Monthly Archives: August 2021

mistress of the empire

Mistress of The Empire (Empire Trilogy #3) by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts.

From Goodreads:

The world on the other side of the rift:  Kelewan, a land seething with political intrigue and deadly conspiracies.  Following the opulent panoply of Daughter Of The Empire and the dazzling pageantry of Servant Of The Empire comes the resounding conclusion to the Empire trilogy.

Besieged by spies and rival houses, stalked by a secret and merciless brotherhood of assassins, the brilliant Lady Mara of the Acoma faces the most deadly challenge she has ever known.  The fearsome Black Robes see Mara as the ultimate threat to their ancient power.  In search of allies who will join her against them, Mara must travel beyond civilization’s borders and even into the hives of the alien cho-ja.  As those near and dear to her fall victim to many enemies, Mara cries out for vengeance.  Drawing on all of her courage and guile she prepares to fight her greatest battle of all–for her life, her home, and the Empire itself.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Overall this is one of my favourite series of all time. The breadth and scale of the story, the world and customs and characters is amazing. However, this is a disappointing final installment. It’s reasonably good and taking Mara out of the empire and bringing her to the brink of annihilation is inspired storytelling. Add in the changes in her relationships with her servants and the traditions of the empire mixed with a showdown between her and the Assembly backed up by the Cho-Ja and you have all the elements for an epic story.

However, it gets terribly bogged down in detail, becomes incredibly slow moving and is far too long. For the first 25% virtually nothing happens. However, it is definitely worth reading and it does bring a satisfying and complete conclusion to the trilogy.

Overall the collaboration between these two authors has resulted in the best of both and therefore better than either on their own. I’m glad I went back and revisited this series and it has inspired me to go back to others I read when I was much younger.

Header image by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

going wild

On Saturday night I finally went wild camping. The weather forecast was grim with heavy rain and a thunderstorm warning for the afternoon and early evening but with the worst of it to pass by 6pm I decided to plan for the best. Thankfully the forecast was right for a change and it dried up shortly after 6.

Taking my cue from a successful way to plan a bike ride I got all my gear sorted the day before and packed that morning. Taking advice from some of the YouTube wild campers I follow I took more than I thought I would need but despite being reasonably strict the volume of stuff still surprised me.

Part of my problem is that not all my gear packs efficiently. For example the cooking cup is smaller than the gas canister so they can’t be nested. Also the thermal cup took up more space than I expected and my sleeping bag is probably bigger than most modern bags.

I’d chosen a spot called Dooish Hill between Raphoe, St Johnston and Newtowncunningham. I’ve been there before and it has a great view and only a short 1km walk from the parking location in case things went disastrously wrong. It’s also one of the 50 nearest hills listed on so starts the 50for50 ball rolling for me too.

The actual campsite was OK but far from ideal. The area of grassland I remember turned out to be quite boggy and mostly covered with low heather. This made for damp, soft ground and while heather is nice enough to lie on it doesn’t compress as easily as grass and made everything that little bit more awkward but still manageable.

the heather complicated the pitch of the tarp

nearby unmapped trigpoint pillar

I’d brought two stoves with me. My BSR gas stove I used previously on my hike up Bessy Bell and also a small wood burning firebox copy from Lixada. The plan was to use the wood burner to cook dinner, keep away any midges and provide a nice fire as it got dark. The gas stove was for the morning to make life easier. After the day of heavy rain I also decided to bring a small bag of dry tinder and sticks and a large birch branch I’d taken from my local woods a couple of months ago. I didn’t fancy hunting in the wet trees nearby and trying to start a fire with damp wood. I did process the wood on site though with my saw and knife to cut and split it and lit the fire using a fire steel rather than a lighter. It felt surprisingly satisfying to do it this way – very bushcrafty!

Dinner was kept simple too. I brought some chorizo sausage pieces and a pre cooked pack of multi grains. I just needed to boil a small amount of water and then reheat the whole lot in the frying pan for 5min. Dessert was a chocolate chip muffin. All was eaten while enjoying the views as the low clouds came and went.

