Thursday 27 July 2017

I'm inspired by the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth

I got so lucky with two amazing visits to very different places in Wales last week. I've already blogged about our afternoon in Portmeirion and, two days later, we detoured slightly when passing through Machynlleth in order to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology. Dave visited this innovative facility over forty years ago which, we discovered on this visit, was not long after the site had opened. A small group of people moved into a disused Welsh quarry and began an experiment into truly sustainable and self-sufficient living. Dave remembered a house, some of the earliest solar panels and lots of huge batteries! A lot has changed since then both at CAT and in the wider world.

These days CAT is an education and visitor centre demonstrating practical solutions for sustainability. Their expertise cover all aspects of green living: environmental building, eco-sanitation, woodland management, renewable energy, energy efficiency and organic growing. The site is a unique and valuable practical demonstration centre, a living laboratory with an enormous range of live examples of sustainable solutions. CAT says they have the largest range of installed renewable systems anywhere and I can believe it.

We began by ascending in a little cliff railway - similar to the one at Oddicombe but entirely water powered. Don't sit at the front of the car if you are nervy of heights! The climb is steep! Once at the top we saw a brief informative film about CAT before being allowed to wander pretty much anywhere at will. I loved the working gardens and was amazed at the variety of plants grown for food and practical purposes. The greenhouses are beautiful and vividly colourful with flowers. One is set over a vent from the underground slate quarry - the original use of the site. Because the underground temperature remains constant throughout the year, CAT gardeners use the geothermal heat rising in winter as free frost prevention. Genius!

In other places we saw various types of solar panels creating electricity or heating water. One display demonstrated how painting a panel black and placing it under glass drastically increases its heating power. A DIY solar water heater on a roof - basically an old radiator painted black - reminded me of similar setups we saw in rural Spain. CAT also has Lots of Toys Educational Machines for all ages. I played with learned about wave power, pedal power and the best material blends for composting. Chris Killey if you're reading this - there's a whole section dedicated to composting toilets! The photo shows different wall building resources and elsewhere there was a cutaway straw wall too.

We explored for a couple of hours and my mind was buzzing with ideas for things we could try out at home. I appreciated that, while CAT runs training courses for professional tradespeople and post-graduate students, they offer advice and suggestions to be utilised cheaply by small-scale amateurs too! Displays about energy and water consumption were particularly interesting as clear graphics showed how even minor household decisions can make massive usage differences over time. The pictured graphic shows the needed water for a kilogram each of chickpeas and beef. Wow!

Because CAT had grown so much in scale since Dave's first visit we had no idea how long we would end up spending there. As it was we didn't do the quarry walking trail or go up to see the eco cabins, but we did find ourselves needing to visit the canteen for lunch! Very reasonably priced vegetarian food is served to staff and visitors alike. I had a proper oven-baked jacket potato - none of your microwave nonsense here! - which was delicious. I'd forgotten just how much I used to love jacket spuds!

Even the shop at CAT is an experience. I don't think I've ever seen so many how-to guides and green living books in one place. I managed to only buy one, but it was a struggle! I brought away a Short Courses brochure although I am not sure I will sign up to any. But if I ever need to learn how to build a tiny house, make hempcrete, cultivate mushrooms, understand deglaciation, set up a solar photovoltaic system, ... render lime or build an earth oven, I'll know who to call.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

I am not a number! ~ visiting Portmeirion in North Wales

Did you ever watch cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner? I (obviously) didn't see it first time around, but caught a rerun probably in the late 1980s and got hooked. I loved the colours and the surreal imagery and, even though I still have absolutely no idea what was really going on (does anyone?!) The Prisoner was about my favourite programme before Twin Peaks came along. Its real location, the Welsh village of Portmeirion, has been on my travel bucket list for decades and last week I finally found myself there. At last! Fortunately I didn't get gassed and wake up there - we drove instead - so leaving at the end of the day wasn't a problem!

