This week was a big step forward in grasping the basics of both electronics and off-grid living.
I took ownership of the first in a series of devices that will accompany my journey into the technical world of electronic experimentation, with a view to understand what (or should I say watt?) works, what doesn’t, what our basic needs are and what luxury items one can still use whilst being isolated from the grid.
So the sustainable energy basics are already acquired, this week saw two exciting deliveries; the first a 100w portable solar panel, the second an entry-level 240wh power station.
I intend to review both items in time, but what it has already allowed me to do is to think in a different way. Us on-gridders invariably don’t think about how devices work, how much electricity they consume and how much it costs to run them, one typically plugs, plays, enjoys and pays the hefty energy bills at the end of the month.
With the start of the build of my “Cabin In The Yard” (the prototype for the build of over a dozen ecolodges at our retreat in Wales), only weeks away, I wanted to fully explore and understand the art of what’s possible without drawing any resources from the house.
Thankfully, my son is an electrical engineer and he gave me an electricity 101 to explain what watts, amps and volts are, how to find out the inputs and outputs of devices, and by doing the maths, I could work out the drain from each appliance on the limited power reserves I have.
I’ll admit the 101 didn’t make much sense until I started to do some research on which devices and appliances are powered by 12v batteries, USB or AA / AAA rechargeable batteries.
Once I found out the watts for each device, the penny dropped. By documenting the watts of each device, I knew exactly how much each one would drain from the 240 watt hours I had to play with on my power station.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer volume of devices out there that could continue (somewhat) a life of luxury, totally cost free (besides the initial investment of course), as long as the sun was shining (the fundamental flaw in my plan of living in the monochromatic grey realm of North West England).
Here is the list of devices I found, not exhaustive by any means and somewhat primordial when compared to those in the house for the likes of heating, cooking and lighting, but still an impressive list nonetheless (those marked green I already possess):
🟢 Portable Showers (15w)
🟢 Cooler Boxes/Fridges (58w)
🔴 Heating Stoves (40w)
🔴 Travel Kettles (120w)
🔴 Hair Straighteners (20w)
🔴 Hair Dryers (150w)
🔴 Toastie Makers (120w)
🔴 Heater Fans (120w)
🔴 Travel Hoovers (12.5w)
🔴 Electric Blankets (55w)
🔴 TVs (40w)
🔴 Air Pumps (120w)
🔴 Water Pumps (60w)
🟢 Desk Fans (1w)
🟢 Desk Lamps (5w)
🟢 Bluetooth Speakers (5w)
🟢 iPhones (5w)
🟢 iPads (10w)
🟢 Surface Pro (60w)
🟢 Nintendo Switch (25w)
🟢 Logitech Web Cams (5w)
🟢 USB C Computer Monitors (25w)
🟢 Mavic Mini Drones (15w)
🟢 Sony XM3 Headphones (15w)
🟢 Apple Watches (2w)
🟢 Portable Power Banks (15w)
🟢 Recyclable Battery Chargers (15w)
🟢 Oculus Quest VR Headsets (15w)
🟢 Portable Shower (15w)
🔴 Portable Projectors (15w)
🔴 Mini Blenders (65w)
🔴 LED Lights (45w)
Rechargeable Battery Appliances
🟢 Portable Speakers
🟢 Nose Trimmers
🔴 LED Lights
Yes, I’m at the stage of my life now where nose trimmers have become an essential item!
The beauty of buying the items above is that they are all 100% portable, so not only can I use them in the soon-to-be-erected cabin, but I can take them camping with me later in the year, and if the zombie apocalypse does turn up some point soon, I’m sorted.
Clearly to stay connected, I’ll need to tether my phone to the internet-based devices I have, so not everything is free, but it’s a good start, and does go to show that the art of what is possible is both sustainable and achievable if you want it…
As Rabbie Burns famously once penned, “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!”
It’s fair to say that as the dawn rose this morning, another day of being both completely healthy and totally locked in left me with feelings of melancholy.
In need of cheering up, I took it upon myself to make my wife a Valentine’s Day breakfast, her favourite of poached eggs on toast with sea salt and cracked pepper. With two small gifts and a hug or two exchanged, my mind quickly returned to the great outdoors. As the snowflakes fell again upon the cold ground, I could not help but feeling that this year was another one that is going to pass most of us by, certainly in the UK.
