Coast Path – Fowey to Pentewan

After a long break from Coast-Path walking, Colin Kelly and I set off from Fowey at 1045 and headed West. No particular goal was in mind but Colin thought it would be good to reach Charlestown. The first section to Gribben Head was easy walking and a persuasive National Trust volunteer talked us into climbing the tower. I hate heights but the confined space on the winding staircase seemed to nullify the effect. The last bit of the climb was on a wooden ladder and even this caused me no problems. The view from the top was great and layed out the challenge ahead of us.

After Gribben Head the path turned North we headed into St Austell Bay. A few miles later we reached Polkerris. A lovely sheltered cove, complete with a pub on the beach! Skirting temptation, we walked around the back of the pub and followed the path towards Par. Things soon got complicated as the path leaves the coast at Par Sands and heads inland to circumvent the China Clay works and dock. A horrible blot on any landscape! After a couple of minor errors we found out way into Par itself and from there back to the coast on the far side of the works. Now the path became easy again and took us across Carlyon Bay Golf Course. To our left was the remains of the old Cornwall Coliseum, derelict since 1991 when Plymouth Pavillions took its business. A short walk from here we reached Charlestown at 1430 and a well earned pub lunch in the Rashleigh Arms. Burger and Chips all round and a nice pint of ale. Distance to here was about 11 miles and my feet were hurting and my left knee a bit stiff.

After lunch I felt revived and we decided to push on a bit further. Initially the path was easy walking but after passing Porthpean Beach things got a bit more strenuous with some deep valleys and the inevitable climbs on the other side. At Gerrans Point we made a brief stop and phoned Suzie and arranged to be picked up at Pentewan, about 3.25 miles further on. Now things went a bit wrong! We followed the path to Black Head but decided not to take the fork that took us right out on to the point. After this the path deteriorated and became narrow, muddy and overgrown with stinging nettles. Eventually we emerged on to a lane at Trenarren and were faced with a choice of left and down or right and up. After consulting the map, we opted for right. The lane meandered up the hill and on each bend we hoped to find the Coast Path branching to the left. It didn’t happen. Instead Colin suddenly stopped and announced “we’ve been here”. The lane had taken us back to a point on the Path we’d done an hour previously! We’d obviously gone wrong. It didn’t become clear until I consulted Google Earth that our error became clear. In electing to bypass the fork to Black Head, we’d picked up a bridle path instead of the Coast Path.

Back on track again, we embarked on the last leg of the walk into Pentewan. It was another hard section with a deep valley and climb before levelling out and finally dropping down into the village. With sore feet and aching legs, we made our way to the far side of the village where Suzie was waiting outside the Seahorse Centre. Total distance was about 16 Miles and the step counter recorded 39464 steps. I’m writing this the next morning and still struggling to get up and down the stairs. It was a tough walk and just a step too far.

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Another Ferret loss

Following the passing of Darcy earlier this year, today we lost Missy. She was the runt of the pack, much smaller than Darcy and almost a different species compared to the monster that is Tommy. After some rough calculations, based on when Lou and I got together, we’ve decided she was about eight years old. Not a bad age little girl, you’ll be missed.

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Terra Nova Saturn Bivi (Part 3)

Almost a year ago to the day, I bought the Terra Nova Saturn Bivi and blogged about my first impressions of it. Shortly after that I blogged again with some more impressions, having put it up and been inside. Now I’ve actually used it a few times, I thought I share some more thoughts on it.

So far I’ve only used the Bivi on coast path walking where it gets a lot of exposure to the wind and rain. When you arrive at a pitch and just want to get a tent up and gear under cover, the Saturn is great. It goes up very quickly and it’s easy to push the rucksack inside before heading off in search of the nearest pub and a well-earned meal. When bedtime comes around, it’s a case of pulling the gear back out again, popping a dustbin liner over it and sliding inside the bivi. Getting in is tricky, at least I find it to be but I blogged about that in part2 so I won’t go over it again. Once inside, it’s a home from home. All be it a small one. There is a nice sense of being out in the elements but at the same time, warm and dry. Unlike a normal tent, the single skin of the bivi isn’t tensioned. This makes for a noisy experience when it’s windy as the bag flaps. At first I wasn’t comfortable with the noise or the way the wind made it slap against me. Now I’ve got used to it though, it really enhances the sense of wildness. Despite being made of breathable Gore-Tex, the bivi soon starts to feel stuffy if no ventilation is open. In dry weather, just closing the mesh part of the door works fine. In wet weather, I like to zip up the outer but leave a gap at the top. Thanks to a thoughtful little overhang around the top of the door, this can be done without letting the rain in and it provides sufficient air movement to keep things fresh.

