Why ecobrick?

We recycle glass, aluminium and paper. I burn paper, card and wood on my fire for heat. I cycle to work, line dry my washing and hand wash dishes. This is to save energy and reduce pollution and global warming.

For me there are three advantages of ecobricking. Firstly it encourages you to think about your packaging. It provides a very high density and efficient storage method for light and foiled plastics. The resource produced – the ecobrick can then be upcycled to produce structures such as flowerbeds, circular walls or modular units.

The method is simple

1. Wash and dry any plastic waste – no food

2. Ram into a drinks bottle with bamboo stick

3. Once densely packed finish with the lid.

Some weigh the bottles and register online to ensure densities are high enough but I collect a box worth and deliver to our collector.

There are quite a few OCD types who cut up every single plastic tray and tub; we repurpose most of these.

A bottle in the car, one by the fire and one in the kitchen has cut our plastic down by about one black bag per week.

And, the composting has increased, win. Win.

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The fire and the fury

We have wanted a stove for a while; this year we have managed to afford the fitting costs, I will not look back.

My ideology was always:

Pick it up for free,

Cutting is great mindfulness,

As you burn it carbon is low but

more grows sequestering your output;

Turn off the heating and focus.

We have achieved most of our aims but also discovered some new ones. The heating still comes on first thing but my bill has tumbled.

I now save:

Cardboard, paper, newspapers for fire starting

Toilet roll tubes, dryer lint, candle wax, silver foil and nite lights for firefighters

Every single twig I ever come across.

My firelighting has improved, employing wigwams or temples and I watch the weather more – “is it dry enough to go wooding?’, “will the fresh cut dry better in this breeze or stacked in the house?

I purchased a chainsaw too, to extend my cutting ability. After much research, and impressed with my Stihl hedge cutter I invested in battery. Why? Well, it is much lighter – the steel hedge cutter should have been the aluminium one – , much quieter and have far easier upkeep.

The questions I am always asked are:

Does it run out? Answer NO

Does it cut as well? Probably not as much torque as an wired but the safety cut outs are far more responsive. I have learnt the skills the gentle way.

Any disadvantages? None so far but the chain is quite narrow so may take some sharpening.

We have also bought a fan; pay the money. We have rescued lots of old baskets and crates in the garage. I’ve built a simple log shelter utilising old tiles but would love to make one from ecobricks eventually …

The lower lower Dart; accessing higher water

After overcoming several obstacles this year we headed to the Loop this weekend. Levels were up and I was apprehensive with my recent energy management issues. It became obvious on the way across that with a mixed group that the lower Dart would be more agreeable. Canoes have a greater fear of white water due to their open nature, ability to ship large amounts of water and reduced manoeuvrability.

We met at Austin’s bridge, traditionally the club meets upstream and then changes before shuttling the cars but this gave us the opportunity to view the Salmon Leap weir and be better informed before making a decision. It was brown, chocolatey and shifting. A downstream paddle made better sense, especially as the river was still rising. I had mentioned to Kev on the way down that if it was clear we should head upstream.

Canoeists often do not consider the colour of water. Height determines the closeness to flood events and bank top flows bring in more debris. Suspended sediment darkens the water changing the colour from gin to white wine to lager to Marstons to Guinness. Cave divers watch this colour continuously as visibility is essential but it gives paddlers a good history too.

There are three lay-bys just before Austin’s bridge and they get better the closer to the bridge you are. On the right of the road the first is indicated by a railing. Pulling off at Buckfastleigh I always find these junctions a little confusing. The second lay-by has good river access through a parallel channel and we were to use this whilst Chris nabbed a space much closer to the bridge.

Changed and with the shuttle complete we entered the water. The drive to Stapleton is on minor rods, indicated, on this occasion by travellers on the corner. You pass Ben’s cafe, I’d never noticed this before. The river was in great nick, fast flowing with good eddy lines but boiling eddies. The wave chains were continuous and despite an initial unseating the break out , paddle routine was soon set to fluid.

The take out at Staverton has changed. Instead of a simple improvement of introducing a ramp, unnecessary signs regarding land ownership and responsibility have appeared. Along with the three signs on the river it has all turned a bit Steptoe.

The new get out is less muddy, a straightforward climb up a steep bank but currently a large trunk sits out into the water [with a silver gaffe tape wrap]. This is accessed from the end of the fence and then back the leafy and tarmac track. The railway is missing a trick here as with a little management the east end of the car park could be accessible – most would happily pay an improved access rate.

The cross above indicates the egress, it feels a long way first time. We stopped at Bobs afterwards for some caffeine, decent wi-fi and a bit of a debrief.

The lower lower Dart is great in most levels, hard work in an open boat but great in a kayak.

