Thursday, 18 July 2013

Castle to Castle (London to Budapest)


Blog 3

We're in Bonn at the moment (16th) so here's our post for the last few days.

Monday 15th July
Brussels-Aachen:  Time cycling - 7 hours.  Distance - 132km

After having spent two days with little sleep, our hostel beds were perfect and woke up feeling recharged and excited for the day. We’d learnt something from our previous mistakes, so before we left Brussels we booked a campsite in Aachen. Giving us both somewhere to aim for and a definite place to sleep.

We left at 9.30am and enjoyed a walk through the picturesque centre. Since we’d had so much trouble navigating through cities, our new method was to use the sun as our guide. Keeping the sun at a fixed point.

Talking about navigation, we have settled on using the Google maps function on our IPhones. In particular we love the walking function, which has allowed us to take back roads and cycle paths that we would never have found without it! We have nicknamed him Chris the walking man.

We cycled through beautiful Belgian countryside, stopping to pick cherries by the road side. Other cyclists joined us for short periods of the way, always interested in what we were doing and our progress.

It is becoming a common trend for people to come to our rescue in times of trouble and we were grateful to a girl for directing us to the hostel and a cyclist showing us the way a great deal.

In our drive for sustainability we took a solar charger with us... its crap. Our method now is to stop for a coffee and charge when we need it.

Today we cycled through 3 countries, starting in Belgium, then without realising it, through Holland, and into Germany.

We arrived into Aachen late that night and had to pitch our tents in the dark. We did have the foresight to pick up a whole roast chicken and a beer and devoured the lot before crawling into our tents.

Tuesday 16th
Aachen to Bonn: Time cycling - a "rest" day. Distance - 96km

Having worked hard for 3 days we decided to set a more relaxed pace today. Both of us felt a little achy this morning, so getting going was slow. Also Zoltans incredible navigation might have added a few extra km to the day.....

 *A little aside about how we have progressed day by day. A few days ago I think we were both coming to question whether we could really cycle like this every day. However day by day we seem to be adapting, getting fitter as we go and today we really hit our stride. We can do this!

Sunburn - with wings!
So, it was another really hot day’s cycling but the good news is, for the first time we got into the campsite early. And what a beautiful camp site it was! Right on the banks of the Rhine.

Even Zoltan agreed that the scenery was "alright", which in Zoltans language actually means incredible.

After pitching our tents and having a wash, we went for our first hot meal in 4 days. A kebab each and a pizza to share, great!

We had a good day today and tomorrow (17th) we’re heading for Frankfurt.

Good night all

Zoltan and Jack

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Castle to Castle (London to Budapest)

Blog 2


Fri 12th

So this day found us in a mad rush to get everything ready. It also found Zoltan at the Hungarian embassy waiting for his emergency passport. A story still too raw to go into suffice to say Zoltan and I are still friends. So having packed and had a couple of good luck drinks at the Brownswood, we were set.

Sat 13th

Time cycling - 8 hours. Distance - 160km
After three hours sleep apiece we left The Castle at 5am. Cycling for the first time with fully loaded panniers, something that took a little getting used to. I think I can say for both of us that we were both excited but also apprehensive, the full scale of what we had undertaken running through our minds.

Following our planned route out of London we made steady progress and were soon nearing Dover. It did however prove to be a hard day for both of us, both hot and long. We did however make it to our ferry in time and lying on the sunny deck and sleeping for a couple hours was reward enough.

Getting off the ferry at Dunkirk, a first oversight began to become apparent. We had not really paid much attention to navigation, relying on some very vague printed Google maps. So getting into the centre of Dunkirk proved tricky. And therefore the only two campsites that we made it to. We ended the first night wearing all our clothes sleeping rough on the beach, too tired to bother with tents. Our first and second lessons all in one day...

1. Have some form of navigation!
2. Have a rough idea of where you will sleep, or better a solid booking.


Sunday 14th

Time cycling - 8 hours. Distance - 150km
We awoke to a beautiful sunrise having had three very cold hours sleep. So 6 hours in two days and only 150km to cycle today!

(Zoltan tells me I'm putting a negative spin on this trip, please don't get me wrong we are LOVING it.)

We dragged ourselves off the beach, packed up and I realised I had lost my wallet. Shit.
Incredibly cycling back to the previous days unfriendly campsite we got my wallet back. No sweat.

So our first full on day of cycling. We thought this was going to be an easy day. It was hard and hot and we got lost quite a lot. Yet sitting in our hostel washed, fed and talced up we both agree that we have enjoyed it and achieved something.

About today we wanted to mention the glittery sun cream given to me by my friends from the café and The incredibly bad French road signs which led us round in circles. We have seen some beautiful countryside and thoroughly enjoyed the day. Signing off now as we have an early start. We will write when we can.