After a good nights sleep, the morning poses a few issues if it’s raining. Doing tasks like dressing and packing a mat and sleeping bag inside the bivi are possible but not without significant difficulties. The rucksack has to live outside so eventually the time comes when you have to crawl out and face the weather in order to find the waterproofs, pack the gear and dismantle the bivi. Getting the bivi down and back into its bag is a breeze but doing the other tasks while exposed to the elements is a lot harder than in a normal tent where they can be done in relative comfort.

Other than the wet weather issues, in all other respects I’m delighted with my Saturn. There are one-man tents available for the same price, quality and weight but they feel lightweight and flimsy. The Saturn feels solid and reliable, like it can take all the treatment the weather and I can throw at it. Yes, it’s small. Tiny in fact and I’m sure it’s not for everyone so it’s important to assess requirements before spending a lot of money. If though, like me, you want something light and reliable and aren’t too concerned about spaciousness, the Saturn is certainly worth checking out.

Posted in Dartmoor | Leave a comment

TalkTalk or more precisely lack of TalkTalk

For once TalkTalk got something right. They said they’d respond to my email and they did. Right on the 7th day. Their response was less than satisfying.

Dear Mr Crook

Thank you for contacting the TalkTalk Business Technical
Support team.

We have investigated the request below, unfortunately the
service which you are currently configured with will not
allow for more than 1 static IP address. So we would not be
able to provide several IP addresses, as requested.

We have checked on the exchange to see if our LLU equipment
is installed, which would allow for the service you are
requesting. Unfortunately we do not have our LLU equipment
installed at that exchange.

We have checked and confirm that your broadband is currently
assigned with the static IP address.

Kind regards,

TalkTalk Business Technical Support Engineer

None of this makes any sense to me. TalkTalk were already providing me the broadband service. All they were proposing was changing the line rental. As the only equipment in the exchange is BT’s, how could it provide the service to me previously, but not now?

Anyway, I’m sick of the whole episode and have contacted BT and asked them to begin the process of transferring my line back to them. I’ve also replied to TalkTalk.

Dear [name scrubbed],

When TalkTalk contacted me and asked if I'd like to transfer
my telephone line rental to them, I was assured that my
broadband service would not change.  Now it seems that not
only has it changed but TalkTalk are unable to provide an
equivalent to what they have taken away.

As the change to my service has rendered it unfit for my
purposes and you cannot rectify it, I've contacted BT and
asked them to transfer my line back to them.  Please can you
provide me with a MAC code so I can migrate my broadband to
another vendor?

A speedy response would be very much appreciated.

Regards
Steve

I hope this will be the end of the whole horrible episode but I fear TalkTalk will not make it that easy if my dealings so far are anything to go by. Lets see if it takes another 7 days.

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RIP Len Sassaman

I only met Len once at What The Hack in Holland back in July 2005 but chatted to him about Mixmaster on various occasions. I’ll never forget the exchanges between him and Frog-Admin in which Len always came out the winner, simply by virtue of knowing what he was talking about.

I’ll miss you Len. You leave a fine legacy to the advocates of Privacy and Anonymity.

Posted in Anonymity, General | Leave a comment

Email to TalkTalk (2011/07/01)

In an attempt to clarify my requirements, I’ve emailed TalkTalk customer services. Sometimes these things are clearer in writing:

Account Number: xxxxxxxx

[Address scrubbed]

Hi,

On the 29th June, you transferred my broadband service from Nildram to
TalkTalk. I was led to understand that this was just a change to my
phone line rental rather than to my broadband which was already with
TalkTalk.  Consequently, the configuration of my broadband service has
changed and rendered my services unreachable from the Internet.

I've spoken to your technical and customer support teams but feel that
I'm failing to explain what's happened.  I'm hoping that explaining it
in writing will make more sense.

Previously from you (or Nildram) I had a static IP address for my ADSL
Router of 82.133.98.89.  I also had a subnet allocated to me of
82.133.6.112/29 which enabled me to present up to 6 servers from my LAN,
through the router to the Internet.  TalkTalk have now allocated me a
single, static IP address for my router of 92.24.14.200.  This is
certainly a big help but I still need a routable subnet to sit on the
other side of that router so I can present my servers to the Internet.
Is this something TalkTalk Business can provide?

