Great Britain Mountain Biking – book review



WRITTEN by Tom Fenton with terrific photos from Trossachs-based Andy McCandlish this book portrays in facts, figures and sheer enthusiasm the incredible wealth of mountain biking that’s contained within these small islands of ours.

From the Isle of Wight to the Outer Hebrides the book’s authors appear to have ridden every bit of wild country in the land, and there are some really adventurous itineraries to whet the appetite of the most intrepid.

Within the pages of the book you’ll find hundreds of kilometres of singletrack, high remote passes, footpaths and trails and even mountain summits – there doesn’t appear to be any kind of terrain where these guys won’t ride a bike.

All together there are very detailed descriptions of 56 different routes, complete with map details, travel information and suggestions for other rides in each area. Add to that info about accommodation, bike shops, trail centres and more. And to top it off some of the most stunning mountain biking photographs I’ve seen anywhere.

This is a book every mountain biker in the land should own. It’s published by Vertebrate Publishing and costs £25.


Backpacking – Any fool can be uncomfortable


How to choose a good camping place

 There are several things to bear in mind when choosing a good pitch for your tent but bear in mind that different weather conditions will influence your decisions to a greater or lesser degree.

In good, settled summer conditions you could camp wild almost anywhere, given a flat bit of ground. But wind, rain, insects and potential flood levels can all affect your choice of campsite so it’s always good to have an idea of what the weather holds in store. On many occasions I’ve camped in a lovely spot with a good view only for winds to pick up during the night and make things uncomfortable.

In winter, remember that cold air sinks, so that lovely spot by the river deep in the valley could well become a frost hole. Try and camp slightly higher in cold, dry conditions. Also in winter it’s worth remembering that snow builds up quickly in the lee of walls or ridges. You might be better coping with a bit of a breeze rather than have your tent completely covered in snow.

In summer it’s always worth camping as high as you can to make the most of any breeze that’s blowing. Sheltered spots, particularly amongst trees, will attract insects like midges or mosquitos. If you have to camp in a sheltered position burn a midge coil at the entrance to your tent to keep the insects out. They really work.

While it’s always worthwhile camping near a stream sometimes you might have to carry water with you for your evening needs. And don’t camp too close to the edge of streams – overnight storms could well raise water levels and flood your tent.

• Look for a spot away from the trail and away from other campers

• Your chosen site should be fairly level and the ground fit for lying on

• Clear the site of small stones, pine cones or anything else likely to make your uncomfortable

• Lie down on the ground before you pitch your tent to see if it is comfortable

• Pitch your tent with the tail into the wind if possible

• Drive your tent pegs deep as possible into the ground in order to anchor the guys securely. If necessary, reinforce the pegs with well placed rocks. Place the rocks back where you found them in the morning

• Collect your drinking water upstream and wash your dishes downstream

• Your latrine should be at least 50 m from your camp

• Bury your waste, burn toilet paper and bury it, covering it well


Backpacking camp with Chris Townsend on the GR20 in Corsica

Choosing a tent

For comfort, privacy, protection and shelter there is nothing better than a well-designed lightweight tent. No item of backpacking gear has metamorphosed so much in recent years into such a pot-pourri of shapes and designs as the tent. The popularity of the traditional ridge tent has largely been overtaken by hooped and dome designs although the fundamental ridge design is still popular amongst tarp users.

Tarps have become more popular in recent years and tarp designs have become as sophisticated as lightweight tent designs, but bear in mind that the apparent ultra-light weight of a tarp will be increased when you add the weight of a groundsheet, and at certain times of the year, some kind of midge-proof inner tent.

The weight of a tent is difficult to categorise and depends largely on what you will use the tent for. If it is your desire to have a tent that you can use in the mountains in winter conditions then such a model will inevitably be heavier than a tent that is for low-level summer use only. Ultra-light tents need a lot of TLC and great care where you pitch them. Heavier tents might be rock solid in bad weather but remember you have to carry it! If the camping side of backpacking appeals to you more than the walking side then a heavier, larger tent might have compensations but if, like me, you don’t tend to camp until late in the evening then a tent simply becomes a short-term shelter, and the lighter it is the better.