Portmeirion was designed and created by architect Clough Williams-Ellis to show how a beautiful site could be developed without spoiling it. An ongoing project which he led for some fifty years from the 1920s to the 1970s, Portmeirion is now owned by a registered charity. The site was inspired by Mediterranean villages, particularly Italian ones, and contains a bewildering array of Grade I and Grade II listed historical buildings in wildly differing architectural styles. They are painted in sunny colours and the whole place looked stunning for our visit.

We were lucky to get our tickets bought just as one of the half-hourly guided tours was beginning so quickly caught up. Our guide drew our attention to artworks painted onto walls by one of the Williams-Ellis daughters and to odd artefacts such as the gold painted Buddha statue which I believe I remember had been a film prop. We passed cafes, the Portmeirion pottery shop and a The Prisoner shop too. The tour took about twenty minutes and we were then right on time to board the train and be driven around the Woodland Walk. A stop on this route allowed us views across Portmeirion village and its estuary. Disappointingly, there weren't any giant white balloons guarding the sands!

After the train we explored part of the village before heading down to the waterside where we decided to attempt the Coastal Walk without the aid of a 'dotto train'. Dave was suffering from the aftermath of a bad cold so was particularly breathless so we hoped this walk would be flatter than the forest one. It mostly was - until the two routes merged! We sat on a porticoed terrace and climbed up to a lighthouse viewpoint before ambling back past ponds and a red Japanese bridge where Dave made friends with a surprisingly tame robin.

Back in Portmeirion itself I took the opportunity to talk to artist in residence Briony Clarke who has her studio overlooking the lawns. Initially on a six month residency, Briony ended up staying for four years and has created a fascinating painting technique combining locally gathered pigments with moving water. She has developed a trio of machines, one of which - a spiral of water going down a drain - produces spookily beautiful monochrome landscapes that could almost be the water painting where it has come from. I know that sounds weird, but the work is amazing! Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos.

I am so glad that I finally got to visit this incredible village and I certainly wouldn't rule out returning at some point in the future. As well as day tickets there is also self-catering accommodation and a hotel at Portmeirion so perhaps we could treat ourselves for a future anniversary?

Monday 24 July 2017

#PlasticFreeJuly - three weeks completed

It's a general consensus that changing ingrained habits takes time. This is a point I need to remember as I easily get frustrated when everything New doesn't happen Now!

Having discovered the near-impossibility of avoiding single-use plastic when buying meat, fish and dairy, I am investigating alternatives such as making my own cheese which looks like fun. Even plant-based food isn't always a plastic-free answer as tofu is vacuum sealed in plastic too so I also want to try making a kind of Chickpea tofu. The instructions seem easy enough?!

We were camping in Wales for the whole of this third Plastic Free July week but my reduced kitchen didn't make for as much difficulty as I thought it would. I managed to get our rices and pastas into recycled glass jars before we departed so had several lock-tite tubs empty. Of course they are themselves plastic, but I am not going to discard perfectly serviceable containers so our reusable plastic will stay until each piece wears out! Anyhow, our Outwell coolbox is excellent but it does tend to collect condensation. Cling film is useless when it gets wet so I was very glad of my tubs for cheeses, half onions and lemons, and my lentil spread (which is easy enough to make on a camping hob). Partway through this week I realised I hadn't actually reached for the cling film at all this month which, for me, is quite an achievement! The roll we bought in Spain last winter might now never get finished.

I was delighted on our return home yesterday to have an envelope from Bee Bee Wraps waiting for me. I featured these innovative food storage cloths in my Top Five Etsy Finds a couple of weeks ago and now have a trio to review. They are pretty and I have been looking forward to trying them out. I will share my thoughts in a future post.