Many thanks,
Steve
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TalkTalk Business woes

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by TalkTalk with regard to transferring my telephone line rental to them. As they already provided my Internet (as a result of their taking over Nildram), it seemed like a sensible move, especially as the price was attractive.

On the 30th June I received a letter advising me of a new ADSL login and password. Alarm bells rang. Why did I need a new ADSL login? I’ve always resisted any change to this aspect of my service because of the likelihood of it being broken as a result. With considerable trepidation I changed the login details on my router and my worst fears came true. Everything broke.

With my previous login, the Router had static address of 82.133.98.89. I then had a subnet that sat on the other side of the router, 82.133.6.112/29 which gave me eight addresses that were routed to the Internet. With the new login, I just received a single, dynamic address for the router. I lost all means to route my old 82.133.6.112 subnet through this, with the consequence that all my services instantly died.

I’m not even going to attempt to document the string of phone calls that happened next, it would be incredibly boring and repetitive. Suffice to say that the technical people at TalkTalk kept passing me to the Customer Services and Sales people who in turn passed me back again. Each of these passes involved sitting in a caller queue for up to 30 minutes. I get the strong impression they simply don’t understand what I’m asking for and that’s pretty frustrating when from my perspective, they took it away.

At the moment I’ve at least got a static IP for the router assigned which has enabled me to set up some NAT rules to get traffic through for critical services like Email and DNS. I suspect there is going to be considerable frustration before I get back to a properly working configuration though. The worst part of all this is that I’m dealing with a company who are supposed to specialize in Internet Service provision but in reality have no consideration for the services of their customer. Me. They took my service which worked perfectly, broke it and then leave me to drive its recovery. Absolutely nobody in TalkTalk has taken any ownership for getting my service back to a working state.

This morning I’ve talked to somebody who has promised to allocate me a new subnet but he states it will comprise four addresses. This is bonkers because two of those (the top and bottom) are reserved so I’ll only get two usable addresses. At the moment though I’m so fed up with the whole saga that I’ll gladly take two addresses in preference to none at all. Now I’m off to email them in the hope that putting it in writing will clarify my requirements.

One good point for all the people I’ve spoken to: They’ve been polite and tried to help me. It’s not their fault and I don’t want to make it sounds that way. It’s their employer I’m mad at, not them.

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Time running out for the broadband timetable

Back in January I blogged about the proposed Cornwall Super-fast Broadband roll-out. Of course, as a geek, I’m desperate for information about it, especially the timetable for when it’s actually going to happen. According to the faqs the timetable will be announced in May 2011. It’s the 26th May today so time is running out for hitting their first publicly announced deadline of the entire project. Will they make it? Lets hope so.

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Welcom Bay – Perrenporth

Don’t know why I’ve left it six months to publish this article. Oh well, better late than never!

This was a walk undertaken by Tim Clayton, Colin Kelly and myself. We started from Welcom Bay on the 11th September 2011 and spent three days walking to Tintagel where Tim had to leave us due to work commitments. Colin and I then pressed on for another four days to Perrenporth. Pictures of our efforts can be found on my Photo Gallery.

Date Start End Steps
11th Welcom Bay (SS 21277 17970) Bude 27297
12th Bude (SS 20134 05601) Boscastle 33809
13th Boscastle (SX 11854 92141) Tintagel 20825
14th Tintagel (SX 05521 88547) Port Isaac 22509
15th Port Isaac (The Crows Nest) (SW 99932 80943) Padstow 36393
16th Padstow (Dennis Bay Camping) (SW 91792 74300) Morgan Porth 42299
17th Morgan Porth (Kernow Trek Lodge) (SW 85056 66202) Perrenporth (SW 75672 54175) 37394

(Estimate 2500 steps per Mile)

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It’s the little things

Just a quickie to say thanks to the driver from Burcombe Haulage who stopped in St Mellion village on the A388 during rush hour to let me cross over with my dogs on Monday evening. Apologies to the commuter zombies who were forced to wake up for 5 seconds and apply the brakes.