In winter, when it becomes dark in late afternoon, then a roomier tent becomes more attractive. You might find yourself spending up to 16 hours inside one! Likewise, you may never share your tent with a companion but you may want some extra space to spread you and your gear around.

Shop around before you buy your tent and if at all possible visit a camping exhibition so you can get inside the tents on display. Lie down in them to check for length. Sit up to check headroom. See if there is enough porch space to take your cooking gear and your pack. Even the colour of a tent can have an affect on you – dark tents can become oppressive and difficult to read a book. Lighter colours might allow more light into the tent. Consider the colour of the flysheet too. Many backpackers like to stealth camp and blend into the countryside but there are shades of red and yellow and orange that allow that too.

When choosing a tent read the review and go on the various forums and ask questions. Get opinions. Most backpackers will be willing to share their knowledge.


Summer camping in Glen Feshie

Ten Tips for Minimalising Your Load

• Buy some scales. Weighing your gear is crucial and scales are the only means of knowing what is too heavy.

 • Any fool can be uncomfortable. Ultralight backpacking takes a bit of thought and safety must be paramount. Anyone can go into the hills with a minimum of gear and suffer. Backpacking isn’t about suffering – it’s about being warm and comfortable at night, well fuelled and rested during the day. It should be a delight, not an unpleasant forced march.

 • Before you consider cutting the weight of your gear think about cutting the extra weight from your body. Losing a stone of body fat will make backpacking more enjoyable than sawing the handle off your toothbrush

 • Dump the food packaging and put the food into re-usable plastic bags.

 • In mountain country you rarely have to carry water. There’s usually plenty of it running down the hillsides

 • Don’t buy a pack with too much capacity. You’ll only try and fill it with unnecessary items.

 •Use a lighter sleeping bag than you think you’ll need. You can always beef up its performance by wearing clothes inside it or by using a lightweight silk liner

 • You don’t need to carry a pillow. Try using your boots and day clothing

 • If you like to read in the evenings think about a Kindle instead of a book

 • If you backpack with companions consider sharing gear like a tent, stove, pots and pans etc. If you’re really companiable you might even want to share a sleeping bag!


Foraging – what bounty in nature’s larder


Paul finds some scurvy grass on the beach at Longniddry

MANY thanks to Paul Wedgwood who took me on a marvellous bike ride yesterday and showed me just how rich nature’s larder can be.

Paul is a chef and he and his wife Lisa run ‘Wedgwood, The Restaurant’, in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, but he is also a keen bikie and can often be found rolling around the bike tracks of Trinity and Leith looking for an incredibly wide variety of plants and leaves that he can use to add flavour to dishes, or to spice up a salad.

Within minutes of leaving his house we found cow parsley, garlic mushroom, mallow, sweet wild rocket. comfrey, wild rocket and later, after riding along the new John Muir Way from Leith through Portobello, Musselburgh, Cockenzie and Port Seton we found a wide variety of coastal plants like yarrow, orriche, spring beauty, scurvy grass, sea rocket and sweet cicely.

Now, I’ve always reckoned that plants like these would taste a bit like lettuce – a bit mild and not very exciting, but I couldn’t believe the flavour that exploded in my gob after tasting scurvy grass and sea rocket which we found on the beach at Longniddry.

It was like taking a spoonful of horseradish! I can imagine how delightful it would be in a a good beef sandwich.


Some of the plants we took home

I’ll write up the story later elsewhere, but for the moment let me say this. Paul has introduced me to a completely new world. Never again will I look at a hedgerow or embankment with disinterest. Nature’s larder is rich in all kinds of goodies and most surprising of all, some of the best of it isn’t on mountain plateaux or wild country – it’s there, right on your doorstep in our towns and cities.

And to prove how good it all was Paul took me home and made the most amazing consommé followed by a Forage Salad, using the ingredients we had found throughout the day. Eat your heart out Bear Grylls and Ray Mears!

And the bike ride was great too. The newly opened John Muir Way looks like a marvellous route for cyclists, and the sections we rode between Edinburgh and Longniddry were generally well surfaced with some great coastal views. Might need to get on my bike and do the whole route at some point soon – stopping every so often for a handful of that wonderful sea rocket!