The van

When I first thought about this, I worried I might lose friends, then I realised it was the right thing.

 

“Imagine that money wasn’t something you had to worry about – what would you do?”

Once you figure out the answer, you’re meant to head down the most efficient path there. Working ‘to get rich’ when you’re seeking to ‘have a happy family life’ may not be the most efficient route for you. It’s not a new concept, and worth reflecting on.

Today, I want to share with you how I’m answering that question.

The Plan

Parking the van at work
Parking the van at work

The plan is to buy a van, convert it into a live-in stealth campervan, and live in it. By June ~30th 2015.

Current status: I have bought a Mercedes Sprinter 2008 long wheel base 311 CDI 2.1 with ~150,000 miles – should go to ~300,000. It’s in fairly good nick.

This is my first car, and first thing I’ve driven on my own, so driving around Manchester is fun at times.

Instant FAQs

Where will you park it?

On the street, in different places – wherever we want to be at that point in time.

Will it have internet?

It’ll have 12V onboard electrics powering a 3G/4G wifi router. 25GB of data on EE these days is £30/mo on a one month contract.

What will you do about a toilet?

There will be an onboard Thetford c200 cassette toilet with SOG (so we won’t have to use chemicals). We will be using grey water from the sink for flushing.

What will you do about showers?

Not having them onboard. Showers exist in modern office buildings, swimming baths, sports centres etc.

Who’s going to do the conversion?

Me (with help from my girlfriend Clara).

What van conversion skills do you have?

Ability to read instructions, a nice powerdrill, blind optimism. You only learn when you try.

Why not buy a readymade campervan?

  • Most campervans are built for weekend trips away to caravan sites – where you get an electric hookup, and are never designed for constant use.
  • Parking up in a city, we’d prefer to look “stealth” – just like one of the unmarked white vans you saw today – that you didn’t give a thought to.
  • We dislike the 80-90s retro interior design of the campervans we’ve seen. The white/grey plastic makes me want to vom.
  • When you build something yourself, you value it more highly, so we think building our home will make us better appreciate it for what it is.

Why not buy a house?

You can’t drive a house to another place.

Why not build a house?

You can’t drive a house to another place.

Why not live in a canal boat?

You’re limited to canals, and travelling at about 8mph. So spending a week in the Lake District is kind of hard work.

What will you be doing about washing clothes?

Somehow, laundrettes still exist. Also, lovely friend’s houses. :)

What will you do about an address?

My parents live relatively nearby. That’s a good place to direct snail-mail to.

How will you power your electrics?

Initially, from leisure batteries and a split charge relay from the alternator. I’d love to have solar panels for charging the batteries, and as soon as I have time/money/energy, they’re on the agenda for the roof.

Once I can afford a Tesla Powerwall, and it’s easily available in the UK, it’s of serious interest to me.

Will you be on your own? (How will you ever get a girlfriend?)

My girlfriend Clara has been helping me with the CAD plans and seems open to living there with me.

How does she feel about it?

Clara says:

“*shrug* – it sounds like an adventure. If it’s not a fun adventure I will move back to my place in Sheffield. I’m super happy for my lovely boyfriend to do what makes him happy.”

How much will this cost you?

Hopefully less than a house, and less than rent, and more flexibility. I bought the van for £5,500.

I know someone else who’s done this!

There’s an entire community about it at /r/vandwellers

How did you get this idea?

I took some inspiration from VanDogTraveller and my friend Dan Woods who lived in a van during his University years in Manchester. I also listened to (and sometimes ignored) suggestions from Matt Bibby, Dave Crossland and others. I’m really grateful for their inspiration and advice.

In the ’50s, when my mum was little, she and her family lived in a converted double decker bus.

In the past I had an idea to travel around the country, spending a month in different AirBnBs. When I had the van idea, it felt more efficient and became the plan.

Won’t you be very cold in the winter?

Hopefully not. It will be chilly, for sure, and we’ll have to look carefully at how things are going as the temperatures start dropping, but we’re fairly optimistic that we can make it work. Staying warm in bed should be fairly straightforward, and one of the nice things about a van is that it’s a much smaller space to heat than the average house. We’re going to insulate it well.

Won’t you be very hot in the summer?

This could be an issue. The van is white and we’re planning to insulate it fairly well. The UK is hardly Morocco though. We count our very hot summer days, when it reaches 20C+, on one hand. If the van is unbearably hot we will go and enjoy the sunshine outside!