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Last year Womble, this year Darcy

Last year I Blogged about the death of our Ferret Womble. Today it’s the turn of her long-time partner Darcy. Darcy was a polecat and always the wildest of our flock. When visitors wanted to hold one, Darcy was the chap who stayed firmly in the pen or we’d have suffered the embarrassment of taking people to hospital for finger stitches. Even Lou and I, who knew how to hold him, didn’t escape unscathed. We’ve both had bitten fingers (and ears in my case) from the feisty one. Despite the injuries, he was always a character and he’ll be sadly missed.

Posted in St Mellion | 1 Comment

UK ISPs – Monthly Usage Limits – silly silly silly!

Following yet another outage on my ADSL service from Nildram Pipex Tiscali Opal TalkTalk Business, I decided to take a look around and see what else is on offer. I do this quite frequently and with some enthusiasm. Then I give up.

The problem is usage based charging. At the moment, probably due to my contract length, I have an unlimited usage policy. Whilst expensive, this suits me very nicely because I get a totally predictable bill every month. If I was going to change ISP, my preference would be Andrews & Arnold Ltd who have a well earned reputation as the geeks ISP of choice. Unfortunately they will base my monthly charge on the volume downloaded. With two teenage boys in the house, sharing a single broadband connection this is, at best, unpredictable and potentially very expensive, should they discover Bit Torrent.

So exactly how difficult is it to blow the usage limits on these contracts? Time for some calculations……

Lets assume for a moment that I have a paltry 1Mb/s connection to the Internet. That’s Bits, not Bytes so lets convert it into Gigabytes per Hour to keep the numbers smallish. So, ((1 x 3600) / 1024) /8 gives me 0.44GB/Hr. Multiply that by the 24 Hours in a day and we get 10.55GB / Day. To put that in perspective, on many UK ISPs I could blow the basic Monthly allowance in a single day with only a 1Mb/s connection! These guys aren’t offering 1Mb/s though, many of them are offering 20Mb/s. If you drove that flat out for a month, you’d be looking for a usage contract of around 6TB per Month.

The largest example Andrews & Arnold Ltd quote is for 70GB/Month (peek time) and 500GB/Month (off-peek). This costs £300.20 per Month. So do some more maths and it’s reasonable to conclude that driving a 20Mb/s connection flat-out for a month would cost me about £4,600. To put this in perspective, I have a rented server in a German Data Centre with a 1Gb/s Internet connection and unlimited (fair) usage. It costs me £45 per Month.

I don’t want this to appear as a criticism of A&A, they are the ISP I have the greatest respect for in the UK. The fact that they’re delivering IPv6 is a fine example of their attitude, and I like it. A lot. I’m just trying to get my head around how these usage restrictions can possibly be realistic when connection speeds are going up and we’re looking at new technologies like Fibre To The Home. What’s the point of all that bandwidth if you can’t use it? It’s worse than that, you can use it and unless you’re highly technical and geeky, you can’t regulate it. Better keep the kids under lock and key unless you plan to take out a second mortgage to pay your ISP’s monthly bill.

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2011 – Year of IPv6. Providing you’re not British.

As my first post of 2011, it was a toss-up between this and my annual mortgage statement. This won by virtue of annoying me more.

Right so what’s IPv6 and why is it more annoying than a mortgage? IPv6 is sort of new, except that it’s not. It was first published in 1998 when it became obvious that the Internet was going to grow bigger than the current IPv4 standard could support. At the risk of getting technical, IPv4 uses 32bit addressing, that means 32 binary digits of 0 or 1. In human-speak, that’s over 4 trillion addresses and every device on the Internet needs a unique one. Sounds like a lot but in reality it doesn’t work quite like that because they’re issued to companies in chunks and the spare capacity within those chunks isn’t available to anyone else. The chunk issue isn’t going to go away, that’s just the nature of IP but IPv6 solves the problem by using 128bit addresses instead of 32bit. In human terms, that’s a really enormously huge number. Slightly more than 3 with 38 zeros after it. The “slightly more” I mention is actually bigger than the entire IPv4 address space, that’s how big we’re talking.

So IPv6 has been around for well over 10 years now and PC Operating Systems have natively supported it for almost as long. In fact all the building-blocks are in place and all that’s needed is some momentum. And now we have it. The doom-mongers who have been saying that IPv4 is full are finally going to be proved correct and the Internet will consequently cease to expand until something is done about it. So what needs to happen? Well for most of the world, nothing but a bit of user education on how to switch their PC’s to it. Unfortunately there are exceptions and yep, as usual the UK is in that category. British Telecom don’t support it.

