Thursday, 16 November 2017

Making dreams come true: another slow road adventure.

When did you last make time to dawdle? Can you remember what it was like to do nothing more than meander, pootle or bumble along? And when was the last time you took the slow road, just because you could?

If your answer is ‘too long ago’ then you need to keep on reading. And then possibly put 3rd May 2018 in your diary. That’s because it’s the day my new book project, Take the Slow Road: Scotland gets released. That’s the cover, above. I love it. What do you think?

I am really excited by it. Not only because it’s a new book, but also because it’s the product of a dream come true, and because of that, is a departure from the stuff I have done before.

If my previous books were tender looks at food, camper vans and camping, this one is a love note to the journey that gets you there in the first place. It’s about taking the time to enjoy the road as a destination in itself, taking time to see and understand landscapes and to relish the moments that they give you.

You might say that Take the Slow Road is the antithesis to Top Gear. And you’d be right. It’s the cure to your overactive, overachieving, go-getting lifestyle and all that unnecessary noise and guff that goes with it. It's the opposite to understeer and oversteer and not really seeing anything except the price tag and the BHP and the number of head turns per mile.

But. And this is very important. Take the Slow Road has never been about being lazy. Quite the opposite. It’s about getting off the sofa, getting out and getting some air in your lungs. It’s finding, seeing and loving all that is to love about life on the road.

I spent a year writing Take the Slow Road: Scotland, making lots of journeys north from my home in Cornwall, sometimes on my own, sometimes with my kids and sometimes with friends. Each trip was incredible, for all kinds of reasons. I drove a few different vehicles, sometimes borrowing motorhomes and campers from Marquis Motorhomes, sometimes driving my own van, and once borrowing a beautiful Type 2 VW from Deeside Classic Campers. I also cheated on one trip and did part of it in a hire car with a tent, although this was more to do with me missing the deadline than anything else. Incidentally, on that trip I did perfect the art of cooking pasta in a hotel kettle when I had to take cover during a really heavy storm.

When you flick through the pages of Take the Slow Road I hope it will take you on a visual and literary journey through Scotland that will inspire you to nip out to the garage and promise the old girl that you’ll book that trip north like you always said you would. I hope it’ll inspire you to turn the key and head off to climb high mountain passes, take tiny ferries to beautiful, remote islands, saunter alongside stunning lochs and laze on lonely beaches. I hope it’ll drive you to explore tiny seaside villages, botanical gardens, cycle routes, camp sites, stone circles, castles and landscapes that you won’t find anywhere else.

Why write about Scotland first?

If anywhere was perfect for a road trip it is Scotland, of course. It has great distances, great views, great people and some of the greatest landscapes in the United Kingdom. Scotland also has the UK’s deepest lake, the highest mountain and the oldest building. It has eagles, red squirrels, wild cats, pine martens and capercaillies. Whales, dolphins, otters and seals swim in its seas. Huge, beautiful Caledonian Pines grow alongside its byways and on its mountainsides, while rare machair grasslands thrive above the tideline of its most beautiful west coast and island beaches.

Scotland also has roads. Thousands of miles of them. Many of them are spectacular in the extreme. With the exception of some of the major routes, every route I drove had something special about it. Heck, even the M74 passes through some interesting scenery.

Scotland has Britain’s highest main road, highest classified road and the world’s longest triple tower cable-stayed bridge, the Queensferry Crossing. It is a country of superlatives, where you can be at the most north westerly tip of Europe or at the UK’s most remote pub.

For motorhomers and camper vanners Scotland is a brilliant place to travel. Generally there is a positive and tolerant attitude towards ‘wild camping’ and parking up at beaches or in the countryside that’s down to an understanding that motorhomes and campervans are ‘good for business’. Good for them. And good on us if we work really, really hard to keep it that way.

Next up. Take the Slow Road: England and Wales

I am already embarking on the next book in what I hope will be a long series. But I need help!! If you have any great ideas for journeys in England and Wales that are interesting, beautiful, difficult or join up themed destinations (I joined up the Harry Potter locations in Scotland), let me know!
In the meantime, please enjoy some of the images from the book.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Why I hate the Tegstove. And why I love the Tegstove.

