Archive | December 2014

Ten days of gifts – 5 


Travel towels are one of those items that really are a no-brainer when it comes to travelling. They’re smaller, lighter and dry quicker than regular towels, can be used for drying oneself after a bath, shower, swim or deluge and also as a means of squeezing dampness out of travel clothing to accelerate the drying process when it’s been washed.

Snugpak is a brand which offers a whole range of different products that has been around for years now, and they’re noted because along with everything else they do, Snugpak have come up with some very fine sleeping bags and clothing produced in deepest Yorkshire just a few miles up the road from Wisepacking Towers.

The Antibacterial Travel Towel that I’ve been trying from the Snugpak range comes from somewhere that’s a bit further away – Korea.  

There’s now five sizes of towels available in the Snugpak range and each one is made from microfibre and has a Dr. Bacty antibacterial treatment. This is based around silver ions, a feature that I know is effective from other items that I’ve used in the last five years. Use it, dry it and use it again and again – it doesn’t need washing after every use.

I’ve been using a large size Snugpak towel recently and it’s worked well when it comes to drying off after a shower and has proved that it dries quickly too. Two hours after the shower and it’s dry and ready to pack away (ambient temperature was 19C according to the thermometer on the remote unit for our central heating system that was placed about a metre away from the towel whilst it was drying). No radiator was used in the drying process by the way…

Although I do have a lighter weight large size towel from another brand, the Snugpak take on the theme offers a far superior performance, so I guess that the lightweight one will stay at home now, even though there’s going to be a small weight penalty as a result of making that choice.

Two colours are available in the Snugpak Travel Towel range (olive or blue) and the sizes that’s available ensures that there’s a towel for almost every eventuality.

Small is 62 x 60cm, medium is 60 x 80 cm, large as tried is 80 x 124cm, extra-large is 100 x 124 cm and giant is 120 x 124 cm. Packed size of the large towel is 21 x 14cm

Prices start at £9.95 and top out at £29.95 (the large is £19.95) . Each towel comes with its own wet and dry stuff sack.

Ten days of gifts – number 6

Calendar Cover – look at and you will go ‘AAAH!’

Yes, it’s a case of man v machine again so you will have to click on that link to see what I’m talking about!

It’s a great shot and one that’s an excellent choice for the cover of the Wild Nature Calendar 2015 that’s been commissioned by the John Muir Trust, the UK’s leading wild land conservation charity.

The calendar and the 2015 Wild Nature Diary are the result of a fair amount of work by editor and publisher of the calendar and diary, John Beatty, one of the UK’s leading travel, wildlife and adventure photographers.

As John himself puts it “This year’s editions have outstanding and spectacular covers, representing the ‘personality and emotion’ of the natural world. They are eye-catching and inspiring visions that hopefully, will carry the message of conservation far afield.

Hundreds of images were submitted online for potential inclusion in the calendar and John whittled these submissions down to 60 images used over both works. The foreword to the diary is by HRH The Prince Of Wales.

And just in case you haven’t heard of John Muir, here goes…

John Muir (1838-1914) was a naturalist, conservationist and visionary who was inspired by the works of nature both in Scotland and the Sierra Mountains of California, where he made his lifelong home.

His nature writings and essays became very popular to the extent that governments reconsidered the values of land use and created the first National Parks in the world. Muir founded the Sierra Club of San Francisco and inspired the formation of the John Muir Trust in Scotland.  (

With over 10,000 members the John Muir Trust is the UK‘s leading wild land conservation charity, who believe wild places are essential, and are dedicated to protecting and enhancing them for people and wildlife.

The calendar and diary are available from  The calendar is £11.99,  the desk diary is £14.99 or you can buy both for £25.

John Beatty is also on the lookout for new nature and landscape photographs of Britain’s wild places. If you are interested, send thumbnail sized images (or reference to your website) by email to and title the email SUBMIT DIARY.