Today, instead of nipping to the Co-Op for plastic-bagged bread, I dusted off my favourite Slow Cooker Wholemeal Bread recipe. I began baking this regularly on our 2014-15 caravan journey because It was usually easier than trying to find the 'right' sort of loaf in Spanish supermarkets. Using the slow cooker keeps our energy consumption right down and meant we didn't have the oven overheating the caravan! Overheating isn't so much of a problem in our flat, but our inherited an electric oven uses 2000w+ to bake bread. The slow cooker uses just 163w so even with the much longer bake time, it's still about a tenth of the electric cost. The ingredients are cheaper than a bought loaf too, it tastes better, and dough kneading is superb exercise for reducing 'bingo wings'! Win-win-win-win! I'm struggling to remember why I stopped baking bread.

Sunday 23 July 2017

Camping on the North Wales coast - Llandanwg and Harlech

View from Llandanwg beach 
I vaguely remember going to Anglesey for a week with a schoolfriend some thirty years ago otherwise I don't think I have explored North Wales before now. It's beautiful!

We booked in for four nights at a Camping And Caravanning Club certified site in the tiny village of Llandanwg, about two kilometres from Harlech. Ymwlch Farm campsite is essentially a neat stonewalled field with electric hookups and several water taps. There are a pair of toilets off to one side and the possibility to take showers at the nearby farmhouse. A 'shock horror' moment revealed there was absolutely no phone or portable wifi signal there so I had the bizarre experience of being almost internet free for several days! I say almost because there was a good signal about a hundred yards away on the beach. The campsite was £16 per night including electricity. Showers are 50p extra each. There is a fairly tight turn off the road and I was glad we only had our trailer tent on tow although larger caravans than Bailey were in the field so it probably would have been fine!

View from Llandanwg beach 
Ymwlch Farm's great advantages are its proximity to a wide sandy beach and to the historic town of Harlech with its interesting shops and cafes and the partially restored castle. There is good walking country hereabouts too, but unfortunately Dave came down with a nasty cold for a few days so we will need to return and walk! We did manage an hour or so strolling towards a small harbour and back around on our first evening. The views were stunning and these photos really don't do them justice!

We visited Harlech Castle the next day. Edward I had its construction started in 1283, one of a number of structures he commissioned, and it was virtually completed by 1289 which is apparently fast by large-stone-castle standards. I learned that 950 men worked on the build at the busiest time and, like all grand designs, it went rather over budget although at just over £8000 was still Edward's cheapest castle! By the early 1400s Harlech Castle was occupied by Owain Glyndwr (whose name we last encountered I think in Llandovery) and the famous anthemic Men Of Harlech song was written about the siege of Harlech Castle during the Wars Of The Roses.

View across to a harbour
near Llandanwg 
Entry to the castle these days is by way of a ticket office with attached gift shop and cafe. Once inside there are a number of informative poster boards and I especially liked two small models of the castle. Towers and walls have been restored so it is possible to climb (too many!) spiral steps and get long views over Harlech town and out to sea. At the time of its construction the sea was much closer, but now there is a band of protected dunes and a small golf course between its sea gate and the water.

Friday 21 July 2017

Exploring Ironbridge, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution

Back in 2015 Dave and I began our thirteenth year together by visiting a historic bridge in Northumberland. At the time of its construction in 1820, the Chain Bridge was the longest carriage-carrying suspension bridge in the world. This year, entirely unintentionally, we spent the first day of our fifteenth year together strolling around the village of Ironbridge near Telford in Shropshire - the site of the world's first cast iron bridge.

Now preserved as a historic monument by English Heritage, the bridge itself was originally basically a giant advertisement! It was constructed over the River Severn in 1779 to prove the point that iron was perfectly suited as a material for large scale architectural projects. Local foundry owner Abraham Darby III had the bridge built and, from a promotional point of view, it was a roaring success as people straight away began travelling to Coalbrookdale to see it and iron became a popular choice for further bridge manufacture. We had even seen a quartet of small iron houses a few days previously at the Black Country Living Museum. A village grew up around the bridge, Ironbridge, and the new name is now used to encompass the incredible industrial heritage trail along this short section of the River Severn.

