Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Soulpad

I feel like I'm getting to know the Soulpad now, after several nights camping in it, so I guess I can do a bit of a mini-review. We have the 4m PIG (pegged-in-groundsheet) model, or 4000-lite as Soulpad call it. The first thing is it's a big tent when packed up, and heavy too, despite the -lite models being lighter than the zipped or sewn in groundsheet models. For this reason it's probably not something I'd use at a festival - plus my rule of never taking anything to a festival that you would mind losing or being damaged applies.

Putting the tent up on the second go was a doddle, much easier than the first time where we had inexperience, a slope and long grass pushing the groundsheet out of shape to deal with. The process is essentially, peg out the groundsheet loosely, peg out the outer canvas loosely, put the single centre pole up, peg out the guy ropes. Then it's a case of tightening all the outer pegs and guys and pegging the groundsheet to the flap from the outer. Gemma and I did it together and it's a mark of how easy it is that we weren't shouting at one another, which we always end up doing with much smaller dome tents when trying to push poles through.

Breaking down is pretty much reversed and then roll everything up. The bag it comes in is a fair size so there is some leeway for the rolling up stage - again, different to nylon dome tents that seem to only fit in the bag straight from the factory. The big thing with canvas tents is that the can't be put away wet. It was raining the final night of our camping weekend, and dismal and damp in the morning when we left. We packed everything else up and waited for as long as possible to let it dry but the completely shaded panels were still damp and rain was clearly on it's way so we had to pack up and then dry at home. Because the footprint of the tent is wider than our garden this proves to be a bit challenging.

Gemma found it quite cold at night despite being in a sleeping bag with a duvet on top. I didn't think it was too bad (just in a duvet). It is possible to put a stove in these tents, but I would think a 5m would be necessary because you lose a lot of the tent to a safe zone around the stove. It's actually quite cool when it's baking outside, especially with the vents open and even the tiniest of breezes.

Size-wise it's plenty roomy for 2 with the attendant camping paraphernalia, and that can be quite a lot of stuff provided you're organised and on the ball with shifting stuff around when not in use.  It could easily get a couple more people in, although you'd potentially lose a bit of room for the extra bits and pieces, or just have to be incredibly organised. It's nice being able to stand up and get dressed and I much prefer having everything in the one large space.

This is a tent to accessorise, and I think we have some ideas how to decorate it, beyond the solar LED fairy lights that we string round it. I can see a future with a lot of wicker hampers in my house - we took 3 this time and they really fit well as storage in the tent. We had a couple of throws out on the floor, which looked quite nice, so I think we'll continue that theme and get more. Of course we only have a small car, so that's a big constraint on what we can take with us.

Overall I'm very happy with the tent and can't wait to get out on a longer trip. Fortunately I don't have to wait to long as we're off for 2 weeks in September.

Camping a New House Farm - part 2

Following on from our first visit, and having a couple of days leave to use up we decided to have a long weekend camping. Initially we'd thought of going somewhere in Norfolk or Suffolk and perhaps picking up Gemma's niece and nephew, but one of them managed to get a fracture so that one was out of the frame. Instead we decided to re-visit New House Farm and spend 3 nights there trying to get to know the Soulpad a bit better prior to a longer trip later in the year.

This time we camped in the top field, since Bob the farmer had been busy and cut the grass in the bottom field and was ready to bale it into hay. This wasn't a bad choice, since the field is flatter and the shorter grass on the top field meant we didn't have any problems getting the tent up. There was a group camped in the far corner from us and more people arrived throughout the day, which we spent on chairs outside the tent with beers and books in hand. Toward evening a bag of wood and some sausages were procured and we spent a nice chilled evening in front of the fire.

We awoke to a world shrouded in mist, but felt quite cosy in the tent. It wasn't quite so cosy having to walk across the dew-wet grass to go to the toilet though. After making a brew, and with the mists receding, we had a wander into the village of Kniveton. Summary - there isn't much there. As we were too early for the pub opening and thereby our chance of a feed, we went back to the campsite, jumped in the car and headed for Ashbourne. Ashbourne is a market town, and it was market day. Unless you have a love for cheap tea-towels there wasn't much to be said for the market. We did have some nice chips for lunch though. After a pint, and stopping at a supermarket to buy beer and a watermelon, we drove back to resume the position - beer in one hand, book in the other.