Copies of John‘s book ‘Wild Vision – In Celebration of the Natural World‘ are available from

Ten days of gifts – number 7

As there were a couple of references to DVDs in yesterdays posting on books, it’s only fair that I continue the DVD theme by presenting a few ideas on that theme. Especially as there’s a big public holiday looming and the seasonal television choices are as safe and predictable as ever…

The first suggestions are based around history. Yes, I’ve got an O level in history, but it’s Caroline that’s more interested in such matters (I’m more of a Horrible Histories buff myself).

That could be because I’m more interested in modern history, the stuff that wasn’t really taught when I was a lad in the early to mid 1970s. I can still remember some bits from my O level days, but that’s about it.

Andrew Marr’s The Making Of Modern Britain and History Of Modern Britain have just been repeated on BBC2 over the last fortnight – in a mid-afternoon slot. As there’s been little of note on over that time, I’ve fed the DVD machine with both series when Caroline’s been working late shifts (there are only so many times you can watch the same episodes of NCIS…).

Yes, there’s some memorable events missing from later programmes (the climbing of The Old Man Of Hoy, the Torrey Canyon and Braer oil tanker problems, The Herald Of Free Enterprise and the first flight of Concord/Concorde), but both series are still very watchable a few years down the line from their original broadcast dates.

Oh, and there’s also Andrew Marr’s History Of The World too. I’ve started, so I’ll finish, but I’ll also have to remember to turn the audio description track off when the DVD is put into the player. It took a while to realise what was going on when I first played Disc One, but now that I know, I hit the set-up menu before starting to watch the programmes.

As I’d enjoyed the Andrew Marr programmes so much, I put Simon Schama’s A History Of Britain on a wish list a couple of years ago and it turned up as a present a month or so later.

I missed this completely when it was first shown on TV, but it’s proved that I wasn’t as much of a historical heathen as I thought I was, because I did remember a few things from my teenage years history lessons. The stories told, the locations and the quality of the location camera work all sank in and this, like Andrew Marr’s History Of The World could be getting another viewing next week.

Along with London The Modern Babylon, Julien Temple’s take on London since the dawn of the 20th century. The story is told using film and television footage from the archives along with specially shot interviews from those who were there (famous and not-so-famous names) and a soundtrack of familiar and unfamiliar songs that helps bind the tale together.

There’s also a great bit of sound editing too in a political story that always raises a smile – watch it and see if you can spot it!

The last of the history related DVDs is The Story Of India with Michael Wood. It’s a two disc set with all six programmes plus some bonus material. Yes, it’s been shown recently on Yesterday, but the story works best when it’s not interrupted by adverts or programme trailers. It’s also a good excuse to get a couple of curries in whilst watching it over two nights!

On a completely different note is The Illusionist, a wonderfully made animation from the director behind Belleville Rendez-vous. Yes, there’s an Edward Norton film with the same title, but this is from a screenplay by Jaques Tati which tells the story of an old-school entertainer who travels to Edinburgh.

Those who know Edinburgh well may recognise quite a few places that are onscreen. I certainly did in both this and the more recent telling of the story of Burke & Hare.

The Illusionist though is the one I ended up talking about when The Independent On Sunday stopped me one afternoon outside the BFI to ask whether I’d seen any movies that had captured the look and feel of a city. The first and only time I’ve been in the Sunday papers – which is more than could be said about a few politicians or celebrities!

When it comes to travelogues though, there’s one master of the art – Michael Palin. Most will be aware of his multi-part series shown on the BBC and The Travel Channel, but he also contributed to two programmes shown on the BBC in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Michael Palin’s Great Railway Journeys covers his 1980 trip from London to Kyle of Lochalsh and his 1994 trip from Derry/Londonderry to Dingle Bay in Kerry. Palin is as amiable as ever and both trips are worth watching when it’s a cold, wet and miserable night with either a glass of Drambuie or a glass of Jameson’s in hand.

If memory serves me right that 1994 series of Great Railway Journeys also featured a trip made on Chinese trains by Clive Anderson. I only saw it the once and haven’t seen it repeated or made available on DVD. Which is a shame really, because it was a pretty good programme!

If trains are your thing, there’s also a fine story available about the making of the steam locomotive Tornado. There’s two versions of the DVD out there, but the one I have is the longer one of the two at 103 minutes duration.

