Journey Down the Missisipi – November

We are lucky enough to have sponsored with Rab’s help Michael Barrett who is walking the entire length of the Missisipi in aid of Ahsma, a charity that supports education in Columbia. His blog can be found at Journey Down the Missisipi, but he is also going to be posting for us as well. In his latest extract, he gives the low down on November.

November

Super camp spot on the banks of the riverWell it has been a long walkabout so far to say the least. Last time I wrote I was a few days walk out of the city of Mineapolis. I caught good weather all the way to Minneapolis and covered good ground quickly, averaging around 33 kms each day. I was lucky enough to have s friend who lives in St Paul which is the twin city of Minneapolis and was treated to a shower, a bed and a good feed on arriving, gotta tell ya, it was a place I found hard to leave!

Trekking on.The next week saw me heading south east towards the city of La Crosse in Wisconsin. The walk has been attracting a lot of media attention and none more so than around this area. After doing a few interviews on the local TV and being in a few newspapers in that area, it became common for these two or so weeks for people to invite me into their homes for dinner or lunch and even people yelling encouragement out of their shop windows in the smaller towns, it was small things, but it is those small things that gave me a boost at times when I was really stuffed and struggling to keep going.

The middle area of the Mississippi river was very beautiful and I was lucky enough to be able to follow the river almost on the edge for 100s of kms. It has been the best part of the trek to date, wandering along the rivers edge through small little villages on the river – exactly how I had pictured the adventure from the beginning.

Sunset over the MissisipiThe people I have met and that have helped me out have been amazing. If had not met these people in my path I have no doubt that I would stil be 100 kms further north struggling with the cold weather. They really have been the best part of the whole experience so far, it’s amazing how many people you meet with a good heart.

I am now in a motel about a weeks walk from Memphis. I am in a motel as with today arrived the first day I have seen snow here since begining the trek. I am huddled up in my warm room tonight trying to enjoy it as much as possible as tomorrow I will be heading out into the snow and wind accompanied by the temperature of around -4c. Wish me luck…

 

 

 

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9 ways to get cheap train tickets for heading outdoors.

This week has guest blogger Andy from walksaroundbritain.co.uk giving us the lowdown as to how you can get out to the hills by train – cheaper.

Going walking by train is a great idea, especially as so many great walks can be found straight from railway stations. It’s good for the environment and is often faster than travelling by car. Arriving by train means you can take on a linear hike, and start and end at a different point – something very difficult if you’ve left your car 6 miles away! With even Government Ministers admitting train travel in Britain is expensive though, it’s more important than ever to ensure you get the cheapest train tickets possible. So here I’ve got some great ways to bag a bargain.

book in advanceBook In Advance – The easiest way to get the cheapest deals is to avoid buying your train tickets on the day you travel. Rail companies dislike the so-called “Walk On” tickets, and although they have to provide them, they are much more expensive than buying your ticket in advance. If you can plan your trip before the day, you’ll get better discounts – even if you book up to 6pm the day before.

railcardGet a Railcard – If you’re travelling often, see if you qualify for a Young Persons, Family and Friends or Senior Railcard – you’ll pay for a years’ card but then save a third on off-peak travel, so you’ll soon recoup that investment. There are other regional railcards too, the most popular being the Network Railcard in the South East – it costs £28 for the year and offers a third discount on off-peak travel for you and up to 3 others, and up to a 60% saving on the fares of up to 4 children travelling too. A brand new one being trialled in the West Midlands is the Two Together Railcard – where two people named on the card can travel off-peak and save a third. The card is again £28 for the year, and currently one of those named persons has to live in the West Midlands area.

buy singlesBuy Singles – Once-upon a time, a return was cheaper than two singles. Now, with most long-distance train operators, it is actually cheaper to buy two singles. Check your prices online and don’t assume a return will always be the best bet.

split ticketsSplit your Tickets – Try splitting your journey up into shorter ones at a station in the middle to see if it saves you money – this is easier if you have to change during your journey. For example, an Off-Peak return from Doncaster (the home of Walks Around Britain) to Llandrindod is £71.80, changing at Stockport and Shrewsbury. Buy 3 separate returns for Doncaster to Stockport, Stockport to Shrewsbury and Shrewsbury to Llandrindod, and it costs £44.50. You can even try this if you don’t have to change trains – it’s ok so long as the train stops at the split station – although you might have to move seats as you’re not guaranteed to get the same seat for both tickets.

