HOW TO: Make an eco bird feeder

November 28, 2010 § 1 Comment

Snow is brilliant, I think you will agree, when you are on a country walk that you know will end with a glass of mulled wine by a fire in a cosy country pub. If, however, you are a small bird, then snow is confusing white stuff that hides all your food, freezes your feet to your favourite branch and generally is to be avoided. Help out our feathered friends by making an eco-friendly birdfeeder using bits and pieces you’ll have in the house – it’s also a fantastic way to use up mushy or old apples.

Video edited by my fantastic housemate Florence Brockway, future documentary star and David Attenborough lookalike.


Guest blog: Climbing for girls

November 23, 2010 § 1 Comment

Guest blogger Charlotte Clark on the delights and perils of rock climbing.

Alan's Slab at Frogatt

Exhausted and frozen, I paused to look at the beautiful blue snow-capped peaks of Snowdon before returning to my ascent. Moving into the right position I reached up and plunged one hand into the icy cold water of a scoop that would stop me swinging into the sharp rock face. With the left side of my body pressed into the crack, I tried to balance myself out with a ledge on the face that was just a centimetre wide. Terrified of slipping from my hold, I took a deep breath of cold air and stood up on my right foot. For a fraction of a second I thought I’d made it but then my wet foot slid from under me and I heard myself scream as my body gave way.

Carrying gear up at Stanage


I should start this post by confessing that I’m not a fitness fanatic, nor do I have a passionate love of the outdoors. Until a year ago I’d never even though climbing was a sport let alone a hobby that I (a self-professed couch potato) could enjoy. Despite all that, last week I was declared runner up of ‘Most Improved Climber’ award at my local club.

In the long hot summer of 2009 an old friend invited me on a climbing trip to Harrison Rocks near Tunbridge Wells. It was clear from the off that I didn’t have the natural instinct to climb. Although I was brought up encouraged to have a go at ‘boys sports’ I shied away from situations that I felt were dangerous. I struggled horribly up a short crack climb on that first day and almost didn’t go back.

The next week, slightly more intrigued (but still aching from my first attempt), I joined my local climbing club. As a beginner it seemed that the men in the club climbed harder than the women and I took it as a given that because of their physical strength they would obviously be better. How wrong I was.

Climbing at Flying Buttress (photo by Jane Phillips)

Having now been to various different climbing walls and crags around the UK I know that the hardest climbers are the ones who put their effort and time into it. There are two objects to overcome when it comes to climbing, firstly the physical. Like me, the majority of women are bottom heavy and don’t spend a lot of time hanging from their arms. Normal gym routines are great for improving general stamina and fitness but they don’t tend to prepare you for the crag. The best way for your body to learn how to move over rock is to do it repeatedly. However, it’s not all about strength, a lot of climbing is about technique and this is where women tend to excel.

The second problem to overcome is your own fear. From the moment babies become aware of their surroundings they feel uncomfortable in high places. Dangling off a thin rope, whether it’s indoors or outside is understandably absolutely terrifying. The initial feelings of fear and lack of control are something I’m still learning to deal with.

The Peak District

Climbing is a fantastic way of learning about yourself and making friends along the way. If you’re following precautions you’re always safe but the thrill of learning to trust your body and overcome your fears is extremely liberating. I have so much more respect for my body and more knowledge of what I’m capable of now.

Placing gear on a route


16 months after my first climb I found myself on the most challenging climb of my life, halfway up Flying Buttress in North Wales. It wasn’t that it was physically beyond me but it was my first true multi-pitch route. Because of the limited length of a rope and the dangers of rope drag, the only way to ascend one of these routes is to climb them a section at a time. After each pitch, the lead climber places new gear and sets up a belay to bring up other climbers safely. Climbing with two other people meant each section of the route took time to set up and at one point I spent around an hour standing on a rock shelf about three feet square.

The scenery was breath-taking and despite the cold relying on my own body to get me up the rock-face felt incredibly empowering.

On the final pitch of the route I was mentally exhausted. My hands frozen by the cold wind could barely move but I managed to climb most of the route. Just feet from the top, I faced the biggest challenge of the route: a tight chimney that leant to the right. By this point, I could see my climbing partner over the top. Following his instructions I placed one foot into the crack and the other on the rock-face. I pulled up with one hand in a watery pool and the other clinging to a sharp pinnacle. That’s where my strength gave way.