I’ve not been on Tornado yet, but I’ve seen it at both Corfe Castle and Swanage stations and yes, I’m going to save up my pennies in order to make a train journey on Tornado when I can. There is a certain irony though – Tornado was built a couple of minutes away from where I used to live in Darlington and I didn’t know what was going on, even though I passed the works around twice a day at one point!

There are also plans to head off to the Isle Of Man. As the famed Laxey Wheel is being worked on at the moment, I suspect that it may not be in 2015. Unless of course everything is being done to get the work done before the start of the tourist season and the famous TT Races.

TT Closer To The Edge is the last DVD that I’ll write about here. I knew next to nothing about bike racing or much about the Isle Of Man before buying this DVD, but there’s part of me now that wants to get over there to explore the island. Caroline’s been before and wants to return there, so she may well be my guide on that visit!

From what I’ve seen of the island, it is a place I want to go. I don’t have a bike licence so it will be exploring by bus, car or rail and it definitely won’t be at the same speed as some of the riders featured on TT Closer To The Edge.

Guy Martin and Conor Cummins survived their crashes in 2010 and have raced the Mountain Course since, but others haven’t been so lucky. Will Guy Martin win at least one TT next year? Here’s hoping, especially after it was confirmed yesterday that he’ll be riding BMW bikes in 2015!

Ten days of gifts – number 8

Yes, it’s getting closer – and all I can tell you at the moment is that there’s baking going on at Wisepacking Towers as mince pies and cheese scones are coming out of the oven…

Now you may have realised by now that I’m a great fan of the Kindle. It’s light, it’s compact and the battery life is pretty good for most eventualities.

There are times though when the Kindle isn’t quite the answer to everything (that’s still 42!).

I still prefer paper guide books to electronic ones as they’re easier to access, don’t rely on batteries being charged on the device being used at the time, relevant sections can be photocopied for use on our travels or older versions can be cannibalised to serve the same purpose.

There’s also the still popular concept of coffee table books. Doesn’t matter if they’re paperback or hardback, the glossy photographs and the text alongside the pictures can still inspire in a way that viewing on an electronic screen can’t in my opinion.

But hey, here’s a quick round-up of what’s out there. Some titles have been around for a while now and that’s a good thing as it’s a testament as to how good the book was in the first place!

Some books are easy reads, whilst others require a little bit more attention once they’re opened. It’s thirty years since I first read Robert Pirsig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance and it’s still quite challenging.

The Travel Book – A Journey Around Every Country In The World (Lonely Planet) is one of those glossy books that make you want to grab a bag and get out there. Once seen, it’s likely that you may need something with a little more detail about any country that’s highlighted in the book.

Which is where the world of the guide book kicks in. Preferred reading here usually comes from either Lonely Planet or Rough Guides, although DK and Berlitz works are also on the bookshelf at the opposite end of the room to this computer.

As High Street bookshops sometimes offer their travel stock on a 3 for 2 promotion, it’s not uncommon for me to buy both a Lonely Planet and a Rough Guide to a particular country, especially if the country is being visited just two days after booking the flights!

Bookshop offers have also tended to include phrase books in the past too, so getting some lingo learned at the last minute can also come in useful even if it only to order a beer, coffee or to ask for a pack of Rennies in Lagos!

Wandering around a bookshop can also bring up some timeless works too. Harry Enfield’s bicycling dad Edward Enfield’s Greece On My Wheels and Downhill All The Way are on both my bookshelves and on my Kindle. The paperbacks were on offer when I bought them and when the Kindle versions were on offer over the summer, I succumbed once more. And did the same with Just A Little Run Around The World by Rosie Swale Pope

The recent re-runs of Michael Palin travel programmes Around The World In Eighty Days and New Europe on The Travel Channel reminded me of the mix of paperback and hardback versions of his travel books (and the relevant DVDs too) that are on the bookshelves in my upstairs office.

Yes, the paperbacks keep getting new covers, but the content is still very readable thanks to Palin’s observational powers and his willingness to try things out (I’d still pass on eating a freshly killed and cooked snake though!).

