Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Open 5 Adventure Race - North Wales - Dec 2015

6am alarm on a Sunday after entertaining dinner party guests until late. Urgh.
-2C on the car thermometer. Brrrr.Scraping ice from the outside and inside of the windscreen. Meh.
Even Bernard doesn't want to start this morning, coughing once before his diesel engine grumbles into life. Don't blame you mate.
Who decided this was a good idea? I did? Oh... OK then.

After doing two races in the Open 5 series last year I was keen to do more. This weekends event was in North Wales, not too far from Mold near Chester. This passed the crucial test of time spent travelling should be less than the time spent racing. However for these events I'd make an exception because they are invariably well run and great fun.

HQ was at an outdoor events centre where I was pleased to see my ex colleague, ace orienteer and general top chap Dave W manning the desk. Having called in to see him only a month back we didn't have much to catch up on this time. I filled in my form, paid my entry fee and went to get the bike ready. The start was a short 2 mile cycle away but with solo runners supposed to start before 0930 I needed to get a shuffle on to get there at a reasonable time.
Open 5 Top Tip: Write your start time on one corner of the map. It makes working out your remaining time easier.
Open 5 Top Tip: If you pack your map board, remember to pack some elastic bands or bulldog clips to hold your map on. You idiot.
I hadn't had much time to study the map before setting off so, after hastily scribbling the scores for each control on the map, had a brief think about route. I could see a nice loop taking in both sides of Moel Famau but wanted to pick the easiest way up. Track or unknown surface? Track it is!


I started off with a decent value few roadside controls before starting the climb up a muddy bridleway and onto the track up the side of the hill. The riding was varied, sometimes rocky, sometimes very steep, but predominantly muddy! There were several times where I was riding along at a jaunty angle because my rear wheel had stepped out of line in the gloopy goo. The descent from Moel Dywyll to Fron-Haul was fast, interesting and brilliant with some really cool banked corners leaving me with a big grin.

Shaka = ride loose bro   8-)

I should have gone back up the same way as the steep grassy hill (with accompanying headwind) that I ended up pushing up possibly wasn't the best route choice. Winding my way through the network of tracks I enchained the last few controls (once I figured out which stream crossing and which tree) and back to the finish in a shade over 3 hours - so far so good. Both of my derailleurs were covered in clag and not working very well and my feet were freeeeeeeeezing!

Chop chop!
Swap shoes.
Eat salted caramel chocolate shortbread (nice).
Point out to other competitor that he's still got his helmet on and he's going about to start running.
Realise I'm still wearing my helmet and about to start running.
Take off helmet.Swap jacket for one that isn't saturated with drizzle and sweat.
Exit transition.
Er... where am I going? Oooh I know, look at map!


My legs were feeling it from the bike most of the way up the first hill. I found a bagel in my bag (cheese and marmite!) and also found my stride. The gradient was such that I could walk faster than I could run. There was a tempting control halfway down the hill which meant losing height then having to gain it back. It didn't take that long but I did overcook it on the climb back up to the path so had to pace myself for a bit. Onwards to the misty summit of Moel Famau and the control inside the foggy Jubilee Tower.

Jubilee Tower - damp, cold, windy

Even the trig points needed wrapping up to keep warm

This is where I cocked up, possibly a bit down on sugar and a bit out of puff from the ascent. Not paying enough attention I took off down the wrong path from the summit. It was only when the countours stopped fitting the map. By that point I'd descended about 50m from the summit so had to countour round to pick up the right path. Stupid mistake and carrying on for the control compounded the error when I should have just abandoned it and headed back. This cost me later as we shall see.

The ridge line appears through the clouds

I descended the ridge, making up for my earlier mistake by picking a spot on line to the next control, dropping in almost right on top of it. I realised at this point that it was going to be tight to get back in time so I put the hammer down. This is difficult to do when you've got no hammer left in your legs but I tried my best. There were two more 20 point controls on the way back in that I beeped but by this time the bounce had gone from my bungee.

The thousand yard stare as I finish the run, totally depleted. I must be able to see my chocolate.