Aren’t you just demonstrating how incredibly privileged you are?

Yep. I’m a white well-educated, cis male, from a well-off background, with a great job and supportive family, in a first world country, with a social welfare system and a nationalised health service. I have to acknowledge that in almost everything I do. I have a lot of people to be grateful for, and I must be mindful not to take anything for granted and to do what I can to help those who’ve been less fortunate in the privilege lottery.

Aren’t you worried about what people will think?

In short, “no”.

I gave this some thought, I was worried my friends might instantly unfriend me. I realised that my friends don’t judge people by their living arrangements, but by what they’re like as a human being. I plan on being the same person, and anyone who wishes to pigeon-hole because of my living arrangements probably doesn’t know me.

Is this forever? Will you never get a house?

I may get a house in future. Who knows? Let’s figure that out when the future arrives.

I wouldn’t do this.

That’s absolutely ok!

Background:

Since about 2008, I’ve noticed that the internet has helped me geographically distribute myself. I noticed I didn’t seem to get homesick because the things I cared most about tended to be accessible via the internet.

(NB. This doesn’t apply to pets. I wish I could have emailed hugs to my dog, and got licks and snuffles by SMS.)

I realise about myself:

  • I love travelling when it seems like the right thing – I love mountains, outdoors, sea sides, long beaches, camping and exploring.
  • I also love technology, though perhaps that’s less obvious – I post fewer photos of it, try to avoid being relentlessly gushing about it – and yet, me and it often work hand in hand every day.
  • I’m fairly independent – I’ve never been in debt and I’ve been financially independent since I got my first job when I was 18, but I’ve been supported and effectively self-directed for sometime before then. For better or for worse, I don’t seem really be afraid of blazing my own path on my own, even if it turns out in the end just to be an interesting footnote.

Realisations:

  • I’m 24. I can make mistakes. I should make mistakes. I should make mistakes NOW.(I don’t seek to make mistakes, just be aware that they provide the most powerful opportunities to learn from, and that it’s easier to make bold decisions when you support fewer people.)
  • If this turns out to be a terrible idea, the downside is not fatal. It allows for learning. In the context of my life, it’s a small bet.
  • I feel that most of my relationships with my friends and family are location agnostic. Sure, I need turn up at my friend’s party, just like I should be at a family wedding – but the rest of the time? I’m not convinced physical proximity is super important so long as you’re there at ‘the right’ moments.
  • Being in one fixed location is less relevant to day to day job than it ever was. Most of my work is conducted over email and phone calls, and last summer I spent three weeks, working remotely from Bulgaria – more recently, close online collaboration in a distributed team seems to be working well.
  • I don’t want to buy a house, until I know I want to live there for ~10+ years. I don’t know where I want to be living in ~10+ years time, so I don’t want to buy a house.
  • There are two unfulfilled ambitions I think I have: one is to travel more, the other is to build something big.

So what’re the next steps?

I’ll be blogging, tweeting, facebooking about it as much as I can as we build it. You can also follow the github repo which contains the the CAD plans (or the cartoon simplified version) and things we’re working on.

The next step is for me to stop writing this blog post and insulate it! :D

The Van
The Van

I’d love to hear from you! Any thoughts? Any unanswered questions? Well wishes? Stories? Things I might want to think about? Let me know in the comments!

#TimOnTour Kyrgyzstan 2013 – Exploring Central Asia’s lesser known mountains

What’s going on here?

I’m on a two week trek, exploring a lesser known part of Kyrgystan, in central Asia. I’m publishing my location (with a Spot device) and that I’m OK, at regular intervals.

Where are you right now?

Back in the UK.

Where did you go?

Have a look at this map.

What do different update types mean:

OK/Checkin:

  • Just that I am at location and everything is ok. (Two thumbs up, absolutely ok, things are going great)

Custom:

  • Slept here
  • Lots of wow noises due to surroundings at that point
  • Summited something
  • Met someone here
  • Something of interest happened here
  • Repeatedly, over protracted period, with no intertwined OK/Checkin’s -: everything OK, but not ‘awesome’, no assistance required. Probably coincides with return to civilisation.

Note: none of these updates can mean I need help. There is a unique Help alert that carries that meaning and is dealt with separately.

Who is guy anyway?
Who is guy anyway?

How do you pronounce Kyrgystan?