That might sound like a good reason for switching to another ISP but we’re not talking about ISP level stuff here, the problem is that BT’s equipment in the exchanges doesn’t support it. The only way around that hurdle is to use one of the providers who install their own equipment into BT’s exchanges and for many of us, that’s not even an option. Even where it is an option, my Googling has failed to find providers that advertise native support for it. Except one. Andrews & Arnold have been the ISP of choice for geeks for a long time and they’ve managed to hack together a work-around to BT’s inability to get with the times. They’ve also done more to highlight the problem than anyone else, the catalyst being this letter sent to BT back in October 2008.

So aside from using Andrews & Arnold, it seems that the UK will drag its heals and fail to surf on the IPv6 wave of adoption. So I wonder how long the world will wait for us? Perhaps there are already cunning plans being drawn up in the top-floors of BT offices to turn this to their financial advantage. Just imagine if Facebook was no longer accessible. People would probably pay to get it back. Only speculation but until BT sees fit to make a statement about their roll-out plans, that’s all I’ve got to offer.

What actually prompted me to blow off steam about this issue now is that we’re approaching a special occasion in Internet terms. The 8th June 2011 is IPv6 day, on which a number of top content providers have agreed to switch on IPv6 as a means to draw attention to the problem. Will it shame BT into action? At the very least, lets hope it results in some kind of positive statement from them.

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DNSSEC – HOWTO for idiots like me

There seems to be plenty of DNSSEC HOWTO’s on the Web but I’m struggling to find a compendium of steps I need to perform in order to secure my zone and trust others.

Securing a zone

Before doing anything, it’s worth creating a directory structure where each zonefile resides in its own directory using the structure: /etc/bind/zonename/zonefile
The zonefile should be identical to the zonename until it’s signed, at which time zonefile becomes zonename.signed. Generated ZSK’s and KSK’s should reside within the directory of the zonename they relate to. Don’t forget to update named.conf.local to reflect changes in the name and location of the zonefiles.

Enable DNSSEC

options {
dnssec-enable yes;
dnssec-validation yes;
};

Generate Keys

dnssec-keygen -a RSASHA1 -b 1024 -n ZONE zonename
dnssec-keygen -a RSASHA1 -b 4096 -n ZONE -f KSK zonename

Add keys to zonefile

; Zone Signing Key
$INCLUDE Kzonename.+001+11111.key
; Key Signing Key
$INCLUDE Kzonename.+001+22222.key

Sign the Zone

dnssec-signzone zonefile
Output is zonefile.signed

Validate the zonefile

donuts zonefile.signed zonename

Publish the signed zone

In named.conf.local:
zone “zonename” {
file “/etc/bind/zonename/zonefile.signed”;
};

Testing

dig zonename SOA +dnssec +multiline

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Great Links Walk

Yesterday Tim Clayton and I did a circular walk from Widgery Cross. It was the perfect day for it with blue sky and crystal clear air. The view from Sharp Tor was incredible with the North Coast clearly visible, along with the GCHQ Satellite dishes at Lower Sharpnose Point near Bude.

Despite the wonderful views, the walk wasn’t entirely a success as we became victims of Dartmoor’s wild nature and the boggy terrain frequently forced us to where we didn’t want to be. All went well to start with and we reached the deserted Doe Tor Farm without a problem. From there we climbed up beside Walla brook to the summit of Sharp Tor where we stopped and admired the view. From there we headed to Chat Tor at which point things went wrong. There was no obvious path from here so we headed cross-country to Great Links Tor. Tim soon discovered the danger involved in doing this after sinking down to his knee in a hole hidden under the reeds. Luckily no injury was sustained and we made it to Great Links at a greatly reduced pace, testing every footstep on the way. We stopped for lunch, sheltered from the wind beneath the Trig Point.

From Great Links we dropped down to the North on to an old Railtrack bed which we followed East to its end at some disused peat cutting works. From there the planned walk took us to Hunt Tor which we managed despite taking a long time to find a small path across the boggy ground. From here we should have walked to Woodcock hill and on to Corn Ridge but the path forced us back to the Railtrack well to the West of where we wanted to be. As this track was our route back to Widgery, we admitted defeat and headed for home.