avoid the peaksAvoid the Peaks – Unlike walking, where peaks are great, on the trains they are bad news! Travelling during peak times is very expensive and should be avoided. However, if you’re having a day trip walking you need to travel out in peak time, so here you should definitely split your tickets. Again, travelling from Doncaster at 7.55am for a walk in Telford costs an eye-watering £104 – but by splitting tickets and getting day returns between Doncaster & Derby, Derby & Birmingham and Birmingham & Telford cuts the cost down to £55.40.

try the competitionTry the competition – On many long-distance routes, there are several train operators competing – and this is good for cheaper tickets. On the East Coast Mainline, for example for journeys between Doncaster and London Kings Cross, we could travel on either East Coast, Grand Central or First Hull Trains. On other routes, like Birmingham to London, there are rival operators travelling over different lines – Virgin Trains run fast from Brum New Street to London Euston, while Chiltern travel semi-fast between Snow Hill and London Marylebone. There can also be other operators with slower services too – London Midland operate stopping services between Brum and London which only cost £6.00 but take more than 2 hours. If you buy two singles, you could travel there and back with different operators to take advantage of the cheapest fare.

wild roverBe the Wild Rover – If you’re on a holiday in a region and want to get out and explore, try a Rover or a Ranger ticket. They offer unlimited travel in a certain region for a set length of time and provide great value for money. For example, the North Country Rover offers travel on any 4 days in an 8 day period and costs £76 – just making two day trips from York to Carlisle and another to Settle costs £72.80 making the other 2 days travel only £3.20… If you’re feeling really adventurous, try the All-Line Rail Rover. This is a gem of a ticket offering 7 or 14 days rail travel across Britain – for £430 for 7 days or £650 for 14 days. It sounds a lot, but when you consider you only have to make trips costing £62 a day to break even, it’s actually a good buy. Couple that with a lightweight tent and backpack, and you’re ready for a trip around Britain’s countryside by rail!

form a groupForm a group – Just travelling in groups as small as 3 or 4 can get you discounts. For example, the Small Group Day ticket from some operators offers groups of between 3 and 9 people 25% discount on a day ticket. But remember, to get any group discount you’ve got to travel together for the whole journey – no breaking off early or the whole ticket won’t be valid.

use the rail companys own websiteUse their own website – Often, particular train operators discount their own tickets if they are bought on their own website – so it’s worth buying different tickets on different websites for the biggest savings. East Coast, for example, offer up to a 10% discount on their own tickets when bought on their website – so book with them direct for any part of your journey involving their trains.

You can catch up with Andy on you tube where he has a fab list of walking videos and inspiration for your next trip out and about. For more information on cheap train tickets Martin’s Money has got a fab guide to saving some dosh on the tracks as well.

If you have any top tips for saving dosh on the trains, do let us know in the comments below.

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What’s the best Insulation for cold weather?

What's the best insulation for cold weather?

As the weather gets colder, we are often asked what the best way to keep warm is, so after a bit of feedback on our Facebook page, here’s our guide to the different sorts of insulation out there for your mid & outer layers.

Sadly there is no “wonder insulation” that’s going to keep you warm, be breathable, pack down small, deal with snow & rain, save you from an avalanche and make you a cup of tea in the morning. We think it’s a horses for courses approach for your insulating layers, get the right thing for the right situation. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the three main types you can choose.

 

DOWN: Natures warmth, the fluffy stuff underneath a birds feathers.

SYNTHETIC: Synthetic fibres woven together to trap air and keep you toasty.

FLEECE: Another synthetic option that’s a fabric in it’s own right (rather than fibres that you put in to a jacket)

Now we’ve sorted out what we’re going to take a look at, let’s dive in and take a quick look at the good and the bad of our contestants.