“Kur-gur-stan”

Where is Kyrgystan?

Central Asia. South of Russia, West of China

What timezone is that?

KGT. +5 hours from BST

Who are you travelling with?

I’m going on my own.

How are you getting to Kyrgystan?

Turkish Airlines: Manchester to Osh, via Istanbul.

How long are you  going for?

2 weeks (30th September – 15th October)

My flights
My flights

Where are you going?

Osh for a couple of days, then down to Bakten province, and up the Karavshin valley, right up to the Jiptik (джиптик) valley.


Where I’m planning to go.

Why Karavshin & Jiptik valleys?

There are unclimbed peaks in the area which I plan to scout/photograph. In addition, the scenery is reputedly comparable to Yosemite but in my 300 page guidebook of Kyrgzystan (2011), Batken province was given just 3 pages, and the Karavshin/Ak-Suu area was mentioned in passing in just one paragraph.

Also, it’s the only state in Central Asia with no visas for UK-visitors.

The area is traveled but certainly not well traveled. Seems like enough reasons to me!

What are you aims?

Meet and understand the landscape and people of the Karavshin & Jiptik valleys.

Where will you be staying?

I will probably mostly be camping, though I may do a few homestays in yurts.

Is it easy to get there?

No, it’s a bit of a ballache. Kyrgystan is 90% mountainous, but also, due to the Soviet Union days of Stalin, there are lots of enclaves and exclaves of various different countries in the area… and the main roads go through them. This means that to drive from Osh to Batken, I have to drive round Sohk, and Uzbek enclave (as I don’t have a transit visa), and the avoid the Uzbek border. When I leave Batken for Karavashin, I have to avoid or otherwise pass through the Tajik enclave of Vorukh…. and to go to the Karavashin area, I need a permit allowing me near the border, as it is close to the border with Tajikistan.

And that’s just the access issues.

Actually finding out everything above was also pretty challenging (and perhaps not accurate!). I don’t expect execution to be as simplistic as I explained.

I’m using a local travel company – Karavshin Travel – in Batken to help with a few things, but I’ve no idea how it will play out.

It wouldn’t be adventure travel, if I knew all the variables.

What are the dangers?

Have you done anything like this before?

Sort of.

I have solo cultural experience in Eastern EuropeBaltic StatesWestern Russia and I live next to Rusholme.

I’ve a good deal of solo trekking experience in England and Scotland and notably last year I spent 2 weeks backpacking through the northern Sweden, in the Arctic circle

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t speak English, even as a second language, how will you communicate?

The locals may speak Kyrgz, or they may speak Tajik, Uzbek or other central Asian languages.

Kyrgyzstan’s second official language is Russian, a foreign language I scored an A in, many years ago, at GCSE. I don’t speak Russian very well anymore, but I can read/spell out Cyrillic and, with the help of a phrasebook, I expect to be able to make myself understood.

Are you taking a satellite phone?
No. If you want to catchup, drop me message and suggest sometime when we can chat when I’m home!? Catchups are good. :)

What happens in event of an emergency?

In the event I require assistance, my SPOT satellite device will alert 10 friends/family who will probably then contact my travel company in Batken. They will look at the information available to them and make decisions on that.

Are you scared?
No. What is there to be scared of?

If you buy a car, but are too scared of scratching it to take it out of the garage, then there’s no point having such a nice car.

If you have a nice camera but are so scared of losing it that you refuse to take it to places where you’d want nice photos, then there’s no point having such a nice camera.

If you have a nice life, but you’re so scared of taking calculated risks that you don’t get to have fun, then frankly, what’s the point?

I see the world, not as a world of dangers, but as a world of opportunities.

I’ve written about this in more detail in two blog posts:

My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.
My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.

Is Google Maps the best maps you have?

Fortunately not. I’m navigating off a 1980 1:200,000 Soviet military map, that I have printed to A2 (each square = 4km), and several fragments of 1:100,000 that cover the same area. You can browse the maps with ease on toppomapper.com.

How bad will your withdrawal symptoms be through lack of internet?

Pretty bad… my hair may start falling out. Oh wait, it already is.

I’m kind of looking forward to it – last October I did 12 days in Sweden without internet.

How much does your rucksack weigh?

Too much.

18kg (inc camera, ex. water)

If you're Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries
If you’re Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries

What’s in your rucksack?

Kitlist

Surely you don’t need XXXX?