I managed to slice right into a finger whilst cutting a piece of watermelon for Gemma. Which was more than annoying. Still, it was a little finger and who needs them? We watched more people arriving during the afternoon, including a group of lads who jumped out of the car and immediately threw a rugby ball around for half an hour. Then they put their tents up. Then proceeded to play, I think, every other ball game known to mankind.

More meat was procured, and more firewood, and a repeat performance of the previous evening ensued - this time with more rum.

On the Sunday morning we jumped in the car and went down to Carsington Water. The car parking made me gasp at £4.70 and no change given. Ouch. We set off on a walk via the bird hides towards Carsington village. There wasn't much of massive interest viewable from the hides when we were there - lot's of cormorants and, I think, 23% of the world's population of coots. In Carsington village we stopped for a pint at the Miner's Arms. We had been intending to stay for lunch there, but it took so long to get served, with the bar staff more interested in gossiping than serving, and the beer wasn't great, so we decided against it. A power walk back to the car, and we drove up to the Knockerdown to eat. The beer wasn't much better there, the food was OK, if a bit over-priced and the staff were a little brusque - probably due to being over-worked.

Whilst eating the rain started, so we drove back to the campsite rather than continue wandering. The top field had completely cleared by the time we got back, so the only noises we could hear were the sheep and cows in neighbouring fields and the cry of a buzzard somewhere nearby. After cooking our supper we retired to the tent out of the intermittent rain and stayed there for the rest of the evening.

Camping at New House Farm - part 1

Earlier in the year, we decided to invest in a canvas bell tent and after much research and thinking settled on a 4 metre PIG (pegged in groundsheet) model from Soulpad in Norfolk. As Norwich indie geniuses Bearsuit said it's got, "more soul than Wigan Casino." A number of factors pointed us towards Soulpad rather than their competitors. They're the only company we found doing pegged-in groundsheets, which appealed to us as they provide adequate weather protection whilst allowing the sides to be rolled up on hot days and also keeping the weight down versus zipped in groundsheets. The 4 metre model seemed the right choice space-wise, since there are only two of us normally, and at a push it would fit a couple more in.

After receiving the tent (which arrived super-fast - great service), we decided we better go for a test erection (oo-err missus) somewhere, so went for a single night's camping with Daz and Jen on a sunny weekend in May before the awful weather truly hit us. I'd been researching campsites (UK Campsite reviews are a good source) and suggested New House Organic Farm near Ashbourne in Derbyshire.
View Larger Map

It seemed to tick most of the boxes for me - very basic facilities (standpipes for water, a couple of composting toilets, no showers), fires encouraged (in fire pits - plenty dotted around the site), wood for sale, organic meat for sale and importantly, no massive list of rules to be followed. It's also just about an hour away from home, which I was also looking for, aiming to have a go-to place if we just decided to pack the car up and get out into the countryside after work on a Friday.

This first visit we set off quite early on a Saturday morning, got the tents set up and then went for a bit of a random walk, using Ordnance Survey maps from the Backcountry Navigator app on my phone. We walked over some very pretty fields on a roundabout route to Carsington Water. In trying to make it a circular route we came a bit unstuck on the way back - the map showed paths that petered out, ending in hedges, so we ended up doing a fair bit of back-tracking and finally followed a road back to the campsite. Unfortunately this was all in blazing sun, we didn't really have much water with us, and I think Jen got a mild touch of sun-stroke.

Back at the camp we bought masses of meat from Bob the farmer and a bag of wood and drank a load of home-brew whilst grilling the meat and feeding the wood into the fire-pit. During all this at the bottom f the field was a 50th birthday 'festival' in a large tent that we quite enjoyed watching happening. The dog from the tent next to ours was happy that we put the grill on the floor after the barbecue was done with and kept visiting to try and clean it of meaty, greasy scraps for us.

(continue to Part 2)

A long time gone

It's been a very long time since I posted here, for various reasons. Not least of which is that I haven't really done anything that could be classed as travel for a while. Even local 'travel', such as walking in the Peak District has been restricted over the last year or so. There are a couple of reasons for this - Gemma has been head down and blinkers on getting her dissertation done, and the weather, certainly this summer, has been pretty awful. But Gemma has now graduated, so I'm hoping to be spending a little bit more time out and about. My ballooning stomach could stand to do more walking, that's for certain. I'm also going to make more of an effort to write things down, as I find this blog to be a useful reference and that is, after all, what I started it for.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas journey

Okay, so the journey I'm making today may not be a new one, but it is still venturing from home. At least now that the concept of home has swung round to being Sheffield rather than Lowestoft, today's destination.

