The Inconvenient Mule has mapped the Chilterns, showing the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the many towns and villages we’ve visited and blogged about. The silhouette of a red kite, something of an unofficial symbol of the Chilterns, can be seen stretching across the area. The map also shows the Ridgeway National Trail, a track used for thousands of year, running from Ivinghoe Beacon, through the Chiltern hills and onward to Wiltshire.
The humble high street has seen a resurgence of support and activity of late, spearheaded by the likes of Mary Portas on television and now in the form of a new Twitter campaign by businesses here in Rickmansworth. Called #ShopLocal, it encourages people to support their high street by buying an extra item there instead of the supermarket.
Coincidentally, we’ve been doing precisely this for the past few months, buying a good number of items from local businesses on the high street that we’d previously got as part of our weekly supermarket shop. So far, it’s proven a very positive experience.
This move began through the arrival of a new fishmongers in Rickmansworth, whose stall offers a fantastic array of fish and seafood three days a week. The level of service – personalised, offering cooking recommendations and preparing the food – suddenly revolutionised our relationship with food retailers. No longer did we struggle over what fish we should buy without knowing much about what to do with it. Now we’re given inspiration each week based on the seasonal catch, and it’s enlivened our fish and seafood dishes immensely.
This represented something of a ‘eureka’ moment for us. Perhaps the supermarkets weren’t the convenient be all and end all of food shopping. Perhaps the high street can offer us something more and something better than the dominant supermarkets. Continue reading →
The Easter weekend kicks off a season of events across the Chilterns. The list below attempts to capture some of the largest events in our area, with a focus on those celebrating locally produce food and goods. Leave a comment if you know of an event not listed below.
Somewhat late to the party on this one, we’ve finally become an all iPhone 4 household. Tara has taken my iPhone 4, freeing her finally from the shackles of an increasingly lumbering and senile iPhone 3G, while I’ve got a new iPhone 4S to keep up with my insatiable app and podcast addiction.
It’s proven a good move – Tara finally has a phone with a battery that comfortably lasts the day and is like a gazelle to the drunk tortoise of the 3G. The iPhone 4 is quick, fit for purpose and doesn’t require a tea break when making a Foursquare checkin.
My move to the iPhone 4S is a modest improvement, but the doubling of capacity on the 4 means I’m no longer struggling for space and can crack on with adding my back catalogue of music into iTunes. The 4S also offers an increase in speed, which has cut the frustratingly long start-up time of Camera+ to something much more reasonable. It also ensures that, until such time that the iPhone 5 graces us with its presence, my device has got the necessary oomph (a technical term, you understand) to deliver the demands of the latest apps.
Nowhere is the relentless march of technology felt as keenly as in the mobile marketplace, where the passage of only a couple of years can easily turn a top-of-the-range device into a struggling antique. Trying to keep up with this fearsome pace can prove an expensive business, which is one reason why, until now, our own devices have been lagging behind a little. The recent expense of house-buying and a wedding has meant we’ve taken the view of making do with what we have, so long as it does the job. While we may envy a little those with brand new devices boasting the latest features, our phones have done the core work we’ve asked of them, and that’s been fine. However time catches up with older devices, the slowness of the iPhone 3G was becoming more trouble than it was worth, and it was time to put it out to pasture. For now we’re back up to speed, and we’ll continue to enjoy it while it lasts.
Christmas is traditionally a time for spending time with family, however the ease of travel enjoyed these days means that many extended families are spread across hundreds if not thousands of miles. Getting the family together in person may be impossible, however this modern problem can at least be eased by some similarly modern tech.
For the first time this year, we successfully brought together an entire side of the family on video chat using group video calling on Skype. Five video streams from across the UK and the USA all displayed on a single screen, everyone talking together, and it worked pretty well. Over the years we’ve tried all manner of services, including text, audio and video chat, but this is the first time that the infrastructure and technology has been able to offer something that allowed a quality of video and audio that’s enabled reasonably fluid conversation with everyone at once.
Getting the usability right by providing an interface that’s easy to use and that just works is essential for getting a broader audience on board who would easily be put off by technical issues. Aiding this ease of use is that fact that most people now own laptops that come with cameras and mics built-in. Suddenly we can all make video chats with no need for drivers and problems with third-party software. Our Christmas Skype chat needed no configuration aside from turning on the video and ensuring each person in the chat was a contact. Not exactly rocket science, and certainly a low level of complexity my parents could manage.
Group video calling from Skype isn’t free, but it only needs a single family member to be signed up to create the chat session. Following a hiatus from Skype of several years I’ll certainly now be looking at using it more regularly to keep in touch with the many distant family members.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Daniel and Tara at the Incovenient Mule!
An unenthusiastic driver and a small city car might not seem ideal for embarking on a 1,500 mile road trip to explore the Emerald Isle. Perhaps we should have seen sense, booked a fly-drive or travelled around by train. But no, gripped by an unusual sense of adventure, we had soon booked car ferries and hotels that would see us cross the Republic of Ireland from coast to coast. Twice. We’d also need to cross the entire breadth of Wales and much of England just to reach the boat over of course, but the fun is in getting there – no need to get bogged down in details.