If I didn’t feel it was necessary, I wouldn’t be taking it. We may have to agree that we have different definitions of “necessary”.

What money are you taking?

Kyrgyzstan uses the “som”, which isn’t a very strong currency. I’m taking US dollars and some euros I have left over and am going to change them on arrival.

This doesn’t seem very organised, how long have you been planning this?

About 9-10 days from concept to takeoff.

Basically, I had been mis-counting my holidays, and so when I noticed the end of my holiday year approaching, I did a check, and rather than finding I owed holiday, I found I was owed about 2 weeks of holiday…

At that point, began the rush to find a way to make use of my time. After much thought, this was what I decided on.

This sounds very stressful. Wouldn’t you prefer to sit on a beach somewhere and have a casual beer?

I think by “stressful” you mean “exciting”. Having said that, I love beer and beach holidays as much as anyone else, they’re rarely “exciting” though.

No expense spared on food!
No expense spared on food!

Aren’t you vegetarian? Won’t that be tricky in Kyrgyzstan?

Well, for me, it’s a lot less tricky, as I’ve 22 years experience at it, but it’s true to point out that most Kyrgz recipes start with “first you kill your sheep”.

Being sufficiently polite and respectful is far more a concern for me than starvation – bread is an important part of Kyrgz culture and I’m certain I’ll find something to eat.

Why are you vegetarian?

It’s a long story. 22 years long, and I’ve summarised why in a previous blog post.

What will you be eating?

Whilst I’m in the mountains, I anticipate eating expedition food which I spared no expense in buying from a British supermarket. Food is a strangely polarising subject, and I anticipate no end of criticism for my choice to carry food from the UK.

How long will it take you to get your photos online afterwards?

I anticipate taking 2000-5000 photos, perhaps 2-6 hours video footage. I’d anticipate that only about 5% of that will be of interest to most people. Separating that 5% is time consuming and somewhat draining – 6 hours work in several stages. I’ll get it done, but it’ll take time and energy, both of which I won’t have. Expect a multiweek lag.

Who’s paying for your trip?

I’m entirely self-funded.

Are you receiving support from anyone?

Bytemark Hosting Logo
Bytemark Hosting are helping provide 24 hour response to alerts

My employer, Bytemark Hosting – has allowed me to hook my emergency SPOT alerts into the 24 hour s alerting framework, Mauve, that we use for monitoring servers 24/7.

When an alert is raised via this system, the oncall engineer is alerted and/or woken up, and goes and deals with the problem.

I’m very confident in my colleagues, and so, by hooking my call for help into Bytemark systems, my colleagues can help alert my ground-team straight away, so help can be sent straight away.

I’m very grateful for Bytemark’s support on this front – not every organisation would be comfortable with such a thing – so I really appreciate working with people who are happy to watch my back.

Any words of gratitude?

I’d like to thank my family, for their positive outlook on everything. It’s really been a great influence on me.

My awesome girlfriend Clara for happily letting me go off and do my own crazy things, and then happily suggesting we go camping in March in the UK. <!–more pukeworthy comments–>

John Proctor for suggestions and moral support and for his part in the Muzkol 2013 expedition with Jonathan Davey, which partly served as encouragement and inspiration. John’s other climbing buddy, Ed Lemon, also deserves a pint for map assistance.

Anita Wilczynska, my former trekking buddy from Morocco, for moral support & encouragement – it’s appreciated!

My sister & her partner for being part of our safety web – thanks!

My colleagues at work, and the building security guard for putting up with most of Amazon, being delivered to our office, for the past 2 weeks. ;)

Who’s influenced and inspired you?
Jessica WatsonLaura DekkerRobin Knox-JohnsonPete GossEllen MacArthurMike PerhamJoe SimpsonTom AllenTheodora Sutcliffe and Zac Sutcliffe, Alexis OhanianTim Moss

Both sets of grandparents’ own style of epic voyages and casual “jaunts” round unusual places.

Who are you raising money for?

Nobody.

Can I pay for your holiday?

I recommend giving money to your favourite charity instead. ;)

Photojournalism 101: Build your own celltower

In 2011, I went to the Western Isles of Scotland, to the Isle of Skye and Isle of Rasaay. I recently came across this amusing photo I took in Arnish, Rasaay, where I was camping for the night:

Keeping that elevation
Keeping that elevation

I had been trying to maintain an internet connection, via my Nokia N900 phone and Thinkpad x60s Laptop – but I couldn’t get the really slow, GPRS connection to hold, without an extra bit of elevation.