 

Down Jackets & Vests

Down Jackets & VestsGOOD STUFF: The highest Warmth to Weight ratio of all the options here, goose down is fabulous stuff for trapping air and keeping you warm. It feels seriously sexy to wear, is incredibly lightweight, and packs down smaller than any of the other options here. Great to pull on after a hard day on the mountain, or when wandering out and about.

NOT SO GOOD STUFF: If down gets wet it doesn’t work, so it’s really important to keep it dry at all times. We reckon it works best in cold, snowy climates, or where you bring along a waterproof to stop it getting damp. A little more expensive than some of the other options and maybe too hot if you are doing energetic activities.

STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR. Without boring you, down is graded according to fill power, e.g how much space a load of down takes up by weight, the range goes from 450 through to 900 odd, the higher the number, the warmer (and lighter) the down.

Synthetic Jackets

Synthetic Insulated JacketsGOOD STUFF: Synthetic Insulation is best known with examples such as Primaloft or own brand examples like The North Face’s Heatseeker. Water resistant, it retains a lot of it’s insulating properties even if soaked through, and it’s less expensive than down.

NOT SO GOOD STUFF: It has a greater bulk and weight than down and is less breathable.

STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR: A favourite with climbers and those who use their insulation out and about. It works best in wet environments, which apparently we get rather a lot of here in the UK!

Fleece Jackets & Vests

Fleece jackets and vestsGOOD STUFF: Fleece has amazing breathability, and is an awesome choice if you are doing blood pumping activities in the cold. Fleece is water resistant, drys quickly and is great value for money.

NOT SO GOOD STUFF: Fleece is not usually windproof so unless you have some sort of shell layer over the top, the cold wind is going to go whistling through you and take that trapped air and heat away. Relatively heavy and bulky compared to some of the other options.

STUFF TO LOOK OUT FOR: The best known fleece fabric is Polartec, but there are many other own brand examples out there too. Fleece comes in a variety of different flavours e.g. lightweight, midweight & heavyweight.

So there you have our quick guide to insulation. We reckon you need to balance your budget, activity and whether you are wearing it during the day or at journeys end. If you are a backpacker for example, weight is perhaps the most important thing to consider. If you need to get warm at camp at the end of the day, we would suggest grabbing a down vest or jacket. Down is also great if you are just taking the dog out for a quick walk. Climbing and need a belay piece? It has to be Synthetic. Running or walking out in the cold? Grab a fleece to wear underneath your windshirt or waterproof.

What’s your favourite insulation piece when the cold come round?

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Can you really find a wild camp wilderness in the Peak District?

The Peak District. One of the most popular National Park anywhere in the world. 8.4 million visitors a year. 1437 Square Kilometres of protected area. Busy place despite the greenery on offer. We love our wild camping here at Webtogs, but we began to seriously doubt whether you could find a true wilderness wild camp spot in the Park itself. That was until I pootled along at the beginning of September to Terry BND’s now legendary Outdoor Bloggers meet up. Whilst chewing the fat with some lovely outdoor folks amongst the tents, talk grew to our favourite wild camp spots and whether you could actually find somewhere in the Peak District to get that feeling of real remoteness that those of us who love wild camping crave.

One conversation with James from Backpacking Bongos began to tweak my ears. Bleaklow. One of the remotest and most desolate moors in the Park, it’s legendary for it’s boggy character, and although nice and remote, I couldn’t recall any areas suitable for pitching up. James mentioned a small spot he had been to previously and along with Phil from Social Hiking who was along for his first ever wild camp, we set off to see if this was the wilderness nirvana I had been searching for.

alport castles

alport dale

The day did not begin well, leaving the car not 5 minutes behind us, the rain decided to make it’s presence felt in a major way and the steady trickle of water down from my  hood spoilt the view ahead. Spirits lifted however as we began the climb to Alport Castles. The naming of some outdoor spots frequently leaves you scratching your head, but Alport Castles is aptly named, the pillars of rock standing out like turrets amongst the landscape. Climbing past them to the top, the wind bustled between us threatening to take my hat away. Boggy ground also made an appearance and we quickly got our heads down in silence to the trig point on top of Alport Moor.

meandering path on bleaklow

Slowly we began to relax. No signs of human habitation were visible and the paths were faint and indistinct, could this be what we were seeking? The wind became too much so we dropped down to the path halfway up Alport Dale. Immediately the winds absence made us feel more relaxed, and the seclusion of the dale dared us to dream of the spot we might hope to find. Strolling up, we began to ford streams making dents in to the hillside until we came to Grains in the Water. Nothing to the eye except moorland, wind and each other. Exchanging grins, we pitched up and settled down. We had found our wild camping wilderness in the Peak District.

grains in the water wild camp

night time on bleaklow

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A Beginners Guide to Mountain Biking by a Beginner.