And so it was, we loaded up our modest chariot, cramming what little we could in the minuscule boot and heaping the rest across the back seats. Our new SatNav app was set for Fishguard, and given this was its first outing, we were counting on it to take us at least roughly in the right direction. On to the M4 motorway, the Satnav instructs us to follow the course of the road for the next 180 miles. Nice and easy. Easy that was, until we reached the Newport tunnel just closed by a lorry fire. We ground to a halt at first, and then began to proceed at a pace that would not see snails break a sweat. Would we even make the ferry and get to see the shore of Ireland? Happily we eventually emerged out of the contraflow system and made best speed for Fishguard port, arriving shortly before check-in closed.
Just when we felt we were getting our sea legs onboard the ferry, Rosslare emerged from the sea fog and it was time to return to the car. We were on Irish soil, and my first precarious miles of driving abroad began. It’s just as well that Ireland makes for a relatively gentle introduction to hitting the road in another country. The core principles remain the same, such as driving on the left, but it throws in some unfamiliar elements to keep you on your toes, such as speed limits in km/h and the use of many curious road signs using the American yellow diamond format.
Walking in the Chilterns combines two of my loves: great countryside and indulging in the tranquility of nature. Actually I should include a third: photography, as if I’m going somewhere scenic, my camera will likely as not be coming along to capture the places, and perhaps something of the moment.
I’ve spent many days off and weekends in search of some of the best of the area’s landscapes. There are some real corkers too, such as the panoramas from atop Coombe Hill, Ivinghoe Beacon, and Whiteleaf Hill – all of which I’d be a very long time getting bored of, especially when they can be transformed entirely depending on the time of day, weather or season.
Enabling all this good walking in the Chilterns is an extensive network of footpaths, ranging from national tracks to the smallest of snickets. However all these options can make for a bewildering choice when it comes to planning a walk, as the bigger routes by no means have a monopoly on the best walking.
As I can only occasionally set aside a day for walking, I find it worthwhile to put some time into planning, to help ensure there are some good highlights on the routes I take. Happily, there’s a good range of both online and offline resources that make this easier than ever.
It’s been an eventful week, and one that’s seen Twitter used brilliantly in some cases – and rather less well in others.
The good: the Chiltern cow incident
A Chiltern Railways (CR) train hit a herd of cows that had escaped on to the track at around 7.30pm on Thursday – mid evening, but still well within London’s extended rush hour. Their main line was closed but CR’s consistently excellent communications team stepped up the mark to help inform the large numbers of passengers facing disruption. CR do Twitter well – really well in fact. By day their tweets are friendly, engaging and create a real community spirit amongst commuters and travellers. However when events call for it, CR’s twitter team is in place to get vital information out and be there to respond to customers’ questions.
We first visited the Artichoke restaurant in Amersham a year ago, when we were struck by the very high quality of the cuisine and service. On something of a whim, we decided this half-term that it was high time to try it out again. In particular, we had heard that the Artichoke had recently expanded its premises into the adjacent building, and we were keen to see how this had changed the restaurant.
The Artichoke’s website offers three dining areas within the newly expanded restaurant: The Kitchen Dining Room with views of the restaurant’s kitchen, the Garden Dining Room with a kitchen garden theme and a Wine Room, upstairs. Having recently been engaged by recent Masterchef and Great British Menu TV series, we were keen to see the chefs at work, and requested a table in the Kitchen Dining Room.
On entering the Artichoke, you’re immediately aware that you’re not in any old restaurant. The service is elegant while being extremely slick. To our delight we’d be given the table right in front of the kitchen area, so prime views of the chefs were on hand. Within moments the chef himself arrived and greeted us personally – a lovely additional touch.
For the past couple of years we’ve explored the Chilterns and discovered a growing list of delightful towns and villages, where we could quite easily see ourselves living when we upscale in a few years time. This has led me to wonder: just how realistic and affordable it would be to live in these places? Would the various commuter factors make it impossibly expensive or impractical, or could owning a home in the Chilterns be a distinct reality?
I wanted to find out whether it’s more cost-effective to live in a pricier but easily commutable town or to live further out where property is cheaper but possibly have to drive to and park at the local station. To find this out I put together a spreadsheet comparing house prices and commuting costs in each of our favourite towns and villages.
This looked at:
annual mortgage payments for the typical price of properties that meet our house criteria
annual season ticket for me to travel to work on the train and tube
cost of parking for a year at a station in cases where I’d have to drive to the station, plus an estimated £1,000 annual cost for running a second car
petrol costs for the year of Tara driving to her work in outer London, based on mileage at 13p/mile
What the figures say
There was a £5,964 per year difference between the cheapest and most expensive towns. Far and away the most expensive on our list is Chalfont St Giles, due to it having some of the highest house prices and requiring a second car to drive to the station, which in turn has expensive parking. Continue reading →