Sunday, 30 December 2012

Yelverton Village Playground

I cycled Drake's Trail to Yelverton recently. The trail emerges in Yelverton just before the A386 roundabout next to a large, well-equipped, busy playground

View Tavistock playgrounds in a larger map

I've added this playground to the playgrounds in Tavistock list since it's accessible via Drake's Trail

We had a day out with the trailer in the mist and the kids spent a very enjoyable hour at the playground. They both thought it was very big, with the assault course being a firm favourite.

Yelverton Village Playground in mist

Drake's Trail Tavistock to Yelverton

We've had a few days out on Drake's Trail recently. The Trail itself is off-road on fine chippings which present no great problem to my road bike. As with any cycling trail around Tavistock, the start is scrappy requiring some nail-biting attention to young children riding on or near public roads.

From the West side of Tavistock, we follow the route to Morrisons via Monksmead. From Morrison's car park there are cycle route signs on the pavement beside the A386. A Toucan crossing a short distance after Morrison's petrol station outside LIDL leads to the other side of the A386 and a narrow cycle path towards Bishopsmead.

Around Bishopsmead the route follows short sections of road, some newly built but quite narrow cycling / pedestrian track and some narrow pavements signposted as cycle routes. Let the small blue signs guide you at each junction. The new roads around Tiddy Brook lead after some meandering to Buzzard Road and a T-junction onto Anderton Lane. You can see the two farm gates guarding the entrance to Drake's Trail on the opposite side of the road.

View Larger Map

The Google map images (as of late December 2012) have only patchy coverage of the recent Tiddy Brook development, so online you can catch a glimpse of the new trail from a distance away from the junction, but move one step closer to the junction and the trail will disappear. Turn around and you'll see only a building site behind you!

From the Tiddy Brook Drake's Trail entrance you can let the kids go free-range until Horrabridge: the route is all cycle and pedestrian trail. There's a short cul-de-sac at Horrabridge to walk/ride along to a T-junction with a busier road. On the other side of the road is safe, dedicated trail again all the way to Yelverton.

The path out of Horrabridge towards Yelverton is quite, quite steep. I pulled my two kids in a trailer up it and barely made it. A cheerful fellow walking at the top came over to congratulate me, remarking that a hill that steep was silly on a cycling route and that the path should have taken a different route.

Something that is annoying is what appears to be a single-car parking space with two boulders behind it at the foot of the slope. There was a car parked in it on our way back which was impassable with a bicycle trailer. I hope whoever is responsible for the trail will move the two boulders up to the roadside.

As you arrive in Yelverton, you pass through a car park with a few little shops (including one which sells confectionery). On the far side of the car park is the Yelverton Village Playground. The cycle path continues around the left side of the playground, to emerge at the large roundabout on the A386.

It took me over an hour to reach Yelverton with a trailer holding two kids. The return journey Yelverton -> Tavistock was a little over twenty minutes. Ensure your brakes work before setting off downhill!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Gas maintenance project on Callington Road

We received a packet through the door from Wales & West Utilities today, informing us of gas mains and piping replacement works starting 2nd January and going on for up to 6 weeks on the Callington Road in Tavistock.

Some of the information in the letter (gas pipe replacement / property entry point and meter relocation) looked as though it was of greater interest to our landlord than it was to us as tenants, so I thought I'd send an email alerting the landlord. Wales & West didn't provide an URL to an article on their website about the project, and nor is there any mention of it online. They did send a DVD though, but none of our PCs have a spinning media reader (I think they're museum pieces).

I got in touch with Wales & West and they promptly and kindly sent me a copy of the letter which I can email to my landlord. Just in case you'd like to do something similar, here is the letter from Wales & West Utilities about the 2013 Callington Road, Tavistock work.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Cycling from Boughthayes to Morrisons

We do most of our food shopping at Morrisons. It's a little over 1.5km away so it's short enough to walk, but just a little bit far to carry shopping bags. We either use panniers on our bicycles or a trailer if we take the kids. The route to Morrisons from Monksmead is lovely - the short sections on road are very quiet.

Getting from Boughthayes to Monksmead requires crossing a steep section of the A390 with cars parked along one side of it. There is a train track that once crossed the A390 near the start of our route but the bridge deck has been removed. Reinstating the bridge deck to join the cycle track from the town centre to the quiet roads around Monksmead would be marvellous for this part of Tavistock.

The route itself starts just above the Catholic Church where Greensway Road leaves the A390 Callington Road. Cycle uphill on Greensway Road to Daleswood Road on the left. Steeply down to the end of the road: the right hand side footpath continues in a narrow gap between the bank on the right and garages on the left. Less than ten metres through the gap you emerge on one of Monksmead's side roads. Google Maps shows a route on the left to Trinity Way here, but it's wrong (I have notified them and they say they will fix it).

