Mud, sweat, bog and trekking 26.2 miles of stunning Scottish scenery in under 12 hours!

The Great Glencoe Challenge, Scotland’s toughest trekathon!

Trekking 26.2 miles through some of the most stunning and dramatic landscapes in Scotland, all the way from Glencoe to the foot of the mighty Big Yin himself – Ben Nevis.

So the plan was to trek 26.2 miles with over 5,000ft of ascent in under 12 hours whatever the elements and rugged terrain could throw at us. Oh and not forgetting battling against the estimated billions of midges hatching around the time of the start of the event – this could get nasty and this was The Great Glencoe Challenge!

Four of us were taking part and competing as a team calling ourselves A Ridge Too Far! I was the original person who came up with the idea of doing the challenge and wondered if anyone else at work might fancy join in and come along for the ride. I managed to persuade and sign up three fellow adventure seeking colleagues for the challenge. This was also a good opportunity to raise some money for charity and Jas, one of the team members, recommended we collect for The Rainbow Trust. The Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity provide vital emotional and practical support to families who have a child with a life threatening or terminal illness. They offer a unique service as they help every member of the family from diagnosis, treatment and through the bereavement process or more hopefully recovery. This to us felt like a great charity to support on our trek.

The Shortbread Shed-promo pic-A promotional picture I took of the team to help us raise money for our chosen charity, The Rainbow Trust.

Even if I hadn’t got any volunteers I was still going to do it on my own anyway. It sounded right up my street as the sort of challenge I love to take part in. I know this area well as I grew up near Loch Lomond and in the winter months I would drive up to either Glencoe or Fort William to Ski or snow board. So I knew just how stunning the scenery was and since I hadn’t been up this neck of the woods for over 15 years (I now live north of London) I thought it about time I reacquainted myself with this amazing part of Scotland.

Apart from the physical aspect of the trek that I was really looking forward to I was also excited about taking some great landscape photographs at the same time. At the distance we were going to travel and in the limited time available to do it I wasn’t going to take a large and heavy DSLR or multiple lenses. I couldn’t anyway because of all the gear I was already carrying with me, there was just no room at the inn!

I decided to take my trusty Sony RX 100 IV and GoPro Hero4 to capture the action and the magnificence of the mountains. I also took two spare GoPro and Sony batteries (I just about used up all three GoPro batteries and only one Sony battery on the trip). Two spare 32GB cards for both cameras a self stick and Joby GorillaPod were also included in the kit list.

A time-lapse of me putting together all the gear I will be taking up to Scotland for the trekathon.

We signed up to the challenge in early January 2017 and each of us took it upon ourselves to do as much training as we could in the six months lead up to the trek. I’m more of a jogger than a rambler, walker or trekker and more accustomed to doing 10k’s and half marathons so this was going to be an interesting challenge. I have also done three marathons so I can definitely do the distance but I have never done that mileage over such rough terrain carrying a rucksack and in wet weather gear!

I broke out my trusty walking books I used on the Three Peaks challenge three years previously and had never worn since. I started to build up the mileage and although I didn’t have anything like the terrain to simulate what it would be like in Glencoe I did have a few hills and off road areas I could go marching around to practice on. So the next few months saw me go for long marches in all types of weather in full battle gear and everything I would need to carry with me on the actual day. This would help me figure out what it would be like, feel like and to get an idea of time I could expect to finish in.

My longest march was in early June and just shy of 14 miles. I started early at 05.00 and finished at 08.45. It was a beautiful summers morning. The sun was up, blue sky and not a cloud in the sky. There was a bit of a nip in the air that required a thin jacket to start with but it wasn’t long before that was off and in the backpack as the temperature started to rise. Up to six miles and I was killing it then after that I started to feel a bit of pain in the hips, lower back and I started to get hot patches on the bottom of my feet, just below my toes and the a sore patch between my big toe and the one right next to it. I should have stoped there and then to take care of it but I soldiered on as I wanted to see what time I could get. Three hours and 45 minutes later I called it quits. All in all I still felt pretty good and it was a great dry run. Although I had developed a big blister between my toes, my lower back felt as if I had been repeatedly punched in the kidneys (probably to do with rucksack positioning and my hips felt really sore (due to sitting at a desk for too long at work). That being said I though it was a great rehearsal and only a few tweaks I needed to do to be ready for the big day. I felt I could do the Trek in under eight hours and that would be my challenge.