Ironbridge Gorge model 
We visited the Darby Houses situated uphill from the bridge itself and home to several generations of Abraham Darby III's family. These two buildings, side by side, were rescued for preservation pretty much in the nick of time as they had been allowed to get into a very poor state of repair. Now partially renovated (and with more work planned) the houses host a small museum to the influential family and their Quaker faith. It was very interesting and a well laid out museum with helpful staff. There is even a dressing-up room where we tried on period clothes of both society and Quaker fashion. It turns out a bonnet rather suits me!

One of my favourite exhibits was down in Ironbridge itself at the Museum Of The Gorge. There an intricately detailed  twelve-metre-long model of the Gorge as it was in 1796 shows the various industries concentrated there, how the River Severn was vital to their success and how they interlinked. The Ironbridge can be seen in the centre.

Ironbridge Gorge model 
Of course most of the industry that made Ironbridge famous has now gone so the Gorge we visited is once again a clean, peaceful place. Paintings up at the Darby Houses showed images of the valley partially obscured by smoke or with the polluted night sky glowing orange. I imagine it is a far more pleasant place to visit these days - and certainly a healthier one in which to live! The main business these days seems to be Afternoon Teas and we did partake in a cuppa and a slice. Eighty Six'd is an independent cafe uphill and a little away from the main tourist street. There's slate art on the walls and I loved their brightly coloured crockery! We can certainly recommend you to the Coffee And Walnut Cake (pictured) and the warm Apple Cake With Ice Cream. Sitting up in the bay window watching the world pass by made for a reflective end to our Ironbridge day.

Tea and cake at Eighty Six'd 

Tuesday 18 July 2017

The RAF Museum at Cosford

I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed our visit to the RAF Museum at Cosford. Exhibits are crammed into three large hangars and despite our being there several hours we only managed to do justice to two of the three. Like York's Railway Museum, Cosford's RAF Museum is free to enter and is a magnificent display. It felt as though we should have paid handsomely for the privilege of walking around!

Once past the cafe and gift shop - to which we returned at the end of our visit! - the first hangar concentrated on a history of the RAF and military flight beginning with a statue of pilots from three eras. Superstitious artefacts including soft toys and a rabbit's foot lay alongside guns and uniforms. The only woman I saw mentioned was Jean Lennox Bird, the first female pilot to be awarded full RAF pilot's wings, and the museum has her St Christopher necklace. From a feminist perspective I was encouraged to see cadet groups touring the museum included significant numbers of girls so women are becoming more equally represented. From a pacifist perspective though I found it difficult to reconcile the museum being located on an RAF base. Its historical bubble swiftly bursts when one realises that the destruction and violence depicted in archived videos are still business as normal in the next door hangars.

The museum has examples of Second World War planes from various countries including the earliest surviving Spitfire and this pictured Japanese Ohka, one of the Kamikaze planes. It's tiny! We also got to view numerous experimental aeroplanes and Dave particularly was appalled at the amount of money spent on creating prototypes that never flew or that became outdated within a very short space of time.

The pride of this museum is its Cold War exhibition housed in a specially designed hangar that is a work of art in its own right! Exhibits here include a variety of airborne and landbased vehicles as well as video and sound installations, contemporary posters, newspapers and magazines, and some great propaganda slogans from both sides. I particularly liked the Albert Einstein quote pictured at the top of this post. With the recent UN resolution to ban nuclear weapons soon to be ratified by so many nations - although not the UK of course - this exhibition depicting how bravado and bullishness had so nearly brought the world to nuclear disaster relatively recently was chillingly relevant.

Monday 17 July 2017

My second week of #PlasticFreeJuly

Coming away camping for a fortnight has added different pressures to my Plastic Free July challenge. I am still pleased with my reduction in plastic usage, but being in unknown towns makes finding plastic free options that much more difficult.