Fortunately, I handily had a Nikon D200 to hand, with a 55-200 f4, which happened to be just the right height…

My photos from this trip (including this one) are now on Flickr, licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 licence – which permits commercial reuse with attribution.

You can watch my video blog from the trip here.

#timontour Kungsleden/Abisko – Video Blog

I recently got back from an epic backpacking adventure in Northern Sweden. It was essentially 12 days of walking through the Swedish mountains, in the Arctic Circle, on my own. Every day (ish) I made a video blog, and whilst I’ve not finished (not started actually!) processing the mass of photos and video I took, I’ve finally got this sorted and uploaded.

Take a look:

timontour : Kungsleden/Abisko 2012″>#timontour : Kungsleden/Abisko 2012

Update 1 – Day 1 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko
Update 2 – Day 2 – From wild camping just outside Abisko National park, ~2km from Abiskojaurestugorna
Update 3 – Day 3 – From wild camping 10km between Abiskojaurestugorna and Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 4 – Day 4 – From the woodshed – Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 5 – Day 5 – From the hut – Allejaurestugorna
Update 6 – Day 6 – From the hut – Tjäktja Stugorn
Update 7 – Day 7/8 – From the mountain and Nallostugan
Update 8 – Day 8/9 – From wild camping at top end of Vistas Vagge and Radugastugan Shelter
Update 9 – Day 9 – From outside the huts at Abiskojaure Stugan
Update 10 – Day 10/11 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko/Abisko

#timontour: Central Fells – 5 Wainrights

I have known that I really wanted to go camping (as in backpacking) sometime in January for quite a while.

Why? Why January, you might reasonably ask. You might point out it’s cold, the weather is rubbish and so the mere concept is bordering on crazy. Perhaps I should “go and watch TV instead”…

After the annual hype balloons of Christmas and New Year are ceremoniously popped, January begins with an anticlimax; nothing happens, no one wants to socialise, everyone wants to recover from Christmas, people must go back to work, students have exams… Instead of letting the infectious gloom of January get to me, I decided to head off to the Lake District for some wild winter camping fun!

#timontour: Central Fells – 5 Wainrights

After work on Friday, I caught the train from Manchester to Windermere, from where I caught the last Stagecoach 555 bus from Windermere station to Grasmere, arriving about 23:30 From Grasmere, I walked up Easedale, past Sour Milk Gill (given how pretty it was in the dark, it must be doubly impressive in the day) and up to Easedale Tarn.

I’d been warned about the wind a few times – my dad had mentioned it, the bus driver mentioned it, I’d thought of it anyway and read the forcasts; from what I read it didn’t look too bad.

As I turned the corner up to the tarn (00:05 by now), the wind hit me head on. It was strong. Very strong. I battled forward, the full moon supplementing the light of my head torch, illuminating massive crags round the tarn. It looked amazing. Well, it would have looked amazing, however, the wind was blowing so hard, it make it unpleasant to look directly into it. Finally, I was through the gap and the wind, subsided, minutely. My head torch could pick out white horses on the tarns surface. It was seriously windy. I briefly considered turning round and descending a couple of hundred metres to where it was a lot more sheltered, but I’d been told that there were some lumps and bumps one could pitch a tent behind – I went in search of them.

After failing for some time to find any respite from the wind, I noticed my head torch reflecting off a strange object near the shoreline; three reflective points shone back at me in a triangle; I walked closer and then suddenly, over the wind, I heard a shout – it was a tent. Hastily, I retreated my steps – it hadn’t been my intention to surprise any other campers – I hadn’t even considered there might be people as mad as me!

I pitched my tent relatively nearby. Well, let’s say I attempted to pitch my tent. Tents are in many ways like kites, except that they’re not meant to fly. Pitching a tent in a strong wind however, requires thought, and some planning. My Vango Helium Superlite 200 is easy to pitch compared to other tents, but still not a trivial task in those conditions. After some time it seemed to be largely “up”, so I went round to tighten all of the pegging points to their maximum. It was at this point that I noticed that points I’d tightened seemed to be getting untightened in the time it had take me to tighten something else. I ended up tying little knots and half hitches in then just to make sure it didn’t loosen. I pegged and repegged some points to make sure the pegs (shorter than standard ones to save weight) were in at the optimum angle (very shallow!). Having come to the conclusion, there was nothing much else I could do, I put me and my bag in the tent and sorted out the tensioning system (arguably my tents answer to guy ropes). It was now about 01:15 and it still felt very dicey, but there was nothing for it so I made myself as comfortable as possible, burrowing deep into my down sleeping bag.