Ok, so training was over it was now time for the real deal. On Friday 30th June, two of us flew up from Luton and the other two flew up from Stansted airports to Glasgow airport early in the morning. We then picked up a hire car and headed on our merry way up to Fort William. We were in no hurry to get up and miss any of the spectacular scenery on the way so we stopped off at Luss, Loch Lomond for a hearty lunch at the amazing Coach House Coffee Shop (you’ve got to try the incredible Lentil soup followed by an enormous scone, cream and jam – calorific tactic). I stuck to the soup and half a scone while the other three suffered from eyes bigger than belly thinking with tummies expanding at an alarming rate! With full bellies we were back in the car heading up the narrow winding road that hugged the west side of Loch Lomond for a quick pint in the quirky but fabulous The Drovers Inn.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR9980.We’re in the hire car and we’re off on our adventure!

 

The Shortbread Shed-food-2An M.C. Escher homage to the amazing scones at the Coach House Coffee Shop. Me taking a picture of Jas who is taking a picture of the scones, Matt is taking a picture of Paul who in turn is taking a picture of me, taking a picture of…

 

DCIM100GOPROGOPR9988.The Drovers Inn. A tonne of character. Time for a quick pint before heading up to Glencoe.

 

The Shortbread Shed-in the drovers-Don’t mind if we do. A cracking place to have a pint on the way up to the highlands.

 

A stop motion of the inside of the Drovers Inn.

 

A stop motion walk about at the incredible reception of The Drovers Inn.

Feeling absolutely stuffed we were back on track and on our way to book in to the accommodation. Inchree Chalets and Rooms is situated in the village of Onich, about halfway between the Ben Nevis and Glencoe mountain ranges and around seven miles south of Fort William. We booked ourselves in, had a quick tour of the accommodation, dumped the bags and were once again back in the car driving to Glen Nevis to race HQ to register our team for the event tomorrow morning.

I had been keeping an eye on the weather leading up to the event to see what we could possibly have to deal with on the day. On the week prior to the race, in London where we work we had temperatures as high as 33 degrees C, blue skies and hot hot hot. However it wasn’t quite like that in Fort William with average temperatures from 10-15 degrees C, light to moderate wind and moderate to heavy rain! Wow, what a difference a few hundred miles can make. Oh well, it will be what it will be and we’ll just have to cope and adapt to whatever we encounter en route. At least we know it’s going to be wet and a lot colder that what we were accustomed to.

Arriving at the registration marque in the middle of the field we had to navigate along a narrow marked off pathway to the entrance. The grass had long been trampled in turning now to thick squelching mud. In the marque, underfoot wasn’t much better and I could imagine once everyone congregates back here in the morning for the start of the race its going to be rather messy. We registered, picked up our packs and race numbers then headed into Fort William for a few last minute supplies (which we didn’t really need in the first place) then headed back to the accommodation to pack our bags, get everything ship shape for the morning, then chill out and get something to eat at the pub onsite. The dinner experience was completely unexpected. We all went for fish and chips and I thought being the safe bet in a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere the food would be average at best and just how wrong I was. I’m not joking when I say the fish and chips were FANTASTIC, some of the best I’ve ever had. The service was also fast and friendly and I for one would definitely go back to eat. We accompanied the meal with some beer and gin and tonics (you can tell just how seriously we’re taking this challenge with our healthy pre carbo loading dietary regime).

We were in bed by 22.30, not that you would think it was late as it was still so light outside being as we were a lot further north than London and we had just passed the longest day of the year, it looked more late afternoon than late at evening.

05.00. Rise and shine. A bit of porridge, check all the gear, we’re in the car and heading for Race HQ in Glen Nevis. We don’t actually start in Glen Nevis, this is where we meet up and to get chartered busses which takes us to the start, a short distance from Glencoe Village. There are three waves starting at different Times in the morning. We are the middle wave of over a hundred people starting at 08.00. It doesn’t take long for the busses to complete the transfer. We get dropped off at the side of the road and walk a short distance to where everyone is gathered for a safety briefing. About 15 minutes later we do another short walk to the official start line. The weather couldn’t have been any better. Blue sky, a light cooling breeze and the sun was up and right in front of us. However, we knew this wasn’t going to last as we were informed to expect inclement weather from around 13.00. So as they say, we had better make hay while the sun shines. We had the obligator count down from 10 and we were off to the haunting sounds from a piper, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The Shortbread Shed--45This is it! The final count down and only 26.2 miles to go!

We were near the start, maintaining a good pace and a good time to the first checkpoint five miles in, making it in a respectible 01:30:25. The terrain was mostly off road gravel track and boy was the scenery a distraction – it was stunning. We had a quick stop and Matt took off his boot to fit a plaster as he felt a blister coming on. We ate some oranges, had a couple of mini doughnuts and a sip of high energy drink before we were off once again.

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A selection of images of the mighty Glencoe along the first five miles of the race.