View Larger Map

Follow the road curving left to emerge on Monksmead. Turn left, passing the playground on your right and turn quickly left again after 30 metres into Trinity Way. At the foot of Trinity Way, a broad path leads quickly to a bridge over the canal. Just over the bridge are 'Route 27' signs.

Pass the college and playing fields on your left hand side. After a few hundred metres, you have to cross the road to Tavistock's recycling centre. Another 200 metres past the football club pitches leads you to a bridge over the River Tavy to emerge on Brook Lane behind Cornwall Farmers.

Dog-leg right and left over Brook Lane and pass the entrance to Cornwall Farmers on your left. Ride straight to the end of the road where you'll see the right-hand footpath continuing up a ramp into the car park at Morrisons.

It's a pleasant ride of a little over 1.5km. You can see from the video that it's only 8 minutes with a trailer with 40kg of children in it! Some of the posts on the journey don't leave much room for a 2-seat trailer, but our 'Adventure At3' fits through easily enough.

The route from Morrisons car park to Drake's Trail is here (in reverse!).

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The South West Water bill. HOW MUCH?!

The water bill finally came. Living in Oxford, the four of us paid just over £120 pounds for 6 months' water. Our first bill from South West Water was something over £150. We sucked some air in and decided it must be for 6 months. Hold on, we have a water meter... looking again, the bill was for one month. We looked at the meter. The meter agreed with the bill. We filled a large bin with water to crudely check the meter's measurement (difference of before and after meter readings). The water meter agreed with the bin. We had used £150 of water in one month!

High price

We could see that the price of water was quite a lot higher - around double - than we'd paid for Thames Water. We looked on the Web for "South West Water prices". It told us "they're really, really high". We asked the neighbours who said something about tourism and clean beaches. Perhaps the South West could charge visitors a toilet tax.

The price South West Water charges (call it £5 per cubic metre or 5p per 10 litres) is only half the problem. I kept note of the water meter's progress over the course of a few days and it quickly became apparent that the water was being used in the bathroom.

Where the water went

Our new washing machine uses only 60 litres (30p) per wash. We run the washer almost daily, so up to £10 per month. We're quite frugal on washing up water, so much so that it was difficult to measure it on the meter (it measures to the nearest 10 litres).

The rather grand cistern on the toilet was 10 litres (now reduced by introducing some 'foreign objects' to displace the water inside the cistern), so cost 5p per flush. With two small children and being in the habit of flushing it for the slightest excuse, we could have been flushing it anywhere between 20 and 30 times per day. That could account for 200-300litres = £30 to £45 per month. We think we've reduced the volume of water at each flush to about 7 litres and adopted the advice from the WWW:
If it's yellow, let it mellow
If it's brown, flush it down
If you visit and notice us twitching as you head for the bathroom door, it's either because we're embarrassed by our own mellowness or we're holding ourselves back from going all 'RyanAir' and charging the aforementioned tax.

So where did the extra £100 pounds go? What was quite a shock - even though we knew we were using a lot of water and had probably already being cautious - was the amount used in the shower.

The shower

This house delivers a luxurious quantity of water from the shower, but delivers 20-30 litres of water before the temperature settles down (first hot at nearly ten) and then it doesn't stay settled down for long. In between episodes of comfortably-warm water, it's too cold or too hot. Tens of litres were going straight down the drain.

I measured the kids' showers (together) at around 140 litres (70p) and one adult shower around 70 litres (35p). The other adult shower came in at around 30 litres (15p) for a total of around £40 per month, so it seemed as though something could be done to reduce consumption in the shower. Those measurements were post-bill, so we were already trying to cut down. I suspect the bulk of our water excesses were in the shower and could have easily been around £100 per month.

We tried the trick of slightly closing the main water tap for the house, and this did slow down the outflow in the shower, but seemed to make its temperature even more chaotic. It also produced an impressive 'foghorn' sound which wasn't very nice.

The answer

There's nothing we can easily do to the house plumbing to save water as we rent this house, so we searched for a camping shower. I had used a 'solar shower bag' on long camping expeditions to dry regions before and knew I could have an adequate (by expedition standards) shower in around one litre of water. Solar shower bags need to be hung up somewhere and there isn't really anywhere substantial enough in the rented house to hang them.

We settled on a Hozelock 4in1 Porta Shower from Amazon. It holds 5 litres of water, though you can squeeze an extra litre in at the cost of more frequent pumping at the start of a shower. It's air-powered with a pump handle on top that needs 10-12 strokes 3-4 times during the shower depending on how fast you want the water to flow.