I knew I was late but I thought I'd squeaked in under 10 minutes. Pulled on my super warm Buffalo top and my cold wet shoes :-( and gently pedalled the two miles back to the event centre, muddy shoes swinging from my rucksack strap.


I downloaded by results from my dibber and was both pleased and annoyed. Pleased that I'd scored my best score so far on an Open 5 (410 points) but annoyed that I'd lost 35 points for being late. 445 points would have been a really good score.

I consoled myself with an excellent veggie chilli jacket potato and lots of stuff from the salad bar, the catering staff at the outdoor centre having done a cracking job of feeding everyone up. The usual faces were on the podium, nice to see Rosemary and Lucy winning the female pairs again.

And as usual I didn't win anything in the raffle!

I checked the scores the next day and was super chuffed to find I was in 12th of 31 place in the Male Solo category and 26/73 overall. I managed to hit my target of a top 15 finish in this series in the solos in the first race. What's slightly galling is that had I not bothered with the control I got mildly lost on then I would have had a top 10 finish, that would have been some achievement! I guess all the mountain biking I've done this year has helped.

Apart from that nav mistake and coming back slightly late I was hapy with my performance. I thought I made good route choices for the most part and my fitness is definitely better. Cut out the silly nav mistakes and more consistent fuelling next time!

Strava MTB

Strava Run

Kudos to the offical event photographer who got some great shots of the day. Check them out on the Open Adventure Facebook page.

Also kudos to Open Adventure for organising another great event.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Rabbit rabbit rabbit pie

Coz you won't stop talkin, 
Why don't you give it a rest? 
You got more rabbit than Sainsbury's, 
It's time you got it off your chest.
Chaz N' Dave

Picture the scene. Louise buys rabbit from butchers. Louise wants rabbit for tea. Louise says she wants carrots with it. No other specifications are given. I appear to be cooking. Hmm thinks I, casserole? Oooh, a casserole with a crust! A whatsit... er... pie! But we can't have a whole large pie to ourselves. Cue impromptu dinner party  :-D

I've made this a couple of times now and it is FIT. Seriously tasty. The rabbit has a lovely deep red colour and a nice gamey flavour with an extra savoury punch up the bracket from the mushroom stock and ketchup. Pastry courtesy of Good Housekeeping, filling courtesy of me. Ingredient quantities are approximate but work for an 8 inch / 20cm deep loose bottom cake tin. Better to make too much to fit in the crust than have a small pie!

Rabbit! I used 8 rabbit legs.
Smoked bacon, chop into lardons i.e. 1.5cm cubes
Chicken if you need to bulk it out
A big leek
A couple of big carrots
A couple of handfuls of mushrooms
Mushroom stock cube (the Kallo ones are nice)
Mushroom ketchup 1 tbsp ish (Geo Watkins), I guess a small amount of Worcester sauce would do
Bay leaves, salt pepper
Red wine, large glass or two

Get a casserole pot on the hob, and melt some butter in it. Cut the rabbit off the bone and into chunks, you choose how big. Save the bones. Coat then in flour and brown in the pan in batches, pop them in a bowl on one side when cooked.

More butter, fry leek, carrots and bacon for a couple of minutes. Add red wine (don't be shy) and cook off for a few minutes. Chuck everything else in, bring to boil, lid on, put in oven 150C for 1 hour.

Hot water crust pastry is the bees for this kind of pie. It gives a nice big pie that will stand up on it's own on the chopping board and gets stronger as it cools. Decorations are mandatory.

Make this only when the casserole is ready to come out of the oven as you can't work it as easily when it cools. Thankfully it tends to be very forgiving and lets you handle it lots or re-roll it when you mess up. Again quantity is good for the 8 inch tin.

450g plain flour
90g vegetable fat e.g. Trex
225ml water
Large pinch of salt
Polenta (powdered form)
1 egg, beaten

Grease the cake tin with the vegetable fat. Heat water and fat in a pan until fat melts and water boils. Pour into flour and salt mixture in bowl. Stir in quickly and then knead for a few minutes. Save 1/3rd of it for the lid, roll out the other 2/3rds into a rough circle and then drape and shape it into the deep cake tin. Pad out the corners and patch the inevitable holes.

That's it. Dead easy.