 

The Shortbread Shed--38Looking back down to Glencoe from where we started about six miles away.

 

DCIM101GOPROG0060290.We’re cracking along for the first five miles.

The terrain completely changed and from nice firm gravel paths we were now onto bog! It wasn’t the muddy sort although there was plenty of that, it was just like walking on very wet sponges and there was no escape or dryer routes around the path we had to take. This had a massive impact on our speed and progress and most of the guys found it really hard to get through especially heading up the Devils Staircase which is part of the West Highland Way route. At one stage Paul went up to his knees in a hidden sink hole (which was quite funny to watch).

The Shortbread Shed--39Bog, bog and more bog before commencing the ascent of The Devil’s staircase.

 

The Shortbread Shed--37Almost at the top of The Devil’s staircase.

I felt pretty good fitness wise but Jas, Matt and Paul found it much tougher. Jas had had an operation on his legs not that long ago and was still in the recovery stage so he was particularly finding it tough going. He pulled out his walking sticks to support him and up and over the hill we went. The wind started to pick up and the first shower of the day came in and on went the trousers, jacket and hats. Thankfully the weather didn’t last for long and we were back down to base layers (Scottish weather – four seasons in one day right!). The next stretch was along the summit and down hill into Kinlochleven to the halfway point.

The half way point was in a local leisure centre where we had the opportunity to grab some soup, a bite of pizza, fill up on water, do a kit and body check for any aches, pains and blisters.

I decided to change my damp socks for a fresh pair, put vaseline between my toes to ease the friction and talc on my feet to dry them out. Other than that I felt in pretty good shape as did everyone else. We were checked over by one of the marshals to make sure we were fit to go before seeing  us off on the next part of the trek.

We were now dropping a lot of time. We spent too long at the halfway check point and instead of a quick 15 minutes it turned into half an hour. On the way down to Kinlochleven instead of a fast trek it felt at times like a steady walk and I was feeling frustrated at our time. We made the half way point in 05:09:17 so we were well off the pace to get in under eight hours that I was hoping for. I signed us up as a team and I have to respect that we will finish as a team rather than me upping the pace and taking off trying to make up time.

The Shortbread Shed--31Oh yes. We made it this far, so we may as well keep on trucking to the end.

We were informed that for the next 45 minutes stretch there was a steady steep climb up and out Kinlochleven and we shouldn’t bother with jackets and over trousers if we could help it as it was going to get hot and sweaty. I absolutely loved it and the marshal wasn’t wrong. It was a heart pounding, sweat inducing ascent to the top. Once there it was a long slog following the contours of the mountains, so only gently ups and downs from there to the next check point.

The Shortbread Shed--22

The Shortbread Shed--27

The Shortbread Shed--26Leaving Kinlochleven behind we get some incredible views down the loch and into the glen as the mist comes and goes revealing spectacular scenery.

The wind picked up just after we reached the top of the track, shortly followed by the rain. Back on with the wet weather gear we dug in and cracked on. This part of the trek just never seamed to stop and it went on and on and on. This gave me some great opportunities to get some amazing pictures as the low level cloud came in, mountains and glens would suddenly disappear and then mysteriously reappear for a fleeting moment giving a tantalising glimpse at a photographic opportunity which I tried to take as many opportunities as I could.

A selection of images on the way to checkpoint four. In times like these you just got to smile, keep on laughing and keen on going.

A chap sitting in a black Land Rover was awaiting us at the third checkpoint. We signed in and were on our way, although I must admit I felt a bit despondent at finding out we still had 9.7 miles to go. I had it in my head that we only had at maximum of 4-7 miles left to do. I was doing a rough calculation in my head and we may not actually get in, in under 12 hours and I really, really, didn’t want that to happen. We needed to pick up the pace and crack on.

We were steadily munching our way through our trail mix which we had put together before travelling up. The high energy snacking bags containing mixed nuts, raisons, dried fruit and seeds. With the occasional protein bar thrown in every few hours, this helped to kept energy and moral levels high throughout the day.

We finally arrived at checkpoint four, the last checkpoint before the finish, in a time of 09:20:48. Only six miles to go!!!

DCIM101GOPROG0110623.That’s right. The sign says six miles to go. Are we happy, yes we are.

So off we jolly well went as there was no time to lose. We were still in good spirits and although the pace had dropped we were still moving reasonably well, with only a few aches and pains and just a couple of blisters we were still in pretty good nick for this far in. You could describe the weather for this part of the trek as a wee bit dank and slightly dreach!

As we got within a few miles of the finish we could make out the mighty Ben in the distance. It looked even more spectacular as we only managed to catch glimpses through the rolling mist which only offered up small tantalising sneaky peaks of it’s magnificence.