The air space at the top of the bottle when you initially fill water to the 5 litre mark is where the air you pump in goes. Pumping raises the pressure of that air which then pushes against the water in the bottle, causing it to steadily spray out of the head. As the water level goes down, the volume of air at the top of the tank expands with a corresponding drop in pressure and hence the flow reduces at the shower head. To increase the flow you must increase the pressure in the bottle by pumping again. Pumping for 5-10 seconds gives a minute or so of shower.

The bottle itself sits on the floor of the bath - no need to hang it - and has a practical shower head that fits easily into the bathroom's existing shower head holder. We fill it to 3.5 litres with cold water and add 1.5 litres of boiling hot water from a kettle. It's simple, seems durable and really delivers on its promise. We put a little J-cloth underneath the bottle to protect the bath during pumping, just in case.

There's a handy trigger on the shower head which you can press to spray water. It also easily latches into position so you can use the shower hands-free as you normally would. We use the trigger for showering the kids and latch it open for us adults. You unlatch the trigger while soaping up or answering the phone - it's just a slide of the thumb - and latch it open again to rinse off.

My shower is usually over after 3 litres or so but I've yet to start predicting my consumption, choosing instead to have a bit of 'luxury' instead and finish the full 5 litres. A full hairwash + face-shave (I like to shave in the shower) shower takes around 4 litres, but I've yet to come close to running out. 5 litres is also plenty to shower the 2 kids together. Our family daily shower consumption is now 15 litres or 7.5p per day / just over £2 per month.

I expect we should be saving something on energy too. Even if the kettle may not be the most efficient way to heat water, we're heating far less of it. An unexpected but very welcome side effect of the reduced shower water usage is that the bathroom - whose damp issues are evident to more than one sense - is much less damp than it was, presumably because there's so much less steam in the air. That does also mean that it's not as warm, so we may end up turning up the heating a little bit in cooler weather.

It does feel a little bit like hard times having to pump the shower and it's not at all like standing under Niagara Falls but if you're keen to keep tight control over your shower water usage, I'd say the Hozelock 4in1 Porta Shower would be hard to beat.

We have also been flushing our toilet with rainwater!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Rain in Tavistock

Lots of people told me before I moved to Tavistock that it's "nice, but rains a lot". Is it wetter here than anywhere else in the UK? I don't know - Summer 2012 seems to have happened in April and it has been cold / wet / windy everywhere since then. We usually check weather on the Met Office website using their excellent 'weather-at-a-glance' page here:

Weather in Tavistock

and today I spotted the Met Office's 'rain radar' which certainly seems to agree with the well-tested method of looking out of the window to see whether it's raining or not. I've a feeling the data is collected by lots of people looking out of their windows.

Rain radar

The Met Office have a little information panel on both these pages showing a picture of an old reel-to-reel tape drive with a caption saying they've got a newer version of the page. I've tried the new pages and though they look very nice, they don't seem to be nearly as clear nor as responsive as the old pages. Maybe I'm just a reel-to-reel kind of person.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Meadows playground

The Meadows playground is in the centre of Tavistock, just behind the Wharf cinema and Meadowlands swimming pool. It's a frequent stop for us. Despite the obviously older play equipment in the playground, the kids love playing there: the helter skelter is a big favourite. There are some lovely hedges / dens nearby and some fascination generated by the exercise equipment (is it? The labels have weathered away!) dotted around the park.

View Tavistock playgrounds in a larger map

Woodpecker Way playground

Woodpecker Way playground "Tiddy Brook" is one of the smaller and newer playgrounds we visited. It's next to the road, but fenced in among some lawns around a tree-lined cycle path and stream.

There seems to have been some good work done on linking the roads in the area with footpaths and cycleways. It's certainly more navigable than Google Maps - in June 2012 - would lead you to believe. There's a direct, off-road route from the Bishopsmead playground to this playground, suitable for a road-bike and trailer.

View Tavistock playgrounds in a larger map

My kids enjoyed the high-quality, modern play equipment very much, even though we were there on a miserably soggy day with frequent rain showers. They spent as much time sheltering under the "crow's nest" as they did playing on it!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Whitchurch Play Park

Whitchurch Play Park is a nicely secluded and spacious playground tucked away at the end of Church Lea in Whitchurch. It has just a few pieces of modern playground equipment, but they're well placed around the perimeter of the field. The centre of the field can accommodate a game of football between goals at either end.

View Tavistock playgrounds in a larger map


Bishopsmead playground

Bishopsmead is a lovely playground. It's surprisingly large, hidden away from view behind houses. Access is half way along a verdant alleyway between houses in Hazel Road and Oak Road. It has plenty of space and lots of equipment: including 3 separate swings, an assault course and an enclosed toddlers' play area.