I am delighted with the performance of my homemade toothpaste. Firstly the jar hasn't leaked at all which was a slight worry in a washbag! My teeth still feel just as clean as with commercial toothpaste and their extreme sensitivity didn't immediately return which I was also concerned about. Instead my bleeding gums problem has completely stopped so I have concluded that it was caused by something in the commercial toothpaste - perhaps it being too strong for me? Now, not only can I save plastic and money by not buying that, it looks like I can dispense with sporadic Corsadyl purchases too. That's even more plastic and cash saved!

I made myself a batch of Lentil and Onion Spread before departing home and have the makings of another batch with me. This made for easy lunches on crackers or bread. However now being without an oven means I can't bake any more crackers. I should have brought my metal-pan slow cooker to bake bread! But didn't so today's loaf had to be a plastic-wrapped purchase. I assuaged my conscience a little by buying from a local bakery though and it is a particularly delicious loaf.

We're actually in Harlech now (my touristy posts will take a few days to catch up!) and I found boiled sweets that were Not individually plastic wrapped and weighed out into a paper bag. Yay for Harlech Sweet Shop! I was disappointed last week by the Black Country Living Museum displaying loose sweets in jars, but then actually selling individually plastic wrapped ones already weighed into paper bags so I couldn't see that what I had bought was different.

I was cheered up by a message from BeeBeeWraps, one of the artisans I featured in July's Top Five Etsy Finds. She offered to send a pack of her plastic free food wraps for me to try out and review so I am looking forward to receiving them when I get home.

Otherwise cheese, meat and fish are proving to be the trickiest to find plastic free and so far I have failed on all these and oats too. I bought the huge bag of oats from the Coop so reduced plastic wrap and their apples and tomatoes were at least in cardboard trays (then wrapped in plastic). We were in Shifnal at this point and I was disappointed to have missed the greengrocers by only five minutes - until I peered through the window and spotted plastic a-plenty there too. Oh well!

Fingers crossed for a better third week ...

Sunday 16 July 2017

The Black Country Living Museum at Dudley

A street at the museum 
Our Shropshire stay has been incredibly educational with three days of museums and historical visits! We started with a day at the Black Country Living Museum situated in Dudley. Initially conceived as an idea in the 1960s, the twenty-six acre site started out containing forty-two mine shafts, a few derelict kilns and not much else. Over the past forty years all but two of those mine shafts have been closed off, a canal spur has been fully dug out and dozens of historically important buildings have been moved from their original locations to form a mostly Edwardian era town. It's an impressive achievement and an unfinished one at that. Plans for further streets illustrating Black Country life through each of some half dozen decades are just awaiting sufficient funds to be realised.

Our visit didn't actually start out particularly well. A long slow-moving entrance queue was very frustrating, especially when we finally got to the front and realised most of the delay seemed to be caused by staff having to input everyone's name and address details for their obligatory annual ticket, whether that ticket was required or not! If possible I would recommend booking your tickets online in advance as you can then skip the queue. I would also suggest, if there is a one part of the site you are especially interested in, that you phone ahead to check whether it will be open on your visit day. We had plenty to see on our Wednesday visit, but I did notice some demonstrations not happening and the trams weren't running.

Once inside, we took our time exploring the many buildings that were open for us to view. Most of the rooms have been decorated and furnished to represent the Elizabethan era and there are both urban and more rural homes, poor worker's cottages, back-to-backs, and more affluent dwellings that had housed foundry clerks or managers and their families. Some homes were attended by costumed Characters and it was fascinating to chat with them about the original inhabitants, where the buildings had been moved from and the history of the museum itself. We learned that while the jumbled in together positioning of homes and small factories was as it would have been - imagine living just feet away from a foundry! - the amount of greenery, noise level and clean air is somewhat misleading! In fact if the museum replicated the pollution levels these people lived with every day, I don't think it would be allowed visitors!

We liked being able to wander into traditionally laid out shops which are stocked with historically accurate wares and, in a few cases, with modern-day produce for sale. The fish and chip shop was doing a roaring lunch trade! We stopped for a ginger beer in the pub and a bakewell tart each at the bakery (although these were disappointingly dry. The sweet shop seemed perpetually inundated perhaps because Wednesday is School Trip Day at the museum. There are also canal boats to peer inside, a working fairground and a garage of vintage vehicles. We baulked at the idea of going down a mineshaft!