Here follows a beginners guide to mountain biking by a beginner, and a few tips from some older, wiser, more experienced fellows.

Should you catch the MTB (mountain biking) bug then there are a few things that, in my opinion, you should look out for. Well, these are the things that have caught me out so far and it’s only been a few months so I hope that they might help prepare you for what may arise.

Choosing your bike.

Possibly one of the most exciting hurdles to hop over is the choice of bike. One of the things that hit me was the sheer volume of bikes that are available. There are hundreds of brands and then within the brands there are tens of styles and so on and so on. You get the picture.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge and buy a bike, choose a top line price that you’ll be willing to pay. I say this because some bikes can cost as much as a brand new car. One thing I still find amusing is the amount of old bangers that you see being driven around with some top class bikes being proudly presented on the roof rack. Generally the bikes are worth a lot  more than the car, and also looked after much better! Don’t be alarmed if you see on a bike website that someone is willing to swap their bike for a car or vice versa. Pretty standard apparently.

Mountain biking covers quite a large area and within this are areas like downhill, cross country (XC), and all mountain. Each discipline now has a type of bike which is suited best for your choice activity. What you need to do is lay down what it is that you’re going to be doing most of the time and then choose a bike which is best suited to you. Don’t freak out if your bike says that it’s best suited to single track trails because I’m sure that if you want to ride it to the shops it’ll cope just fine.

Size

This took me by surprise. Bikes come in different sizes. They come as either XS to XL or they come sized in inches. This is the size of the frame and it relates to how tall you are. I know it makes perfect, logical sense, however it completely threw me off as when I was growing up it didn’t matter. As far as I was concerned bigger was better. I’m now 6ft and ride an 18 inch or a large frame and I’ve tried riding a smaller and larger frame but after a while you get pain in your legs and shoulders where you’re either over stretched or cramped up. Having the wrong size frame also ruins your energy efficiency making life rather tough when it should be fun.

Pedals

I thought there were pedals and that was that, you just hopped on the bike and off you went. No, there are different types of pedals and scarily enough there are ones which you can clip into. My advice would be to start on normal pedals, sometimes referred to as flatties, and then once you get used to your bike and your confidence grows, move onto SPD’s. SPD’s are pedals that you clip your shoes into, like the Tour de France riders. There are special MTB shoes and cleets which are more hard wearing and protective as you’re more likely to encounter mud and stones. SPD’s are beneficial because you gain more purchase and feel for the bike. It means that instead of only being able to pedal on the down you can push and pull to get more power and steam past others.

Pressure

In the UK it’s wet most of the time and so this means that tyre pressure plays quite a large part on how much grip you have while off road. If you have too much pressure then you’ll find that there’s less rubber hitting the ground which means less friction and more skidding around. I find that somewhere around 50 to 60 psi does the job perfectly when it’s a bit wet and of course if its dry then add a little more to decrease the friction and let you go a bit faster.

Chat to other enthusiasts

One thing that’s invaluable is other people and their input and experience. There’s a whole other world and dictionary for cycle chat, therefore finding out what other people use and think can save you some serious time and money. Recently I’ve had a few problems with my bike so I chatted to a few guys from work who helped me out and gave me some advice. I then went to the local bike shop to see what they would say and I came out flabbergasted at what they wanted to charge for what was to be a 10 minute job. Lesson learned though, chat to others before hand. Everyone is more than happy to share their knowledge, but of course remember to build your own knowledge base up because not everyone has the same wants and needs.

Fun

Fun, above all, is the reason to get on your bike. So get out, get muddy and as our developer Tim says, ‘look out for bears, you should always look out for bears.’

