Flying solo

If you read my last post you’ll know that I am re-training to become a brewer. The team I’m working with are really supportive, and as part of this set me a two part challenge. This post is about part one…

My challenge was to choose a beer I liked and then seek to make a copy of it using the pilot brew kit. This has an output of around 65 litres / 115 pints. The beer I chose was from Farmyard Ales, a Pale-Ale / East Coast IPA hybrid called ‘Chaff.’ It’s a nicely balanced and fruity beer full of New World hop flavours. As I alluded to before, there’s more to brewing a beer than might first meet the eye. You need to choose:

  • The blend of malts you use.
  • The ABV and thus the quantity of malt.
  • The mineral content of the brewing liquor (water).
  • The types of hops, quantity and times of addition.
  • The yeast type.
  • The fermentation temperature.
  • The SG (sugar level) at which to stop the fermentation.
  • The level of finished carbonation / packaging type.

All of these factors affect the taste and mouthfeel (mostly viscosity) of the finished beer. With a good palate and experience it should be possible to make an educated guess of all of the above with the exception of knowing the yeast strain chosen by the original brewer. So I contacted Steven at Farmyard Ales. He was so helpful, not only did he let me know the yeast type they use he also sent me a copy of the brew sheet (recipe). As I alluded to before, the local brewing community here (and for all I know further afield as well) is really friendly and supportive. Since I want to honour the trust given me in getting sight of the original brew sheet I’ll focus this post on my experience and not share any of the recipe details.

Because this challenge was to help grow my experience I used just the malt and hop types from the brew sheet and set about doing my own design calculations. These I could then check back against the brew sheet to see if they were correct. In comparison to powder science (my penultimate field) the calculations were straight forwards, but for all that the subject is new to me. From what I can see so far, the skill of the brewer is not so much in the science but in combining this with a true feel for good flavour and texture combinations. It’s a little like being a chef, but ideally at the Heston Blumenthal end of the spectrum.

With my brew sheet complete and checked by our lead-brewer I was ready to roll, and on Friday morning started my brew day. The two most important factors in brewing are cleanliness and temperature control so I started my day with…

A good clean of the brew kit.

A good clean of the brew kit.

Mashing in

Mashing in (aided by the lagging I fitted in December, *Blue Peter Badge Pending)

Sparging

Sparging

 

Boiling the wort

Boiling the wort (to extract and isomerise the isohumulone from the bittering hops)

After that I was pleased we had a baby heat exchanger to cool the wort as it transferred into the fermenting pan.  Quick and easily controlled, very much my cup of tea (or should that be pint of ale?)

Fermenting is now taking place in the fabulously Heath Robinson temperature controlled box. A PID controller linked to a cooling coil and an airing cupboard heater all inside a well insulated Eurocrate. Hopefully the fermentation will be complete by Tuesday then it will need conditioning for a week before we can see if I have succeeded with challenge one, watch this space!

The Hot One…

Looking across the Bowland Fells from Wolfhole Crag

First there was the wet one, then the dry one, followed by the cold one and now I’ve enjoyed a hot one! What am I talking about? My most recent wild-camping micro-adventure of course.

As anyone in the UK knows, this summer has been unprecedented for heat and lack of rainfall and Lancashire has been more extreme (relatively) than many other areas of the country. This made this an excellent time to explore the normally ‘moist’ upland of the Bowland Fells. The fear of moorland fires meant it felt like I had the whole AONB almost to myself as well. This only went to enhance the feeling of wild isolation which is a key facet of such a trip for me.

The route was to take me from Jubilee Tower where I could abandon a car, over the highest peak in Bowland, Ward’s Stone, across to and then along the Hornby Road, which also formed part of my first wild-camping weekend.  From there my route was to run along the Hodder and across Waddy Fell to the farm of good friends of mine as a fitting end point. Having personal open-access across their land made up for the lack of footpaths to sensibly link Slaidburn to West Bradford.