I was at the train station pretty early, even for me. Because of the weather the buses have been a bit erratic, so I thought I'd better off trying to get out early. I was cursing having such an early train, if I'd been early for a train later in the day, I'd have simply made for the Sheffield Tap and had a half of ale.

After a fairly chilly hour on platform 5, watching the comings and goings of the station it was time for the train to arrive. In the last 5 minutes the expected time displayed on the board kept flip flopping backward and forward. In the end it was only a minute or two delayed, which is easily made up on the journey.

And what a journey. Travelling by train in the aftermath of the recent cold snap is a wonderful thing. Provided the trains are running on your chosen route of course. The landscape streaming past was beautiful and White, with bold and stark skeletal trees dotted around the fields. Slowing through stations brought massive icicles hanging down from bridges and arches into focus.

Some small flurries of snow started whilst we were waiting for signals to change and let us into Peterborough. A few miles outside Peterborough though, we got stuck behind a queue of trains backed up by a broken down train at it's head. The faces of people when we started up again lit up only to become downcast again when we slowed and stopped briefly. The conductor announced that the train ahead had been moved but that we were likely to be stopping and starting because of the queue of trains ahead. Not a problem for me really, as I have all day and this is minor compared to rail chaos I have endured in the past. Maybe a little more worrying for those having to change at Ely for Stansted and flights onward.

As it happens it seems the times of the train to Lowestoft have been altered by a few minutes, allowing me to walk straight off one train and on to the next with exactly a minute to spare. So the delays did me a favour in preventing me having to stand on a chilly Norwich station for ages. Bonus.

Unfortunately their was only a light dusting of snow between Norwich and Lowestoft, making the journey not quite as pretty as it otherwise may have been. No amount of snow could ever make the giant sugar beet processing plant at Cantley pretty, however. Or not stinky for that matter!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Folly Beach

After leaving Savannah we went directly to Charleston, South Carolina -or rather to Folly Beach at the seaside. We'd pre-booked an apartment that was back away from the beach just over the bridge to it. We were all very pleasantly surprised by the apartment which was really quite nice, although to avoid any strops Gemma and I plumped for the small twin room. This still had an en-suite, so wasn't too bad but was missing the hot tub and giant bed of the master room. The complex was called Marsh Winds which was appropriate as there was a bit of a funky smell coming from the mud-flats out the back. This was OK though - it was nice to have a bit of nature so close by and from the balcony we could hear snapping noises that I guessed were crabs.

Following Jo's pre-occupation with breakfast we went back up the road to a Piggly Wiggly supermarket for supplies before heading into Folly Beach on foot to look for Ste and Flude and Willow's place. We found them in a really smart house set back from the beach and spent the evening doing a bit of a meet and greet with their family and friends.

The following day we attempted Charleston, but I think all felt a little fatigued from stomping round Savannah, so couldn't cope with it. We lasted an hour or so before heading back into Folly Beach and out onto the beach for a swim. The ocean was pretty powerful. After swimming I got a little bored sitting on the beach but it was clear that Jen had been wanting just that -it wasn't even really sunny at this point with clouds welling up so I went for a walk with Gemma. When we met up with the guys later Andy had lost his ring which had been in my shoe. I felt pretty guilty since I'd picked the shoe up, but they managed to get back to the beach and found it. Tea that night was a giant pizza from Bert's market along with Pasta and weird garlic bread. It was quite nice just sitting in watching TV and cooking for a change.

On the morning of Flude & Willow's wedding Gemma & I decided we were going to get dropped off at the lighthouse by Andy and Jo who were heading back into Charleston to shop (urgh). Daz and Jen joined us and we had a leisurely stroll back along the beach towards the centre of Folly Beach, taking photos and marvelling at some of the houses. Along the way we saw fenced off areas for turtle nests and whilst taking a photo of a dead fish a couple informed Daz that there was a tiny turtle next to him. The couple took the turtle back out into the ocean and released it.