The extra-currlcular project that I am working to invent and create an eco-retreat in North Wales couldn’t seem further away than it actually is geographically (i.e. anything beyond the Boris Johnson invisible line of seven miles is out of bounds according to the latest “guidelines”). Here we will have something that when deployed, will bring so much personal achievement for me and my comrades, as well an avenue for many others to enjoy nature, commune with others and return to an acceptable level of mind-body-spiritual balance, all of which are out of kilter for the vast majority of the populace.
I am resigned to the fact that it’s not going to happen this year. With so much uncertainty and blockers, my proposed project plan is already slipping to the right with no actions yet completed.
Someone said to me recently to only concern oneself with the things one can control and let go of the things one cannot. Wise words.
With those sage words of advice keeping my tinnitus company this morning, I took to YouTube for inspiration, and man was I inspired!
After several attempts to find the right viewings on creating ecolodges, I came across two wonderful individuals, known in cyberspace as Bushradicaland the Girl in the Woods (move over Sarah Beeny and George Clarke).
Very recently, they have created what I had been dreaming of for the eco-retreat, an off-grid cabin/lodge erected simply and quickly from standard materials one can find at the reclamation/builders yards and hardware supply stores.
So impressed am I with the simplicity, speed and quality of the build, I simply have to share the videos below, in a hope to inspire myself to build a copy of their creation as a prototype in my own compact and bijou back yard, and if successful use the same design and materials as a template for our retreat.
Girl In The Woods
After being totally consumed by these videos today, I started to put pen to paper to see how I can use Dave and Brooke’s template to create my “Cabin in the Yard”.
With the temperatures at zero outside, there is plenty of time now to draw up my plans on what the dimensions of the cabin will look like, and what materials I need to procure over the coming weeks. The planned build is to commence on the Spring Equinox (21st March).
Communing with nature. Living off the land. Mind, body and soul cleansing. Community spirit and oneness. Consciousness expansion. Peace and love.
Deep down many of us want the ideals above but are either unable, unwilling or lack the courage to do those things that we know will be better for us and better for the planet.
This week saw my eagerly awaited trip to Lammas Eco-Village in South Wales, an expedition into the uncharted territory of off-grid living., a fact finding mission for our band of neophyte hippies to sequester information from the founders, Mr and Mrs Wimbush, in order for us to gain insights into their ten year journey from a barren greenfield plot of land, to a fully functional and self-sufficient settlement.
As a guy who has worked in and around IT projects for most of his life, I bring to the table my decades of structure, organisation and planning, so I took the responsibility to plan out our trip in advance, including timelines, itineraries and a large set of questions, the output of which would give us enough answers and direction to kick-start the build of our eco-retreat project in North Wales.
This is a work project not one of pleasure (although no doubt the journey and end result will no doubt be a joyous thing), and as such the trip was “allowed” under the strict “essential travel only” guidelines. Even still, I had a bad feeling before setting off that at some point over the four hour journey south, our collars would be felt at least once by the boys in blue, and in preparation for that eventuality I printed off all materials (Covid travel guidelines, agenda, emails etc) as a form of proof to plod that our trip was legitimate. As it turned out, the trip was “copper-free” and we arrived safely at Lammas, collars unfelt.
As we drove into the village, the first thing that struck us was the size. Each of the plots sized between six and seven acres and there were plenty of them (totalling seventy seven acres in all).
Our destination for the day however was Maes Melangell, the home of both the Wimbush family (pioneers of Lammas) and a newly-constructed and yet-to-be completed Lammas Earth Centre.
I had done some research on Lammas over the previous nights (reading the One Planet Life book as well as watching several YouTube videos) to provide at least some background knowledge on what the set up was like and what their journey had been like thus far.
But like a great many things in life, reading about something is one thing, experiencing it is markedly different, the whole day was testament to that.
We were greeted (after a few wrong turns) on the tracks by Hoppi (aka Mrs Wimbush), who welcomed the group warmly and invited us in to the main house for a socially distanced and hand-sanitised chat, so that we could get to know each other a little and our posse could set out its expectations for the day.
One thing that did strike me on the way in was how impressive their homestead looked, it was clear that the well-built dwelling house, the super-impressive Lammas Earth Centre, the animal barn and all of the cultivation areas had taken years to achieve and a ridiculous amount of dedication and hard graft (both physically and meta-physically).