The forecast for the weekend was hot, sunny and dry. Ironically the weight I lost in deciding not to carry any waterproof gear (just my excellent Paramo Showerproof Smock) was at least compensated for by the extra water I needed to carry.

Jubilee Tower Nr. Quernmore

The car park by Jubilee Tower had been locked to discourage people from walking on the moorland, but thankfully there was still space next to the road to abandon the car. Fire risk signs abounded which re-enforced the care I already planned to take when it came to using my stove that evening. The route initially took me to the top of Grit Fell, from which the views stretched to the Yorkshire Dales and the Kent Estuary as well as across Bowland itself. The Southern Lakes were shrouded in haze however.

Grit Fell

Grit Fell

I had the fell to myself as I walked along the ridge which gentle rises up to Ward’s Stone. It was entertaining to read the comments on how wet the ground is between these two fells on a day when all the scrub was so dry as to be crispy.

The path from Grit Fell is difficult: crossing Cabin Flat, it weaves its way across hidden pools of stagnant water, the presence of which is betrayed by a form of red grass. White markers supposedly point out the way, but more often result in leading the walker astray.

I really did count my blessings to have the chance to be here after such a dry spell. Ward’s Stone is a flat topped hill, not unlike Pendle in that respect, and has the unusual distinction of having two trig points on it, one at either end of the summit plateau.

Following a well maintained dry stone wall took me East to the grouse shooters track which had been my inspiration to refresh my acquaintance with wild-camping last year. Having made an early start and managed an excellent pace I wanted to make the most of the day. The beauty of walking alone is that after a hastily arranged conference with myself (over lunch) I decided it would be better to split the distance of my days (initially 10 / 14 miles) more evenly and also take in an extra peak. I find trig points hard to resist so after lunch I abandoned my pack for 30 min and headed up to the top of Wolfhole Crag. It may be a few years before you can just again head where you fancy on this fell-side without waders or a snorkel!

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After the rewarding view I dropped down to a stream and collected some water. Then it was up to the Hornby Road. Initially I thought I’d use my original sheltered spot for that night, but rather than head SE to this I instead headed to the NW. I wanted to cover an additional two miles before stopping, and rather than looking for shelter I wanted a spot open to the breeze to help moderate the heat. After a total of 13.5 miles I spotted a small plateau on the side of White Hill, nestled below Great Bull Stones. I was very tempted to walk to the summit to get a site with great views, but the practical desire to be near some washing up water and fatigue led me to stick with the plateau.

Wildcamp plateau

I didn’t really need the tent and slept with the door open all night.  After dinner I alternating a chance to read my novel and drinking in the view until I was too tired to keep my eyes open any more.

View from my overnight camping spot

Day Two was to be as hot and sunny as Day One. My route took me down the Croasdale Valley, because this could take me into Slaidburn without recourse to any road walking.  I would not recommend anyone take this part of my route in anything but extreme dry weather – the ground was badly poached by a group of Belted Galloway Cattle and clearly a very moist (calf deep) route in a normal year. I, however, was blessed to trace the brook down into Slaidburn with dry feet. It was too early for the fine institution which is the Hark to Bounty, but OK to use the boot washing taps to top up with some clean water to see me through the rest of my day.

The rest of the route was not wild, but it did have the satisfaction of allowing me to walk (all but) all the way home. After following the Hodder I headed up and over Waddy Fell. I did this far faster than I expected. It’s not as big as it looks, and after nine months farm work I am more ‘walking fit’ than I’ve been for 20 years. The top of this fell is normally boggy, but at the risk of overplaying the theme, today the moss was so dry it was crispy. This allowed a shortcut to my lunch spot with Pendle as my lunch companion.

Pendle viewed from Waddington Fell.

Pendle viewed from Waddington Fell.

I reflected on an excellent weekend: I’d had the higher Bowland Fells all to myself in glorious sunshine and the kaleidoscope of the colours of nature as the backdrop to my little adventure. Whilst I believe self sufficiency in life makes for a poorer existence, just for a weekend it does my soul no harm but instead makes it sing.