Another Michael that’s moved on from his original career is Michael Portillo. There’s quite a few books (and yes, DVDs) of his British, Irish and Continental Railway Journeys available along with copies of the various Bradshaw’s Handbooks that have been used to inspire Michael’s travels.

A recent visit to the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington near York meant that I spotted one Bradshaw which could provide the inspiration for a spin off from his rail travels. Bradshaw’s International Air Guide from 1931 was the tome in question and it could be a good choice for a brand extension by Mr. P… especially given the number of thumbs up given to his programmes in The Guardian’s online television section.

Oh, and another thing… Given the recent problems with deliveries from online retailers, take a wander into a bookshop.

If it’s an independent shop then so much the better, because a wander around could bring you into contact with a whole set of delights to either buy on the day or file in the memory banks in readiness for the next visit.

After all, there is a very wide choice out there – especially if you’re passing Stanfords in Covent Garden!

The visit to any bookshop may damage your wealth – but in a good way!

Ten days of gifts – number 9

Compact is the word…

141010 Field Cup Set Green

Back in the day, I used to sell the Primus Field Cup Set. It’s a compact eating kit for when you’re on the hill or wandering around town and have the munchies.

There’s two cups, a lid and mini knife, fork and spoon. The cups have respective capacities of 400 ml and 200 ml, the whole package weighs in at 156g and there’s a good choice of colours available too (providing of course that the shop has ordered in more than one or two different colours in the – my former employers did central buying, so we got what we were given such i.e. orange). Everything packs into the largest cup which can then be slipped into a pack or day bag once you’ve wiped or washed away any food residue. The price? £10 or a host of outdoor shops around the UK and beyond.

Ten days of gifts – in at number 10…

Need some protection? Try Aquapac’s Small Stormproof Pouch…

We’ve not had any snow yet, but we have had some heavy rain around Wisepacking Towers over the last week or so, so much so that there’s been a couple of occasions when Caroline’s come in from either a leisure ride or her commute and she’s done a very good impression of a drowned rat called Nigel

Sometimes you know that there’s going to be bad weather and sometimes you don’t.

It’s a by-product of living in the UK I suppose, but when you get soaked on a visit to The Algarve and the temperatures have been in the mid-thirties C, then you can get caught out somewhat. There are also times when the rain in Spain doesn’t stay on the plain!

Help is at hand though and it’s the first of wisepacking’s suggestions of useful items that you can give as gifts over the festive period or if someone’s an awkward sod who has a birthday on the 3rd of January (like me!).

Aquapac’s Small Stormproof Pouch (£15) is one for the traveller that might get caught out in a rain shower or who gets soaked on a stormy Monday. It can hold pocket items like digital compact cameras, phones, cash and cards when out on a trail or on a fishing trip and it’s 100% waterproof too.

It’s just part of Aquapac’s range, a collection that is always getting added to as they conjure up new products to cover potential eventualities when you’re out and about. The sharp eyed amongst you may have seen one of their radio pouches being used by James May last night as he made his way from Ilfracombe to Lundy Island by boat in pursuit of a toy glider – the whole programme is probably on BBC’s iPlayer if you want to see more.

But I digress. Aquapac’s stuff is good, it works and items such as the Small Stormproof Pouch are pretty light too – 17g for the pouch and 5g for the lanyard.

More details and buying opportunities on – this also has full details of the whole Aquapac range.

Portugal packing…

Although we had the option to take hold luggage along with us to Portugal as we’d booked our flights with TAP Portugal rather than a low cost airline, we opted to travel hand luggage only.

Yes, we got a look of surprise from the lady behind the desk at Manchester Airport when we checked in, but it didn’t take long to realise that we’d made the right decision, especially when we got to Lisbon.

All we did was get the bags out of the locker, shoulder them once out of the plane and then hit the way through Passport Control and Customs. Once through, we found the nearest ATM to get cash before getting the only taxi used on our trip. Now the taxi driver wasn’t too happy about us not putting bags in the boot, but we were happy that we weren’t paying additional charges for putting the bags in the boot.

One thing we did notice – we had the smallest bags of anyone in the queue on the taxi rank – one couple had hand luggage each, hold luggage each and a bag of golf clubs each (and were holding the queue up as the bloke wasn’t doing a very good job of steering the fully laden trolley in the general direction of the line of taxis!).