The scenery changed dramatically from the bracken and scarred rocky cliff sides that we had grown accustomed to. The new vista can only can be described as a decimated woodland. It looked as if this section had been part of a war zone and been napalmed! Almost all the trees in the surrounding woodland had been cut down leaving just the stumps and bits of tree everywhere. It looked rather brutal compared to the previous stunning scenery and I suppose it may be down to managed woodland and it was this areas turn to be harvest for the value in the timber.

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Are we there yet… Nearly!

One last sneaky hill to climb through midge alley before the finish. The midges had thus far been keeping a low profile, but walking through this dank bogy woodland area was a favourite breeding ground for the mighty wee beastie and my legs started to get chomped! I wasn’t stopping or hanging around, you need to keep up the pace to keep the black mist a bay. We reached the top of a ridge and could make out race HQ and the massive marque in Glen Nevis about two miles away. Woo-hoo, we could taste the beer and hog roast from here. Our spirits were high as we moved ever closer to the finish line.

We crossed the finish line in 11:30:49 with just under 29 minutes to spare before the 12 hour cut off point. We were cheered across the finish line and each of us received a well earned medal and goodie bag containing a can of Irn-Bru, an energy bar, a Tunnock’s caramel wafer biscuit, Sun cream face protector and a couple of other useful bits. There was a vital ingredient missing from the goodie bag – beer! I spotted the bar in the middle of the marque straight away and made a b-line straight for it. Four pints of Best if you please my good man! And in no time at all we were reminiscing our 26.2 miles while downing a very refreshing pint. It was then onto devouring the fab hog roast with second helpings shortly after. Finally it was time to call our loved ones and let them know we were still alive and in relatively good shape!

The Shortbread Shed--3At long last, the finishing line is in sight.

There was a good atmosphere in the marquee. Most people looked pretty frazzled, slightly spaced out but also had a real proud look of accomplishment about them. There were a few people limping, clutching legs and massaging stiff joints, aching feet and attending to blisters. We Hung around for a while, swapped war stories with our fellow trekkers and listened to the way too loud live band blast out some ear piercing toe tapping (that’s if you had the energy and not suffering from a stinging blister on your foot) Scottish tunes.

The Shortbread Shed-Well done boys and a well earned beer as well.

 

DCIM101GOPROG0120704.The medal is priceless.

It was time to head back to the accommodation and claim that well earned shower, get out our damp clothes and kick those bloody boots off. We had time to have a couple of rather nice gin and tonics at the onsite bar which hit the spot just in the right place. Exhausted, we retired to our beds happy trekkers.

The next day we packed up and shipped out, following the spectacular road once more back through Glencoe heading for Glasgow airport and back home to England.

We all agreed that we thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. The organisation was brilliant and the scenery was stunning. Would we do it again… Too right we would, we’ll be back next year.

Gear taken on the trek

The Shortbread Shed-gear-

1x Backpack rain cover
1x 30 litre backpack
1x Light weight fleece
2x Smart wool walking socks
1x Trail mix (nuts/raisons/dried fruit)
3x Cliff energy bars
1x Long shorts
1x Pants
1x Ronhill leggings
2x long sleeve, zip neck running tops
1x Endura Flyte cycle jacket
1x Sun glasses
1x 3 season walking boots
1x 3 litre Camelbak bladder
1x GoPro Hero4 camera with waterproof housing
2x Spare GoPro batteries
1x Selfi stick
1x Peak Design Capture Clip
1x Joby GorillaPod tripod
1x Sony Rx 100 IV camera
1x G-shock watch
1x Garmin sports watch
1x Midge hood
1x Mobile phone
1x Baseball cap
1x Beanie hat
1x Waterproof stuff pouch
1x Small hand towel
1x Small bag of Talcum powder
1x neck neck warmer

Result details:
Team name: A ridge too Far
Competitors name: Michael Dick
Finish time: 11:30:49
Overall: 378/430
Gender: 161/180
Categ: 57/62
Race No: 241
Gender: Male
Category: Over 40
Status: Finished

Split timings:
Checkpoint 1: 01:30:25
Checkpoint 2: 05:09:17 (half way point)
Checkpoint 3: 09:20:48
Finish: 11:30:49

Watch out for Flying haggis and cabers!

The 2017 Harpenden Highland Gathering

A stop motion of one of the strong men competing in the Weight throw.

It was a spectacular day for this years Highland Gathering in Harpenden. The sun was out and it was hot, really hot! All those that were wearing kilts must have been feeling the heat in more ways that one. As usual the Harpen Lions Club put on a spectacular show.