All I had to do then was to look for landmarks on my friends farm and get myself to the edge of their land.  From there the going was easy.  Having estimated I’d be with them by 1500 I beat this by a whole 100 minutes. There’s life in this old chemist yet!

Where next? I am pondering the Lake District and the chance to camp by an elevated tarn.  All suggestions welcome…

24 hours in the forest without trees – A micro adventure

DSC_1478Up until March of this year, it had been 24 years since I’d last been true wild-camping. Back then it was two separate nights above 2000 feet on passes of the Lake District whilst walking the Coast to Coast. Then the urge to go once again came across me in 2013, something I actually only fulfilled earlier this year. After my return to this pursuit my appetite was whetted. However, as I noted earlier it was far more that my appetite that got wet, most of the rest of me did too that weekend!

This time I waited for a good forecast before packing my bag. Whilst reading about our local AONB I was entranced by photographs of ‘Langden Castle’ It lies on the ancient road from Whalley to Lancaster and was apparently the site of an early overnight stop for prisoners being taken to the county town assizes.   As you will come to see, whilst it sports some unusually fine Gothic arches around the door and windows it is not today and is likely never to have been any more than a humble dwelling.   Today it is part sheep shelter with a locked middle section which I can only imagine is used by the local grouse shooters.   What the photo’s did show however, is a nice patch of grass out front and a brook close by from which water can be drawn (further down stream water is extracted by UU from this same brook to sate the thirst of the people of Lancashire.)

Langden Castle

Langden Castle

But enough rambling, it’s time I was telling you about my walk. This was to be a linear trek and thus only possible thanks to the kind chauffeuring service of Mrs W. On a bright sunny Saturday morning she dropping my off just outside of Chipping and the foot of attractive if diminutive peak of Parlick.   This sits on the very Western edge of the Bowland Fells and as such affords fabulous views all down the Lancashire coast as well as across to the fells themselves. It forms the end of an attractively curved ridge which I followed to the top of Fairsnape Fell.

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The ridge round from Parlick to Fairsnape Fell.

An interesting feature of this ridge is that it is used by the local gliding club as a way to get lift and I enjoyed the company of three gliders that morning. From the greater high of this second fell I was afforded remarkable views from Snowdonia in the South, to the Southern fells of the Lake District to the North to Pen-y-Ghent to the East. I was travelling light with only my phone as a camera and could not do the views justice. It was a little hazy in the distance, but I was to find that this would clear later in the day.

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The Yorkshire (Dales) Peaks in the distance…

From Fairsnape Fell I followed a fence line to Fiendsdale Head – not the friendliest sounding place, but a good spot for lunch with a view down Fiendsdale Clough. By this point I had the fells to myself which is exactly what I had been hoping for.

DSC_1464I had a choice at this point, plot a pathless route around to Hawthornthwaite Fell and then down into the Langden Valley, or go down into the valley first via the footpath, set up camp and then head back up to the unusual trig point on the top of said fell. I felt happier with the idea of yomping through untracked heather without my pack, so I headed down the Clough towards my proposed camping spot next to the castle. The heather on the route down was glorious, surely only 1-2 weeks from ‘peak purpleness’

 The path down keeps swapping sides of the brook and I regretted deciding to leave my gaiters at home, but with some nimble footwork kept my feet dry as I crossed back and forth over an ever-growing brook. Where the path says it is on the map and reality do not quite coincide until the valley floor broadens out as you join Langden Brook itself.

Once at the castle I set up my tent and then headed back up the fell side again. Initially my route to Hawthornthwaite fell followed a shooters track, but when this ended I followed a couple of bearings to the summit. Given the absence of any kind of path I can only imagine this is a lesser visited summit. The views from the top were fabulous with the haze having cleared Also interesting was the trig point.