With a hot cup of Bengal Spice Tea in hand, Hoppi walked us through their ambitious journey so far, all of us playing silent witness and in awe in what they had achieved to date and how they had done it. Their home was warm not only in temperature (from the amazing wood-burner and impressively insulated walls), but in feeling too, clearly the house was also wrapped in the warmth of love, of oneness with each other, with nature and the universe at large.
It became apparent early on that what we saw before us had taken an Herculean effort, not only in planning, designing, developing and constructing, but in terms of pressure and stress too. Here we had a small family (children were six and nine at the time) living in a small touring caravan on an empty landscape, with huge plans for off-grid living in their heads and one hell of a journey in front of them.
We shared our own plans for the eco-treat which were met warmly too, but it was becoming apparent (to me at least) that our embryonic project was very different than what was in front of us in terms of components, requirements and end-state.
The five of us involved thus far all have day commitments that we don’t foresee giving up any time soon, and at this point we don’t envision any of us living at the eco-retreat permanently. So it dawned on us that going down the One Planet Development route for our project was likely to be a dead end and overcomplicated from a planning and local authority permission perspective. Ours would be a different path than the one Lammas has taken, but it would have the same ethos are drive for sustainability.
After a warm exchange, Hoppi then took us on a tour of the site, explaining the exact functions of each building and zone, safe to say that we were all in total awe of what we were viewing.
Their plans were not only realised by their own hands, but by those of volunteers too. Through the use of an entire tribe of volunteers (over seventy in total) they were able to morph their barren landscape into something truly remarkable.
And it’s is the essence of that very approach which has left a spiritual and collective resonance around the place, almost like a mycelium layer of positivity and love, woven into the very fabric of every component on site, borne from the many hands of like-minded individuals.
After the staggeringly impressive show and tell, we had the opportunity to wander the site on our own, I took the time to fly my drone over the site to get a birds eye view whilst my comrades meandered through various muddy pathways on foot, the site as impressive from the air as on the ground.
We finished our trek as the door to the main house opened and for the first time we met Tao (Mr Wimbush) for the first time. Set and setting are always important and the lunch of Pumpkin and Parsnip Soup with home made bread and goats butter transformed a basic meal to the best lunch of all time, ever.
It came across well on the videos I had seen, but in person, Tao’s calming nature juxtaposed against Hoppi’s effervescence made it a perfect partnership, and I saw the deep, loving and spiritual connection they both had for each other on a couple of occasions. Beautiful.
We shared our vision and hope for the eco-retreat with Tao and based on the components we wanted to develop (very different to Lammas), Tao advised that the One Planet Development wasn’t the best way to go for our venture and he suggested an alternative approach to achieve the desired outcome, to which we all agreed.
I was truly blown away by Tao, to be surrounded by such an amazing feat of construction and sustainable cleverness was one thing, but his calming, warming, nurturing, inspiring and guiding words (and well as long hair and beard), felt to me like I was in the presence of a modern day Jesus (affirmed by “L” on the way back home who thought the same).
As the darkness drew in and thoughts turned to the arduous long journey home in poor driving conditions, with a genuine sadness and gratitude, we bade farewell to our hosts for the day and headed back north to on-grid living, resigned and melancholic in the knowledge that workers boots and corporate laptops would called upon within just a few hours of returning.
We had so many take-aways from our trip to Lammas, hints, tips and nudges in the right direction we simply would not have hot had we not visited. We agreed that when we returned home we would double-down on our efforts to get things moving, albeit in a slightly different direction to our initial plans.
After visiting Lammas, Hoppi and Tao, it’s now very clear to me that one can live in the fruitfully in the future like we lived in the past, it just takes courage to detach oneself from what is, quite frankly, a broken and totally meaningless capitalist society.
That courage is within us all, we just need to do, there is no try…
Many lessons were learned during the processing of the first batch of biltong.
The box needed some upgrades. First was to close off all open holes, the mesh at the back of the unit was too wide and one gnat did manage to make its grubby way in to v1.0, so some cheap fly mesh was acquired and secured.
The small holes too on the side of the box (which house the dowels) were plugged by a handy box of washers I purchased decades ago that I’d never used (who would have thought a small box of plastic tap circles would have ended up on a caveman’s kiln years later).
Next up was the velcro for the door and top hatch, this was upgraded to magnetic strips (different polarisations) which both lock down everything, nothing is getting in, hermetically sealed (like a presidential Covid cavalcade…)
In terms of the fan, that worked perfectly in v1.0 so no changes were required there.