Food, drink and sleep

Descending from Scafell Pike my opening gambit to the visitors was often “beer or ice cream?”

There was a reason; trying to engage tourists in a genuine conversations quickly provided intel and conditions on the top were key when searching for casualties. The response was often similar, “what would you recommend”?

This led me to a quandary, the better brew pub was further down the valley whilst the historical centre served good beer at too high a price. My reply was often “the local beers”.

This wasn’t what the punters wanted, they really wanted you to say “well I am a local and I always drink in the King George”, they also sell ice creams …

The problems with making recommendations is that they change and therefore are with controversy.

Here is my basic three hit assessment:

1. Service; do they greet you with a smile and ask you what you want?

2. Is the beer / coffee / bed good value.

3. For me the third requirement was always an open fire. This has changed and increasingly I ask for Wi-Fi. I fully understand that this in not available everywhere but today with limited mobile reception in some places this can be a basic rescue requirement or preparation. Do they know the forecast if they have no wi-fi?

On my adventures, so far I have experienced a wide variety of service and I share them here.

Breakfast

The cafe in Dunsford is superb. Closed from October half term to Valentine’s Day he will cook me two eggs, four bacon and toast for £4. The perfect breakfast, the service is great but there is no Wi-fi. That’s okay because I often don’t need it first thing. The pub across the road shows promise … but I still have yet to catch it open.

The Fox Tor cafe serves a good breakfast too, especially when I have been stealthing it at 390.

The Wi-fi hums, in a Princetown sort of way and bunking at £13 is good value. Parking is simple, straightforward and the free visitor centre worth a visit.

It’s also worth mentioning the Priddy farm cafe here, up on Mendip, a favourite of mine; open at 9.

Brunch

I say brunch because I don’t really do lunch. I sometimes start late, tick a couple of squares [box codes] and then drop for a coffee or grab a pasty. The shop in Christow, Dunsford and South Zeal are all great for pasties and armed with a flask of boiled water [more later] I push on into the day. Coffee is brilliant in Moretonhampsted and both the Cross Street cafe and Central cafe provide great coffee, cakes and Wi-fi. There is also a bunkhouse which I will explore further.

The bakery in Horrabridge is organic and the pasties homegrown and fab.

Midday

Okay, so I don’t settle to a formal meal at lunch time but often a liquid one suffices. There are plenty of great pubs but it tends to be those off of the beaten track which have the best prices and genuinely provide for visitors, after all I am really a grockel here.

Somewhere to grab a pint, plan the next leg and maybe add a few images always helps.

The Kestor inn in Freeland, near Manaton provide all of the above along with plenty of 365 banter. It is a village store, was receptive to a lunchtime pint despite serving dinners and a ‘working mans’ venue, by this I mean, great value, choice of beer, mainly cask with Lino and wipe clean table. I do not seek out hirsute establishments with dark brown sofas as trying to scribble out the next plan onto an OS map does not work on a couch. I am also wearing my walking boots and so am only too realistic about where I will feel most comfortable.

The Fox and Hounds, near Lydford is another one of those establishment I can drop in whenever, I may sometimes grab a burger too.

The Warren House is is both a square, [i13] and an historical landmark. It is not the best value pint but here is always variety and the beer is well kept. I sit in the same place, beside the fire – another guarantee – and talk 365 … Increasingly as I am tweeting or posting 365 images LIVE word gets around I am out and about. This is a great place to meet.

On a side note here, some ask why I tweet rather than post as a primary channel? It is very simple, twitter drops your image to low res. on your phone, makes the priority uploading this and ignores the download. This makes better use of limited connectivity and battery.

The Peter Tavy inn shares similar credentials; variety, value – a published tariff – and welcome. Wi-fi is limited to the bar area, but who wants to sit with emmets gorging themselves?

The Skylark was my most recent visit, the beer was fair and I met some lovely punters but a request for Wi-fi was met abruptly and next time I will try the Meavy Oak. It takes little to be polite, the staff sat and ran down customers in the Bearslake Inn to such an extent that it spoilt my beer. I will try again because service depends on personalities but with the Castle Inn also in competition [a great nights accommodation] you would think this was a priority.

Another great lunchtime pint can be achieved in the Manor Inn, Lower Ashton and just outside of the 365 area but genuine service and great food too. The Cridford, in Trusham nearby has changed hands again, watch this space but in the meantime push that bit further up the valley.

Dinner

For me, dinner is the main meal of the day whether taken at midday or in the evening. The Elephants nest is a favourite [j3 Horndon] but the Fox and Hounds is my ‘go to’ venue. I often live off of cans from the back of the van and so set myself a daily allowance of about £10. With a beer at lunch this doesn’t leave much. I dine on just a main course, no frills, but with a ceiling of £10 the Fox always delivers.