All in all the Black Country Living Museum made for a good day out. We spent a good four or five hours there and came away with a strong impression of what life could have been like in the Black Country's industrial towns. The museum gives value for money and it would be interesting to visit again in a few years when even more streets and exhibits have been added. They're hoping to get a library!

Friday 14 July 2017

Celebrating our 14th Anniversary!

Sunset over our campsite 
Can you believe it? We're amazed too!
Yesterday was Dave and my 14th anniversary of 'two-getherness' (we're so cute!) and we're celebrating with a fortnight away in our trailer tent starting with four nights on a largish campsite at Sheriffhales in Shropshire.

Ted's Caravan and Camping site covers some ten acres and is a neatly mown green field with no defined pitches so there's lots of space. It's beautifully peaceful with practically no traffic noise other than vehicles heading to the campsite or Hunger Hill Farm just over the track. A portacabin houses toilets and showers, and we have both water and electricity points near to our pitch. The site is a little pricey at £20 a night including electricity and I would have liked the shower block to be cleaner for this cost, but the location is ideal for nearby Ironbridge which we are keen to visit. We've visited the Black Country Museum at Dudley - about an hour from here - yesterday and I will blog about that soon.

Our new neighbours at Ted's are a pair of pretty cows and two friendly chickens - at the first hint of any food on offer the birds come running! We also heard and spotted a peacock, but it was too distant to get a good photograph.

Yesterday evening we dined at Shifnal Cottage, an excellent Indian restaurant about a five minute drive from the campsite. There are several Indian restaurants nearby so Dave plumped for this one based on its TripAdvisor rating, proximity, and unusual menu. It certainly didn't disappoint! I had a delicious vegetarian combination platter - smaller portions of Palak Uri Khumbhi Jhool and Dhum Aloo Zeera - and Dave had a lamb Malai Makhani Mawa with a rich coconut sauce laced with paneer. Great food, attentive service and reasonable prices. If you're ever near Shifnal, we highly recommend the Shifnal Cottage restaurant!

Monday 10 July 2017

My first full week of #PlasticFreeJuly

Not-new storage jars 
How is your Plastic Free July going?
After nine full days I am pleased with my efforts. Our landfill rubbish bag isn't noticeably emptier yet, but I am still using up much of what we already had so I expect the visual results there to be delayed. We usually fill one 15 litre rubbish bag a fortnight, which is already considerably less than our immediate neighbours (our recycling box being correspondingly much fuller). I am hoping to get the landfill rubbish down to one bag a month, if not by the end of July itself, then by the end of this summer.

The hardest part of this challenge, other than the plastic avoidance obviously, is not being sucked into the must-shop-for-new-hobby mindset for we are all conditioned. Insatiable consumerism is all very Brave New World and hard to resist. I am seeing pics of gorgeous pantries and kitchen cupboards stocked with matching kilner jars and steel tubs and my click-to-buy finger twitches! Instead I have temporarily stopped recycling jars and will repurpose them for storage solutions. I even pinched two out of a recycling box! Otherwise I will keep using our existing plastic tubs until they wear out and can be gradually replaced.

Being only able to buy loo roll wrapped in plastic got me thinking. When did their paper packaging stop? The same is true of kitchen roll so I thought about how we can use less. I now have a second tea towel hung up ready to be alternative kitchen roll. Wash and reuse! I am trying to avoid cling film too. An upturned bowl over a plate keeps refrigerated food fresh and protected, and using my 'not-new' jars for dry storage has freed up airtight plastic tubs for leftovers. I realised I am starting to do things as they were done years ago so my new mantra is What would Nana do?! The few pieces of her pyrex that I still have are suddenly very useful again.