For heating however, I couldn’t find an old fashioned filament bulb so I needed to replace the LED one as it gave off no heat, and in a moment of clarity, my aged brain came up with the idea of a vivarium bulb. So after looking at various heat lamps (avoiding those bulbs in “Roxanne Red” – not the look you want in the spare bedroom!), I found a 50w ceramic bulb, which had the bonus of no light emission. Tried it out, burned my finger, so that worked!
Finally, I dug out an old dehumidifier my son used to use and plugged that in to take the moisture out of the room which would likely condensate and mold up the office.
In terms of the meat, I went to the local butchers this time. What a difference! As I cut the slabs, there was neither a vein nor a sinew in sight, marvelous!
I also changed the preparation mode too. I left the meat to chill for 12 hours in the fridge after applying the vinegar and dry rub, could not believe the amount of moisture that came out overnight.
So after wringing the last of the moisture out over the sink and via hand toweling, I applied one more layer of course salt and hooked them up (placing a metal tray in the bottom this time to prevent seepage on to the unit).
I think I will leave the meat longer this time, at least 7 days (SEVEN – one day for every Aston Villa goal last weekend against our arch nemesis), so that it becomes as dry as it can be to extend its lifespan. I’ll also use my new vacuum sealer straight away.
As for the smell, well there’s not too much I can do about that except to keep the office door shut and open the windows when I’m not in there, it is getting chilly outside now.
The whole of next batch will come with us to our off-grid cottage in Cornwall week after next, lock-down permitting. I’m not confident any will be returning with us!
Keen to consolidate my foraging training, I took to the woods today with old faithful to see what mushrooms I could find. The weather was quite damp in the early part of the week, replaced by dry and sunny conditions towards the weekend, so according to my man-based mushroom guide and my paper-based mushroom guides, perfect conditions for a romp amongst the trees in search of a fungus or two.
Today was more of a “recky” than a restocking of the larder as I’m in London this week.
As the last post explained, my interest in mushrooms has exponentially increased recently due to the revelations from my foraging guide and those of Dennis McKenna (Terence’s brother) who took a seat on the Joe Rogan Experience a few years back and went into quite some detail on psilocybin mushrooms. As I only have Spotify and Audible on my phone, I searched for Terence McKenna audiobooks and one did come back – True Hallucinations – which I took a punt on, downloaded and started to play on our early morning journey to Roydon Park in the heart of the Wirral Peninsula.
Although not narrated by either McKenna, the first chapter was intriguing, setting up I guess the back drop for the rest of the book, the Brothers McKenna “trip” to the Amazon rainforest, in search of hallucinogens.
We parked up and instead of sticking to the path as we usually do, we headed straight into the thick wood, mindful that the denser it was, the more humid and moist it would be, and as such, perfect conditions for shrooms.
Old faithful was in his element, as soon as I let him off the lead he was away. He adores the woods and quickly forgets that he is not a puppy anymore, sprinting off to hunt out the smell of, and the capture of, squirrels (not so much the capture part), his springer spaniel DNA kicking in.
So as he was off doing his own thing, I started to look around for produce. Imagine my shock then when what could only be described as the ghost of Terence McKenna invisibly steered me across the wood to a rotten tree stump which had a burst of small mushrooms on it.
To my utter surprise and unless I was mistaken (which I could well be as it’s early doors for me), were hundreds of what looked like Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe Cubensis). I know these come in many shapes and sizes and the ones I took in my youth did not look like the ones I saw before me today, but I had a good inkling that they were indeed what I thought they were (some validation in my books and an internet search would tend to confirm such).
It is of course illegal to pick, dry and be in possession of these non-taxable, free-thinking, mind-expanding, depression-ceasing, consciousness-creating fungus, so I’ll neither confirm nor deny that these are or are not in my possession (Shrodingers Mushroom…)
The most abundant mushroom we found over the course of our morning bimble was Birch Polyphone (Piptoporus Betulinus), it was everywhere. There are plenty of Silver Birch trees in the woods, and a large majority of them had these sprouting from various parts of the trees in a variety of shapes. Sadly these aren’t edible, which is a real shame as there were enough to open a greengrocers shop.
Continuing on, I spotted a clump of brown ball-shaped mushrooms on the forest floor, and on closer inspection, I believed them to be the Common Earthball (Scleroderma Citrinum) which indeed they were. Using my very new and very awesome and very legal curved foraging knife, I cut into one and as suspected, saw a quartz like glittery black innard, the same quartz like glittery black innard we saw on our trip two weekends ago.
