike isn’t much of an option but having a tandem goes far beyond enabling John to ride a bike. There are few hurdles we’re unable to overcome, but most need a little more effort than what two sighted friends would have to put in. Even walking needs lots of concentration from us both; Lauren guiding and looking out for hazards and John carefully following each step. On a tandem, we are 100% a team and John’s disability becomes fairly insignificant. We work together, John supplying the power and Lauren keeping us going on the right direction. This is why we love tandem riding so much and decided to get ourselves something ready for a big adventure: Santos DoubleTravel.

We picked up our bike in Chichester and couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. A few adjustments here and there, predominantly switching the ladies and mens Brooks saddles and we were ready to ride.

A picture of the green tandem
Santos DoubleTravel – In green!

We headed to Windsor, a place with endless quiet lanes, nice views and a few hills to see what we could do on the bike. In the end, we were fairly late heading out and the sun was setting, but it wasn’t enough to deter us. We rode for about half an hour and watched the sun setting over Virginia water, until a 4×4 rolled up, with crown estate wardens inside. It turns out the park closes at dusk and you get kicked out of the nearest gate, for us, a long way from where we wanted to be. The wardens were busy ushering out those on foot so we slipped down the road behind them and hot footed it back the way we came. We thought we got away with it, but more headlights soon greeted us.

”Are you guys ok?” – Warden
”Yes, we’re just a bit lost I think”

the tandem infront of a setting sun
Virginia Water – shortly before the wardens arrived

We we’re not lost at all, but we needed a story. The warden was nice, she tried to get us back through but the powers on the other end of the radio said no. She handed us a map, some directions and opened a gate, so map in hand, we trundled through not quite sure of where we were or where we were going. The lane was dark and cars were beginning to queue behind us when we found ourselves hurtling downhill. We didn’t know how fast but we managed to lose the headlights behind us. We were rocketing downhill in the dark. The reason we lost the cars: we were doing 38.7mph according to strava: The fastest we had ever been on a tandem. We made it back in no time at all!

No bikes, not even tandems, are allowed to ride along ‘The Long Walk’ towards Windsor Castle

Our next trip out was in daylight. We really got to know our bike and get used to it’s features and handling and start to test it’s limits. One thing we really like is the number of bottle cages: No less than 7! Enough for a days supply of water, none of which would have to be carried in the pannier bags. The bike is light, fast and maneuverable. It doesn’t even mind a bit of rough ground.

On the canal towpath

Riding it in John’s hometown of Birmingham was a good test. We took the DoubleTravel into the city via the canal towpath which has lots short uphill sections by the locks. The Santos made light work of them and we managed some climbs we’d never managed beforehand. The bike is light and easy to lift over the bike gates that are impossible for tandems but most of the time we don’t have to. The canal has locked gates for wheelchair uses that operate on the Radar key scheme, the same as disabled toilets and lucky for us, John has one!

john holding the bike next to one of the radar operated gates
John holding the bike having just wheeled through one of the key operated gates

This bike will be perfect for a bigger adventure. We have ideas, but nothing planned as yet. We don’t really do half as much planning as we should do so I’m sure one day very soon we’ll grab the tandem and find an adventure.

Take a look at our video from our first few days of having the Santos

Pushing the tandem through a gate by the canal

What should you do if you have a big idea?

A couple of months ago we announced, live on local radio, that we were planning to ride a tandem from Novi Sad in Serbia to Norwich. Back then, we didn’t even have a bike, and our only experience of tandem riding together resulted in Lauren laying by the side of the road trying not to vomit from the exertion and John pretending not to look worried so an ambulance wouldn’t be called. You’d think we’d vow to never ride a tandem again but it wasn’t quite enough to put us off.

”If we’re not good at the start, then we will be by the end of it” – Lauren

The first thing we thought we ought to do was get hold of a bike – We were thinking of hiring or borrowing one for the trip but then a neighbor had one for sale – we took it for a test ride and while we knew it needed a little care, we liked it a lot. We bought the bike and lots of components; new tyres, cables, levers, fitted a hydraulic brake, switched to trigger shifters. We’d never really worked on a bike much before – but youtube had the knowhow and we got to know our bike.