Weatherspoons in Okehampton also offers great value. Emma’s cafe where the A30 meets the A303 offers beans on toast or egg on toast for £1.20, together this makes a meal. The transport cafe at Sourton Down is similar but no Wi-fi again.

The Plume of Feathers in Princetown offer straightforward meal efficiently served but the beer price is climbing and without internet value depreciates. I have been moved on before for not having a meal but also utilised a good value shared b&b room.

I’d like to explore local cafes and pubs more but I have friends in the east and so it is only recently that I am living on the western moors increasingly. Now that my van has a cooking platform it is so easy to warm up cans or sachets and the view is always stupendous.

Sleep.

Living in Sherborne I like to maximise my carbon and spend as much time on the moor as I can. Last time this involved some van sleeping but also some paid accommodation. Heading back towards Exeter costs carbon and whilst company is excellent it is harder to fully utilise daylight.

Initially I asked for recommendations from the 365 Facebook group and I have followed these up. I prefer bunkhouse accommodation but increasingly realise that if you talk to proprietors when they are empty, prices are quite fluid. Bed and breakfast offers the advantage of being up early and fully fuelled, before stepping out. Booking.com type sites offer a good introduction but with limited data are sometimes difficult to access.

Betty Cottles offers some of the cheapest rooms on these sites but Wi-fi is limited, the beer choice narrow and the chance of a good night sleep variable. It has just changed hands and the breakfast has declined in quality. Instead I now head for Meadowlea in Okehampton, single rooms are excellent value and combined with Weatherspoons you can get a great top up in calories. Breakfast is superb and they fill my flask without question.

I often pay between £20 and £25 for a single room, slightly more than a hostel place but the quality of sleep is so much better. Hotels such as the Fox offer singles from £40, I wouldn’t pay more. They offer the cheapest bunkhouse accommodation at £8 and I prefer this to a night in the snow but despite showers being included the beds are damp, pick a mattress carefully.

My primary choice is still van and whilst 320 and 270 offer the best quality all round views I still wants to spend more time exploring bunk and economy. This is mainly because the less I pay the longer I can stay out. In the silver seasons you often have exclusivity in the bunkhouses and tied with a good cafe this is an ultimate combination.

This just leaves the request for recommendations; add you favourite pub, cafe or bunk or even stealth spot. I try to be honest but do not shy away from poor service. If there is no internet then fine but be polite, I have 4G and so a solution is available often. Offer to try a beer or go off menu to complete a request. Breakfast shouldn’t be a can of tomatoes and a can of beans, I can buy those myself in the Co-op, if I fancy a veggie morning with a couple of poached eggs and some mushrooms on toast it probably shouldn’t cost £7!

And one final service which I totally recommend is Brocante of Tavistock. Penny tirelessly volunteers for 365 and keeps stickers and badges. She produced the maps and is now posting out the second edition of the book. She will also recommend a good place for ice creams!

Widening the world

With 12,000 hits and over 950 followers now I have decided it is time to try and specialise some of my channels. OllisMark’s blog will continue to explore the outdoors through adventure but I am gradually moving the caving material over to the successful West Cumbria Canyoning. This will become Cave and Canyon. One idea is to keep the legacy feeds live whilst adding new underground material. There are many links between rapping and SRT and I hope to further integrate this with the guiding, navigation and rope work courses of Toucan Outdoors.You can find Cave and Canyon at Cave and Canyon. One of the question I get asked is “why aberrant bee?” Well it all began back in Aberystwyth when we were looking for an offbeat name for our alternative circus. Aberration circus moved to St Bees as a community project and some members also formed Rockfish 25. When we started blogging our alternative activities the name remained. We still juggle when we are together, stilts, unicycle and skates also come out occasionally.

Moving from the Lakes to Sherborne was a wrench but coast, moor, Dip and chalk have provided a reinvigoration. Initially I stayed close to home focusing on mastering a new job but exploring my locale. I set myself the local project of interlinked circular walks around Sherborne and Tiffin played an integral part. These are blogged on the Around Sherborne site and eventually I may move these into a supporting text too. If you are transmitting the A303 look seriously at some of the northernmost routes. PDF maps are also free on ViewRanger.

Exploring wider afield introduced me to Dartmoor and the excellent 365 group. Whilst Facebook isn’t everyone’s cup of tea the group function is superb and cave, canoe and exploring clubs all utilise it fully. You will see the box codes included in Dartmoor write ups and with a recent rewrite of the book this modern day letter/box meets ancient history activity will grow exponentially.