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What everybody ought to know about Wild Camping

Wild camp on Bleaklow in the Peak District

Wild camping is something we get asked about a fair bit here at Webtogs, and is one of our passions. The feeling of freedom and being able to camp on the hills is incredibly liberating, but some people are a little overwhelmed when thinking about heading out for the first time. We’ve been around the office to put together our top tips if you are thinking of heading out  for the first time.

  1. Leave no trace – We think this is the most important guideline to follow, take everything away with you and leave nothing behind. That means no fire’s, take your litter home, and take sanitary products such as tampons and towels away with you too as animals will dig them up.  Toilet duties should always be done at least 30 metres away from any water source, and make sure you take a lightweight trowel to bury any number 2’s! Don’t be tempted to move rocks or logs for the perfect pitch, leave the place where you camp as you found it.
  2. Where to camp and legal stuff – Wild Camping is legal on Dartmoor and in Scotland provided you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It is not legal in England or Wales unless you ask the landowners permission – which is usually impractical. Generally speaking though, wild camping is tolerated so long as you follow a few simple guidelines. Camp as high as possible. Don’t camp in fields with animals, camp away from human habitation and out of sight of roads, houses, farms or dwellings.  Finally, be prepared to move on if asked and always be friendly and polite.
  3. Pitch Late and leave early – Part of leaving no trace means spending as little time actually pitched as you can. The only side note we would say is take note of sunset times late or early in the year as popping a tent up on a mountainside in the pitch dark is no fun. Don’t camp in the same spot for more than 2 days at a time to lessen your impact on the environment.
  4. Blend in – That means don’t take a bright tent and camp as unobtrusively as possible. This has side benefits in that it  helps you avoid being spotted by anyone who might move you on, and lets others share in the natural beauty of the area you are camping in.
  5. Don’t take the gang – A couple of tents at most is what you want, share a shelter if a few of you are going.
  6. Take less stuff – Wild Camping is not about taking the kitchen sink, you are much better off taking as little as possible as you are going to have to carry it to your campsite. It’s also why you are wild camping as well, keep things simple and enjoy being away from the distractions and stuff of everyday life.
  7. Sort the water –  Camp near a water source if you can, or remember to take enough drinking water with you. If you are going to pick up water on your trip, make sure you have a water filter with you, you won’t want to be getting ill away from civilisation.
  8. Get the right gear –  Wild camping usually means being that much more inaccessible from civilisation so you need to make sure your gear is up to the task. The last thing you want to do is have a tent fail on you with the wind and rain coming down hard. Checkout our range of quality tents and sleeping bags to make sure you have a good time. Focus on lightweight gear where possible and ensure you have everything you need so if you do have any problems, you can sort them out yourself.
  9. Small steps – For your first wild camp, consider finding a spot that you can get back from easily, that way if your gear fails or if you have any problems, a retreat won’t take you hours!

Follow these and we reckon you will have a great time, fire away in the comments with any questions, or, what are your top tips for a great wild camp?

 

 

 

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Who knew Mountain Biking in Dorset could be such fun.

Thanks to Webtogs, and the team bonding mountain biking trip to Afan, I have had the MTB bug and so this is where the story starts.

I went out a few months ago and bought a full suspension Specialized Epic which I absolutely love; I actually bought just the frame because it would have been too easy to just buy the whole thing. It was a whimsical purchase, I have to say, but my goodness there is so much fun to be had ploughing through puddles, bog, nettles and thick, dirty mud once I had put the whole bike together. In my mind there isn’t anything more uplifting than going out after work and hammering the trails for a few hours. I think it’s partly to do with our culture and how everyone should always be clean and tidy, so it’s nice to give society a big raspberry, go out, get muddy and then ride back through town to the disgust of all the old biddies. You can just tell they are thinking ‘eugh look at that ruffian. In my day you would have been slung out of the community for being seen in public like that’. The other reason why it’s fantastic to get out after work is to blow any proverbial cobwebs away. Riding gives you a sense of freedom that a sofa and television just can’t give you. There’s no sense of time and the trails don’t end after half an hour, there are no adverts – just like the BBC.