Sunset came quickly with darkness pretty much complete shortly after 930. However, just before 9 I was treated to a flock of birds (swallows, swifts or martins, they all look and behave very similar!) that swooped in and spent 10 minutes showing off their aerial acrobatics as they dined on flies and other insects high above my head. Even once it was dark there was a surprising amount of light in the sky.

I read for a while by the light of my head torch and finally went to bed shortly after 1030. I slept reasonably well, waking about 1230 and again shortly after 3. I needed a pee at 3 so it took a while to settle again but I then managed to sleep until just after 6am. Not perfect but good enough and better than I expected for my first night out. Another tip from YouTube helped. I was wearing a thin thermal hat and this was big enough to pull down over my eyes and stop the early dawn from wakening me too early.

The early morning was chilly and unfortunately the view was gone as the hill was totally shrouded in a dense bank of low cloud. A breakfast bacon bap and tea was nice but could have been so much better with a view to enjoy.

lost in the mist

Packing up was quick and simple, somehow everything went back in easier this time and after a short damp walk back to the car I was home again shortly after 8am.

All in it was a really good and enjoyable first wildcamp. I’ll definitely go out again and with my first experience I have some small lessons to help make it better next time too.

getting it done!

I’m on annual leave this week and the plan for a while had been to paint the outside of the house. I last did it 3 years ago and it probably should have been done last year but with everything going on I didn’t have much motivation or time really. Returning to work in June life became very busy for a few months.

Painting is one of those jobs that I don’t really like but get satisfaction from. There is an immediate result, you can see the benefit as you work. It’s also one of those jobs that I can do pretty well and therefore really dislike paying someone else to do! I’m convinced that I can do it almost as good as anyone I would pay.

Like last time I hired a scaffold tower. That came on Monday but at least 2 hours later than expected due to a mix up with my contact number by the hire company. With help from the boys I had it built and ready to go late on Monday afternoon.

the lower side of the house

Our house is a dormer bungalow or a story and a half as they’re also known. Most of the external walls are accessible with a small set of steps and a roller but three areas require some form of height access. A cherry picker would have been my first choice but they have become very expensive to hire and there wasn’t one available locally for this week. The scaffold is the next best option. It requires time and effort to build, move around and dismantle but once secured properly, it feels safe and secure and gives great access to the difficult to reach areas. The first year I used a ladder and that was zero fun!

shaky ladder or wobbly legs?

highest point of the house

Due to the design of the roof some sections required some “alternative” scaffolding configurations.

safer than it looks!

The chimney is a real challenge. It involves scrambling from the scaffold on to the roof itself and then wrestling with a roller or brush. I chickened out last time and it had bugged me every time I came up the drive and saw the different coloured chimney. This time though I managed to beat my fear and get it done!

look ma…no hands!

matching at last

The door has been plain white since we moved in 16 years ago but that is now changed and in dramatic fashion.

I finally finished late yesterday evening. All in it took me about 3.5 days which was quicker than expected. I’d allowed for 5 days but the grey only needed one coat. Good job too as the weather wasn’t what I’d hoped for and today and tomorrow are heavy rain both days.

job done 👌

I wrote a while back about finding motivation difficult and how I generally put things on the long finger and often give up on tasks and activities before they are finished. Last time I painted the house I found an excuse not to finish the garage and the back of the house on the first time around. This meant finishing it on evenings and days off over a period of about 2 weeks. This time I’m really pleased that I stuck at it and pushed on to get everything completed before the weather stopped me. This time the back is finished and also the garage, even the hidden bits that nobody sees! I even took time to give the window sills a second coat. It looks great and I’m really chuffed with the result 💪

The downside is the lack of cycling. I’d hoped to get out each morning for an hour but I’d underestimated how tired I would be. I managed a short spin on Monday morning before the scaffold came but rain on Tuesday morning and general tiredness on Wednesday and Thursday put paid to the other days. Today I’m aching but I have two rest days and then decent weather again on Sunday. As a bonus, now that the painting is completely finished, the rest of the month is free to get back up to fitness and get another Audax ride before the end of the month 😊

Header image by Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

bád eddie

One of Donegal’s most famous landmarks and probably the most photographed, lies on Magheraclogher Beach outside Bunbeg. It’s the remains of a boat (Bád Eddie is Irish for Eddie’s boat) that ran aground in the 1970s and has sat there for almost 50 years. We’ve never been there and as it’s in serious danger of collapsing completely, we made the journey today to see it for ourselves and get some photos of our own before it disappears for good.