I will go back and do this walk again as the challenge remains incomplete. It’s certainly a route for good weather after a long dry period as the ground in the saddles between Tors is bad enough in these conditions and I should imagine, treacherous at other times. Just remains to thanks Tim for his company, I thoroughly enjoyed it even if we didn’t do the walk as planned.

Posted in Dartmoor | Leave a comment

Fibre Broadband for Cornwall

BT is to provide super-fast broadband to up to 90% of homes in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, in the biggest rural fibre optic roll-out in the UK to date.

This is great news for me and many others but what exactly does it mean? “Up to 90% of homes” means absolutely squat and I’m surprised they chose to word it in this manner when there’s so much controversy over the advertising of broadband speeds “up to”.

My other concern is the rural aspect of this. It’s impossible to roll out rural broadband to 90% of Cornwall’s users where nowhere close to 90% of Cornwall’s population is rural. I’ll be seriously disappointed if they hit that 90% target but simply supplying the areas of densest population. I.e. The non-rural parts of Cornwall.

My next concern is this statement:

BT has decided to use a 50:50 mix of fibre-to-the-home technology (FTTH) and the slower fibre-to-the-cabinet technology (FTTC) in Cornwall.

FTTH connects houses and premises to high-speed cables, whilst FTTC still relies on slower copper cables to connect homes to BT street cabinets.

First of all, copper is not slower than fibre: They both deliver a signal at near light speed between two points. In fact copper is slightly quicker because light bounces around inside a fibre, thus having to travel further. The disadvantage of copper is the rate of signal degradation over distance. For super-fast broadband, copper is good for about 100M whilst fibre will stretch to about 2500M. They’ll both go further but at the cost of performance. Of course I’d love to get FTTH but I’ll be surprised and delighted if BT run me a dedicated fibre over the 2KM between my house and the exchange. Maybe I’m just a pessimist. Time will tell.

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Terra Nova Saturn Bivi (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote my first impressions on the Terra Nova Saturn Bivi. Now I’ve had chance to put it up and climb inside, I thought I’d share some more views.

For starters I was completely wrong in my claim that the usual difficulties would be encountered getting the Bivi back into its bag. It’s actually incredibly quick and easy to roll up and slip into the bag. I think the main reason for this is the breath-ability of Gore-Tex material allowing the air to escape as the bivi is rolled up. Of course this is easy to say when it’s bone dry but I dare say the process is less enjoyable when the bivi is soaking wet! I’m tempted to put the bivi into a waterproof compression sack to overcome the problem of what to do with it when wet. Whilst this won’t do much for drying it out, it will at least stop it getting everything else in my rucksack wet until such time as it stops raining and I can dry it properly. Incidentally, Sea To Summit do a great Dry Compression Sack that I’ll certainly be using for my clothes and sleeping bag.

In my previous post I also questioned how to peg the bivi down and the seeming lack of said pegs. Well it’s actually slightly worse than I thought. Whilst the front pegs can be shared between the groundsheet hoops and the guy lines, there was no hope of me getting between the lines and into the bag. I suppose it would be possible to pull them out and put them back from inside but honestly, what’s the point? Easier to get a few extra pegs. I have a 6 pack of Tikes that do the job nicely. I found the best combination was to use the supplied pegs for the 4 pole points and two front groundsheet hops. The Tikes then do the 3 guy points and the rear groundsheet hoops (where I won’t kneel on them!). A total of 11 pegs in all.

One slight concern I have is the manner in which the guy lines attach to the bivi. They loop through webbing hoops but those points are only attached by stitching to the bivi fabric. I would feel happier if the webbing was stitched around the pole sleeves so that the tension from the lines was distributed evenly to the bivi fabric by the pole rather than focused on two small points. This is simply a visual impression though and I’ve no real cause to state it’s a weakness. I also wondered how tightly I should tension the guy lines. The nature of the bivi means it’s always going to flap a bit but the tighter they are the less the flap. I’ll live with the flap for now because of my previous concern.

Getting into the bivi takes some experimentation. This probably sounds silly to anyone who hasn’t tried it but trust me, it’s an art! My first temptation was to lie on the ground on my tummy and then walk back in on my hands and toes. This kind of works but if the ground is soaking wet, so would my front be. My best solution is to kneel on the door fabric (which unzips flat on the ground) and then to slide my feet in along my mat. This works fine on my Thermarest mat but obviously not to be done with boots on. I’m also very careful of doing it without the mat in place as the bivi groundsheet is less durable (and less expendable).