Sprinkle a few tbsp of polenta in the bottom to absorb the liquid (no soggy bottoms) and spoon the casserole in with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the gravy for later. Add the lid, crimp it around the edge, poke a few holes in the top and do your best to make a pastry rabbit as decoration. Apply a beaten egg wash on the top to give it a nice colour, milk just don't cut it.

No need to bake blind, it comes out fine. 1h 15m @ 160C fan. Remove the sides 10 minutes from the end, egg wash the sides, and back in the oven.

This one's had an egg wash, compare to the one earlier in the post that just had a milk wash...

The pie might benefit from being stood for maybe 15 minutes before serving as the pastry seems to tighten up a bit. Thicken up the gravy with a bit of cornflour and serve hot wi' t' pie.

Serve with some nice greens, like sprouts! Good enough for discerning audiences, both of the kids hoovered it up and went for seconds.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

HUMS North Wales Trip 2015


One of the traditional HUMS club trips is North Wales sometime in November. We've been lucky with the weather for the last few years and managed to get out and have some top days even if they have been marred by hangovers and the odd epic.

This year we booked into the BRMC hut near Tremadog which is a cracking little hut - comfy dorms, cosy living room, good kitchen area and right underneath the cliffs of Tremadog (for those of a climbing bent) and opposite the legendary Eric's CafĂ© (for those of a Full English breakfast bent).

The forecast wasn't great, evidenced by the fact the MWIS printout in my jacket pocket got soaked on the short walk across the uni campus to collect the van. After eating lots of fish and chips, we headed off, encountering short sharp hailstorms most of the way down the A55, eventually the weather clearing the nearer we got to Porthmadog. Top tunes on the way down provided by DJ Ezioo

The usual Friday night party kicked off until the wee hours with much cheese, alcohol, chatter and logs on the fire. I drifted off to sleep with the sound of French Paul shouting "yeah!" repeatedly.


I was first up, seemingly the only person to set an alarm, shortly joined by Adam and Ben. The traditional wake up call of banging the largest pan you can find with the largest ladle you can find over the head of the sleepiest, most hungover student you can find was duly enacted and people emerged from their cocoons, not as beautiful butterflies but bleary eyed students in search of coffee.

Our group headed out for a walk up Cnicht in the wind and rain that started as soon as we got out of the bus. It's a steady plod up the ridgeline from Croesor but with great views out over the bay and down into Cwm Croesor. It wasn't long before we were in the cloud, pretty wet and being blown around.

We descended the summit and contoured around towards Moelwyn Mawr but waterfalls were blowing uphill and people (self included) were getting a bit cold and damp so we elected to head back down to the car. 7 miles and one mountain in all.

We got back to the hut to find that Margaret and Katie had bought many logs and had the fire on. We dried off and then Paul and I drove to the beach for a blow through.

We stuck around in the van listening to Pink Floyd and hoping for a cool sunset but it was not to be. Back to hut, cook curry and enjoy the rest of the cheeseboard, mince pies and Adam's birthday cake.


Tired heads got a lie in this morning before the wake up gongs were sounded and we decided to have a later start.

The weather forecast had improved in terms of rain but got worse in terms of wind so we elected to do a walk from the hut, heading up towards Moel-ddu ("Black Hill"). The paths in this area are not well trodden and some were non-existent despite their marking on the 1:25k OS map. We did some bushwhacking through brambles and bracken for half an hour to get to a point on the road we could have reached in 10 minutes had we stuck to the tarmac!

Progress was better after that, just battling the headwind and omnipresent bog to the just below the summit where we stopped in the lee of a boulder for a snack and a break from the wind. The summit was so windy we had to crawl to it, see the below video!

We headed on back down, picking up better paths than we did on the way up and arraived back to the hut just as the light was fading. We tidied up the hut, unstuck the minibus that Adam had parked in a ditch, and then drove over to Llanberis to collect Eizoo so he could have a front seat on the way home after he was travel sick all over the inside of Nick's car - oops. Classic tunes in the bus on the way back including an American Pie sing-a-long, Bruce Springsteen, Deep Purple.

Eventually made it back home at around 10:30pm via the kebab shop for tea. Collapsed into bed after another cracking club trip.