After a noisy night, I awoke to find out it was about 09:00 and it was light. Everything seemed ok. The tent was still here. I didn’t appear to be floating in tarn… A couple of minutes later, after a large gust of wind, I noticed that the end of my tent where my head was seemed to have collapsed. Not good. Little problems can turn into big problems very quickly if left unattended; I dashed outside – it looked like the tail end peg had been completely pulled out and then catapulted over the entire tent (length ways) downwind. I fixed it up, but took it as a hint to start taking down my tent – again much easier said than done in gale force winds.

As I was just finishing the guys from the other tent who’d just finished packing away wandered over to say hi. After asking whether it was me last night, one of them exclaimed:

Oh I know you! You’re from Youtube!

Which completely floored me for a few seconds – the probability of being recognised from those videos hadn’t even crossed my mind. It turns out he’d seen my video of wild camping at Stickle Tarn.

Codale and Easedale Tarns, Helm Crag, Fairfield in background
Panorama of Codale and Easedale Tarns

Soon, conversations complete, it was time to go and I marched up the path towards Segeant Man, passing Codale Tarn as I did and getting some stunning views of Stickle Tarn as well. After an exciting ascent, I was slightly disappointed that the lump itself had nothing noteworthy to define it. From there, I set off (with help from my fully working compass), in the direction of High Raise. The route from Sergeants Man to High Raise is boggy, but nothing compared to what was to come later. High Raise was intensely windy but the stone shelter there provided remarkably good cover and I took a moment to consult Wainright on what was to come. I had decided not to ascend Ullscarf as originally intended on the basis that camping anywhere above 200 metres would probably be a lot less fun given the wind I was encountering. The plan was to head down to Greenup Edge and then head up Calf Crag, with a view to possibly doing Gibson Knot and Helm Crag as well. Originally I’d intended to do this ridge, but on the second day and now, as I realised that I needed to descend a lot, before I could even consider getting my tent out again, I figured I could have a shot at it all in one go.

The descent from High Raise to Greenup Edge was hellishly boggy and slippery, as was the descent from Greenup Edge to the head Wythburndale. Wainright describes the Wythburndale as being isolated and boggy and in my short experience of it, the boggyness definitely was a defining feature.

Squelching up Calf crag, the wind hit me once again, this time from behind, and I learned how difficult it is to keep your balance when being pushed from behind. I noticed the wind blowing the water of a tarn and sweeping spray up into the air in a menacing fashion. This was still no place for tents.

I continued along the ridge, which largely lacked anything particularly notable apart from birdeye views of upper Easdale. As I started to get towards Jackson’s Knott, I realised that the question I’d been toying with – whether I’d reach Grasmere in the light – was irrelevant. I could jump on a bus and go home whether it was light or not – I didn’t have to go searching for a new sheltered camping spot and something else to climb tomorrow – I could just scoot home and be happy with what I’d achieved. With an extra burst of energy, I passed Gibson Knott and soon climbed my way up Helm Crag.

Clearly Helm Crag has a beautiful view, however as the light was fading, as was my energy, I started to descent down to mountain and back to the busstop and the delights of civilisation.

Things I’ve learnt:

  • That much wind is more than I want to put that tent through again
  • Sourmilk Gill needs revisting in the light.
  • Easedale tarn needs revisting in better weather
  • Wythburndale is boggy
  • Helm crag is probably quite an accessible climb for families etc
  • I can tick off 5 Wainrights
  • I’m tired after all that. :)

#timontour VBlog: Western Lakes 2011 (Epic-navigation-fail edition)

As you may have seen, I’ve been hiking around the Western Lake District over the past few days as part of #timontour.

I’ve just uploaded all the video blog entries I made over the last few days… Enjoy!

Bathcamp the Barcamp 2009

Bathcamp Logo

Barcamps are always different. Bathcamp the Barcamp 2009 was no exception. Located 12 miles south of Bath, in the tiny village of Buckland Dinham, Bathcamp had set up camp in the paddock of, The Bell, a classic, old English pub.

