Tips from the Archive #010

Robert J. Kelsey -  1974

Robert J. Kelsey -  1974

A quick tip by Robert J. Kelsey from his wonderful book "Walking in the Wild - The Complete Guide to Hiking and Backpacking". This might be controversial to some, in fact many ultralight hikers argue to the nth degree about the finer points of Esbit and Hexamin vs alcohol to avoid just this, but this old tip is interesting and worth some further investigation.

Tip #10 – The Pot Black

Whatever cooking ware you choose, prepare it properly for cooking. That means blacken the exterior! I will brook no argument on this point from spotless-pan paranoids. A pot blackened with good hardwood soot, which is shiny black and sticks to the pan, distributes heat more evenly and does a better cooking job.

Never scour the outside of such a treasure. Simply wipe off any loose soot and spilled food with a damp paper towel. Put each kettle in its own plastic bag and nest them, then put the whole collection into a master cloth bag.
— Robert J. Kelsey - Walking in the Wild, 1974
Posted on September 4, 2014 and filed under Tips from the Archive.

The Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection

Everyone please form an orderly queue and proceed immediately to the Scottish Heritage Collection website. Since 2006 The Scottish Heritage Collection has been archiving and cataloguing an ever growing collection of vintage mountaineering gear and memorabilia.

The charity was created by The Nevis Partnership - an amalgam of Ben Nevis friends and supporters. They received sponsorship from the Heritage Lottery fund and now use the money to maintain the Ben Nevis path system and the Mountain Heritage Collection.

The collection boasts some fascinating pieces, everything from RAF Mountain Rescue boots to Burmos Stoves, from the original sketches for Davie Glen's badges to Arctic Survival Manuals each with their own tale and legacy, it is well worth an afternoon exploring and a lifetime following.

A huge thank you to legendary guide Mick Tighe who has has been heavily involved in the collection, donating most of his own pieces as its backbone, he was kind enough to allow me to post pictures and share the good stuff that they are doing.

Al the images here are copyright of the Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection, please respect their ownership and ask permission if you would like to use them.

Roger Deakin - Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain

Roger Deakin - Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain - 1999

Roger Deakin - Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain - 1999

It was on one of Roger Deakin's daily swims, in his moat at Walnut Tree Farm, that the master plan behind 'Waterlog' was hatched - to explore the ancient tradition of wild swimming on an aquatic peregrination through the bays, beaches, rivers, brooks, lidos and pools of Great Britain.

Inspired in part by John Cheever's "The Swimmer" and his own son's adventures overseas, Deakin explores the British Isles at water level. His journey takes him from glacial tarns of the Welsh highlands, seemingly bottomless and home to legend and myth; to the abandoned university swimming holes, haunted by tales of students who once swam there; from the Victorian Lido's in their fading glory, struggling to make ends meet; all the way to Britain's beach desert of Dungeness.

While Deakin wore many hats, I feel he can be truly crowned king of the nature writers. He weaves history, culture, science, anthropology and natural history into each beautiful, dreamlike narrative, making it impossible not follow in the wake of his swimming tale. This book is so charming, poetic, romantic and moving you long to be standing on the banks, shouting encouragement, ready to leap into action with a towel and a thermos of Bovril upon his emergence.

Sadly Waterlog was the only book Deakin completed in his lifetime, although two more have been published posthumously. I have already bought Waterlog for a number of friends and since I finished it I have swum every weekend in homage to Deakin, and in celebration of the romance and nostalgia of wild swimming.

Posted on August 12, 2014 and filed under Books.

VHD 2.0

We Are Back

We Are Back

And ... we're back, it took a little longer than I had expected but the VHD is back to full strength with a new design, a new web host and a new blogging engine. I have gone through most of the back catalogue, edited lots of the pictures and a lot of the copy. I have bought a new tripod so I can take some better shots of books and items. There is a little more fine tuning and testing but I couldn't wait to share.

With the move I fear that some of the pinned or shared images will no longer work so apologies there, but feel free to re-pin the newer version of the lost images they should be larger and better looking anyway. This new structure should be easier for me and hopefully you to use.

This new move is working out a little more expensive than before so if you enjoy the blog and would like to help out, you can pickup a poster, t-shirt or a patch at the VHD stores. All proceeds go back into this blog. 

Posted on August 2, 2014 and filed under VHD.