Ecosewer sanitary pad 
I did buy a second Stainless Steel Flask so now Dave and I have one each. They are perfect for keeping tap water refreshingly cold so are ideal for Dave's tennis sessions. I also bought the pictured reusable sanitary pad for myself. I have used a menstrual Mooncup for almost fourteen years now and wouldn't be without it, but it sometimes can't cope with a heavy first night so I backed it up with a disposable pad. I never considered reusable pads, but now discover dozens of pretty examples available on Etsy. My one is made by Ecosewer and I am very pleased with it.

Then I got crafting! I crocheted reusable produce bags from cotton I already owned. Pictured below, the red and pink net one is for fruit and veg, the yellow one to transport Fresh Soap bars home from their shop in Torquay, and the little blue one is a soap saver pouch making soap bars usable right to their very ends. It works as a great exfoliator too!

I baked crackers from this Kitchn recipe. They taste good and were ridiculously easy - and cheap - to make. I just need more practice on rolling them out evenly.

I made toothpaste from this Treading My Own Path recipe. The glass bottles of glycerine, peppermint oil and clove oil did all have plastic lids and the glass pipette came in a plastic blister pack, but the bicarb was in a cardboard box! I think plastic usage will become less after two tubes worth. The toothpaste will become cheaper than my commercial brand after three tubes worth and, after nearly a week of use, I have already noticed my gums are less red and have stopped bleeding when I brush.

I already regularly make my own Sunflower Seed Milk for our daily porridge. This has more than halved our milk consumption keeping three tetrapacks (with plastic screw caps) out of our recycling each week. The laundry powder I made last year is still going strong too - from that original batch of ingredients!

Crocheted produce and soap bags 

Spotting the plastic that does still creep in has been discouraging, but at least I am now very aware of it and look around for alternatives. Having had no response from Silver Spoon to my e-mail asking why only demerara sugar is sold in plastic - white sugar being packed in paper - I bought a jar of honey. I now put honey on my porridge and in my herbal teas thereby stretching our sugar usage. I've seen local Devon honey for sale since so will make sure to buy that in future.

No response from Clipper or from Heath And Heather to my querying the plastic content of their teabags either - so I am assuming that means yes, their ostensibly paper teabags do contain strengthening plastic. I often wondered why teabag 'skeletons' remained in the compost when we had our veg garden - now I know. Plastic! I already own these brew baskets and an actual pottery teapot so, once our current tea is used up, I plan to take the loose tea route from now on. I just need to find loose tea that is Not sold in plastic bags!

What are your Plastic Free successes? Use the #PlasticFreeJuly hashtag to find great ideas and global support across most social media platforms!

Friday 7 July 2017

Going paddling at Broadsands

Dartmouth Steam Railway above
the South West Coast Path 
It's been glorious in Torbay this week! Making the most of our time here before the schools break up and the bay is swamped with tourists, we decided to walk another short section of the South West Coast Path. Our intention was to explore from Goodrington Sands to the edge of Brixham, thereby joining up (as near as makes no difference!) with our previous Brixham to Berry Head walk.

We parked at Goodrington Sands where three hours is £4 except I got a bit confused and put £3 in the machine so we only had two hours for our walk. In hindsight we should have just jumped on a bus from Torquay. My dayrider ticket would have been £5, but Dave has a free bus pass. Then we wouldn't have had any time restraints or been obliged to return to our start point. We'll know for next time!

Looking back towards Torquay 
The Coast Path swiftly leaves the Goodrington Sands water park - and its shrieks! - behind to undulate along the cliffs. It pretty much follows the Dartmouth Steam Railway line that we travelled last summer in the train. Not exactly alongside though - that would be far too flat for a good footpath! Instead, here, the path is uppy-downy enough (technical term) to challenge us, but without ever making us feel that the effort would be overwhelming. We had expected a sea breeze to diffuse the day's heat, but that relief rarely materialised.