I had a swim in the apartment complexes pool with Daz while the girls started their pre-wedding preening. Jen convinced Gemma to wear a floaty dress that I had advised against because of the wind on the beach, Jen herself had managed to get sunburn and had to force swollen legs into silly strappy shoes. We picked up Ste (best man) and Flude (groom) a little late because of a snafu over where they were and Folly Beach's one way system. Getting into the car Ste informed Daz and I that we were the photographers for the day -luckily for gear carrying reasons we'd sorted out a mix of lenses between us earlier. Andy had left his camera at the apartment because he didn't think he'd need it!

The wedding was right on the beach up an aisle made of shells and was fairly disorganised but also really sweet and charming. Somehow I managed to shoot some fairly decent pictures, and I'm sure Daz's will be good although I haven't yet seen them. Apparently the vows were quite lovely although I couldn't catch them as I was stood right at the back with the 70-300mm lens and the click of the shutter constantly going. After the ceremony we had more photo opportunities and got Flude and Willo to ourselves after the rest of the guests drifted off - with Ste picking up his camera and doing what he does best. He really has an uncanny ability for people shots, I guess because he is a people person. I'm more focused on dead stuff, possibly because I am dead inside?

Adding Emily meant the car was full on the way to the reception which meant I had a lovely ride in the boot. No air-con in the boot and the car having been super-heated by the beating sun and slamming around every time Andy swung the wheel. Lovely. The reception was at Bowens Island, down a track and in this crazy wooden shack thing on a jetty over the river. The shack was covered in scrawlings and later Flude produced sharpies for the guests. The DJ was ace, possibly the best wedding DJ set I've ever seen. We all hung out on the jetty watching Dolphins skip in the river as the light faded.

Back in the shack it was time for food (a lovely spicy sausage and shrimp and potato combo) and the speeches. Ste was petrified, but did really well. Pretty much everyone at the top table did a speech, alternating between funny and moving and there were quite a few sobs during them. I took up photography duties again for the first dance, grabbing Ste's camera to start as I had the wrong lens on. That out of the way I started to relax and went into random snapping mode for the rest of the night. The beer flowed, people danced and at some point we ended up in a taxi home.

We were surprisingly un-hungover after the wedding. Gemma, Andy and Jo and I made for Folly Beach for lunch. For some reason my omellete and chips came with fruit on the plate. Just another example of the oddities of food in the US. We walked on the fishing pier, watching people pull tiny sharks out of the water. We ended up on the beach with Ste and the rest of the gang. The currents on that side of the beach were nuts and I decided to get out of the water after nearly being swept out to sea by the undertow of a massive wave breaking over my head.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We found a motel we'd earmarked on the edge of Savannah's central district pretty easily - it was reasonable for being so central, I think we got coupon book discount. From the outside it looked a bit scruffy but the rooms were quite nicely done out inside although pretty dingy from lack of sunlight getting in. The others all piled straight out but I wanted a coffee and a shower to wake myself up so Gem and I said we'd meet them later. Later wasn't very much later and surprise, surprise it was in the pub - a brew pub at that. I availed myself of their fantastic, and 7%, IPA, a hoppy floral delight.

After finishing our beers we went up the main touristy market area and found Vincent Van Go-Go where we had absolutely cracking pizza washed down with pitchers of beer from the brewpub round the corner. We had another drink in Savannah's best English pub (2007), which wasn't that great and then back to the brew pub. There was a mix in what to do next, with me wanting to go back. For me it was decided when a drunk Gemma took a throwaway comment too seriously and blew up to what could be a full blown row. Instead of arguing it in the street whilst drunk I just left them to it and went back to the motel.

So the atmosphere was a bit strained the following day between Gemma and I, but as is normal we soon sorted it out. We went off into Savannah by ourselves, early, to try and get walked around the town before it got really hot. Savannah is noted as being an exceptional walking town, a rarity in the states, as it is fairly compact, has loads of small parks dotted around and lots of historic buildings (although my house would class as historic by US standards). We started out by the river, where I indulged my pastime of reading information boards, after which we walked up into the town and took a winding route through the blocks looking at churches and graveyards. We were back at the motel for a rest by about 09:30.

After our rest we plotted a route to a market to try and get ingredients for a picnic in a large park at the top of the town. Unfortunately the market would only really see us for a picnic of melon and lettuce, so we just went to the park empty handed hoping to find somewhere to eat. We didn't manage it and with the sun reaching insanity levels we made back towards town. On the way we found the Mellow Mushroom, another pizza place, but we grabbed hoagies instead - somewhat massive sandwiches that Gemma had a right job eating. I noted with interest the $2 draft beer happy hour that would be on later.