Billed as a “24-hour+ long series of talks, cud-chewing, beer, pizza…and other things…”, the event was Al Fresco, or as they very kindly translated for us, “outdoors”. The idea being to camp and have a traditional Barcamp event in the great outdoors!

I arrived before the event officially started on Friday night and already there was at least a dozen people already there. It seemed especially that those travelling from afar, had taken the opportunity to arrive the night before the event started and hang out with some cool people.

Mike Ellis introduces Bathcamp 2009
Mike Ellis introduces Bathcamp 2009

There were three spaces for talks, two marquees in the field itself, both with projectors and power, and the pub’s own “Media Barn” – a converted barn with a projector, chairs, carpet etc.

As with any Barcamp, there was a blank schedule of time slots which people filled in with the sessions they were giving – a blend of technical topics and other interesting things.

Peter Gradwell gave a presentation about what he had learnt about how employing people works from a small business’s point of view. He went into detail about how best to hire people, how to keep employees happy and what to do in difficult situations.

It was quite insightful, not just from what Peter said himself but from the opinions and experiences volunteered by the other people in the session and from the discussion afterwards.

Food is available for all at Bathcamp.. in the great outdoors...
Food is available for all at Bathcamp.. in the great outdoors...

Douglas Hamilton’s bizarre, but awesome, mini-concert of tech-folk songs was very amusing, very enjoyable. I’m still singing his epic “plenty of room to crash at the Hotel Redmonda”, tech support anthem.

Frankie Roberto gave a talk about openplaques.org, a project he recently helped initiate, which attempts to provide an online, open, database of all Blue Plaques around Britain mentioning important pieces of Heritage. Frankie gave a brief overview of the project and the difficulties an open content project such as this encounters such as licencing and integration with other projects with similar objectives.

Of course, the sessions were actually the least notable part of the event as they often are at Barcamps. That’s not to say the sessions are boring or low quality – quite the opposite – but the informal chat with the speakers and the other attendees was often considerably more insightful.

A few interesting discussions I was aware happened:

  • Cool things people had done with HTML5
  • The national ID card scheme – good or bad?
  • People experiences of various PHP web development frameworks
  • Whether degrees are necessary for work in IT
  • How people feel about software patents..
  • People’s views on Becta
  • The technical benefits and drawback between the Athens and Shibboleth – federated authentication systems

There was live music thanks to a folk-/country scratch band which entertained us in one of the marquees on Saturday evening, not to mention lots of food and copious amounts of alcohol, including a keg of the dangerously enjoyable Black Rat cider – a local speciality (for inducing hangovers)!

Ian Ibbotson chatting and chilling in the sun...
Ian Ibbotson chatting and chilling in the sun...

Later on in the evening there were marshmallows for everyone to toast on the large bonfire in corner of field. The bonfire proved to be a social hotspot which provided warmth for those who wanted to continue the conversation well into the early hours.

Once everyone had dragged themselves out of their sleeping bags on Sunday morning there was breakfast in the bright sunlight and a few more sessions before everyone hit camp and headed off home.

Bathcamp was unique amongst Barcamps in that it asked for a £10 booking fee per person to cover the camping costs. However once you arrived, one was presented with some swag they had bought from you – namely a comfortable Gelert “executive” folding chair and a pint enamel mug along with the sponsor’s pens etc.

I thought that in the circumstances, this worked quite well – they didn’t have to hire/borrow chairs from anywhere, nor did they have to worry about the condition they gave them back in and everyone felt they were going away with something. I only felt slightly sorry for the people who had thought they were being clever in bringing chairs with them!

Colin Macdonald tries to share his EDGE connection from his iPhone
Colin Macdonald tries to share his EDGE connection from his iPhone

Compared to other Barcamps I’ve been to, Bathcamp felt considerably more relaxed and easy going. Instead the Barcamp being about getting from one session to the next, there was plenty of chilled out discussion and socialising.

Interesting, I think the fact that there was no wifi anywhere on site, with only patchy EDGE coverage for those with mobile devices, made for a more relaxed event. Instead of hacking on stuff, checking ones email, or twittering people on the other side of the room, there was a sudden outbreak of good old fashioned talking to each other!

I thoroughly enjoyed Bathcamp the Barcamp 2009 would like to pass on my thanks to:

  • All those involved in organising and contributing to it…
  • All those involved in sponsoring it and helping make it possible…
  • and all those who turned up, chatted, had a good time and made it such a great event!