The 365 activity is also tweeted on my Twitter feed, mainly as images are forced out far easier when on the moor; @365Dartmoor. Alongside this a new project @200Mendip is developing quickly. The AONB has 200 square kilometres of Mendip and it is my intention to find something noteworthy in each square. This is a crowd sourced [not funded] project on Facebook where you can nominate artefacts or landforms, adding a photo and bagging your favourite squares. The project is in its early days but with over 10% already complete momentum has been achieved, join us – search Mendip 200 on Facebook or follow from afar on Twitter.Winter is my favourite season; it pushes me underground, resurrects my bicycle and makes me dream of feathers and spikes. Hardship is overcome at home, the stove stays stoked and the pub becomes central to my culture. Socially although we are still active, the time to sit and share can be limited without a central node. For me that is the Eurogame. My mind is in the next adventure whether this is transiting the rapids of Niagara or building cities in Carcassonne. In reality few games easily transfer into an outdoor environment, mainly the card games such as Jaipur or Formula racing or even smaller boards such as Ticker, New York.

My final offering is a recent site which pulls together the social aspects of board gaming – through the Sherbored game collective – the use of tech and the need for a good old story. There are hundreds of You Tube videos out there explaining how to play, the pros and cons and Board Game Geek is an excellent site to record your plays and keep abreast of new prints. Board, tile or die links together the hex, people and tech. I have recently invested in an iPad Pro, largely to enable me to see things more clearly but also so that I can take my library with me on my adventure and continue to share my player experiences with the community. I also believe that a shift away from racing or shooting games onto board may provide our youth with a social aspect they don’t yet experience with the immersive computer game.

So what of the future? No mention is made here of my passion for geography or increasingly geology. Toucan continues to expand and I hope to eventually provide guided walks and tours and developmental days out on the chalk with families more. Small scale, carbon friendly, donation based so that I can put into the rescue services who have inspired me over the years. I also remain passionate about the work of our heart and sight charities [currently partially sighted myself] and would like to eventually work with our ex serviceman more.

The Toucan Outdoors blog will come, gently at first, hopefully generate some happiness for others and maybe make the outdoors a safer place too. Watch this space.

Wrapping up the dark quarter

The far southwest quadrant south of Tavistock and bounded by the two main roads and has one toe in Plymouth. The influence of residences and most especially the main road is noticeable. Golf courses, drone pilots and pub launchers invade the countryside focussing on the ultimate starter or wi fi reception.

I journeyed south from Peter Tavy heading up,towards Coxtor farm to discover the Headlands cross (i3).

This lays dejected on the bank bottom, reflecting on bygone ages.

Across the 3357 a riverside crossing is idyllic before climbing up to Pixies Cross, surrounded by gorse, golfers and stern looks. “How dare you follow an ancient route way across our game”. I was tempted to rev my engine just as they tee’d off.

The journey down through Plaster Down revealed the standing stone beside a poorly maintained leat, the dog walkers were out, chatting and revealing all. This led me down to Horrabridge but not before a dip into Grenofen Tunnel (o2).

Considering it was the first day of half term a closed cafe was a sorry sight but the bakery came through with an excellent pasty. The bridge is enchanting and salmon leap aerated the water giving a feeling on euphoria. The simple flood defences are well integrated and subtle and I hope effective.

Climbing out of the village roadworks truncated the flow but once into Harrowbeer and searching for Roman trees this was left behind me. The airport leads onto Roborough and the rocks and pebble art from Plymouth brightened the afternoon.

Next a quandary appeared, Meavy Oak, Sheepstor or Skylark for lunch? I decided to visit the tree, leave the sheep and revisit an old haunt. Very efficient at large chip portions and a lovely local but the welcome was lost especially when I dared to ask for wi-fi!

It takes so little to be polite; my needs have changed – decent priced pint first, good service second, and some wi-fi third. This has pushed the open fire out of the frame but after five days in the wilderness and my data exhausted I wanted to share some images.

The Wild West

After a shower and great sleep at theFox and Hounds, – cheap but damp – I headed to church at Brentor. The village is much better with people around and the station charming.

I was heading towards Wheal Jewell reservoir (i4) and by parking my Landy on the verge at Will I was able to double up dropping to Cataloo steps (i5) afterwards and looping back around via Standon Farm.

The corpse road crossed here.

Moving the van on again I crossed to Tavy at Hill Bridge (J4) which has two amazing salmon leaps. An iron ladder leads a path alongside the leat.

Lunch was at Peter Tavy and liquid. Part two was towards Stephens grave and then out to the Langstone (K4&5). This was a long hard pull against the wind and with clocks changed I was aware that the sun would drop quickly. I will have to scoop up Great Staple and Cox on another day.