Once inside, the bivi is surprisingly spacious and I can easily toss and turn or read my book. The netting door blocks out a lot of the wind but lets in enough air for comfort and to prevent heavy build-up of condensation. Enough that is for night time. I wouldn’t want to be in there under a hot sun for long as it quickly becomes very hot and stuffy. Obviously adjustment to sleeping during hours of darkness is a good plan and morning lie-ins are not. By sleeping at the front end of the bag (remember it’s 8ft long) you get a nice view out through the mesh and little sense of claustrophobia. Closing the outer door instantly makes the bivi feel smaller and less airy but I’d rather be in there than outside in the rain and heavy rain is likely to be the only time I close it.

Overall I’m very happy with my Saturn Bivi and I don’t think there’s a lot of point in my saying more about it until I’ve actually done a field trip. That’s scheduled for the 11th of September when I’m walking the North Cornwall coast with Colin Kelly and Tim Clayton. No doubt I’ll write some more after that and probably contradict myself to some extent but I think it’s good to capture impressions from before and after the reality.

Posted in Dartmoor | 1 Comment

Bull(shit) Fighting

Today the most popular news story on the BBC News Website is this one about Bullfighting. Some would argue that it wasn’t Bullfighting but rather a show with lots of guys teasing a bull to make it chase them round an arena but that’s a difference only the Spanish would care about.

So why is it the most popular story? Well I’d guess that without any shadow of a doubt, it’s because we British love it when the underdog wins. I’m sorry some people got injured but then if they hadn’t been there in the first place, they wouldn’t have got hurt. Anyway, well done to the bull I say. They might have killed it later that day but for a period he was the most famous bull in the world and a martyr to the cause of banning this cowardly sport.

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Terra Nova Saturn Bivi

After searching through various tent reviews, I decided that the Terra Nova Saturn Bivy was for me. Today it arrived and as there’s precious little info out there about it, I thought I’d provide a few first impressions.

Well for starters the bivy arrived in a tiny box measuring 155x155x400mm. Whilst signing for it, I found it hard to believe this was what I’d ordered and that I could fit inside it! After rushing upstairs and getting into the box itself, I found a perfectly ordinary tent bag, all be it small. Rather than me inaccurately measuring something cylindrical, suffice to say it fits nicely within the aforementioned box. No doubt my usual problem of getting everything back into the bag will apply. This also applies to my self-inflating mat and sleeping bag, but I can partially do those under the shelter of the bivy bag whilst cursing and trying to roll them tighter.

Taking the bivy out of the bag highlights the usual tight fittedness of these things and I had to partially untie the knot in the bag’s draw cord in order to get it out. With this done, I can start to unroll the bag and the quality of it is immediately apparent. It has a tough feel about it that suggests it’s considerably more rugged than the ultra-light tents it competes with. A small tent bag contains seven aluminium pegs and three guy ropes. Two of these will tie to the front of the bivy and one to the rear. The two poles are supplied in a throw-away polythene bag. When laid out flat and upside down, the groundsheet component measures the stated 2400mm; should be big enough for me and my mostly unpacked at night rucksack.

One element that’s notable by its absence is any form of instructions on pitching or care. I’m not sure if this is normal or just missing in my case. Terra Nova have online instructions for most of their tents and bags but seemingly not for the Saturn. Admittedly it’s not that hard to figure out but I do have a couple of things to ponder over. Foremost of these is the pegging. The tent has four obvious pegging points that live on the same webbing points that the poles slot into. The internal hole on each accommodates the pole and the outer the peg. At each end of the bag there are two further webbing loops but these are just loops, without metal eyelets to stick the peg through, as per the other four. I’m not really sure if these are pegging points or just for hanging up the bag when drying. As the bag only comes with seven pegs, and there are four obvious pegging points plus three guy cords, for now I’m going to assume the latter.

The other less than obvious feature is an elasticated draw cord that sits within the outer seam of a tiny porch. I’m calling it a porch for want of a better name as it only extends 120mm out from the front pole. It’s to this seam that the front two guy cords also attach by way of two webbing loops. Attach is probably the wrong word as they appear to just knot on to the loops. I’m guessing the draw cord in the seam is there to tension the porch and stop it flapping in the wind.