50 for 50

It was my birthday last month and at 48 I am now slap bang in the middle age zone and also deep into mid-life crisis territory. One wrong step and I’ll be hunting for a girl half my age and driving fast cars that I can’t afford!

about as far as the budget will stretch!

This is the first birthday that I’ve really felt my age. I was happy at every milestone in my life but for some reason 50 feels much more ominous. Some of you who come here regularly will scoff but it feels old and I don’t like feeling old.

This topic came up on a recent trip to the barbers. She is almost exactly 10 years younger than me and while she isn’t dreading 40 she has a plan to mark it with 40 things for her 40th birthday. The conversation reminded me of personal challenges set by two friends (Eileen and Yvonne) to mark significant birthdays of their own. Inspired by these 3 ladies I have come up with my own list.

Some of these are things I’ve been thinking of for a while and some are things I’m planning to do over the next few years anyway. There are no rules and no particular order. I’ll do some together and sometimes one thing might count for more than one item on the list. I’m allowing myself until the end of 2023 so have just over 2 years but, if I don’t get them all done then no worries. The goal here is to have fun!

  • Give up social media for 1 month
  • Climb Mt Everest (walking elevation)
  • Sleep on a mountain top with no tent
  • Camp on a beach
  • Raise €5,000 for charity
  • Walk a marathon
  • Cycle the Ireland Way
  • Climb the Ulster County Tops
  • Climb the Ireland 4 Peaks
  • Midnight Skinny Dip
  • Read 5 Classic Novels
  • Gift 5 coffees to strangers
  • Carve an item from wood
  • Give flowers to 5 strangers
  • Drive the Wild Atlantic Way
  • Visit the 32 counties of Ireland
  • Take a photo of 5 strangers and get their stories
  • Run a 10K
  • Stay silent for 24hrs
  • Abseil off a cliff or tall building
  • Complete a multi day bikepacking trip
  • Complete a multi day backpacking trip
  • Take 5 photos that are worth framing
  • Learn to swim
  • Cycle from dusk to dawn
  • Kiss the Blarney Stone
  • Firewalk
  • Have acupuncture
  • Take 5 yoga lessons
  • Take 5 dance lessons
  • Volunteer for a day
  • Plant 5 trees
  • Grow a meal
  • Catch and cook a fish
  • Bake a cake
  • Visit Tory Island
  • Spend a night on Aranmore Island
  • Re-visit the Aran Islands
  • Visit Glasnevin cemetery
  • Visit the War Memorial Gardens
  • Make a pen pal
  • Send a message in a bottle
  • Make a time capsule
  • Donate blood
  • Make a memory box
  • Climb the closest 50 hills to home on
  • Go pony trekking
  • Go for a wild swim
  • Do a pier jump
  • Grow a tree from seed

Header image © Pixabay

backyard camping

Last night I finally got around to taking my first step towards a proper wild camp before the end of the summer. I bought a DD 3x3m tarp a few weeks ago and have been watching many videos about how to set it up as a summer tarp tent. Yesterday evening I finally got around to setting it up in the back garden as a trial run, to iron out any problems and test out some of my, now very old, gear.

this sleeping bag must be 20+ years old but very warm!

first time actually using this bivvy bag

Finding it more cramped than expected I’ve watched a few more videos this evening and realised that I should have set it up slightly differently and I would have had both more headroom and space to lie out.