Campfire Sausage Stew with Thyme Dumplings

Sausage Stew and Dumplings

Sausage Stew and Dumplings

Stew is one of my staple outdoor dishes; it's very hard to mess up and the results can be spectacular. This time however, I wanted to up the stew ante and nudge my culinary comfort zone a little further by taking on the mighty dumpling.


For the stew

  • 6 Really good sausages (I normally go for something herby and porky, preferably from a good butcher)
  • 2 Large white onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 Large carrots, sliced
  • 10 Small new potatoes, chopped in half
  • 1 Pint of stock (I used a couple of beef stock cubes)
  • 1 Can of cheap beer
  • 1 Bottle of expensive cider
  • Worchester sauce
  • Thyme
  • Oil for cooking (something with a high burning temperature, sunflower is fine)

For the dumplings

  • 1 Cup of self raising flour
  • 1 Egg
  • 50g Cold butter cubed
  • 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbsp chopped thyme
  • ¼ Cup of milk


I cooked my stew on a campfire in a suspended Dutch oven, it needs to cook for several hours so make sure there are sufficient coals. I started with a big hot fire with slow burning wood and let it burn down. You can, of course vary the height of the oven and even cover it in coals if the heat is needed.

Sautéing and Grilling

Sautéing and Grilling

1. Lightly heat the Dutch oven and add the oil. Sauté the onions, do not let them brown - they should soften and go translucent.

2. While the onions were cooking, I put the sausages on a rack directly over the flames to seal and brown the outside. They don't need to cook through as this will happen later. I managed to tilt the grill in such a way that the oil and juices went into the Dutch oven for extra flavour.

3. Once the sausages are browned add them to the onions and pour in the stock, beer and cider. I added a good spoonful of thyme and a few good glugs of Worchester Sauce. Give it all a good stir and bring the oven to the boil, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

4. By now the broth should be coming together nicely and slowly reducing. Add the vegetables and return the stew to the heat, give it a good stir and cover, then cook for another 30 minutes. Mix up the dumplings.

5. To make the dumplings, pour the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub it in until it resembles breadcrumbs.

6. Add the herbs and the egg, and mix with your hand, adding just enough milk so that the mixture comes together in a sticky dough.

7. Check the stew, it should have reduced considerably making a thick, rich gravy; if it is too dry add a little water or stock. Give it another stir and then add large spoonfuls of the dough directly onto the top of the stew. Try and place them a few centimeters apart as they will puff up as they cook. Replace the lid on and cook for another 15 minutes.

8. Check the stew. The dumplings should have puffed up and increased in size and the stew should be thick and rich. I prefer the top of my dumplings to be crispy so I buried the Dutch oven in coals and  blasted it for another five minutes.

9. Then it is done. Serve quickly and eat heartily.

Stew and Dumplings Finished and Ready to Serve

Stew and Dumplings Finished and Ready to Serve

The stew is hefty and flavorsome, the dumplings sticky, doughy and morish. Shared between two we were both stuffed and had enough for lunch the day after. I'm not sure why I was so fearful of campfire dumplings, they were foolproof and a simple way of getting a delicious and filling bread course to my stew, with little effort.

Posted on July 6, 2014 and filed under Recipe.

On the Fly

First fish of 2014 on a fly

First fish of 2014 on a fly

As far as evenings go, it looked unpromising. A thick low cloud clung to the coast, the surf was big and an abnormally high tide had pushed a mountain of water up into the river. As the tide gradually switched from slack to outgoing, the river picked up pace and began to empty back into the sea.

Having fished this river often I knew there was only a few feet of wading room before the drop-off so I gingerly edged forward into the frigid Maine waters in the evening gloom. As I began to throw my rookie double hauls into the current, I had already resigned myself to another skunked striper session.

Today, however, it happened - twice. They were far from monsters but heavy-weights in significance. My first stripers on a fly, and one I tied no less.

Posted on June 11, 2014 and filed under Fishing.

British Pathé Archive

Hiking Hints by John E. Walsh in 1933

Newsreel archive British Pathé have uploaded and made public their entire collection of 85,000 historic films. The archive features footage from around the world dating between 1896 and 1976. Obviously the first thing I searched for was hiking; oh what a wonderful collections of gems surfaced. Above we see "Hiking Hints" from 1933 by John E. Walsh he details the best gear for the 1930's British hiker.