The tandem with it's green and orange pedals, saddles and grips.
Our tandem now has lots of orange and green!

We rode it for 10 miles with a random german lady we’d just met, we rode it around rutland water, we even took it for a ride to a chocolate factory and then we fitted a pannier rack and decided we were ready to take it 55 miles on a camping trip to the SayYesMore woodland (the YesWoods).

Do you think we can do this? – Lauren

Yes I think we can. – John

As a result of having to cram lots into the day in order to be able to go on our little Yeswoods adventure we went to bed late, got up early and still didn’t depart until 2pm. It all felt a little bit crazy!

It was all going well until we got stuck in a downpour mixed with hail. Less than half way and we were cold, wet, tired and hungry but our fear of losing daylight kept us moving. We spotted a Subway at a garage and grabbed a bite to eat.

Do you want to give up? – John

At this stage, turning back seemed harder than continuing so we pushed on…eventually making camp at around 10pm. We didn’t know if we had a return journey in us and were thinking about alternative methods home.

Morning came and we left, via tandem, with a few bits of good advice behind us (take breaks and eat food ((Thanks Dave)) and made it back before dark. 113 miles ridden in total and it taught us a lot. Mostly, that riding 1300 miles with a 30 day deadline (averaging 40 miles a day) might not be that fun. We’d have to almost always be on the move and it would seem like a shame to travel so far and not be able to stop and explore. We could do it, that we are sure of, but would we regret not spending more time at places? Almost definitely. We have changed our mind about the ride, but it doesn’t matter, this big idea followed by a bit of action has already given us so much.

John is holding a wheel and is pumping up a tyre. The bike is upside down in the foreground.
Repairing a puncture by the canal

We’ve got a bike and learnt how to maintain it and upgrade parts, had loads of fun little rides in the sunshine, met some awesome people, had an amazing two-day epic adventure and have decided that we probably want to do something with a bit more flexibility. Without the big crazy idea, none of this would have happened.

Take a look at our video about our wild camping adventure

If you have a big idea, roll with it, take some action see where you end up. It might all go to plan and work for you, but know if at any point it doesn’t seem quite right you can change your mind – even if you have announced your plans on the radio! We had an idea, we started moving with it and learned some lessons, both good and bad, hard and easy and that’s all part of the experience. We might not be planning to ride back from Serbia anymore, but we’ve certainly done a lot more than we would have done if we’d written it off as a crazy impossible idea.

Think big, #SayYesMore and see what happens!

London, SayYesMore and a Poole Harbour paddle

This last month or so, since walking the Norfolk Coast Path has been jam-packed full of little adventures.

We kicked things off about a month ago, when we headed to London to pick up a folding canoe from Dave Cornthwaite. We needed to stay south, so we decided to spend a day as tourists and have a day in town. We camped over in a surprisingly good little spot next to the Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

While in London, we did all the touristy bits. The London Eye, Dungeons and had a look at Parliament. We upset one or two commuters by having to get off and on the escalators ‘side by side’. It was a nice day, but that’s enough city now for probably the next 12 months.

Our next destination was ‘The Yes Bus’. We recently became ambassadors for SayYesMore – a cool little movement that aims to get people to say yes a little more often and doing more of the stuff they love. It’s pretty awesome to find something we can be ambassadors for that is so closely aligned to what we are wanting to achieve that all we need to do is exactly what we are doing already. Awesome!

Except it’s not exactly the same anymore because at the ambassadors training weekend at The Yes Bus, we learnt a few new things about social media, how to podcast, met a bunch of new awesome people and got a new matching hat, t-shirt and hoody too. It’s just like before but a bit smarter and better! Sweet!

As the ambassadors weekend drew to a close, we still were undecided on what we should do next. We had a folding canoe, an awesome weather forecast and wanted to do something. Poole Harbour and Brownsea island was suggested so we said Yes and headed down.