Other things I learned last night:

  • I can still get excited about very simple things – took me ages to relax enough to actually get to sleep
  • Needing a pee at 3am is more complicated in a sleeping bag and tent!
  • Listening to heavy rain from the inside of a tent is strangely soothing when you are inside dry and warm
  • The flat bit of our garden isn’t – there’s a very slight slope that’s only noticeable when lying down
  • For a place in the middle of the country there’s a lot of noise at night.
  • I was very surprised by the amount of condensation inside the tarp this morning but the grass was soaked when I pitched which could have been the cause
  • The night air smells and feels different when sleeping outside

I’ve also learned from YouTube that a hot chocolate before bed is pretty much compulsory for expert level wild campers.

I have plans for further “proper” wild camps over the next few weeks but I definitely need to invest in a proper sleeping mat very soon, these old bones need a soft surface to lie on…..

bare bones

Bare Bones (Temperance Brennan #6) by Kathy Reichs

From Goodreads:

It’s a summer of sizzling heat in Charlotte where Dr. Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist for the North Carolina medical examiner, looks forward to her first vacation in years. A romantic vacation. She’s almost out the door when the bones start appearing.
A newborn’s charred remains turn up in a woodstove. A small plane crashes in a North Carolina cornfield on a sunny afternoon. Both pilot and passenger are burned beyond recognition. And what is the mysterious black substance covering the bodies? Most puzzling of all are the bones discovered at a remote farm outside Charlotte. The remains seem to be of animal origin, but Tempe is shocked when she gets them to her lab.
With help from a special detective friend, Tempe must investigate a poignant and terrifying case that comes at the worst possible moment. Daughter Katy has a new boyfriend who Tempe fears may have something to hide. And important personal decisions face Tempe. Is it time for emotional commitment? Will she have the chance to find out?
Everything must wait on the bones. Why are the X rays and DNA so perplexing? Who is trying to keep Tempe from the answers? Someone is following her and Katy. That someone must be stopped before it’s too late.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Cracking good story. Another change of scenery with Tempe now in her home base of North Carolina and trying to find out how Ryan and herself fit together. The story mixes a reasonably complex, but not too complicated investigation, with Tempe’s personal relations with Ryan and her daughter.

There was a nice mixture of old and new characters in this also but “Skinny” Slidell is beginning to sound an awful lot like Marino from the Kay Scarpetta stories.

The plot nips along at a steady pace, introducing twists and turns until there is a sudden rush near the end and a revelation of the details in the final chapter. It’s a fairly common plot design and one I think the author has used before, but it made for an enjoyable and engaging read.

Header image by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

messenger’s legacy

Messenger’s Legacy (Demon Cycle #3.5) by Peter V Brett

From Goodreads:

Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons—bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting the surface for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace.

Briar Damaj is a boy of six in the small village of Bogton. Half Krasian, the village children call him Mudboy for his dark skin. When tragedy strikes, Briar decides the town is better off without him, fleeing into the bog with nothing but his wits and a bit of herb lore to protect him.

After twenty years, Ragen Messenger has agreed to retire and pass on his route to his protégé, Arlen Bales. But for all that he’s earned the rest, he has no idea what to do with the rest of his life. When he learns Briar, the son of an old friend, is missing, Ragen is willing to risk any danger to bring him safely home.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is the second novella that adds additional information to the characters involved in the main series and I’m really enjoying them. They give a chance to return to the series as well as giving interesting background and detail that would make the main books much too long and overly detailed. I wish more authors would consider doing something similar.

the colour of summer

I’ve had a dodgy stomach for the last few days and really didn’t feel like cycling today. However, sitting around the house vegetating with YouTube wasn’t doing my head any good so I decided to head to the woods for a walk with Rosie.

I’ve always associated yellow with Spring. The majority of the early flowering plants produce yellow flowers to make them more visible to bees and flies in the low light of the early season. However, the colour of Summer seems to be purple. The profusion of purple over the last 6 weeks has been very noticeable when out and about on foot, cycling or even just driving to work. The forest today didn’t disappoint.

With the flowers come the insects. All along the tracks the constant noise of bees and flies of various species and sizes were like a chainsaw working in the background. Some of them sat still long enough for photos.

As well as all the insect activity I could hear loads of birds and even saw three deer (possibly the same deer in three different locations?) and even managed one blurry long distance photo as one of them high tailed it away from the scary human.

couldn’t be less interested in flowers or insects