Some time ago I was approached by the people at Tegstove. They asked me to try out one of their stoves. It uses Teg technology (creating an electrical charge by placing hot and cold surfaces together) to charge an internal battery in the stove, which can then be used to charge phones or gadgets.
I said yes, because I like trying out bits of kit, but I did make a point of insisting that I would be honest about it because I only review products I actually use, whether good or bad.
In due course the stove arrived and I unpacked it and read the instructions and looked at it and played with it.
And then I put it away again.
Why? Because I hated it. I couldn't see the point of it. I couldn't see how it could possibly be useful to anyone who is serious about camping. It looked gimmicky and nothing more than a bad case of form over function.

Here's why:
It's heavy. It weighs 1.4 kg, which is about 1.2 kg heavier than the Vango folding stove I use for lightweight camping. That means that it's not practical for anyone who is cycle touring or backpacking. You simply wouldn't want to carry it in your rucksack.
It charges phones. But so does my camper van, so why wouldn't I use the van to charge my stuff and get a lighter weight stove? My van also has a stove. Why wouldn't I use that?
It takes disposable gas canisters, which are expensive.
It stands tall, at 365 cm when open, which means it would be very difficult to erect a windbreak for it, unless that windbreak was at least 2 feet tall. The height also means it wouldn't be practical to use inside the van, on a table as it would create too much heat too near the roof lining.
That was that. I couldn't see who might benefit from such gadgetry.
It wasn't for me. I didn't write the review.

Then I went to Scotland with my daughters. The Tegstove, which had been languishing in the van, came with us. On our last night we were pitched up at Bunree Caravan and Motorhome Club site near Fort William when the gas ran out on the Slidepod stove halfway through a curry. With no spare and no other way of finishing off the curry, I had no option but to fire up the Tegstove. Reluctantly.
So, I thought, I might as well test it properly while I am here, using it in the field.
Hyper cautious, I unpacked it, spread the legs as far as I could make them go and twisted a half full gas canister into place. I opened the pan supports and placed the curry on it. I turned it on and it lit easily, as you'd expect from the piezo ignition. The flame, fierce and oxygen rich, wasn't affected by the wind too much and the dinner went on. And so did my test. I plugged in my phone to the stove and, as promised, it started charging immediately, which was a bit novel, to be honest.
As the curry simmered away I examined the flame. Thanks to the Teg technology, the act of charging creates heat, which is used by the stove to warm the gas canister. This solves the problem that these type of canisters have, which is to lose pressure as the remaining gas cools. The heat applied by the electricity generating technology to the canister keeps a constant flame, which means it'll give the same heat, right until it runs out. Sure enough the Tegstove simmered our curry until it was perfect, just before the canister ran out.

I took a picture of the Tegstove in use and put it away. I still wasn't convinced that it would be useful to anyone but was nevertheless impressed by the technology. As a stove it worked. As a charger it worked. As a power source it worked. Nice. But what about that weight issue?
I posted the picture to Instagram and forgot about it. But, when I checked back I was surprised by the reaction, which was pretty good, to be honest. Lots of positivity. Was I missing something? Then I read one comment, which stood out from all the others.

A friend, Cal Major, said "Whoah! I need me one of those."

And that's when it dawned on me that the Tegstove is an awesome bit of kit. Why? Because it's perfect for people like Cal. She is a paddle boarder and recently paddle boarded around the isle of Skye, camping wild each night. Before that she paddled her board around the coast of Cornwall, often camping away from anything. I could see how having a battery pack that could charge a phone or GPS would be more than useful - it could be a lifesaver. I could see how being able to recharge that battery pack when cooking could be very useful, especially at night when a solar panel wouldn't cut it. And I could see how the propane flame and the warming effect of the Teg technology could make cooking a lot more efficient. And I could see that the weight and size wouldn't really be an issue for someone paddling a SUP. Or paddling a kayak, or riding a horse or a motorbike.

Finally I could see that it's not really aimed at me. But if I were to head off into the wilds at the helm of something, I would surely want it by my side.
Perhaps I should give my Tegstove to Cal?
No. Not a chance.
I love my Tegstove.

Get your own at 

What do you call yours? #mycampervaniscalled LOVE!

A few weeks ago I (with the help of my friends at the Caravan and Motorhome Club) asked the good people of Twitter and Instagram to...