Hiking Through York’s Ice Trail

Not all hikes have to take you through the countryside.

Although I prefer to hike during the summer (like most hikers I surmise!), I also enjoy a brisk winter walk, especially if there’s an exciting cultural event to take in. York is a city that I’ve grown very fond of over the years. It’s a city with a proud historical heritage that is evident wherever you look. Much like Bath, another small city that put its history front and centre, York is full of gorgeous historical buildings and is blessedly free of the typical eyesores that plague other northern cities. I first visited this charming city with my Dad whilst we were on a whistle-stop tour of the north, my memories of that trip are jumbled in my mind now, but I still remember arguably York’s most beloved sights: The Shambles.

20 years later (give or take) I returned to The Shambles, although I feel like this visit will likely stick in my mind a little more…

I’d been looking for an excuse to return to York for a while, so when I saw photos of last year’s spectacular York Ice Trail, I realised that I’d found one!

Previously known as ‘The Festival of Angels’, the more secular title is a better representation of the sculptures on display this year. Throughout one winter weekend each year 50 ice sculptures are erected in the city, laid out in a trail that visitors can easily follow (maps are also freely available for newcomers to the city). But where do the sculptures comes from? Each of the ice sculptures is hand-carved to order by Glacial Art, a specialist ice sculpting company that operates out of a warehouse in Liverpool. Believe it or not, all 50 of these sculptures are carved months in advance and stored in their huge walk-in freezers. Months later they are brought out of deep freeze and then transported to their positions in York.

Each day of the festival brings 25 sculptures to various spots around the city and visitors come in their droves to check them out. Whilst rambling around the city, taking the sights in, I got chatting to a few locals who were unanimous in their agreement that this was the best ice trail yet and, although I’d not seen any of the previous ones, it wasn’t hard to see why. The level of detail and artistry on hand was truly impressive, and the joy that it brought to people of all ages was also a pleasure to behold.

The sculptures were all sponsored by local businesses (who no doubt get a healthy boost whilst the event is on) who put forward an idea based of a theme. This year the theme was ‘Myths and Legends’, so in response we saw sculptures based on legendary pop culture characters (such as the Cookie Monster, Iron Man and Jack-Jack, from The Incredibles) as well as mythical beasts including a glorious pegasus, mermaid and dragon. In addition to the sculptures there was also a chance to see live ice sculpting and even have a go at doing it yourself.

Whilst I don’t remember much of my first visit to York, this second visit is sure to be one that I remember fora long time to come.

Ultimate Euro-Camping Trips

There’s a whole world to explore in Europe!

Leave your car parked at the airport and take yourself away for a few weeks this Summer…

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be camp on the top of a mountain in Spain? Or perhaps you’ve always liked the idea of pitching up next to a softy babbling river that you can take a dip in whenever you feel like? Well – if you have, don’t worry because you’re not alone. We’ve all got a bit of wanderlust inside of us and it’s always a good idea to indulge it from time to time. Let’s be honest, British camping can often not cut the mustard., although there are some pretty cool places to camp at.

When you know that you can’t feed the travel bug with the simple charms of British camping then it’s time to pack up your bag, book some flights, airport parking and most importantly a pitch at one of these truly breath-taking camp sites.

If you’re looking to book flights during the peak holiday season (that’s mid-June through to August, for the uninitiated) then expect to pay a lot more for your flights and your camping. It’s worth remembering, before you think about booking in during this time, that many of these sunny European destinations are worth visiting outside of these peak seasons. Due to the Southerly nature of many of these campsites, you should be able to travel there outside of the major holiday seasons and still experience balmy weather, this will also have the added benefit of reducing your chances of bumping into other British people, which may or may not appeal to you…

Whether you’re parking at Liverpool Airport or London Heathrow, it’s always a good idea to book a space well ahead of schedule as the last thing you want on the day of your flight is to have to rush to find a decent, safe car park that you can feel confiden leaving your car at. Airport parking sites are a dime a dozen, so it’s always best to have a look at a comparison site first to make sure that you’re getting the absolute best deal before you push the ‘Go’ button on your final choice.

Now, with no further ado, here are our top picks for the Ultimate Euro-Camping Trips:

Black Forest Campsite Müllerwiese

Although you might baulk at the rather ominously named Black Forest there really is nothing to be afraid of. In fact this well-treasured German beauty spot is one of the most idyllic places to camp in Europe. Whilst there are a litany of big corporate-owned campsites that will try and cram as many pitches as possible into their huge campsites, this family-run spot understands the necessity for personal space.