We didn’t have any BAs (buoyancy aids) with us, so we made it our mission to try and find somebody to lend us a couple that evening so we could take the folding canoe out to Brownsea island in the morning. After lots of messages we got it sorted thanks to The Watersports Academy . We popped there in the morning, picked up 2 BAs and set to work on building the canoe.

We didn’t realise how hard it would be. Two and half hours of graft and it didn’t seem quite right. It was almost there, but not quite enough. We headed back to The Watersports Academy which was just over the road from the harbour to see if they’d lend us a boat to go with the BAs and they did! We unfolded the canoe, got changed and went for a paddle. It was incredible, at least until Lauren dropped the GoPro into the sea (a deeper bit too). It took half an hour to locate and rescue it, which we fortunately did! We didn’t go to Brownsea island but it didn’t matter. Take a look at the video:

A video from our paddle in Poole Harbour

Our Journey along the Norfolk Coast Path

Day 1:

The Norfolk Coast Path stretches 84 miles from Hunstanton to Hopton (which can be extended a further 46 miles by linking it up with the Peddars Way).

We left home at just after 9.30am and were dropped off in Hunstanton at around 11am. Our mission for the day was to reach Burnham Overbury Staithe, where we would camp in the dunes (18miles).

We felt fresh for the first 5 or so miles and enjoyed seeing (well, at least Lauren did) the wintering birds that visit the area during the colder months.

10 miles in and we knew about the packs on our backs. They weighed around 12kg each and we were also beginning to feel hotspots on our feet. We took a look and each of us had blisters – no problem we thought, we have blister plasters! We patched ourselves up and continued our journey through Holme Dunes, Brancaster and Burnham Deepdale. It was stunning!

A coastal creek full of little boats and mud

15 miles in and the feet were starting to getting sore and light was fading. We pushed on in the dark until we reached the dunes. We kept seeing odd looking people in camo with guns. One of which shouted something and all we heard was light and windmill. We decided to wear a light until we found a windmill so we wouldn’t get shot. We presume they were hunting but it was quite disconcerting.

We knew stopping early was no longer and option with the hunt taking place so we kept moving. Once we reached the dunes, exhausted, we set up camp, cooked some noodles and headed into bed. After about 45 mins of setting up beds, finding and losing things it was around 8pm and time for bed.

“Night John”

“Night Lauren”

[A few seconds of quiet]

“John, can you hear that?”

“is it a boat?”

“I’m not sure, maybe a motor bike”

“It’s a helicopter”

The low rumbling sound started quietly in the distance, but soon sounded much much closer. We were not quite sure what it was, perhaps a dirt bike playing in the dunes? The fear was it would come up over the top and squish us and our tent but it got louder still.

“IT’S DEFINETLEY A HELIPCOPTER”

“YES, IT MUST BE RIGHT ABOVE US”

We’re sure it was low and close, but we never saw it. Around 20min passed and we settled back down for a restless nights sleep.

Our campsite for the night

Day 2

The mission for the day was to reach Cley-Next-The-Sea which was another 18miles. The plan was to leave early and hit Wells-Next-The-Sea in time for breakfast at our favourite bakery. We left at around 7am and walked along the quiet beach which was littered with thousands of shells and had a colony Oystercatchers on a sand bank. The route took us through the Holkham Estate and we reached Wells at around 10.30am.

Holkham

We made use of the facilities, topped up our waterbottles and gave our sore feet a bit of rest before heading into town for our breakfast. We stocked up on some cakes for the day ahead and sat by the quay with a hot drink and sandwich. We decided to take the boots off for a bit and to check in on our feet which is when we discovered that John’s feet had started to blister in several places including between the toes.

The next conversation was a tough one. We never doubted our ability to continue blisters or no blisters, but we knew that doing so would likely end up in damage that would take several weeks to recover. We did the sensible thing and stopped, we waited by the quay and had a different adventure: Getting a bus home! It took around 3 hours in all and we even had time to make a hot chocolate between bus changes.

The bit in-between

This was our first attempt of a long distance walk. We knew we could finish it but it was a case of how! We did a bit of research while recovering at Lauren’s home. Toe socks looked like they’d sort John’s weird toe blister issues so we ordered a pair of liners (ininiji) and looked at taking some of the weight off our feet.