The Dog and Duck Display is always fun to watch and thoroughly entertaining. The events I really wanted to see though were the Strong Man competitions. There was the traditional Stone Putt, the Weight Throw, Weight over the Bar, the Caber Toss and lets not forget the all time favourite – Haggiss Toss! These events are all brilliant spectator sports and great fun to watch.

The Shortbread Shed-Highland Gathering-2-2Get a grip!

 

The Shortbread Shed-Highland Gathering 2-Up and over on the Weight throw.

The Massed Piped Bands were fabulous to watch and listen to and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with Scottish pride! On the subject of music and entertainment I came across the Wight Hot Pipes on the main stage later in the afternoon. Bagpipes with attitude they describe themselves and a fitting description at that. They were brilliant, a unique blend of traditional and modern music with a Celtic twist of bagpipe rock! They were just as much visually entertaining as their musical was and I would love to see them in action again.

The Shortbread Shed-Highland Gathering--4The magnificent Wight Hot Pipes in action on the main stage.

This was a perfect photo opportunity with loads of material and subjects to photograph at close range. I brought my Canon 7D with 75-300mm lens to capture most of the sporting action. I used my Sony RX 100 IV small compact camera to take stop motion, video and some wide angle shots.

The Shortbread Shed-Highland Gathering--5Maximum effort from one of the Strong Men competing in the Caber Toss.

 

The Shortbread Shed-Highland Gathering--2One of the ladies working out on the drums.
The Shortbread Shed-Highland Gathering-Now that’s what you call a moustache and boy can he pull it off with style.

 

The Shortbread Shed-Highland Gathering-2Mind your heads, inbound caber coming this way!

Swim it, Ride it, Run it, Snap it!

 

The Shortbread Shed – ready for actionReady for action! I have my cameras, accreditation, press, photographers pass and photographers bib. Now all I have to do is find some athletes to photograph!

I was recently up in Leeds taking pictures of the incredible triathletes at the Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon, Leeds.

The conditions were perfect. Warm, slightly overcast and a lovely moderate breeze to keep cool with. Well, I thought the conditions were perfect for me anyway for taking pictures. Whether it was ideal for all the competitors I’m not sure! Although not competing I did a fair bit of running around myself to various locations in and around the triathlon course from the grandstand and the second transition to the swimming course and the first transition up at Roundhay, a few miles outside of the city. It was all go go go for most of the day.

 

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A few images from an amazing day taken at the Columbia Threadneedle World Triathlon, Leeds.

I managed to get myself into some great vantage points to capture all the action on the day. It was lovely to watch both the male and female elite competitors do their warm up dives and I managed to grab quite a few shots of them springing from the pontoon into the water before gathering together for the start.

One of the female Elite competitors warming up with a practice dive.
The Shortbread Shed – FocusFocus. One of the female Elite competitors gets some last minute coaching advice.

The swim was pretty spectacular to watch. Once all the competitors had leapt from the pontoon piercing the tranquil waters directly in front of them, the calmness was shattered! There was a mass of bubbling frenzied white water that appeared a couple of feet in front of the swimmers like a mini tsunami. All you could see was the hundreds of flailing arms and lime green swim caps appearing out the boiling water.

It didn’t take a long time for them to find their natural pace and fall into pecking order. After the first lap they had to exit out the water by swimming up to a large ramp, scramle up and out the water to the top of a gentle incline before hanging a left turn for a further few meters before launching themselves off the pontoon and back into the water for the final lap.

I managed to get some great shots of individuals and of the whole group, before, during and after the swim start. As soon as at least half of the competitors had started on their second lap I legged it to the first transition where the bikes were all lined up awaiting their riders and where I would be positioned ready to take their pictures.

The frenzied action as the competitors fight it out in the swimming section

Again I managed to get into a prime spot ready to capture the action of the competitors running up the long slipway to their bikes.

I had two cameras around my shoulders readied for action. I started with the 70-200mm telephoto lens fitted to the Canon 7D and fired off an initial burst of shots as the competitors closed in on their bikes. As soon as they were close enough I switched to the Canon 5D and the 16-35mm wide angle lens. Finally switching back to the 70-200mm telephoto lens to capture the pack leaving the transition area and heading out and up the step hill onto the cycle route.

The Shortbread Shed – mens swim transition-3283The Elite men just out the water and onto the bikes immediately face the steep hill at the start.

Ooh, it was very exciting to be so close to the action and having to be super quick at swapping cameras, changing apertures, shutter speed, focal distances and zooms, all within a matter of seconds. There was going to be no second chances to retake the pictures or get a better vantage spot. As it turned out, I think I bagged a pretty good window to take the action shots for both the elite male and female competitors.