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Significant erosion on the top of Hawthornthwaite Fell

Since at least most of the ca. 3 meters of foundations must have become exposed before the pillar toppled, this shows that the erosion on top of the peak must amount to the same loss of height to the fell. Perhaps 10 years ago the view was a little better!?!

By the time I had got back to the tent I had covered a reasonably respectable 11.5 miles and it was time for dinner. This I enjoyed with the valley to myself. The evening afforded more sunshine and the solitary experience I had been hoping for.

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Kitchen with a great view

 Then there was plenty of time to enjoy my book, interspersed by opportunities to drink in the view. After an early night, I rose early the next morning and walked 45 minutes out to the Trough road to meet Mrs W who gave me a lift back to church were I was due to drum in the band.

 When is a day more than a day? When it is a full 24 hour experience. Hopefully I’ll get a chance for another such weekend before winter sets in…

Bedraggled in Bowland – A micro-adventure

A lot seems to have happened since my last micro-adventure, which was now almost two years ago. Mrs W and Junior were to be at a weekend conference in Derbyshire, so my appetite was wetted (and by the end of the weekend it wasn’t the only thing that became a little soggy) and the idea for a micro-adventure was born.

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 Step back just over four years, when Junior was just a large bump; Mrs W and I enjoyed a low-level walk in the Forest of Bowland. Part way round brought us to Tarnbrook, a hamlet at the end of the road with just fell-side wilderness beyond. Coming down Gables Clough was a stream, one of the two feeder branches of the River Wyre, and next to it a track running up into the fells and disappearing into the horizon. One look and I was hooked, I was determined to find where this path led, because it seemed tantalizingly likely that it would lead up into one of the most remote and inaccessible areas of England. From what I can see, it is possible to get further from roads and houses in places in the Forest of Bowland than it is anywhere else in England. Scotland offers a lot more wilderness for sure, but Bowland is on my doorstep. Junior was born a few months later, I changed jobs – twice – and thus the delay in realizing my dream.

Pouring over a map revealed that grouse shooters track could take me up to a fell top Roman road known as The Hornby Road. This gravel track could take me to the middle of nowhere, and what finer place to walk to and set up camp for the night. The forecast looked poor for the Saturday, but to improve for the Sunday morning so I decided to brave the rain and go. Abandoning the car at the top of the Trough of Bowland I headed off on the Wyre Way to Tarnbrook and then up my tantalizing track. The initial plan was to climb Mallowdale Fell and then take a footpath to the East to enable a longer walk NW along The Hornby Road. However the weather closed in and I was unable to find any trace of the footpath. OK, in fairness I didn’t look that hard, because the ground either side of the track looked particularly soft (i.e. thigh deep peat) and uninviting. I followed the shooters track all the way up onto the Roman Road on the top of Salter Fell. Occasionally the cloud lifted for just a few seconds and revealed a view of the colourful NE flank of Mallowdale Fell.

The weather was not conducive to a lunch stop so I decided to up the pace and head for the first spot I had identified as a likely place to wild camp. The wind was building, so finding a flat patch of ground next to the crux of two stone walls, itself within a short stroll of a stream (for washing my pots after dinner) soon saw me pitching the tent.

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Shortly after the heavens opened so I was delighted to be out of the weather and eating my lunch. It was only two o’clock but I had a good book with me and was warm and secure inside the tent. I love being in a tent, I find it endues such a sense of peace and secure restfulness. Three hours later I woke up refreshed and with the need of a pee and then some dinner. I was delighted to see that the cloud had now lifted for the day allowing me to drink in the view I had walked here for.

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It proved a wild night but I was secure in a Niak from who I consider Europe’s premier tentmaker, Hilleberg and glad to be tucked behind the wall. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but experiencing wild weather in a tent doesn’t keep me awake, it actually helps me to sleep.

The next morning the storm had not passed as had been promised by the previous days forecast. In a lull I got the tent down and set off along the Hornby Road. The cloud was higher, but the wind was a steady force 8 and then the rain restarted.