We swapped the tent for a tarp and bivvy bags, used smaller, lighter backpacks, left the waterproofs at home, switched to a lighter stove set (still alcohol based from speedster stoves) and took less food with us. Our decision to head out again was a last minute one and was only to be for 1 night, unless things went much better than before.  Our new packs weighed around 6-7kg with water.

Day 3

We hopped on a train at 11.30 from our home village and headed out towards Sheringham. There were lots of waits between connections which gave us time to eat and supply but it meant arriving back at wells at 4.30pm. We walked for a couple of hours before reaching a less-than-ideal camp spot but it did the trick. Couscous was on the menu along with a hot chocolate.

It was a cold night, down to around -3/4 and we struggled to stay on top of our sleeping mats because of the uneven ground.

Day 4

Despite the poor nights sleep, we woke up feeling quite refreshed. We were on the move by 6.45am and it was still dark. The hard frost helped with the mud and walking was quite easy going. We reached Moston for a beautiful sunrise and Cley-Next-The-Sea for around 10.30am where we found a bench and dried out some of our kit including the what-was-frozen tarp. There were lots of people around enjoying the sunny day and wildlife.

Blakeney – an old wooden boat

From here, we had to walk miles along the shingle beach. It was particularly tough going on the legs – if you can do this bit at low tide it would probably make life easier, but we persevered and stopped for a lunch at around 2pm, where we aired out our sleeping bags and grabbed some more couscous.

From here we were able to move up on to the cliffs toward Sheringham where we met some nice people that offered to see if we could stop where they were staying, perhaps we should have accepted, but we didn’t and kept walking on into Sheringham town for a resupply and then decided to keep going.

The end of the shingle beach

We were between Sheringham and Cromer when we found our overnight spot. We had covered another 18miles and our legs were tired but we were blister free.  We ate Couscous again despite being fed up of it. Again, not a great night’s sleep and it was pretty breezy.

Day 5

We woke up feeling quite good, the feet had recovered well. We set off early and soon reached cromer where we supplied once more from a local bakery and Co-op. It was incredibly windy, so we stayed off the beaches and kept to the clifftops as much as possible but this did bite us on the bum at Bacton. Already tired, we discovered the path had given away to erosion near the large gas terminal and was impassable. This resulted in a highly unwelcome 3km detour. This affected moral pretty badly as were were already flagging slightly, but it was to be the least of our troubles.

Walking along the clifftops

We discovered that despite covering the distance according to Strava, it just wasn’t translating into progress along the route. We were many miles behind and had a long way to go to reach Winterton, our planned overnight stop for the night. We knew we could stop short, but we wanted to finish the entire route but we had cut-off point. Not reaching Winterton would have put completion into jeopardy.

A sign which reads “coastal path (please keep away from the crumbling edge)

We’d already walked 38km and we calculated we still had around 12km to reach Winterton. We were tired, hungry, it was getting dark and we were pretty demoralised. We grabbed a sausage roll from our bags while we took a quick break and then it started to rain.

We considered our options and decided to push forwards. The remaining 12km was painful on the feet (but still blister free) and we had to take many stops.

We reached our overnight stop in the dunes and set up the tarp, it was windy, but it held up ok. Despite having the the tarp flapping on our faces most of the night, it was one of the better nights sleep.

Day 6

We woke up knowing we only had 15 miles to the finish and we were determined to make it. The tide was low which meant we made excellent progress along the hard sand, at least until a freak wave came up a little too far up shore giving John a wet foot! Oops.

An icecream does wonders for moral

We saw a couple of seals in the sea here and lots of evidence of coastal erosion.

We reached Great Yarmouth by midday and stopped for some chips in the town.

5-Miles to go. The tarmac by the quay battered our feet and as soon as we could walk on sand, we did. The last 5 miles was tough, but we made it, opting for the cliffs again because of the rising tide.

The Norfolk Coast Path sign points to the edge of the cliff

We reached Hopton at around 2pm and grabbed a beer from the co-op while waiting for our lift to arrive!