Cloud House Farm

Leave your tent at home and spend a couple of nights in one of two handcrafted yurts perched on a terrace overlooking the stunning Andalusian Rio Genal Valley. Although you might have to travel a good hour to get to the closest settlement of Ronda, that’s all a part of the charm of this stunning Spanish location.

Camping La Fresneda

Stunning mountain views, rolling green valleys and blissful silence await you at this truly unique camping spot. 24 spacious pitches are spread out over a vast 18 hectares of land, just a stone’s throw away from the ancient village of La Fresneda. Spend your days hiking the myriad of unpaved paths, taking in this little explored region of rural Spain, then spend your evenings sampling the very best of Spanish cuisine.

Nature & Lodge – Camping Les Domes de Miage

Perfect for families and groups alike, this campsite brings together everything that tourists love about the Alps: tranquil lakes, epic scenery and lush greenery. This campsite has won numerous awards over the years for their outstanding commitment to both the environment and their visitors. The pitches are spacious, the amenities are excellent and the views are simply breathtaking.


North Wales Coastal Camping Gadgets

During Winter many campsites close up shop, preferring to save on overheads and get a well-earned rest during the off-season.

This is great news for the exhausted campsite owners and tired pitches, but not so good for us happy campers who like to pitch up all the year round.

Thankfully, you’re not completely bereft of options, especially if you don’t mind taking a risk and asking around for a place to camp. That’s exactly what I did last weekend with my Dad, with the express purpose of road testing some new gadgets that I’d managed to get my hands on and also prove that you don’t need the summer sun to enjoy a lovely weekend of camping.

During the summer months, the North Wales region is crammed full of tourists from the UK and beyond, but during the winter months you’ll find more room in the campsites, car parks and tea rooms making for a much more relaxing (if brisk) weekend away. One of the benefits of camping in the off-season is that you can usually take advantage of much quieter campsites, allowing you to get your distance from your crotchety Dad should you both need a bit of head-space. Our destination for this month’s trip was the Llyn Peninsula, one of my favourite places to visit in North Wales.

There are a few gadgets and tools that make camping during this time of the year a much more comfortable experience. Over the years, my Father and I have slowly built up an array of these nifty bits and bobs, including a killer set of portable speakers, so I thought I’d share a few with you today:

One-Man Tents

The monthly excursions I enjoy with my Father are frequent highlights of my year. We tend not to stay in touch that much outside of them, preferring to leave our catching up for the time we spend together. When we were both more spritely, we’d be a Dad and lad in one tent, however these days we’re both too old, smelly and generally irritable to handle sharing a tent together so we opt for separate tents pitched at a sensible distance from each other.

After cycling through a handful of different models we’ve finally settled on the REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1 Tent. This is a fantastically rugged, practically designed piece of kit that gives a single occupant more than enough space to stretch out as well as keep their gear dry and protected. The only downside? It’s really hard to get hold of, importing from the US seems to be the best option – once you’ve got one you’ll be sorted for a long time!

Sleeping Bags

Whilst many campers swear by their favourite 10-year old stuff sacks, we all know that the best sleeping tech is always going to be the newest. Before you start snorting derisively through your ripstop nylon, I’d recommend you take a SelkBag 5G for a spin.

If you’re one of those restless sleepers who always finds themselves rolling around and unable to stretch out in a traditional sleeping bag then this will be just the ticket for you. The SelkBag 5G Original (and it’s Lite version) are effectively jumpsuits made out of highly insulated sleeping bag material. Each suit comes complete with removable booties, hand holes and kangaroo pouch for added practicality. At around £120, these are by no means a budget option, but are well worth investing in.

Campside Cooker

Gone are the days of cooking on bulky, heavy-duty trangias with the stench of mentholated spirits imbuing every meal (and rucksack) that you have. The development of the camping stove has moved on a fair bit since those days: from the retro trangias to the practical but pricey ‘pocket-rockets’, to today’s incarnation of biomass cooker systems that might cost you a pretty penny, but will pay dividends in the long run.

BioLite have already made a name for themselves in the world of solar-powered lights, their smart-stoves look to be making similarly big waves. The CampStove 2 bundle (£219.95) includes everything you need to cook, keep warm, illuminate your campsite and charge your phone at the same time – all whilst using foraged twigs and wood – it’s the 21st Century nomad’s kitchen. The stove boils water in a flash and will can completely charge a phone in around an hour!

As ever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’ve got any questions about the products I mention – I’m always eager to talk camping. 

Al Fresco Cooking Tools: France

There’s nothing quite like a hot cooked meal when you’re out camping.

Every time I fire up a pocket-rocket or a trangia, with the smell of the dew still fresh in the air, I’m instantly transported back to my days as a Scout.