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Because of all the previous rain I decided to take what should be a drier path back to my starting point. The Withendale valley did not seem as attractive as it had seemed on the map, but having the rain stinging my eyes might well have flavoured my view. It was then a case of pushing on over two ridges back to the fell road. I stopped in the lea of some farm buildings in the valley for a quick lunch and then started up Whinn Fell to get back to the car. Upon getting some chocolate out to finish my lunch ‘on the hoof’ I was amused o find that all the sheep in the field came running to me in the hope of being fed

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Finally I was back at the car. 8.5 miles on Day 1 and 10 miles on Day 2. These grouse-shooters roads offer a great way to get into these otherwise inaccessible fells whilst maintaining dry feet, but next time I’ll hold out for a sunny forecast.

To Arncliffe & back – a micro adventure.

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Mrs W and Junior were planning to spend a few days with her parents, whilst I had to be at work. They were to be away for a good chunk of the weekend also, so what was I to do with my freedom from responsibility? How about a micro adventure? Cycling to the Dales, going at my pace and thriving on the hills rather than cycling around them (as I would if I had Junior in tow)? Living in East Lancashire is a blessing with so much beautiful countryside on our doorstep and yet more no great distance away. So a plan was hatched to take in my favourite road in the Forest of Bowland along with along the lesser known routes in and out of Littondale.

Day 1 – The day started heavily overcast, but the forecast promised that the cloud would lift and the sun make an appearance by late morning (and indeed it did). My route was as follows:

July Day 1 for Blog

First of all I took a new route over Grindleton Fell which I’d not ridden before, following NCN Route 90 from Holden. This route is further down the flank of the fell than the one I would normally take and proved to be a steadier gradient, to a lesser height but with views and as least as attractive as my usual route. New views are always a delight.

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By the time I reached Slaidburn the sun was firmly in evidence and yet the day was not to hot. Ideal cycling weather. Now it was time to climb to the head of the Hodder Valley and up to the Yorkshire border.   The ‘Trough of Bowland’ is the famous route through the Bowland Fells, my route being the only other North-South route in an area blessedly low in roads (I really must walk out into the middle of this wild space some time, but given it’s size and I think would be another micro-adventure in itself as a tent would be needed mid-way between access points.)

Arrival at the Yorkshire border yielded a glorious view of Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside.

DSC_0312My route then took me through very pleasant fields and woods to the New Inn at Clapham. Never one to turn down a special offer I tried a pint of their ‘special’ ale at a price even a true blooded Yorkshireman would have been happy with (more than could be said for their regular beers). This washed down my butties nicely and then it was time to make my way to the foot of my final climb of the day. Up Silverdale and along the flank of Pen-y-Ghent and Plover Hill themselves. My previous attempt at this route had been my first proper ride on the Metabike in traffic. Back then this climb had defeated me in two places where I had to get off and push. Would I be able to make it to the summit this time? Was I still ‘race fit’ after our tour of Norway in May? The answer was yes and yes – I was delighted to peddle all the way to the summit without any stretch really testing me to the limit. I must be stronger than two years ago, which when you are in your 40’s is a great boost to the self esteem. I rewarded myself with a rest break on the summit and the geek-treat of emailing a selfie to Mrs W.

DSC_0320Now I could swoop down into Halton Gill and then enjoy the longest strength of flat road I’d seen all day, taking me down the valley to Arncliffe. I was booked into The Falcon that night, not somewhere I’d even had a beer in before – but they had space available at the last minute and no single person supplement. (Now who sounds like a Yorkshireman?). Stepping into the pub was like stepping back in time, but also enabled me to encounter the warmest hospitality I think I’ve ever known in any overnight hostelry. The family who run the Falcon were warm, generous and helpful and even lent me a laptop to download the GPS route file for Day 2 which I’d prepared but forgotten to upload onto the Garmin. I had a backup on paper, but this would have been something of a hassle on a ‘bent. They are not built to hold maps and having a GPS strapped to the tiller is not only a great option, but really the only practical navigating option you have.