I didn’t scream for long. The rope was tight enough to stop me reaching the ledge below, and I dangled momentarily like a puppet. I took a deep breath and started again. Each attempt exhausted me more and more, but eventually I made it to the top. After my fall, my partner aided me for a few feet but I finished the climb under my own steam. I felt incredibly relieved but also so proud of giving it my all.

Yes, I’m not the smallest girl in the world. I have more curves than muscle, but I can climb, and so can any girl who puts their mind to it. If you’d like to have a go visit the UK Climbing website for more details and advice.

Indoor climbing

As well as climbing @charlotteclark also loves making jewellery and cooking fairy cakes and during the day is Communities Editor and part-time copywriter for the blog.

RECIPE: Rose hip tea

November 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

Rose Hip Tea

Rose hips are abundant in British hedgerows in Autumn and early winter, and are easily recognisable – fat, bright red buds with spiky black ends. They are a bit of a wonder food – high in vitamins C, A and B and rich in antioxidants, they are used to make syrups, jams, jellies, even bread and pies. If you’re a bit of a beginner in the foraging stakes, start off with some healthy and delicious rose hip tea, which is fantastic for beating winter colds.

1. Collect about a handful of rosehips per cup. You can also buy them dried from most health shops.
2. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 heaping teaspoons of chopped rose hips.
3. Steep the herbal tea, covered, for 15 minutes and strain.
4. Sweeten with honey if desired.

You can also add lemon juice or a few mint leaves. Rose hip tea is also a fantastic, caffeine-free drink for before bed if you need help drifting off.

If you want a little sweet treat to go with your herby tea, check out my step-by-step Welsh toffee recipe

Welsh taffy

xx Sian

Who says the countryside isn’t cool?

November 17, 2010 § 6 Comments

It’s not all fat old men in muddy wellies, as this amazing advertisment from the creative types at Yeo Valley attests. Watch for tips on how to wear your Barbour. Oh, and the pure hilarity of tractor hydraulics.

xxx Sian

The debate: Foxhunting, sport or cruelty?

November 12, 2010 § 1 Comment

Red fox (vulpes vulpes)

New figures demonstrate that, despite the Hunting Act now having been in force since 2005, fox hunting convictions are rising yearly, with 57 people found guilty in 2009, compared to just 5 in 2006. Although animal welfare groups welcome notice of more convictions, it is clear that a rising number of hunts continue to ride out in search of foxes, despite the practise now being illegal and the official stance of a hunt usually being that they are hunting an artificial scent.

The Countryside Alliance is asking for a repeal of the hunting ban, the Telegraph reported last week, before adding that the ban is unlikely to be a priority of David Cameron’s in the current economic climate, despite his earlier pledges to overturn the law once in power.

Head of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance Alice Barnard said “There is a growing feeling that this legislation isn’t working and the right thing, the brave thing to do is to reassess that and push for repeal,”

The League Against Cruel Sports website states that “despite the consigning of their ‘sport’ to the history books, the hunters are now stepping up their efforts to have the Hunting Act repealed. Moreover, some politicians want to repeal the hunting ban despite 75% of the public being in favour of keeping it,”

With the fox-hunting ban looking like it may become a law with no bite, what’s your opinion on this long-standing and sensitive countryside issue?

xx Sian

HOW TO: Make an eco-friendly sky lanterns

November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

How to assemble an eco-friendly biodegradable paper sky lantern, an alternative to wire models which can be harmful to livestock. Video created by me and my lovely housemates.

And now for the facts!

Eco-friendly bamboo lanterns are now available as an alternative to wire models, after the National Farmers Union reported a surge in livestock killed.

Paper lanterns have become increasingly popular in the UK to mark celebrations, but have created problems for farmers as cattle have died after eating wire from lanterns that have fallen in fields. Calls for a ban have been widely reported, leading to questions being asked in the House of Commons. Nick Clegg said that the issue was the source of “a great deal of distress to both farmers and their livestock”.

However, a complete ban would also cause distress for lantern makers and buyers. Invented in third-century China, paper lanterns became a symbol of good wishes. Over the last decade they have become increasingly popular, with an estimated 200,000 released each summer across the UK. In answer to the problem posed by wire, lantern makers are now introducing biodegradable models, made with a bamboo rim which burns out before reaching the ground.

xx Sian

Photography: The Guardian’s autumn

November 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

The best of autumn images: The Guardian’s pick of readers photos of fall. Click on the photos to visit the slideshows.

And what to wear while you’re braving the cold by the Guardian fashion team. Stunning.

xx Sian

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