We enjoyed the walk, but it was very much type 2 fun! For us, lighter packs made all the difference so we’ll try and keep to this ethic in the future. We would have liked more time to enjoy the experience. Less time pressure and we may have taken up that offer of accommodation, or stopped off for ‘soup and a pud’ but we had to remain focussed on our destination.

A Norfolk Coast Path sign

Videos:

three stoves

Backpacking camping stoves! Gas vs Alcohol

We’re soon going to be heading off on a 5-6 day walk along the Norfolk Coastal Path (82 miles). We’re planning on going relatively lightweight, which prompted us to have a look at our stove options and what might work the best.

We’ve always used gas stoves. Our alpkit brewkit is our best friend on van camping trips but we decided to take a walk around Decathlon to see if there was anything that could be useful for our trip, and we found an alcohol/meths stove that looked well worth a try. The price was £18. We decided to compare all of our available options and these are the results. The test has been pretty conclusive and the best option is ‘it depends!’ but the figures here helped us make an informed choice.

The first test was a 3-way boil test between the Alpkit Brewkit, the OEX-F1 and the meths burner. We used new 500g gas cans. We used the brewkit as it came (but the weight below doesn’t include the pan support). The OEX-F1 without a windshield (we didn’t have one tall enough) with a 1l OEX pot. The meths stove was used with a windshield and another OEX pot. Outside temp was around 2-3c.

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Left: Meths Burner. Middle: Alpkit Brewkit. Right: OEX -F1

It’s worth noting that on this test, we had issues with the OEX stove not being on the can well enough and it stopped working part way through. We fixed it up and continued the test without stopping the clock. We also had some issues with the meths stove in that the flame was licking up all over the side of the pan, so we decided to add the simmer ring part way through.

Stove Weight Boil time (1l) Fuel used (g)
Alpkit Brewkit 470g 6.18 15g
OEX-F1/OEX Pot 350g 16.45 25g
Meths Stove/OEX Pot/Concertina windshield 460g 24.12 42g

All in all, this first test was a bit of a disaster, but it showed us that the our loyal buddy the brewkit came out on top. Though it was the heaviest option, it was also the most efficient. We didn’t stop there though! We could see there were some improvements to be gained and so began test 2. This time we made a pot cosy for our OEX and used simmer ring from the start.

Stove Weight Boil time (1l) Fuel used (g)
Meths Stove/OEX pot with cosy/Concertina windshield 480g 30+mins 29g

At 30mins, we gave up. The water was very hot. Enough for a drink but it just wasn’t getting there quickly. We were very happy with fuel performance. 30mins of cooking time with 29g of fuel is great, but we’d spend far too much time waiting around for a brew! But what if we tried using the brewkit pot with the heat exchanger? Would it keep the flames in? It did, and the results were great but it was also heavier. We also gave the OEX-F1 with the same pot.

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Our new pot cosy made from a sleeping mat and foil tape. It got slightly burnt.

Stove Weight Boil time (1l) Fuel used (g)
Meths Stove/Brewkit pot/Concertina windshield 540g 11.40 20g
OEX-F1/Brewkit pot/Concertina windshield 440g 5.45 20g

In this test, fuel consumption and speed were hugely improved and the OEX-F1 was quicker than the brewkit, but a bit less efficient.

But what do all the figures mean? It depends on what matters to you. There appears to be no perfect solution. Things to consider are the stove weight, how much boil time matters, would you use one canister of gas, or would it be two/three or more and can you resupply enroute? What are you cooking, boil in the bag or something where simmering is more important? Is it for one or two people?

Gas canisters are heavy. The full Primus 230g canisters weigh 380g meaning that canister alone weighs 150g. By comparison. A meths bottle is around 60g. 500ml of meths weighs about 400g excl the bottle.

To calculate our best option, we looked at how much fuel we would use for 3 full boils a day. It’s not what we will be doing, some will be cooking, we won’t want 1l each time but it lets us compare. We’re not too worried about boil times.