The Shortbread Shed – mens group cycle-3315
The main cycle pack trying to close the gap between them and the Brownlee brothers.

 

The Shortbread Shed – brownlee cycling 2The Brownlee brothers doing what they do best – being in front!

 

The Shortbread Shed – Brownlee on bikeWith gritted teeth Alistair Brownlee slowly edges into pole position.

Because we were a fair distance out from the finish line in the city, literally as soon as the last competitor had left the transition area, all the photographers quick marched up to the media bus to be shuttled back to the city centre which was about a 20 minute drive. This gave us an other wise impossible opportunity to get to the second transition and the finish line in time to take pictures.

The Shortbread Shed – brownlee cyclingThe fabulous Brownlee brothers in action.

 I grabbed a spot right by the top exit of the second transition area and only a few meters from the finish line. It gave me a perfect angle to take pictures of the athletes coming into transition and then exiting. Because competitors had to do a number of laps both on a bike and running I had a lot of opportunities to get the perfect shot and be a bit more creative and experimental in my image creation. If a technique didn’t work out on one lap I could always make up for it on the next. So I tried a number of styles from freezing the action with a high shutter speed to capturing motion blur with a slow shutter speed and small aperture and just about everything in-between. Some turned out really well and I was happy with the result while others were either too blurry, too much in focus or not enough in focus. It was an amazing opportunity to experience these incredible athletes at close range as they sped passed heading to the finish line.

After the mens final I packed up my gear and got an early evening train back home. As soon as I was through the door I started to recharge the camera batteries and download all the pictures I took during the day in readiness for the first pass and cull of the image shortlisting process.

 

The Shortbread Shed – brownlee runningThey’re off the bikes and into the final part of the race.
The Shortbread Shed – MedalsThe amteures who took part and finished the triathlon all received one of these well deserved medals.

Below are three stop motion short sequence films capturing the incredible Brownlee Brothers.

The Shortbread Shed – photographers packA packet photographers gallery. Everyone is posied with fingers on the trigger to take the winning picture of the Elite Men’s final.

 

What’s in the camera bag?

The Shortbread Shed – Leeds Triathlon camera gearQuite a lot really. Below his a list of the equipment I took with me on the day to help me capture all the action.

Cameras:
Canon 5d MK III
Canon 7D
Sony RX100 IV
Lenses:
Canon 16-35mm 2.8L
Canon 70-200mm 2.8L IS II USM
Canon Extender EF 1.4 x III tele converter
Lighting:
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
8x AA rechargeable batteries (inc 4 spare. All batteries fully charged night before event)
Camera bag:
Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L (charcoal)
Accessories:
8x 16GB SanDisk Compact Flash Extreme Pro cards (various speeds from 60-160MB/s)
3x 32GB SanDisk SDHC Extreme Pro cards (various speeds from 95-300MB/s)
Blackrapid camera strap
5 x Canon batteries (inc 3 spare. All batteries fully charged night before event)
Canon camera battery charger
Super Rocket-Air blower
3x Lense wipes
Lense cloth
Image management:
Adobe Lightroom CC
Some rough stats from the day
4350 Hi-Res RAW images taken
Importing Hi-res RAW images 7 hours
1st pass cull –1787 deleted and takes about 2 hours
A week later I have it down to under 500 of which I’m pretty happy with around 20!

Trey Ratcliff – London photo Walk (80 Stays around the world)

A stop motion I created of the evening walk around the park.

I have been following Trey on his blog for a few years now and when the opportunity arose to do a photo walk with him in London I jumped at the chance.

The Shortbread Shed-Trey photo walk 5

I managed to sneak in between the masses and grab a selfie with Trey.

A brief overview on Trey. He was born in the US but now lives with his family in New Zealand. He has gazillions of followers on the web. He was born blind in the right eye and has a degree in Computer Science and Math. You can read all about him and his travels on his blog at StuckInCustoms.com. He’s best known for his vivid HDR Photography. He’s into meditation and yoga and is a genuinely a really humble, approachable nice chap. He has partnered with a number of companies to produce various products such as Peak Design helping to created amazing camera bags. He has created his own software, presets, apps and organises photo walks all over the world just to call out a few of his many talents.

I have never done a photo walk before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. None the less I was pretty excited about the prospect. The London walk was to take part in Hyde Park on the north side of the Serpentine lake. The pre-party get-together kicked off at 18.00 and the walk itself was due to start at 19.00, finishing around 21.00. There was an after party at a nearby pub if you were lucky enough to buy a ticket in time, which I had, and was very much looking forward to it.

The Shortbread Shed-Trey photo walk 1

Find the bus and ye shall find Trey. Easier said than done when my mad map reading skills went walk about!