48 miles and 4243 feet of height gain got me the chance to sit back on a sofa, pint in one hand and novel in the other – bliss.

July Day 1 Elevation for BlogDay 2 – Breakfast was at 0830, by which time the overnight rain had cleared and whilst overcast the day looked promising – it looked like the forecast of the cloud lifting and clearing was a credible prediction. I’d treated myself to a pair of 25 litre panniers for weekends such as this, as with this volume you can carry enough for a weekend. Just the size that Frank Burns would approve of.  I draped these over the seat of the Metabike (panniers on a ‘bent are often hung just as they would be on a horse, rather than clamped to a rack.) and set off in the direction of Malham. I’d been warned by locals that the road was steep and “I’d never get up it on one of those sleeping bikes!” Well I think I would have proven them wrong had I not had to get off to let a car past on a section of 1 in 5. But once at the top of this I found no need to dismount again. The elevated sections of this road towards Malham tarn were gorgeous. It felt like a special achievement to be peddling up at this level as I remember the magnitude of the walk to get there from the other side.

tarnHowever as I peddled across I mused on the tiredness of my legs. I considered too if after another 35 miles I’d be OK to ride to the summit of Slack Top (925 feet) and thought better of this. Just then Mrs W texted that she would be home by 1400 and that was my mind made up. I’d head to the River Ribble and take a flat route back home. The river valley was a scenic contrast to the Fells as well as being an easier ride. I was home in 31 miles and in time for lunch. Achieving this distance by lunchtime seemed ‘none too shabby’ and I was then able to take Junior to the playground to enjoy his own micro adventure on the slide and the swings.

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A Grand Ride-Out

Today the forecast was for sunshine (an improvement on what was predicted on Friday) so what to do?  Gloss paint our front door or go for a ride? Now much as a love seeing a DIY job complete, there was really no contest.

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Our route out was by the direct easterly path shown above, which had us in Settle by 1030.  Time for tea – and for the lactose intolerant, something in place of cake – a bacon and black pudding butty 🙂  A fresh nappy for Weston Junior and it was time to hit the road again.  Since the first 17 miles had gone well we added a loop onto our return journey.  What a good move that was.  Whilst the climb took us to around 900 feet at Tosside, the gradient was always kind to us – good news when you are towing Junior in his trailer.  This proved a good spot for lunch.  Just a hamlet but with both benches and a loo.

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The views from Tosside and from the road linking this to Holden were simply stunning. The Forest of Bowland is a truly lovely place, but this exceeded the norm.

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In total the route was 37 miles, with just 1300 feet of height gain – finding a route as flat as this around here is an achievement in itself, but the gentle gradient up to 900 feet was icing on the cake given the views it afforded.  A great day…

Trike on tour

This weekend saw us take the Scorpion on its first mini-tour.  Two days of ca. 40 miles over the fells of the Forest of Bowland to Lancaster.

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Out via Slaidburn and High Bentham, and past the source of my favourite river, The Hodder.

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A view here from above Harrop Fold looking over to the fells of the Forest of Bowland.

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Great weather for October.

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It appears I make the perfect bike stand when my wife wants to get off to take photo’s.  Well at least I brought my own deck-chair so I was good and comfy whilst I waited!

Our route back was via Sustrans route 6, Abbeystead and the Dunsop Bridge (the centre of the kingdom)

What a great two days it was, and made all the more enjoyable for being on a recumbent.  Going down the Trough of Bowland with your rear six inches from the road is a most exhilarating experience.  It is true that going up hill was a little harder (akin to being on a tandem with a fit partner) but my speed was matched to the other half, so no time was lost.  I was more inclined to stop and wait for her too, partly because being physically laid back imparts that attitude and partly because I had brought my own deck chair to sit on and soak up the rays.