Gear advice from John Carbeth Wells in 1932

Some sage advice from  John Carbeth Wells the "Super Hiker" who in 1932 at the age of 21 had hiked across Britain, China, Africa, Japan, Malaya and U.S.A. You can browse or search the whole Pathé Archive here.

Posted on May 2, 2014 and filed under Classic Kit, History.

Homemade Beef Jerky

 William Kemsley, Jr. - The Whole Hiker's Handbook, 1979

 William Kemsley, Jr. - The Whole Hiker's Handbook, 1979

What could be finer for a Spring day hike than a Ziploc bag full of homemade beef jerky goodness?

There are no doubt more complicated and involved ways to make it and some of the jerky connoisseurs may frown upon this method, but it was super simple, delicious and was made without a dehydrator. I found the recipe in "The Whole Hikers Handbook - The Definitive Sourcebook Featuring The Best Of Backpacker Magazine" published in 1979 by William Kemsley, Jr.

Jerky Preperation

Jerky Preperation

Jerky is very popular, though I hardly ever take it. If I do, it is not the commercially prepared type. I like the homemade variety. Here’s a recipe for it.

Beef Jerky

1 ½ lbs. beef (flank or round)
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. pepper
½ cupWorcestershire sauce
½ cup soy sauce
Remove all fat from meat. Cut into ¼” slices along the grain. It is easier to slice if partially frozen.

Combine dry and liquid ingredient to make marinade. Marinate meat overnight in refrigerator. Drain. Lay meat strips on over rack and place foil on bottom rack to catch drippings. Leave door ajar. Set oven at 150˚F. Dry meat for 6 hours. Turn oven off and leave meat in oven for another 6 hours.

Store Jerky in covered container with holes punched in lid. Makes one pound.
— William Kemsley, Jr. - The Whole Hiker's Handbook, 1979
Finished Jerky 

Finished Jerky 

As my first foray into the world of dried meat I can claim this as a success; it was meaty and tasted of beef, not teriyaki or cracked pepper, which I liked a lot. It was a little heavy on the sodium so some fine tuning will be in order, but I'll be making it again for sure - in time for some Summer hiking perhaps. If you give it a try I'd love to hear about your results or any alternative recipes you have. Happy Spring, FINALLY!

Tea Chronicles Pt.13 – Jordanian Tea

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Like many places in the Arab world, tea and coffee are Jordan's social lubricants of choice, and while their tea has many variants it is nearly always served strong and black in small glass tumblers, sweetened with sugar and with some kind of herb or spice for flavoring. This recipe comes from our guide, Salim, at the Dana Reserve in south-central Jordan. He was a quiet, thoughtful man who had quit the military life to pursue a career as an artist and guide. His family had lived in the area for many generations and he knew every inch of the expansive reserve - he cherished his special part of the world and was eager to share it and his knowledge of it with others from around the world.

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Half way through our hike, Salim took us to his 'coffee shop' - a protected shelf in a mountain, overlooking a deep valley, and instructed us on the art of Jordanian tea.

Firstly the water has to be warmed over an open fire as the wood smoke adds important flavor to the tea. I'm not sure if the wood type is important but in this area there were pistachio trees; tiny, squat oak trees; and juniper trees.

The kettle he used to boil the water held about a litre and was put directly on the fire.

Once the water had begun to heat, Salim added a palmful of cinnamon bark and white sugar. Jordanians like very sweet tea, and while the sugar is an important ingredient, I don't have that much of a sweet tooth. As a compromise, Salim added about 4 tablespoons to the kettle.

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Once the water came to a boil two teabags were added. The tea he used was called Alghazaleen Tea but Salim also said Lipton Yellow Label was acceptable.

The kettle stayed on the fire for a little longer until it came to a solid boil and was then set aside to steep for a few more minutes.

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Jordanian Tea - Dana Reserve

Salim served it in small glass tumblers and we drank it as soon as we could, the hotter the better.

Traditionally, when it comes to tea I am strictly a milk and no sugar man, but there was something magic in the marriage of these flavors; the bitter tannic tea, the rich earthy tang of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the sugar. It was unexpectedly harmonious and worked perfectly.

I  have drunk countless cups of tea in my life but this was one of the most memorable. The planets aligned with the stunning scenery, the great company and this delicious, freshly brewed elixir.

Posted on March 5, 2014 and filed under Tea.