I got to Hyde Park in plenty of time to enjoy the atmosphere and build up to the walk. After a bit of a dodgy start to the weather in the morning and early afternoon, by the time I arrived in London, the clouds and greyness had dissipated leaving a beautiful summers evening. A blue sky, warm and snugly temperature and a beautiful amber glow surrounded the park. However I managed to get off a tube stop too early and completely got disorientated trying to navigate my way by using a combination of a printed off map, a poor GPS signal on my mobile phone and not having a precise location as to where we were all supposed to meet (apart from a message on the site to say look out for a large branded bus with 80 Stays Around the World with Trey Ratcliff plastered over one side). Boy did I get lost, and what reserve time I had to enjoy the build up to the event quickly evaporated as I tried this way and that way to find the starting point! I had one final go and by chance rather than by skill I found the holy grail that was the bus! As soon as I saw the bus I saw the hundreds of other people gathered across the other side of the road milling about and I knew that was where I was supposed to be.

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I’m surprised Trey has a hand left after an incredible meet and great at the start to the photo walk.

Instead of me turning up relaxed and calm, I was knackered, hot and sweaty. Thankfully there were two girls from Air New Zealand (one of the sponsors of the walks) handing out water and chocolate to the gathering crowd. There must have been a good couple of hundred people gathered for the walk. Talk about a diverse  bunch. There were all ages, nationalities, genders, ethnicities etc. It was impressive to witness how popular Trey is over such a diverse and wide ranging audience of following photographers and fans. It was also as impressive to see just how much gear some people had brought with them! I decided to travel light and only brought my favourite pocket travel camera – the Sony RX 100IV to capture the action. I saw one person carrying a tripod, mono-pod a large backpack, at least two DSLR cameras with a 70-200mm and a 24-70mm lens.

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A final word from Trey as he addresses the eagerly awaiting audience before the off.

There were the usual camera brands on display from Canon and Nikon and I was surprised to see just how many Sony cameras were on show. From the small compact ones like mine to the full frame DSLR versions giving Canon and Nikon a run for their money. I saw a couple of nice Fuji’s and GoPro’s, about one Olympus, a Lomography La Sardine 35mm film camera and a number of video cameras. Accessories wise, there were lots of tripods, mono-pods, cable releases, camera bags/shoulder bags and slings (I noticed some very nice ones from Peak Design and the new models they released late last year and I’m really happy to say that I bought the 30L backpack, charcoal version and am delighted with it). I saw a lot of people were using the Peak Design Capture clips to hold their cameras. The device simply clamps to any strap such as a rucksack arm or belt. There is a quick release plate that screws onto a camera body and then into the clamp. When you need to get to your camera you simply press a quick release button to free your camera ready for action in an instant.

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Who’s taking a picture of who? I’m taking a picture of them, taking a picture of him.

Trey did an epic meet and great with the large crowd for about an hour and I managed to sneak in there to say a quick hello, press some flesh and grab a selfie for the blog.

Nineteen hundred hours and it was time for the Photo Walk. Trey jumped up onto the back of a custom built adult tricycle and with the help of a microphone and PA system addressed the eagerly awaiting audience.

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And we’re off, a merry band of happy snappers making our way around the stunning Serpentine taking pictures as we go.

He was a great presenter and possesses a fantastic voice for speaking giving us an idea of what to expect, what we should do and a bit about himself and his philosophies. Before long we were off on our walk heading north west following the edge of the Serpentine lake. It was fascinating to observe people taking pictures of all sorts of things with a huge variety of lenses and cameras. Every so often we would stop, regroup and Trey would give us a photographic tip, an observation, an insight or a story. It was a lovely walk on a fantastic evening and for two hours we rambled around the park taking pictures until dark.

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We finished our walk with a beautiful sunset.

We finished the walk shortly after nine and the people who weren’t going on to the after party said their farewells and disappeared into the night while the rest of us went on to a small pub a short distance away for the after party.

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The after party in a local pub. A great chance to meet other like minded photographers. Get to chat to Trey and hear him talk about his fantastic photographic journey so far.

I was thirsty and a tad dehydrated after my travels and all my walking so I didn’t need any encouragement to head for the bar. A pint of Guinness and a slice of pizza and my energy levels were back up to normal. Space was tight and cosy as more people arrived and the noise levels and body heat started to rise. It was a great opportunity to meet and say hello to like minded photographers and I had some great conversations with a diverse group of people. Before long Trey made his way to the front of the room beside a large TV screen to talk to us about his background, his photography style and techniques and life philosophies while showing us a selection of his images he had taken over the years.