Those early attempts at al fresco cookery were fraught with problems. When you’re a child, attempting to prepare your own meal outside you are faced with more than a few dilemmas. First of all – what do you eat? You can’t pack tins in your bag because they weigh too much. Carrying raw ingredients in your bag is also daunting as then you’ll have to prep them yourself. As an imperilled Scout I had to think of all of these worries, without even considering the matter of getting my stove to work whilst saving my flammable tent from almost certain destruction.

It suffices to say that all of these challenges dissipated with age and experience, however I also now have the distinct benefit of 21st Century technology. With each passing year we’re gifted with more and more futuristic gear with which too cook our campsite grub with, but the gear that you choose to use will inevitably depend on a few variables such as your budget, your camping amenities and your fellow campers.

Dad and I recently returned from a week long hiking/camping trip to the South of France. Despite it being March the weather was mild, allowing to spend most of our evening outside, shooting the breeze and cooking up some lovely meals. Here’s a little look at the toys we took along with us on our relaxed food tour of the South coast:

The Cooker

Weighing just 4.1kg, although the Campingaz Camping Chef Folding Stove is bulky it’s a smart option if you’ve got the space in your bag for it. This is the first piece of kit that gets packed when Dad and I are thinking of leaving for anything more than a couple of days. Two hobs and a grill, each with separate controls and auto-spark, makes this a no-brainer, especially if you’re cooking for a crowd. Being able to warm up some beans, whilst frying off bacon and toast bread at the same time, is simply a novelty that doesn’t get old.

The official Campingaz fuel cartridges are relatively cheap (buy 24 for under £30 at Amazon) and the cooker itself, at under £40, is an absolute steal. Highlight of the week was whipping up an al fresco Coq Au Vin: deliriously indulgent outdoors cooking.

The Right Utensils

Whilst camping crockery is not hard to get hold of (I mean, just take your crockery from home right?) finding decent utensils that will pack away and stay clean can be a challenge, especially if you’re wanting to challenge yourself to do more than just fry up some eggs…

My Dad stepped up to the plate here by bringing along his Primus Campfire Prep Set. I get sick with jealousy every time he pulls these out to prep a meal, the fold-up pack is a smart black and the tools themselves are of a high quality. Stainless steel and oak pair to make some truly effective cookery equipment – just make sure you keep them clean and packed away safely!

Pots That Just Work

The right camping pots shouldn’t cost you an arm and an leg. Although we’ve gone through our fair share of them in the last few years, the set that’s stuck with us are these Anodized Pots from Texsport. For less than £30 you can get a cracking set which includes a large pot, smaller pot and deep frying pan – as well as two lids. Whilst this product is far from sophisticated or sleek, the mesh bag that it comes with does the job and it’s really hard to fault the performance of these pots, especially when you consider the price.

As I said – these worked best for us with our requirements, but you might find that you’ll need something a little different for your camping adventure. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you might have for your upcoming trip – happy cooking!

Building Fires – The Tips & Tools

Campfires are an essential part of the camping experience.

Whether you’re looking to brew up a restorative cuppa or simply keep your mates warm, a successfully built campfire can help lift spirits and provide some much needed hot grub.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not the best fire starter. Despite having spent my formative camping years with the Scouts, I never really picked up the necessary tricks needed to build a fire from scratch. The good news is that I’ve not let that get me down and it’s also not stopped me from keeping warm when Dad and I are out on our camping trips. For longer trips, where we’re committed to cooking ‘real’ meals (like our recent trip to France) we’ll bring along a gas cooker, like the Campingaz Camping Chef Folding Stove. But for more rugged adventures, where we’re intent on roughing it, we’ll leave the gas at home and invest in more traditional fire starting techniques.

Building and starting your own fires has been made infinitely more easier thanks to a handful of (relatively) affordable innovations that make whipping up a fire both easy, safe and practical:

Collecting Your Fuel

When camping in late Winter/Spring it’s really important that you get your campsite set up early in the afternoon, especially if you want to commit to collecting firewood for later on. Whilst used carrier bags will do the trick when collecting sticks, sometimes it’s better to take a dedicated dry bag (this 30l monster from Overboard is a good choice) so that you can carry as much as possible without risking it getting wet later on.

As far as fuel goes, it’s useful to have a decent knife on you to whittle down kindling and scratch up some tinder, my Kershaw Leek Knife has been a go-to for some time now. Top tip: pay attention to what wood you’re picking. Learning the difference between wood types and how they burn will transform how useful your fires are; whilst the locals might appreciate to attempting to remove Japanese knotweed in their neighbouring forests, it’ll leave a lot to be desired from your blaze.