I recalled a snippet of info that whilst (again) this was not edible, the outer layer can be peeled off and used as a plaster for a wound, a neat feature in case you just happened to slice your finger open by say putting away a very new and very awesome and very legal curved foraging knife…
Next up was one I’d never seen before which looked like orange jelly. As there are over 8000 species of mushrooms in the UK, I could be wrong but I believed it to resemble a Yellow Brain (Tremella Mesenterica), again inedible but nice to see a new species in glorious Technicolor.
This was closely followed by a solitary toadstool looking very lonely indeed, and a scrawl through the field manuals couldn’t offer up a single suggestion so I left it there for the faeries to rest on a while.
Old faithful legs were starting to give way and the onset of his glaucoma is starting to take hold. Still off-lead, he wandered a bit too far away and I called him, and much to my sadness saw him off in the distance dead ahead yet confused.
I called him repeatedly and he ran off in different directions, able to hear me but not able to locate me. I ran to him, calmed him down and put his lead back on. He has been the most amazing and utterly insane canine I’ve ever owned and it’s sad to gradually see various parts of him pack in, I try not to think about the day when he’s not around.
Leaving the wood, we saw a squirrel haven with many oak trees and fallen acorns, as well as plenty of Rosebay Willowherb / fireweed (Epilobium Angustifolium), one of natures great firestarters (twisted firestarters…)
On our way back to the car, we took to a hacking trail, and there was a very amusing sight, this time my eyes playing tricks on me and not old faithful’s. We came across a fenced-off field and in the distance, I thought there was a small stone circle or henge, which instantly put my hippy spider senses tingling. Putting my glasses on revealed that it was not a circle of stones, but a circle of small police traffic cones, in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. Bizarre!
One of my favourite films of all time is Into The Wild, an existential journey of a man who turns away from a promising career in law and instead chooses a life less ordinary by today’s norms.
The inspiring yet ultimately tragic tale of Christopher McCandless (portrayed expertly by the then young Emile Hirsh) strikes a chord for those trapped in a similar situation, faced with a life changing choice.
The film resonates on several levels, of how important nature and relationships are and how unimportant material possessions and conformity really are.
Most of us choose our own paths, although sadly some have paths chosen for them, victims of society or oppressors. Seldom it seems do we make life-changing alterations to our paths, instead opting for safety and reduced risk.
JFK said it best when he exclaimed (in relation to going to the moon):
“We do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too”.
Last weekend, I met up with my old buddy “M” for a walk in the Clwydian Hills in North Wales, the first time we had been in each other’s extended company since our “Not the New Years Eve Party” on the 3rd of January this year.
We set off early (separate cars) and reached our destination as the early morning field mists began to dissipate as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Opting for the forest route, we bimbled and talked for almost three hours about Life, the Universe and Everything, taking in the flora, fauna and vistas as we wove in and out of copses and along the long and winding path.
Our paths have not been too dissimilar to date, both work in IT, married with children, houses, cars, pensions etc.
We both have a passion for consciousness theory and spent most of our morning discussing time; does it really exist, does the arrow of time only ever go one direction, is our life path predetermined or do we have free will to influence it, are there infinite paths which all play out in hidden dimensions and it is our choices that steer us to the one we perceive as reality?
We talked about our shared goals too, to retire as soon as we were able and lead that life less ordinary, and I shared my own vision of what that may look like; a small holding off-grid, away from everything that has polluted humanity to the extent that we see today every time we turn on the news.
One thing was for sure, time flies and before we knew it we were back at the cars and heading home.
As I drove home, a song came on my playlist from a prog rock band from the UK called Haken. “M” and I had seen them live a few years back (back when live music was still played – I miss it so much), after which we chatted to the lead singer a while, blood nice chap.
Decanting my hiking gear from the car and sitting down with my mid-morning brew, I chanced to read over the lyrics of the song, and how wonderful and poignant they are:
“This life is a dream A gift we receive To live and to love We forge The Path
Our nightmare in birth Our struggle for worth In vain we carry on Our mission to become
Adapt to this world It’s a chance we must take We’ll sing our song We’ll play our hand”
We are all on different paths, our own journeys through time and space, yet sometimes our paths converge with those of others. We should cherish the moments where we can walk along side others, for those moments, those fleeting moments (like my morning trek with “M”) interlink kindred spirits and it is the metaphysical relationships with fellow man that makes us what we are, human…
A quick check on the pedometer and kilometremeter from the night before revealed thirty one thousand steps stepped, twenty six thousand metres walked and one hundred and nine flights of stairs climbed.