Stove Weight Fuel per boil Fuel needed per day (3x boil) + a bit Fuel needed for 6 days Total fuel weight, incl. canisters Fuel + stove weight
Alpkit Brewkit 470g 15g 60g 360g 2x cans – 760g 1230g
OEX-F1/Brewkit pot/Concertina windshield 440g 20g 75g 450g 2x cans – 760g 1200g
Meths Stove/Brewkit pot/Concertina windshield 540g 20g 80g (100ml) 480g

(600ml)

80g =100ml
480g = 600m
2 bottles (60g each)
Total 700g
1240g

 

The verdict:

So all in all, the results are actually quite similar! The main differences being in boil times.

We’ve actually decided to go with the meths stove with an extra pot cosy. We know we can cook on it as well as boil water. While initially heavier, after day 1-2 we would be lighter overall because we would lose one bottle and around 80-160g worth of fuel and it stays the lighter option throughout. If we could get away with a single can, the gas would win the test on fuel efficiency alone.

Other considerations: We know the gas boil times are much quicker with a full can and that this drops down considerably the more empty the bottle gets. The other benefit is that the alcohol burner is much quieter and the fuel is easier to get hold of being available at both hardwear shops and camping shops. The meths burner is also more compact.

For this trip, our alcohol stove will be coming with us, but it doesn’t mean it will always come out on top.

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The chosen stove. Brewkit pot, concertina windshield and meths burner.

 

 

 

 

 

Bear Grylls Adventure

Back at the end of October, we visited Bear Grylls adventure in Birmingham. It was a seriously busy day jam packed with activities…so much so, we barely had time to film anything. Instead, we went on highropes, did survival mazes, obstacle courses, archery and snorkelling.

We were supposed to go scuba diving, but because of John’s hearing aids, we need a note from the doctor first – watch this space!

The great thing about this place is that on the whole, they were really up for letting John do everything without a second thought or with some extra thought into how to adapt things slightly. The managers looked after Daisy (the guide dog) when we were on activities and apart from scuba diving (which needs a medical for the ears rather than eyes) we did everything.

Looking forward to going back.

Wales

A few weeks back we visited Mid-Wales for a climbing competition (John competing, Lauren sightguiding) and we had some great plans for things to do while we were there. We know it rains a lot in Wales but non-stop for 3 days?! Our plans changed but we still had a lot of fun.

We visited Henrhyd Falls in the hope of going for a swim but well…

After that we hit tripadvisor for some inspiration!

Henrhyd falls. The waterfall plunges around 20m into a deep pool below.

daisy the guide dog on a waterbike

Up till now..

We’ve not long launched our social pages but we’ve been up to quite a bit the last few weeks. Here’s all of it in a single blog!

Our first proper little adventure was one leg of a 1000 mile journey around the UK’s waterways on a waterbike to raise awareness of litter and plastic. We rode 10 miles from Birmingham city centre to Majors green and took it in turns to pedal. When John was riding, he had to have directions from Lauren which weren’t always perfect!

The next big thing we did together was take a trip to Symonds Yat. A limestone climbing venue in the Wye Valley. We had a real laugh on this one and had a few epics too (what time does the carpark close?). Best just to watch this one..

Our next little venture out was to the Peak District for a first aid course run by Al over at Gritstone adventures. John needed his for his CWI assessment and Lauren’s was due to expire. We’d spoken on the phone to Al about John being blind and we weren’t totally sure how it would go before we got there but it actually went incredibly well.

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Left: John sat with his cane stuck out of his leg with bandages supporting it. Top right: Lauren and John selfie – John has a bandage on his head. Bottom right: John having a bandage put on his head.

Apart from occasionally kicking the casualty (or body as John sometimes called them!) his first aid skills were top class. Al did a great job of providing some plain text documents with the important information so John’s iPhone could read it fine. Lauren sometimes had to describe things but on the whole we think blind people have the potential to make great first aiders!

Here’s a video from our celebratory trip up Mam Tor!

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Sunset from Mam Tor

The last thing to catch up on was our visit to the Petzl UK Gri Gri tour at Redpoint Birmingham. We had a good chat about belaying and then tried out soft catches. Climbers..head to a tour date if you can!