Starting Your Fire

If you were planning on simply knocking together a fire on your next camping trip with nothing but a couple of sticks, you’re likely struggle a little. There are two extremely portable gadgets that I never camp without and they’ve undoubtedly made the fire-starting process easier and quicker: no more reliance on nasty fuels or frantically rubbing together two sticks – at least not when you have the Gentlemen’s Hardware Fire Starter Tool with you. You might have seen Bear Grylls use something similar on his shows and it’s as efficient as he makes it look!

Once you’ve got a spark to your tinder you’ll need to ensure that it has enough airflow to take to your kindling. Whilst generations of fire-builders have leaned in close to their fires (and lost eyebrows as a result), smarter campers will use something like the Pocket Bellow Collapsible Fire Tool from Outdoor Gear. This telescopic tube might look like a car-radio aerial, but its rust resistant brass alloy and fireproof construction makes it an invaluable piece of gear that will get your fires blazing within minutes.

Open Fire or Closed Fire?

What kind of fire you choose to light will depend on what you’re using it for and how many people you’re with. When you’re in a large group looking to all benefit from the warmth (and maybe toast a few marshmallows) then a large open fire is the right choice for you. When I go camping with friends I always make sure to bring my Campfire Defender: a great tool for both safety and practicality. This ultra-insulated blanket is a controlled way of extinguishing your fire or keeping it safely burning over night for use in the morning.

If you’re camping in a small group and are planning on using your fire to cook on rather than keep warm by, then there are a couple of great wood-burning stove options open to you. The BioLite Camp Stove is a great piece of gear that I’ve mentioned before, it can charge your phone and had some great attachments for cooking on too. If you’d prefer som ething a little simpler then the Solo Stove Campfire is the one for you. At just over £100 from Amazon, it’s not exactly cheap but it’s nifty design makes it easy to get a fire going, bringing you that much closer to your next hot meal.

Starting fires has got that much easier thanks to these handy innovations – please get in touch if you think I’ve missed something out or you’ve got your own recommendation to make…

Four Perfectly Portable Speakers

There was nothing my Dad liked more than ‘a bit of piece and quiet’ when we went camping.

Being city dwellers, our trips out to Wales or the Peak District would be our chance to retreat from the noise and the madness of our London lives.

This was before the time of 4G phone networks, MP3 players and (shock-horror) Bluetooth speakers. Although my Dad threw a complete hissy fit when I cranked up some tunes for the first time, when he realised the quality of sound that these speakers can omit and the fact that you could easily link your phone up to them (therefore making it possible for him to blast Test Match Special at the top of a mountain) he soon changed his mind.

Although these nifty gadgets have been around for a while, it’s only in the last year that they’ve really become a must-have for your camping or hiking trip. The four portable speakers that I’ve picked out here have proven themselves in a number of outdoor situations. Whilst they might not boast the best sound quality in their category (for that you’d have to sacrifice practicality) they do have the edge in terms of battery life and durability.

Without further ado, here are the four portable speakers that you should consider taking with you on your next camping trip:

Tronsmart Element T6

This cylinder-style portable speaker might not be waterproof but it is extremely rugged. The canvas style design means it’ll easily survive a few drops and whilst you wouldn’t want to leave it out in the rain, you won’t have to worry about throwing it in a damp bag with the rest of your gear.

You get a good 15-hours of playback from just one charge, which is pretty darn good considering that this little guy will only set you back a paltry £37.

Sony SRS-XB10

At around the same price (£38.83 at Amazon at the moment) this teeny-tiny speaker packs quite the punch and it’s even got a IPX5 water-resistance rating to boot!

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a monaural speaker, which means that you won’t benefit from stereo sound, however it more than makes up for it with an impressive low-end delivered by a passive radiator. Should you wish to boost your sound, you can buy another and link them for some big stereo sound from very small packages.

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom

Whilst the 10-hour battery life might not seem massive when compared to the smaller speakers I’ve mentioned already, this speaker trumps them both in terms of durability and sheer volume. Along with it’s 87 decibel output it also offers an impressive 30m range, as well the much coveted IPX7 rating which means that it can function for 30 minutes whilst completely submersed underwater, although this is unlikely to happen as the nifty speaker will float when dropped in water. This one is a bit dearer though, at around £70.

ION Audio Block Rocker Sport

Finally, it’s worth mentioning this Goliath of a portable speaker. Whilst it might not be suitable to take on any hikes (weighing a huge 14kg) it’s got the kind of credentials that the other speakers on this list could only dream of. 2 AA batteries keep the music blasting for a ridiculous 75-hours, with speakers that can blast out up to 100 watts and even an IPX4 rating, meaning that it’ll even survive a bit of a dousing. At £269 – it’s quite the investment, but one that you won’t regret making.