All things considered, besides a few hotspots on our feet and dehydrated calves, we were both in fine shape for another bimble, knowing the stats would likely pale into insignificance when compared to the day before (and they did).
Our plan was to hit the third English Heritage site hard and take a walk around the small village of Chollerford, following the River Tyne downstream, both officially walled out from the day befores efforts.
We filled up our water packs once again and headed off to Heddon-On-The-Wall for a spot of breakfast in The Three Tuns public house, a full English breakfast (veggie option for me) setting out our stall for the days calorie burn.
Sadly, once again the establishment along with all others we could find in the area were all closed, again due to the Covid opening hour restrictions, so feeling a little despondent we headed back to Chollerford, parked the car at Chester’s Fort and walked back to the village for an early morning brew at The Riverside tea room before we took in all that the site had to offer.
With strong black coffee quoffed and caffeine surging through the bloodstream, we took the short walk back to the fort, stopping off briefly to pet a bouncing golden retriever, so full of life and energy, easily enough to raise our spirits of the breakfast that never was.
As if by some divine influence, we soon passed a copse of blackberries bushes and took a hand full, munching the sweet fruits in time to the sound of our own footsteps.
Once inside the fort, it was apparent from the outset that this site (for me at least) was the better one of the three. The exposed brickwork foundations still very much in tact which gave more clarity as to what each building’s function was.
By far the most impressive of constructs were the drainage systems, central heating systems and especially the almost intact bath house.
Some think that central heating systems are a relatively new concept, but in the days before gas fired boilers and radiators, the Romans would heat up stones and place them in cavities under the floors to heat the rooms. Genius.
To think they had highly effective baths, saunas and steam rooms over two thousand years ago is almost unfathomable, almost as unfathomable as to where ancient civilisations obtained such knowledge in the first place.
So much has happened on Earth in such a small time period (since the last ice age which ended 12,000 years ago in Britain according to wiki), it’s not wholly unreasonable to conclude that some of the more “out there” theories of panpsychism or the esoteric akashic records (eternally existing streams of consciousness and information) may hold they key to our historical advancement as a species.
Sadly, the bridge that spanned the River Tyne at Chester’s Fort is no more, but the ruins of the towers that sat strongly either side still remains to this day. As we peered across the river, we saw a fisherman, arcing his fly line beautifully into the crisp morning air, nestling sweetly on the surface of the fast flowing water, catching what was most likely a trout. Nothing quite like fresh fish for Sunday lunch, from riverbank to plate in less than two hours.
I came across a small shard of loose stone which was cut squarely so to form the shape of a wonky pyramid. I’d like to think it was cut by the hand of a Roman soldier two millennia ago so popped it in my pocket as a free keepsake (something I’ve regularly done over the years from mountains I’ve hiked or climbed).
After our tour of the site was complete, we headed back into Chollerford to take our river ramble on the opposite side to the fort, and stopped a while to talk to some friendly locals out walking their dog, who told us to keep an eye out for Biggus Dickus.
No it wasn’t the grave of Graham Chapman (as mentioned in Part 1), but a rather large Roman phallus carved into the stone for all eternity.
As we sat and rested, the deviant in me unpacked the drone and took it for a flight across the wall and inside the ruined bridge tower, followed by a swift flight over the river and around the fort, albeit from a significant height. Technically there were no signs on display that one could not fly a drone over the site, but I took the executive decision anyway to do it regardless, feeling the thrill of a would-be archaeologist as the aerial shot revealed the full extent of site in all of its glory.
The strong wind alert started to alarm so the flight was ended more quickly than I would have liked, but nonetheless the final output was worth the risk.
Feeling happy that we had done the area justice, we headed back to base camp for our Sunday roast at the Twice Brewed public house (vegetable nut roast for me), which was washed down with two planks of their finest draft ales.
With three third of a pint glasses on each plank, we tasted all six ales on offer, ranking them from best to worst as one does, the last glass staying full to the brim after we both agreed that it tasted like the waste water from a vase.
All that remained was the two hundred mile drive back home, which was thankfully both swift and uneventful.