Farpoint 40 Lagoon Blue

Caroline and I both use Osprey Farpoint 40 packs. These take what we want to take, have a full rucksack harness under a zipped back panel and a couple of grab handles that allow for picking the bag up quickly in order to run for a bus, Metro or train. Caroline’s also has the provision to use a clip-on carrying strap, mine doesn’t – the joys of buying our bags separately from two different suppliers (mine’s the slightly older version!).

There’s also a decent size pocket at the top of the bag which is great for stashing away the obligatory clear plastic toiletries bag and my prescription meds.

Why was I packing toiletries? Because of the guide book comments regarding shops closing at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon – it was only when we got to Lisbon that we found out they didn’t! The toiletries bag also contained a full bottle of Lifeventure Fabric Wash for wash & wear use.

So what was in the main bag? A plastic file containing the paperwork, my Kindle in a Rohan neoprene pouch, a set of Rohan packing cubes containing clothing and travel towels plus a pair of Crocs, the charger for my compact camera, a small LED torch, a Moleskine notebook and a comb.


Rohan Core Silver t-shirt

Inside the packing cubes were three Rohan t-shirts (one white and one blue Element shirts and one red Core Silver shirt), a couple of Rohan dress shirts (one Envoy, one Worldview) as we were spending some time in a Pousada, one pair of Rohan Grand Tour Chinos, and three pairs each of Rohan Core Silver trunks and Rohan Hot and Temperate socks.

Yes, those last couple of paragraphs sound like an advert for Rohan, but they’re not – Rohan just happened to have the clothing that I wanted to take along with me. None of it was new and a fair amount had been bought in a couple of sales the company had been running in the year or so before we flew off to Portugal. Years as a retailer, instructor and gear tester have taught me to go for the best I can afford at the time and make it last rather than buy cheaper stuff and replace it more often.

The clothing choices matched the climate and had the necessary wash and wear qualities to enable using hand luggage. Another consideration was the ability to mix and match the items, the ability to layer if the weather changed and accommodation dress codes.


Rohan Trailblazer trousers (top) and Rohan Grand Tour Chinos (bottom)

Which is why I was wearing more Rohan in the shape of another Core Silver shirt, a pair of Trailblazer trousers and a Stronghold shirt on the flight out. The pocketing arrangements on the last two were useful means of carrying my wallet, passport, camera, UK change for the cafe, pens and keys plus mints and a small packet of Wet Wipes.

Everything was easily accessible, especially when it came to placing stuff in the tray at the security check station and putting it back into the clothing once it had all been scanned or inspected. The Trailblazers also have a plastic belt buckle, which meant that there was no need to remove it at airport security on the way out…

My shoes? A pair of now discontinued Rohan by brasher approach shoes with a silver lining – non-waterproof given the temperatures that were likely to be encountered.

Caroline was also using a fair selection of wash and wear travel clothing with Rohan jeans being worn alongside Travel Linen trousers and an oldish pair of capri pants. Tops were a mix of Rohan Essence vest tops and a couple of Royal Robbins sleeved and sleeveless tops that she’s had for a few years now. Footwear? A pair of Merrell sandals and some Ecco Blom Lite Mary Jane shoes.

My wash kit was minimalist  – toothbrush, toothpaste/mouthwash combination, mini shower gel and a part-used roll-on antiperspirant. Larger bottles of toiletries were bought when the little ones ran out – Caroline and I share shower gel and sun creams, so it’s a bottle of each to save money.

Travel towels worked a treat for drying ourselves in hostels and on the beach and to roll washed clothing in before drying. A small first aid kit was packed alongside my post-stroke meds, the all-important copies of my prescriptions and hospital discharge papers that explain everything.

When everything was packed, our bags were around the 7kg mark for me and 6kg for Caroline for the two week trip. We could easily have done it by packing less clothing and doing more washing and wearing, but this was a treat trip after a rough year and we’d added the nights in the Pousada at Sagres as a bit of luxury halfway through. We’d also packed a full guide book – it will be a cannibalised version next time!