After writing the above couple of paragraphs, I’ve studied the tiny picture on Terra Nova’s website and it appears that the head-end webbing loops are indeed pegging points and they share a peg with each of the front guy cords. This introduces another question as the cords are far too long unless I cut them to length or double them up. I’ll go for doubling up, it’s too early for hacking at things! At the rear this still poses a slight question as there’s a single guy cord and two loops. Unlike the front, the guy cord is nowhere near the loops so sharing a peg isn’t an option. So I make that, 4 x pegs for the eyeleted sides, 2 x pegs for the front loops and guys and 3 x pegs for the back loops and guy. A total of nine when I’m only supplied seven so I suspect I’ve got it all wrong. All these points are minor nitpicks but they would be instantly solved with an A4 sheet of instructions.

Next I’ll take a look at the poles: Unlike many bigger tents, each section of the pole is pre-shaped into a slight curve so that when the five segments are slotted together, a semi-circle is formed. This means the poles slot easily into their eyelets without placing much tension on them. In a normal tent this would be undesirable as that tension keeps the skin taught and the fly away from the inner. For a single-skin bivy, this isn’t an issue. The segments of each pole are kept together by a length of shock cord inside them, same as with all my other tents. That’s about all I can say about them, they look perfectly suited for the job they do. The same is true of the aluminium pegs. Pity they aren’t titanium but for a little bag like this, I can’t see it being an issue.

In terms of ventilation, the Saturn has a tiny vent at the feet end. This is permanently open and should be enough to supply a draught without turning the bag into a wind tunnel. The head end is a different story. Here there’s a huge vent in the form of the net outer door. On dry nights this will provide a nice view of the sky whilst also ensuring that most of the carbon dioxide I breath out can escape instead of ramping up the humidity and dampness inside. The outer attaches to the body of the bivy via the usual two zip fasteners so that a gap can be left between them if desired. The inner door is made of Gore-Tex, the same as the bivy itself. It’s fixed to the groundsheet at the bottom and then by a zip to the outer door, once again with two fasteners on the zip. The fasteners themselves have blue cord loops instead of the usual metal tags for working them. I’m quite happy with this as the tags seem to frequently break on some zips. Only time will really tell if this is actually better. One point to note is that owing to the shape of the head end, if I want to peer out at the night sky, I’ll need to have my head right up in the nose of the bag. Probably not an issue, although this is also the logical place to put any kit that can’t stay outside. I’ll experiment with this when I get around to pitching it and climbing in.

I think that’s enough time spent on grumbles as the standard of this bivy makes them all seem like petty niggles. The quality of it really is outstanding and it oozes a sense of durability beyond even some of my mountain tents that weigh five times as much. For me what sets it apart from a tent is the sheer unobtrusiveness of the Saturn: Mine is green so it blends in nicely with the landscape without attracting unwanted attention. Add to that the simplicity of pitching it and the ruggedness and it’s surely a winner. Later on (when it stops raining) I’ll put it up, climb inside and make some more observations. For now though, I’m content that my exchange of cash for Terra Nova Bivy was not a poor one.

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Ducks Pool

I did a walk on Sunday, starting from Whiteworks and following the path past Nuns Cross to Eylesbarrow. From there I headed to Broad Rock which I finally discovered last year, crossing Plym Ford on the way. The path from Plym Ford to Broad Rock was in a dreadful state having been carved up by quad bikes. I saw four of them in the three hours I spent walking. No doubt they’re a godsend to farmers but Dartmoor is certainly suffering as a result of them.

From Broad Rock my plan had been to walk down the Erme to where Blacklane Brook flows into it and then upstream to Ducks Pool. To my surprise though, my SatNav said Ducks Pool was less than a kilometre from Broad Rock and so I decided to take a direct route. Certainly not a route to take in bad weather, it was very soft and squelchy all the way but I eventually arrived at the South edge of Ducks Pool and this time, had no problem finding its famous letterbox and memorial plaque to William Crossing. It’s at SX 62604 67908.

From Ducks Pool I skirted around the NE side of Great Gnats’ Head and headed back towards Plym Ford. This was rough walking and very wet. At one point I put my foot into a hidden hole and sank in water up to my knee before falling flat on my face in peat bog. Thank God for my lovely Scarpa SL M3 boots or this might have ended with a sprained ankle, or worse, and in the middle of nowhere. From Plym Ford I retraced my steps back to the car, the complete walk being about 9 miles.

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