We are already thinking of the full seventy three mile walk for next year, when hopefully tea rooms and public houses resume normal service and pre-booking can be resigned to the annals of history. The good folks of Northumbria are fabulously warm and welcoming people, very friendly with a dry wit and humour not too dissimilar from that of my birth city of Liverpool.
A great trip full of fond memories already, and with it a gentle reminder to all that beyond the wall of chaos, there is a calm out there, you just need to disconnect and look for it.
“Apart from better sanitation, medicine, education, irrigation, public health, roads, a freshwater system, baths and public order, what have the Romans ever done for us?”…
An all too brief sojourn to the North of England last weekend revealed a great many things to me. Firstly, how unfit I am. Secondly, what a truly regimented and technically advanced bunch of folks the Romans were and finally how little I know about Britain before the BC/AD switch over (when one had to get a new bloody watch – thanks Jesus!).
As mentioned in previous posts, I feel like my eventual journey to a life off-grid (when I retire at fifty five which is one thousand, four hundred and eighty two working days from now) has started in earnest. I have (with the exception of the ego-less and anonymous WordPress) disconnected myself completely from the chaos all around. I have removed all apps from my phone (except this one and Spotify), ceased all current affairs programmes and daily news briefings (relinquishing my BBC TV licence in the process and using the one hundred and sixty six pounds a year more wisely), moving to a plant-based diet (with the odd fish thrown in for the essential oils) and getting back to nature (as frequently as I can) and becoming fitter, healthier and stronger (by exercising the mind, body and soul daily – via various and varied means).
My neighbour “B”, has waxed lyrical constantly over the last twelve months about the best holiday he ever had which was exactly one year ago. He and two others “walked the wall” from the aptly named Wallsend in Newcastle in the East to Carlisle in the West, a grand total of seventy three miles.
Being ex-British army, “B” is used to long trails over various terrains, and armed with a “basher” on his back, he and his comrades took the historical path following Hadrian’s Wall, a remarkable feat of engineering built by the Romans two thousand years earlier. Bedding down in woods each evening, taking in all of the breath taking scenery Northumbria had to offer and stopping off at tea rooms and ale houses on the way, it was clear his mission (which he chose to accept) left a marked imprint on him, something I wanted a slice of myself.
So last weekend, I booked a youth hostel (partly due to the potential inclement UK weather in August and the limited time we had) and headed North for a few days of bimbling, the Twice Brewed public house our nexus and convening point after a hard days trekking.
It was clear that as soon as we got there, things were different. After dropping our bags off we took a “recky” to map out our routes for the next couple of days and after we had done that, an evening meal and a few local ales would send us off to sleep after a long week in work for the both of us. Sadly, one is never too far away from the chaos and new order of things these days. The pub was fully “pre-booked” for the whole weekend, putting a bit of a downer on two optimistic ramblers.
We once again took to the road and found ourselves a pub in the small village of Haltwhistle, which had the remarkable yet somewhat unbelievable claim of being in the dead centre of Britain. Nevertheless, a quick reveal on Apple Maps confirmed the fact, here we had a village which was just south of the old border between England and Scotland which was indeed at the land masses epicentre, much to our bemusement.
The Covid plastic sheets that draped from the ceilings and bar area put this previously quaint old English pub in a different light, so after quick meal washed down with a pint of Black and Tan (Guinness) for me at least, we headed back to the hostel to crash for the night.
Eager to get out there, we set off just after the crack of dawn and headed up the road to see our first glimpse Hadrian’s Wall, taking the first of our thirty thousand steps for the day, a little over fifteen miles.
Although a life off-grid will eventually mean that I will need different types of energy solutions (renewable and recyclable) to provide the power to my gizmos, my fully pre-charged tech would allow me to capture some photographic (camera phone) and video evidence (drone) of our trip, something we could look back on with fondness in the years to come.
As we reached the first trail post, we were reminded straight away that even trekkers have to abide by strict rules and regulations, a sign of “No Drones” clearly emblazoned on the gate post. We have a lot of freedom in the UK (especially when compared to other countries) but I grow so weary about what we can and cannot do, feeling somewhat physically and emotionally constricted and trapped at times, which actually has the opposite effect on me, as conformity brings out the rebel and pseudo-anarchistic side of my nature, as it did the previous Saturday in Liverpool when the wife and I went to a freedom demonstration in Liverpool.