Peace out Zoltan and Jack

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Castle to Castle (London to Budapest)


Welcome to our blog!

Zoltan & I (Jack) both work in the Castle Café.
We both have an interest in cycling and have both worked with bikes – myself as a courier and Zoltan delivering lunches to offices in central London.

Zoltan who is from Hungary had for a while been considering cycling home and when this was mentioned to me over a game of pool, the idea for a trip was born.

The trip for us started out as more of a fitness challenge and as a means of getting home. But it has evolved into something more.

Adapting to the Castle’s drive for sustainability and in an effort to provide an environmentally friendly resource, our adventure has taken on a green colour. We want to now examine whether cycling as a means of long distance travel is really feasible in modern Europe and, if so, how easily and comfortably can it be done. We want to demonstrate the physical, mental, cultural and environmental benefits of green & sustainable travel over other travel forms. 

The plan is to depart from the Castle w/c 15th July (date tbc). From there we will cycle to Budapest, following the course of the Danube River, ending at Budacastle. We will pass through Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, and into Hungary.

A total of 1200 miles.

Along the way we will stay in hostels and camp. We will endeavour to post regular updates and photos on our blog and Facebook as we make our way towards Hungary. We hope to make you as excited about our adventure as we are! Please stay tuned to the blog to see details of our planning and preparation for the trip and a continuing feed as we progress towards Budapest.
Thanks, Jack & Zoltan


Friday, 19 April 2013

Castle Garden Mushroom Growing

(Mushroom Blog thanks to Jack Cox, started our mushroom logs and did a workshop about it!)
The Castle is embarking on mushroom cultivation in it's gardens! We're using the age old technique of growing mushrooms on logs which was developed in Asia over 1000 years ago. The particular types we're trying to cultivate are the tasty Shiitake and Lions Mane which are native to China, Japan and Korea but are becoming more commonly cultivated in Europe and the USA. Growing mushrooms on logs is the most low maintenance method of cultivation and although it does require patience (and some maintenance too!) can give good yields of between 20% and a third of the dry weight of each log and is less energy intensive than other methods. We've inoculated our spawn into hard hardwood - oak for the Lions Mane as they don't do so well in paper-bark trees like birch and silver birch for the Shiitake. Because of the oak and birch's density we can expect yields for a longer period. 

 Now we've inoculated the logs with spawn, we'll have to wait anywhere between 9-12 months to get our first fruiting. This period before the first fruiting varies depending on the climatic conditions. We're storing the mushrooms in a custom built incubation house with opening roof slats for ventilation and letting rainwater in to water the mushrooms and a sand pit for trapping moisture in the logs. Once we see signs of mycelial rings on the ends of the logs we can 'shock' the logs which means submerging the logs in water for 24-48hrs. This process of shocking induces the logs to start fruiting and can be repeated up to 4-times per-year for 5-8 years running.

Cultivation on logs is great for many reasons. You can use shady space which is often too dark for growing plants, you can stack the logs to make use of vertical space wherever you're growing and recycle wood from tree surgeons that may otherwise go to waste. It is a method of cultivation that can be explored on a variety of levels from large scale commercial farms to small scale home growing. We got our spawn from Ann Miller in Scotland who doesn't use chemicals and produces hardy strains of spawn for cultivation. There's lots of information on the internet and in books to get started if you're interested...and if you don't have much space you can grow on other smaller materials like corn cobs, coffee ground, paper, cardboard, straw and sawdust...and if you're still unsure, come down to the Castle for our Thursday and workdays to find out more about organic urban horticulture!
shiitake on oak log at Jack's house

Castle Garden Winter 2012-2013

Most of our winter, from December until March was spent freezing our fingers off. To keep our spirits up we put our backs into necessary and warming manual labour.

December and January saw us replenishing last year’s paths with chip from some charming local arbours. Once the old paths were finished we then moved into new territories. With our Wassail workday dedicated to construction, we now have walkways that meander downwards, over greenwood stairways, into the forest garden.

Following this day in January, moving and shifting, digging and chipping, we celebrated with a bonfire and our ritual wassailing. Lead by volunteers Emma and Victoria we sang to the fruit trees, coaxing them into producing an abundant harvest. We laid focaccia in their branches along with a little cider, just for good measure!

Rolling with the hill to the back fence, these new paths offer easy access to our ever growing green wood stack and avenue of twine trained berry bushes. Past the common black berry that rubs shoulders with the exotic Japanese wine berry and elongated loganberry, the path runs smoothly around our young nut trees to the busy habitat corner and ice crusted pond.