Believe it or not I’m trying not to blow too much hot air about how amazing mountain biking is but it is great fun and EVERYONE should try it at least once.

When I bought the bike just a few months ago I didn’t realise that where I live, Gillingham, Dorset, there are miles and miles of trails, which was a great surprise to me. Mike, our warehouse chappy, has lived here nearly his whole life and so knows all the trails around a monument called King Alfreds Tower. This is on the Stourhead Estate where, believe it or not Stourhead House is situated. A large proportion of the Stourhead estate is forestry land which means there are plenty of fire trails all connecting at various different points making for some spectacular views, steep climbs and rapid descents.

Specialized Epic Comp
Specialized Epic Comp & Me

Mike is a pretty active guy and trains for triathlons most of the week so when we go on a ride it’s not a slow one. We are both fairly competitive but through much deliberation he has now decided that I’m faster than him on a mountain bike, partly because he’s about a foot shorter than me but mostly because of our age difference. He’ll kill me for that comment.

A while ago my Auntie came over from Las Vegas and she brought over a GoPro HD video camera which I then bought a chest mount (aka booby cam) for so I could video some of my adventures on the trails. It’s a brilliant camera and I’d recommend one to anyone who’s thinking of buying a robust video camera. The chest mount is an awesome addition and I hope you’ll like some of the footage that Gareth has kindly edited. There are only a few minutes of some of the faster downhill sections, but there will more.

You know when you take a camera out and nothing really spectacular happens? Then you say, ‘well if I didn’t bring it something would have happened.’ That happened in it’s truest sense on one ride.

First, Mike and I started our ride near a place called Rock Arch. Last time we rode we threatened to do a bit of downhill which is about a kilometre into the ride and just off the usual trail. This downhill section doesn’t look that steep but it’s pretty butt clenchingly steep.We nailed that, which would have been good viewing with a few wobbly moments and screams – mainly coming from Mike. We did jump off the bikes at one point because there’s a large jump over a fallen tree into what looked more like the entrance to the River Styx. We both arrived back on the trail with a few nettle stings, jelly legs and big smiles. Anyone walking by would have thought there were two feral children roaming the forest on stolen bikes squawking and giggling.
The next bit of footage which was sadly missed came a little after the downhill section where there’s a bomb hole in the side of a hill, it looks like someone has taken a giant egg from the side of the hill, if you can imagine that. After our downhill section we were both buzzing and thought we could try a little more to get our confidence up. In retrospect I think I need to learn to crawl before walking. We scrabbled up to the top of the bomb hole where we moved a few fallen branches out of harms way to then peer over the side and to be honest we were both a little dubious about riding over the edge.

Where we were stood, if you rode to the right you’d almost always fall off, if you were even a tiny bit unsure. So we decided to ride to the left hand side which looked better*. My plan was to ride off the left hand drop, to then shoot across to the other side where there’s a lip to try and grab a bit of air time.

*Better – this definition of better is slightly skewed as the drop was still about a 75 degree angle.

So, we’re at the top and Mike decides to preserve his body so he can’t injure himself before his triathlons. I go first and as I’m relatively new to SPD pedals, the ones you clip into, I clip my left foot in and start to move off and before I know it I’m looking down to my right foot to try and clip that in which of course makes me turn the handlebars right which directs me towards the near sheer drop. Yes, off I go and for a moment it feels like I’m going to conquer it but oh no, panic strikes and I jam both my brakes on which catapults me over the handlebars dragging the bike on top of me. The next thing I know I open my eyes to see Mike peering over the edge at me not knowing whether to laugh or cry. I was so annoyed I missed that on camera – it would have been priceless.

I climbed back on the horse straight away and did the drop off that was in the original plan because if I hadn’t I don’t think downhill would have been on my list again. The damage caused from that incident was minor; a few scratches and lots of bruises plus the next day I couldn’t really walk that well, much to everyone’s pleasure in the office. Sadistic lot they are.

The rest of the ride was rapid. We absolutely flew around the trails because the light was fading quickly. As I didn’t really know where we were going any of the time, it was quite an adventure but at the end of this one we rode in front of Stourhead House which was a pleasant surprise. It was lucky we weren’t arriving back from a ride on a sunny Sunday afternoon because I’m sure at least one person would have turned their nose up at a couple of filthy mountain bikers. And we were filthy.

