|Essential re-hydration in the Tipsy Laird, Kingussie|
Now I love my food, but my approach on backpacking trips to eating has always been functional and basic. Lots of brews, and lots of hot food, the simpler and quicker to cook the better, ideally with no washing up.
|Brewing up in the early morning on Day 2|
Thus, my breakfasts are monotonous but edible and seem to do the trick. I can't get going without a mug of tea. Being a very early waker-upper I brew up lying in my sleeping bag, sometime after half-five in the morning. I add what I regard as my one food luxury to this - Carnation condensed milk which comes in tubes. Sweet, sickly and yummier than powdered milk. I got the taste for this whilst in the school cadet force in the early 1970s, when it was a staple of the '24 hour ration pack'. If the weather is good, one of the highlights of backpacking for me is lying drinking tea as the sun warms the tent, doors open so I can take in the views and the freshness of the air. Soon after six I am brewing up again, this time with sufficient hot water also to make up some porridge. I just add this hot water to a pre-prepared (at home before the trip) zip lock type bag of Oats So Simple, mixed with dried milk and sugar and eat straight from the bag. This, and a cereal bar, does me until I start snacking on chocolate and trail mix during the walk.
|Breakfast at Tarfside|
This year, as on previous Challenges, I stocked up with several commercially produced dehydrated 'just add hot water' meals and had one of these each evening, preceded by a 'cup-of-soup', and usually followed by a tasty dessert such as Bird's Instant Custard or Semolina, made by adding water to the powder in a zip lock bag, again eating straight from the bag. Towards the end of the Challenge, variety was added by the purchase of a Jamaica Ginger Sponge for pudding. In the privacy of my tent I savaged this in chunks torn straight from its sticky wrapper. This diet was supplemented by bacon butties and cake from various cafes en route, one bar snack and two meals in restaurants.
My habit of eating out of food bags is a practise which seems to divide Challengers. Some feel it eminently sensible; others look on horrified, before, I fondly imagine, they go off to cook fresh scallops, or perhaps moules mariniers, followed by a piece of well hung sirloin, with baby carrots, sauteed mushrooms and onion rings as side dishes, all washed down by a glass of vintage claret.
Perhaps influenced by meals I have seen other Challengers producing, my views on backpacking food changed during the course of this trip. I will never again rely night-after-night on commercially produced dehydrated stuff in a bag. In the past I have found most of these 'just add hot water' meals tolerable when hungry after a hard day's walking. This year I found them more and more inedible, nay even repulsive. This began when I started to eat one after a longish day in the Monadhliath Mountains. I gave up after eating less than half as it seemed rather unpleasant. My feeling that it was not quite right was confirmed at four in the morning as I headed out in the squally rain with Mr Trowel and his accompaniments. Two other dehydrated meals were also abandoned, hardly touched, on subsequent nights. Perhaps my taste buds have finally had enough. From now on I plan to cook ordinary dried stuff like noodles and savoury rice and perhaps carry a small pot of chilli powder and some dried herbs.
I was going to use this post partly to name some of the poor meals that I had this year, but that might be unfair. They came from a variety of makers and sources. I am not convinced that any manufacturer produces universally good dehydrated meals, and some even seem to vary when theoretically it is the same meal. And they are universally pricey. But I can say that I did find the instructions on LYO meals to be both amusing and idiotic. The Pork in Green Peppers (one of the better meals I had), for example, required the addition of "393 ml" of water. The LYO Beef Stroganoff packet stated "add 348 ml". Not 400 ml or 350 ml but 398 or 348ml. Well the idiocy made me laugh on a couple of rainy evenings as I poured in a rough and ready half a pot full of hot water.
|Camping by the Allt Coire a Charra, first night out|
My second night saw me lower down in Strathfarrar, again in a beautiful spot in the sun. This time with the added attraction of herds of red deer; and the horror of large numbers of ticks trying to invade my tent, successfully on quite a number of occasions.
|Strathfarrar Wild Camp|
The Challenge also throws up less conventional places to camp than wild on the hill, or on a public campsite, thanks to individual or community generosity. I have, in the past, camped in a private garden, and two favourite spots with Challengers are the Sutherland's field at Allt na Goire and the Tarfside Sports Field, both of which I used this year. And very nice they were too.
|Challengers making use of the Sutherland's generosity at Allt na Goire|
|A cold and frosty Tarfside sports field, the very early morning after the night before|
|Another gratuitous early morning brew photo above the Linn of Dee|