In February we began our big winter project: The Garden Shelter. Two weeks of construction work Managed by Barry, Crafted by Tom, and Laboured by a mixed mob of hardy volunteers and staff working through sun and rain…of which there was both!

Before construction could start, the team had to first move the body of sweet chestnut round to the back of the garden from the delivery point, which of course was at the front. Eleven uprights stacked on eleven roof beams, and an army of shorter pieces for henge beams and rafters.

To manoeuvre the 10-12ft monoliths took six people per lift. Many calculations were made in this process about horse power. How many people were equivalent to one horses power…Then we found some wheels, and technology evolved.  We settled on a complex method similar to a medieval battering ram. The construction was mastered by one of our volunteers, the mighty Max, whose skill on the reigns was vital as we rolled along and down hill on two tiny, ancient wheels we found rusting under a tree.

Men, women and children were roped in, as well as some unsuspecting passing climbers who made the mistake of stopping to ask what we were doing.

Once round the front the huge posts were either used as uprights or saved for roof beams. Sitting deep in their 90cm foundation hole Barry regularly noted that they wouldn’t be going anywhere! The posts were secured by compacted rubble and connected by sturdy henge beams.

These henge beams were cut to perfection by Tom, the site carpenter. Then delicately pinned to the uprights using the usual tools: an arm length drill bit, a persuader (also known as a hammer) and some metal rods. The rods were found in the rotting cable wheels that had been dotted around the garden as tables for a few years. The task of removing them, by smashing up the reels, seemed to cause great excitement in the volunteers.

Using power tools in general seemed to make our volunteers very happy. As you can see as Maddy happily drills down rafters. Intrigued as to what was so fun, Fionn, her loyal and dexterous hound concluded that the ground must be second rate, decideding he too wanted to be elevated.

It was a bit of a dog playground this work site. Causing time delays as everyone would stop every so often, to coo over one canine or other. You just couldn’t help yourself! The winner for stopping the most workers had to be, paws down, Madeline’s new pup. (Yes we had two volunteers with same name!) Who, due to its exuberance and youthful charm, was somewhat shunned by the older Fionn, leaving it only us to play with. 

Mean while, Rosa, our Architect joined us when she could through out the build. Sometimes helping with construction, or sometimes taking time out to plan the next architectural must: such as this bespoke sofa made from locally sourced off cuts. Not only this but on a Saturday she would feed us with left over sandwiches from her work. Ah the good life.

All in all I think the masterminds were happy with their work. Us labourers all learned something, and we have the beginnings off an amazing garden shelter…all we need now is a rain proof roof!
 The green roof should be on by May. Recycled bouldering mats will serve as a waterproof layer, then soil. Eventually we hope to have tea herbs growing here, making it and addition to our productivity as well as protecting us from the elements.
All in all it was a creative and constructive winter. We fixed unruly vegetable beds, we added more vegetable beds in the unused space between old vegetable beds, we re used and recycled everything from windows for propagating to plywood for shelter walling.

In between constructing, we re-dressed the herb beds, mulched the fruit trees and suppressed the slightest suggestion of unwanted growth in the swale.

The garden is ready now for spring… and so are we!

(Our winter Blog was written by Min, our garden events organiser who got everyone together to build the shelter!)

Monday, 4 March 2013

The life of pens

After 5 minutes of me talking, she turned to me and asked 
‘Are you talking about pens? 
Pens, as in the things we write with’? 