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The Active Photographer – a Jolly review

A couple of weekends ago I was asked if I would like to go along to the very first Active Photographer Jolly, run by Giles (The Active Photographer) with his sidekick Will (Whole Life Photography). It’s a course/workshop/experience designed for people passionate about the outdoors, who want to take better photos, or photographers with a keen interest in the outdoors.

I had previously exchanged Tweets with Giles, and had met him two weeks previously at Terry BND’s outdoor boggers meet in Monsal Dale where we ended up nattering quite a bit. I have a rather bruised and battered Canon S90 with a busted flash, which I had managed to break a couple of weeks previously. I mentioned at the time that I was unsure about what to expect and was slightly nervous about my lack of photography skill and equipment. Giles reassured me that so long as I could manually control everything on my camera (which I could), I would be fine and dandy.

Turning up on the Saturday morning, I met Giles at the Back of Beyond Touring Caravan park. My initial apprehension about the rows of caravans dissipated when I was guided through to a field at the rear which revealed a delightful woodland glade and site of special scientific interest. Some of the folks attending had been there since the Friday night so I was greeted warmly as I pitched up my tent.

The Active Photographer Jolly
The weather forecast for the weekend was a stinker, and as the introductions began under the gazebo, the first tickle of rain started to come down. Doing our best to ignore the grey skies, Will and Giles set the scene for the weekend as to what we could expect and I suddenly felt very self conscious amongst the DSLR’s nestling on the knees of my fellow students.

After the initial icebreakers, we set off through the park to some gorse bushes and open space on the far side of the Park. Early September is one of my favourite times and the feeling in the air was of the last vestiges of summer twinged by Autumn pushing through. The rain started to come down though, so we nipped in to the woods and were confronted by a quite extraordinary site, the floor having a strong sprinkling of mushrooms with the most gorgeous purple tops.

The Active Photographer Jolly
We started to snap away and Giles went through some of the basics. Straight away I got something that will last with me forever, namely the joys of aperture. I have always loved shots where the item in focus is the only thing in focus and the rest of the image drops away, now I knew how to do it and I went to town. Within a couple of hours, I started to take photos that were light years away from what I had taken previously, and I began to enjoy myself immensely. I also began to fall in love with my Canon S90 again. We had chosen it as it was a small compact with a great reputation, and I finally felt that I could do it some justice with the photos I was taking. The rest of the day flew by in a jiffy looking first at composition, then on to some equipment hacks that Giles use. I won’t give too much of the game away, but I will never look at a sock and a bag of rice again in the same way….

By the end of the day, my mind was buzzing with filters, composition, ISO settings and the like and we settled down to an amazing BBQ with toasted Marshmallows to finish. I took the rare opportunity to get a decent nights kip and was woken to the sound of a torrential downpour in the middle of the night bouncing off my Nemo Obi 2P which coped admirably. The morning afterwards saw us putting in to practice everything we had learnt the day before, the Back of Beyond park really came in to it’s own with woodland, lakes and the glade like campsite giving plenty of differing opportunities to shoot a wide variety of outdoor subjects and landscapes.

The Active Photographer Jolly
All in all it was a fabulous weekend, I have written here about my thoughts on learning from the weekend, but in terms of skills learnt, my photos have come on in leaps and bounds. I did feel the odd twinge of jealousy for a DSLR, but that was my gadget jealousy. Giles never made me feel out of place with my S90, and both him and Will took the time out to give specific guidance that was relevant for a compact point & shoot. Looking at my Flickr stream my photos before and after are noticeably better after, and I know my photography has changed now for life. Whether you are a die hard photographer looking to improve your skills , or an outdoor nut with very little experience as I was, I would thoroughly recommend anyone interested in enjoying their outdoors photography more to get in contact with Giles for the next Jolly. I am also super chuffed to announce that we will have a place on an upcoming course available as a prize on our facebook page soon so stay tuned!

What’s your experience of outdoor photography and if there was one tip you would pass on, what would it be?

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