We got back to the motel just in time to avoid a mad rainstorm, with the weather channel on TV sounding a siren and flashing up an alert. We watched it supping a coffee from the safety of our motel balcony - people hurrying through the streets with the big cars throwing up massive plumes of water as they drove through it. Some time after it subsided we got a call saying they were outside a bar in the tourist street so we went out to meet them. They were full of tales of being caught in the downpour and taken in by a Baptist Church to shelter. Daz and Jen went back and the rest of us went to the sweet shop. They were like, well, kids in a sweet shop. Gemma fortunately managed to restrain herself - she had a strange glint in her eyes for a while. Andy and Jo also went back to change so Gemma and I headed off back up to Mellow Mushroom for happy hour, getting caught in a much smaller downpour on the way. We were a bit soggy when we reached the bar and happy of some $2 beers. Daz and Jen had gone to eat somewhere a bit fancier so we were joined later on by Jo and Andy. We chatted outside to some locals who were pretty cool and provided us with some laughs.

Meeting Daz and Jen we ended up in a rock bar of some sort playing table-top Ms. Pac Man (badly). It all goes a little hazy after that.

Jekyll Island

I'd heard that the Georgia Islands were beautiful so I suggested that we stop in somewhere rather than drive straight to Savannah. We had a bit of a wait about in the morning as we had to wait for Radio Shack to open so Daz could buy a replacement camera charger for the one he'd lost a few nights previously.

We were quite quickly at Jekyll Island and made a little circuit of one side before finding a tourist info. Gemma and Jo came back to the car very excited that they'd found leaflets for a turtle sanctuary so we headed for that. Daz and Jen didn't seem keen so I was surprised that they stumped up the $6 entry fee. They only spent about 5 minutes in there. I quite enjoyed it, although the exhibits were firmly aimed at younger people it was quite engaging and the hospital section was interesting to see the range of problems that they deal with.

Following a 'meal' of leftover pork in the weirdest baguette I've ever tasted we continued on round the island in the car until we reached the fishing pier and driftwood beach. The latter was cool, although mis-named, it looked to me like the dead wood had formerly been part of the forest which had been claimed by the sea and the beach. Still lots to look at - what we think were snake skeletons, horseshoe crab shells and weird gnarly dried up tree parts sticking from the sand. I really enjoyed the walk down the beach and tried to walk back through a spooky looking forest all overbearing with the tree branches strewn with Spanish Moss. Daz came with me but between me blundering into the webs of massive spiders and Daz being attacked by biting bugs we abandoned it and got back onto the beach.

Monday, July 19, 2010


In retaliation for making stops at beaches Andy insisted on starting the day at Tallahassee Automobile Museum. Gem and I didn't fancy it so waited outside watching people setup the grounds for a large political rally. We got off onto the highway again with a fairly long drive ahead of us into Georgia. We took a quick rest stop in Lake City a small town distinguished by it's having a lake in the middle of it.

We hadn't exactly decided where to stay and their was division of opinion on whether to go for a log cabin near the East entrance to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness Area. We weren't able to rustle up the owners of the cabins at all either on the phone or physically there, when we drove past, so the issue was decided for us.

Instead we ended up booking in to a pretty new looking motel outside of Kingsland. We paid 5 bucks extra to get suites, which was more than worth it as we had room to spread out. More so after we did some washing. I think every possible surface in our room was covered in drying pants. The pool in the motel was quite nice although I am not so sure about the extremely hot hot tub next to it.

We were up and off early back down the road to Okefenokee the next morning. We decided to do a guided boat tour first so we would learn a bit about the place and the wildlife. Thoroughly worth the money, we had about an hour and a half trip through various of the Okefenokee habitats, commentary on what we were seeing and ample opportunity for photography. I reluctantly gave my camera with the 70-300 lens on it to Gemma and used the kit lens on her D40 for a good portion of the trip. I think she got the best alligator shots too. Typical.

We smarted down a lunch of crappy Walmart sarnies before jumping in the car and heading off to check out some of the walks. There is a preserved homestead from the family who held out against selling up to the federal government that we went to first. The homestead itself was pretty interesting with lots of insights into what it must have been like to live in those parts before modernisation and roads. In a word, tough, but they had some fairly ingenious touches to make stuff easier. The volunteer guide there was a proper character and we'd had a bit of a banjo recital out of him by the end of it.