Our first stop on the wall was at Sycamore Gap, a natural dip on the ridge line made even more impressive by the presence of solitary and majestic Sycamore tree, arguably the most famous tree in England made even more famous in the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, where (if memory serves) Kevin Costner meets Morgan Freedman for the first time, clearly nowhere near Sherwood Forest in Nottingham a hundreds of miles south.
After a few minutes contemplating a fly over with the drone (which didn’t take place due to the relatively high winds and the lightness of the device), we took some obligatory snaps and headed on in the direction of Newcastle and our destination for the morning, Housesteads, an old Roman village.
The scenery as we passed over this historical site was breathtaking, the impressive wall still standing (albeit at a diminished height these days) sat behind quarried cliff faces, man-made lakes and deep dykes cut into the landscape where the terrain flattened out.
As our path progressed, we stopped off at a small wood where “B” and his band of merry men (not Messrs Costner and Freedman) slept upon beds of soft lichens and mosses one year earlier, seeing a trap set by a would-be poacher to put in his pot at the close of day, empty for the time being.
We made it to Housesteads, the first of three English Heritage sites we would visit over the weekend, and in my opinion the least impressive (although it was still a site to behold). To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, it was “a series of small walls” with pictorial and explanatory texts describing what housed the various functions and inhabitants in case the early morning imagination wasn’t firing on all cylinders yet. The beauty about our early morning trek was that there was no one on the path. We were alone, like solitary soldiers of yester-year, clocking off after a night shift at one of the many mile markers look out posts.
After resting a while at the cafe with an English scone (clotted cream, strawberry preserve and a hot brew as bedfellows), we talked about how impressive a site like this must have been two millennia ago and how was it that a wall can still be standing after all this time, yet we needed to exchange our “broken” iPhones every two years.
We retraced or our early morning steps back along the ridge line, save this time dodging fellow ramblers, trail runners and a large variety of their canine comrades whose numbers had grown exponentially over the last few hours.
Our next stop was Vindolanda (pronounced Vindaloo-via by me as I couldn’t remember its name well after 13 miles trekking already on the clock). Again reminded that drones were not allowed, we took in some well earned lunch at the cafe, donned the now obligatory face mask to see the various treasures and findings the site owners had uncovered over recent years.
The site itself was much more impressive than the last, with some of the staff recreating how pottery was made with a live kiln exhibition, which was followed up by a walk around the village, traipsing through gate houses, barracks, senior officer buildings and stables. A recreation of Hadrian’s Wall gave one a vision of how impressive this erection must have been back in the day, and with the dykes cut into one side how almost impenetrable and impregnable it must have been for the marauding Celts on the other side of it.
As the sun started it’s journey back to the horizon (albeit in the west), we headed back to base camp to take some early evening refreshments. A look over our shoulder revealed an old tree, devoid of life but on the horizon the vivid and lively sycamore, a gap within a gap, photo of the day safely etched to the memory of the phone.
As the ale house next door was still fully booked (no cancellations but we managed to secure a Sunday roast slot the next day) we resigned ourselves to a few beers from the hostel bar (which of course had to be imbibed outside to to lockdown measures) and a house pizza rather than going back in the car to the “atmosphere-less” and “plasticated” public house a night earlier.
The ale at the hostel was supplied from the micro-brewery attached the to the Twice Brewed public house next door, we simply couldn’t resist the pull of one of the drinks on offer, wryly smiling as we ordered Ale, Caesar! in elevated voices (with a hint of a Graham Chapman lisp in Monty Python’s Life of Brian who played the amusingly named Biggus Dickus).
Imagine our amusement when the next round of drinks included two bottles of Holy Grail, which were allegedly tempered over burning witches and reminding us that our mothers were hamsters and our fathers smelt of elderberries..
As it turned out, our fifteen mile bimble and long working week had caught up on us anyway, so we took to the hostel bed a crashed out before twilight, replenishing our energy stocks for what was to come tomorrow.
As I lay there, my eyelids closing to the huge gravitational forces that they were now under, I was reminded (somehow or by something) of the poem by Robert Frost titled “The Road Less Traveled” and how poignant it was, on so many levels,
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”
That poem summed it up nicely. Adjacent to Hadrian’s Wall is the Military Road, which is busy when compared to the trail on the ridge (especially in the morning). Sure our trip to Homesteads would have been quicker if we took the Military Road, but as Frost penned, the road less traveled made all the difference…