Having originally planned to go further than Broadsands Beach, some three-quarters of an hour's walk from Goodrington Sands, we were actually happy to pause there a while and have our first paddle of the summer. After a few minutes the water felt positively warm and Dave is keen to return soon and swim. We also treated ourselves to a Devon-made Yarde Farm ice cream each (I loved the Lime And Basil flavour) before scrubbing dried sand off our feet and booting up for the return walk.

Beach huts at Broadsands 

Monday 3 July 2017

My first weekend of #PlasticFreeJuly

Baking my own biscuits 
How is your Plastic Free July going? I know several friends have also set themselves this challenge so it will be fun to see how we each experience the month.

I started by baking - a good way to launch any challenge! We like biscuits with our afternoon cuppa and, following on from SmallSteps, are careful to Buy British biscuits, but now I see practically all their packaging includes non-recyclable plastic. How will I cope?

On Friday (31st June) I baked the Peanut Butter Biscuits pictured above in preparation for the start of the month. We already had all the ingredients so no purchases were needed! One subsitution to Delia's recipe was that I used the dried sunflower seed 'flour' left over from making my own Sunflower Seed Milk. Together with 4tbsp of plain flour this created the right consistency and worked well for flavour. Unfortunately these particular biscuits were so very moreish so they all vanished within a few hours. Oops!

Saturday (1st July) was mostly successful! I remembered to take a cotton shopping bag and filled my steel water flask for refreshment on the walk to St Marychurch and back. It's only about half an hour each way. We needed an onion, a couple of bananas, wholemeal flour and demerara sugar. I found all four at The Happy Apple and managed to buy three plastic-free (veg and fruit loose, flour in paper bag). Demerara sugar however was only available in plastic bags and I have noticed this is true in big supermarkets like Waitrose and Sainsbury too. White sugar is bagged in paper while brown is bagged in plastic. I have emailed Silver Spoon to ask why!

Onion pot and oat bites 
So, I bought the demerara as we much prefer it to white sugar. I plan to mitigate the plastic purchase by making its contents last as long as possible though - starting with baking Oat, Apple and Cinnamon Bites which use banana and cooked apple for their moisture and sweetness. No sugar. I made my own applesauce, left out the vanilla essence because we didn't have any, and added 2 tbsp of crunchy peanut butter and a handful of sultanas. Being much less sugary sweet than the peanut butter biscuits above, Dave was suspicious and their denser texture means 3-4 is plenty for me so Saturday's batch of bites should last at least until today!

I wanted to upcycle an old net curtain into reusable fruit/veg bags, but none of the charity shops in St Marychurch or Babbacombe had any. Do they not receive net curtains any more? Or had my fellow PlasticFree-ers beaten me to the cloth?! I noticed that charity shops will be a good cheap source of non-plastic storage containers as mine wear out or I need additional ones though. I allowed myself to be tempted by the adorably ugly onion pot pictured with the Oat Bites. It was just £2.50 at the Animals In Distress shop although I did  have to repeatedly insist to the staff that I did NOT want it swathed in bubble wrap as I could protect it with my unworn jacket. Supermarket onions keep going soft too quickly. Will small-shop properly-stored ones last longer? Hopefully this pottery onion will recoup its cost before too long.

Sunday we needed mushrooms for an omelette and a wedge of Cambozola for Dave's lunch. I walked (with water flask) to Waitrose where the cheese was in thick plastic film on the shelf or in a single clingfilm layer on the deli counter. The counter staff were happy to put the price sticker straight onto the clingfilm when I asked them not to use an extra bag for which they had automatically reached. Plastic halved here! Mushrooms were only available in clingfilm wrapped plastic punnetts though so I thought I would try the Co-Op instead. Same story there! Thank goodness for independent shops (that open on Sundays. The Happy Apple again came up trumps with a choice of loose mushrooms. Should have gone straight there in the first place!

Plastic consumption after 2 days:
1 sugar bag
1 clingfilm cheese wrapper

Plastic avoided
1 biscuit packet
Bubblewrap sheet
1 extra bag for cheese
1 mushroom punnet and clingfilm