Back on into the nature we took a boardwalk. I rather stomped off ahead with Andy as the rest of the bunch were like a horde of elephants tromping along, not so conducive to seeing wildlife. Big spiders, lizards, dragonflies and another alligator all obliged by staying still enough for me to pop some shots off. At the end of the boardwalk was a raised viewing platform that offered a great view out over the swamp. Unfortunately the birds weren't as lens-friendly as the other critters and stayed over the other side of the water. I did spot egrets and ibis, but they were too far away to even bother trying to photograph.

The heat was getting to everyone a bit so we were glad to get back in the car for the air-con. Back at the visitors centre we hired kayaks for the afternoon and laden down with water bottles headed back out onto the canal. As Jo had never canoes or kayaked before I decided I would jump in with her and Gemma would go with Andy. Jo was a bit worried about being able to paddle properly but I went through the basics with her and we were soon motoring along. We were a bit confused by the instructions left to us by the hire people conflicting with the signage so missed the spot we were to turn off the canal into the canoe only natural channel. Even out on the canal the going was quite tough in the heat and I made an executive decision that we wouldn't take the long route. We managed to find the section that they had recommended to use and went down it the wrong way. The water levels in this section, which narrowed massively were quite low and I kept getting pulling bits of mud and weed up and depositing them on myself. I'd worn a white top too - not good. In trying to clear the paddle I managed to pass right by a big turtle out on a bank that Gemma and Andy got right up close to. We took the channel back to the canal that we had originally missed and the paddling immediately got better and invigorated us somewhat. The alligators still made regular appearances prompting me to stop the kayak and shout their direction out. I think Jo was getting a bit like, "okay, whatever, alligator", by that point but not me. I always feel insanely blessed by close encounters with wildlife like that. Being at eye-level to the alligators has only increased my desire to do a big canoeing trek, especially if setup with dry-bags for cameras.

Back on dry land I changed into the dry clothes that I had sensibly brought with me, although no-one else was as filthy and wet as me. I also e away with a bit of a catalogue of injuries; a big bit of skin ripped from near my thumb and the beginnings of a horrendous bruise on my back.

All feeling happily tired and with various sun, paddling and insect wounds, we limped back to Kingsland and got ourselves cleaned up before going for food. Our choice ended up being Sonny's BBQ Pit, where we ate a phenomenally large amount of meat between us. I could have probably done without sides - although my baked sweet potato was nice, the beans were far too sweet. We all almost fell over laughing when the waitress asked if we wanted dessert.

Pensacola to...Tallahassee

We left Pensacola without a firm destination in mind but knowing that we would take the coast road rather than the main interstate with the idea of stopping off along the way. Pensacola beach was the first place we drove through and Jen's shout of, "should we stop here", was immediately shot down by everyone else in the car. The place was ram packed with cars and people and charmless hotels, I for one was looking for more out of the way things.

Our first stop was someway along the road where we jumped out at a beach of beautiful white sand and had a quick walk. There were only a few other people around and some parked up diggers which I assume were part of the oil clean-up effort. We didn't stay long there, just enough time to marvel how hot it had become. There were people just sat around on chairs - there is no way I could manage that in that heat (I recall Andy saying the car was clocking it at 36c).

Somewhere further down the coast we stopped for lunch at a small town of which the name escapes me before continuing to Grayton Beach state park. Again it was beautiful white sand, this time with quite a few people. Everyone barring me and Andy rushed into the sea where in the shallows was a massive school of bait fish. Andy's strange aversion to sand kicked in even quicker than usual and he left for a fag. When we re-grouped we took a forest trail to try and see some wildlife. There were plenty of insects, a lizard or two and Andy and I saw a brilliant red Cardinal and what we think was a Blue Jay. It was this kind of walk that I had been waiting for, the natural world being my favourite thing about the US.

Not knowing where we were headed, we hadn't sorted out a place to stay so tried at a couple of the coastal towns along the way. It being a weekend we weren't able to find any with vacancies except one which looked a bit shady. We took the decision to drive inland a bit pointing toward Tallahassee and to look for motels along the way. This took us up a very straight and boring road through Apalachicola National Forest as the light slipped away.

It had been dark for some time when we got to Tallahassee and started pulling into malls off the highway. Several had no vacancies but we managed to find a cheapish one that did and booked into that. Sitting outside our rooms having a beer we got chatting to a Mexican roofer who tried to explain his woes to us in broken English.