All in all it was a great event and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Trey was a great host and came across as a genuinely caring, sharing top bloke and photographer. If you ever get a chance to meet him or attend one of his photo walks around the world I would highly recommend it.

The Wonky Woo Wa and Spring Has Sprung beer labels

For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m into my real ales, especially coming from Scotland I loved the odd pint of ‘Heavy’ (A Scottish term for the English equivalent called Bitter. Usually dark brown in colour, smooth with a good bubbly or creamy head, pretty flat with little to no gas/bubbles) on a night out. 

Last year my wife got me possibly one of the greatest birthday presents ever! A home brew beer making kit! It didn’t take me long to set everything up and get cracking with my first brew.

It’s remarkably easy to do once you have the basic equipment and all of which is completely re-usable, ready for the next batch.

For my first few experimentations I bought pre-made beer kits from a local store. All the ingredients are premixed together and come in a one litre tin can, which when emptied looks like a dark sticky gooey molasses.

Thankfully there isn’t much technical or chemistry ability required. Basically all you need to do is pour the ingredients into a large 25 litre plastic bucket, add one kilo of sugar, three litres of boiling water, followed by about 19 litres of cold water. Sprinkle the magic ingredient yeast over the top, give it a good stir, take an initial reading with a hydrometer, whack the lid on and leave it in a cosy dark spot for about 7-10 days until it reaches a specific gravity (alcohol content). Once this process is complete it’s then onto step two and the bottling. Syphoning out the beer into either bottles or barrels. I like to do a bit of both so I’ll pour about half of the contents into 500ml bottles and the rest will go into a pressurised keg. Bottles and keg are left in a warm environment for a further three days before being transferred out to the garage for stage three – the maturing part of the process. The bottles and keg are stored in a cool, dark place for at least another three weeks so the sediment can settle and the beer can clear ready for drinking. Part four, the easy part – drink!

The Wonky Woo Wa

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The other great part about making your own beer is having the opportunity to create beer labels to show off your home brewing skill.

The initial label I designed was for my first home brew, a cheeky dark bitter of around 4% ABV, it wasn’t too bad for a first attempt! I asked my son to name the inaugural brew and he came up with ‘Wonky Woo Wa’ which I thought was a cracking name for a beer.

So now I had a name for the beer all I had to do was design, create and produce a label. I wanted to create something unique, eye-catching, something a wee bit different that had an independent crafty and artisan look to it. Not only did I want it to look good, I also wanted to come up with an unusual way to affix the label to the bottle and make it visually and tacitly attractive.

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After trying out numerous options I came up with a typographical treatment only design. I chose hand drawn fonts for the Wonky Woo Wa name and logo type as well as a font for the details of the beer. I limited the colours to just two, red and black for maximum visual impact. I chose a heavy kraft card to print on for an authentic ‘crafty independent artisan’ look. I didn’t want to glue the label to the bottles so I came up with the idea of using rubber bands and thin bamboo kebab skewers cut down as the fastener to hold the labels in place securely around the bottle. I punched holes through the card, folded the edges over for more strength and security before binding multi-coloured rivets into the card to help prevent tearing when the rubber bands were threaded through and attached to the bamboo sticks. Finally I hand stamped a limited edition of 18 bottles with a unique reference number just to give it an extra level of detail, authenticity and uniqueness.

Spring has sprung beer label

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So the Wonky Woo Wa was last years winter beer and in March this year I decided to do an Easter special. I followed the exact preparation and brewing process as before and then started to think of an appropriate name so I could start to design and create the next beer label. It didn’t take me long to come up with a seasonal name for the beer. It was obvious really, it had to be called ‘Spring’, well, I slightly changed it through the design process to ‘Spring has sprung”.

I wanted to stay clear of the obvious visuals such as Daffodils, Bluebells and snowdrops. I was after something a bit more tongue in cheek. However I really liked the green and yellows of the daffodils, the purples of the bluebells and the crisp white of a snowdrop and decided to incorporate these colours into my design. I wanted to have fun with the name and incorporate that into the label so I came up with the idea to use a metal spring within the logo. I chose the same fonts as the previous beer label as I wanted to create that home-brew, artisan crafty style I was still after. I wanted the the label to also have an eye catching element so I designed a small tab to pop out from the side. This was coloured bright orange with the image of the spring down the centre and gave a real uniqueness and stand out appeal to the bottle.

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Again I did a mix of bottles and keg to store the beer in. So was it any good? Did the beer taste as great as the label looked? Yes it did!

I really enjoyed my first home brew experience and the creation of the label. It motivates me to keep brewing, coming up with unusual names and create visually appealing beer labels – its a win win situation for me.

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