 Yes I am… and I am also aware of the fact that this may seem to be going overboard for buying pens. Part of my job here at The Castle (among other things, thankfully) is purchasing bulk orders of items that we use on a daily basis. There was a time when it took a very short amount of time and all I had to worry about was how much it cost in £’s. Over the last few years, things have changed around here (for the better).
Now, before I commit to buying anything for company use I need to ask several questions:
  • How does it fit in with our environmental policies? 
  • How and where is it made? 
  • How is it transported from beginning to end point? 
  • Are the materials used sustainable? 
  • Do we really need it in order for our business to continue and to grow. Will our customers suffer if we do not provide it? 
  • Is there a better option, if we really do need it and it doesn’t fit into our environmental ideals then are there any better alternatives? 
  • At what point do you have to accept that there are things we cannot do without even though they fly in the face of what we are trying to do? 
Those of you that are regular customers with us would have undoubtedly have come into contact with our current model of pens. Three years ago at the beginning of our journey we wanted to tackle a seemingly simple issue of buying branded pens that were as environmental friendly as possible. After some weeks, we found a solution that seemed to answer our needs. Pens whose casings were made from recycled post-consumer waste. Not a 100% compostable but at least the nib and inside could be removed from the casing and it could be chucked in the compost. We ordered them (around 5000 of them) and we very pleased with our efforts. At this point I can see you sitting there saying to yourself, but those pens are terrible, they do not work. What is the point of having pens that don’t work even if they a compostable? Agreed; we made further efforts with the pens and contacted the supplier who then offered us a pen with a metal nib and supposedly better quality. We tested them and they seemed to be fine, we ordered another 5000… Winter at The Castle, and the pens cannot cope with the low temperatures; Summer at The Castle and the pens stop working In the heat. We are finally at the end of the supply, thankfully; and I have sat down and given consideration to this problem.
My first reaction was a lets return to plastic pens that work. Buying expensive products that are overpriced only for the fact that they claim to be ‘eco’ friendly and yet are of poor quality doesn’t do our efforts justice. It makes a mockery of the whole issue of what sustainability actually means and allows companies to go on producing things and for us to continue purchasing them without having any further thought on the issue. It also makes it easier for those who wish, to weaken the arguments for making the effort to ‘buy green’. I began the task of researching which type of plastic pens would be best… Oh dear.
The UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 24% is currently being recovered or recycled. There are basically 3 types of so called environmentally friendly of plastic for me to consider using.
  • Bio plastics made from natural materials such as corn starch. 
  • Biodegradable plastics made from traditional petrochemicals, which are engineered to break down more quickly. 
  • Eco/recycled plastics, which are simply plastics made from recycled plastic materials rather than raw petrochemicals. 
One night at home I began my research (yes that’s right I actually did this). It only took me 3 hours to come to my decision. I put the pros and cons of each plastic type next to each other.

(It actually took me longer to try to get the table fit into the blog template than it did to research it! Anyway, if you click on the table it will pop out in another window so you will be able to read it!)

    Bio plastics   Biodegradable/compostable   Recycled

At this point in my research my brain began to ache and a radical thought occurred to me.
My search for a good type of plastic is fruitless, there are not any ‘good’ types of plastic. All plastic has serious and terrible long lasting side effects and just like in any other industry driven by profit and convenience they will do their best to hide the facts from us under a pile of non-biodegradable hog wash. And we, made lethargic and blind by too much fat, salt, sugar, coffee and nicotine let them sooth our guilt away with heroic claims of saving the planet, saving the polar bears, saving the forests (saving their own arses).
(Here is the radical part) Where we can, we are going to stop buying into their rubbish… And we can stop this conversation right here. We do not need to buy pens that are branded. This makes them a desirable object. People come to The Castle, they have a great time; they then see the pens with our logo on them and ask ‘Can I have one?’ ‘Of course’, we say, and they take two or three and the rest of their groups take two or three and so on. Stop branding the pens and they become just a pen. Although we all end up with pens that we do not know where the hell we took them from… but nevertheless we can still cut down on the amount of pens we lose each day by this simple step.
The next step is to use them as if we knew the real cost of them. I.E. Not just the fact it cost us 30p per pen, but the actual cost, this is incalculable, but it shouldn’t stop us imagining it. We are not being tight and begrudging our customers a pen; we are just asking them if they really need to take it with them. Fair enough if after they considered it and they answered yes I do, then of course, take it.

How far we take this depends on us. Do we add string to the backboard where people write out the forms in order to stop them being taken away? And then just leave a couple out at a time for people that do need one?
If we go through the centre and collect all the old pens that are sitting in drawers not being used because they are not our branded recycled type, I have the feeling these will last for months (also due to the fact that they work). I guess it is the next logical step (but a long time coming) after we decided not to use plastic cards on reception any more. Some customers got upset by the cardboard cards seeing them as less valuable than the old plastic ones (which the ink rubbed off anyway and they became unreadable very quickly). They assume that the cardboard ones are temporary and we are going to go back to plastic. Again, we need to look at the real cost of convenience. We don’t really need a membership card at all, we can send the number via email and ask the customer to remember it or have it in their phone notes, all that is required is a change in the way of thinking about what we really need in order to get through the day. Does having a membership card made of plastic make a real difference to my climbing experience? Does The Castle having a branded pen I can take home and chuck in a draw or at the bottom of my bag make a difference to my life? Well it will, but not in the way we like to think about.

So, in conclusion, sorry for rallying the troops about getting ‘new pens that work’; ‘pens that we can be proud of’! I have changed my mind and think that we should use every pen we have in the centre, put them out in small amounts, tie a few to the backboard, when the time comes that we need to buy some more, we will go for recycled plastic, manufactured in the UK and unbranded. Seems like a big deal about pens I know, but we got through 5000 pens in a year, imagine this amount of plastic on the scale of Barclays and then times it by 100, 000 other companies in the UK alone and then times it again for the World.

Yes, I’ve just written a three page essay on pens, for those that got to the end, thanks for taking the time to think about it.