View Tavistock playgrounds in a larger map

Courtlands playground

Courtlands is the best-equipped playground we have visited so far in Tavistock. It has plenty of equipment suitable for toddlers (in their own enclosure) and also at least one robustly-made climbing puzzle that is a challenge for an adult! It must be fairly new, as all the well-made equipment seems to be in tip-top condition. Even the speaking tube worked - a first for me and my kids, they were captivated by it!

View Tavistock playgrounds in a larger map

We entered the playground from the gate at the end of Hessary View. There is also access from Courtlands Close and Courtlands Road. We visited Courtlands on a cool, windy day with threatening clouds and occasional showers, but even so it was quite busy - it's obviously a popular playground.

Internet access

I work online, so good quality Internet access is important to me. I had some reservations about moving to the South West, suspecting that it might simply be "too far from London" for reliable, fast Internet access. Having said that, I have had bad Internet access experiences within reasonable commuting distance of London.

I shouldn't have worried. BT - as usual - did their best to prevent me accessing the Internet. There was a phone line in my house which I couldn't use because it was "still in use". I had to pay for a new line, I was told. When the BT technician came, he said the line that was still in use had been disconnected at the telegraph pole a long time ago and all available connections used for some newly built houses in the neighbourhood. No, really. A few weeks (why does it have to take so long?) later, I had the best Internet connection I have ever had in the UK.


From BT Wholesale:

That's a great download speed, and more than sufficient for me. .9Mb/s upstream is not bad either, though I would prefer the figures to be more similar to each other or even reversed! I produce content (media and software) at home and must frequently upload it to the Internet. A slow upstream connection is a severe handicap on my productivity.

The reason why Internet connections so often feature slow upstream bandwidth and fast downstream is that they're consumer connections. We're expected to consume content from centrally located servers. Whenever I see campaigns for faster broadband, they typically demand ever faster consumer connections. There are obviously very many people who would like to watch YouTube videos at ever greater resolutions and with ever briefer buffering delays - what they want is TV, but to watch different programs at different times to their neighbours. It's this demand that dictates that we get Internet connections with enormous download bandwidths (for delivering video to us) and pitifully small upload bandwidths (to allow us to change channels on our TV emulators).

I wish we had something better suited to home digital production - it ought to be the UK's new cottage industry. Perhaps there's some scope for installing a community-managed network in a place like Tavistock, but there would have to be considerable local interest in it. I fear the future is almost certainly more asymmetric (bandwidth and services) wireless networks. Maybe I'll have to move to a capital city so I can 'work remotely' within shouting distance of a data centre.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Montgomery Drive playgrounds

Plural this time because on our way along Montgomery Drive a few days ago to the main playground there we passed a little play area on the left just after a road on the left called "The Heights", which we assumed was for very young children. I've just seen on Google Maps what I think must be a third small play area at the very northern tip of Montgomery Drive. That one appears to have access from Manor Road too. We visited only the large one by Perry Close.

View Larger Map

The Montgomery Drive playground has some good equipment in it. The little climbing / traversing wall is quite tricky and the assault course - though small - seemed to hold the attention of its users quite well. It's a new playground and the equipment is quite solid, so it's all in excellent condition. It's a bit of a fishbowl, overlooked from every direction by nearby houses with roads also on three sides, but it feels quiet and safe.

Bannawell Street playground

Thanks to a relayed tip-off from one of's facebook* contributors, we set out to investigate a new playground this morning. We were none the wiser when we arrived at the "top of Bannawell St" so we sought local knowledge. A couple of people gave us directions that sounded right for the Courtlands playground, but it wasn't until we'd started a brute-force search of the local side-streets that someone said "it's just over there, through a farm gate".

View Larger Map

To enter the playground, you do need to go through the farm gate on the north side of Abbey Place, only metres east of Russell Court. You're not there yet - a further 50m along a track beside a little stream and through a gap in trees takes you into a sloping field with a small asphalt area beneath a basketball hoop. The playground lies adjacent to this field, across a small bridge.

The surroundings are lovely - there's no road visible and the playground is not bad too. It has swings and an assault course similar in construction to the one at Monksmead. There are a few picnic tables and benches, and plenty of shade thanks to some mature trees. My kids particularly enjoyed the good-sized sloping field and the little stream with surprisingly many bridges in such a short length!

*If you're a facebook member perhaps you can see the original contribution too. I'm not - I find the whole concept of a members-only web perverse. I suppose it could be considered truculent to knock $104bn worth of perverse... what a pay day!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Dennis Willcock, world fencing champion / sidecars

So there I was at a T-junction somewhere in Tavistock, wondering (Emily had left the playground-finding map at home) where we should go next on our playground-finding tour when I spotted a sprightly man striding up the hill, so I asked him for directions. He was Dennis Willcock - a lovely, interesting, vigorous man - the UK's world (very!) over-70 fencing champion!

Dennis was interested in our bike trailer, an 'Adventure AT3' bought from Amazon (but perhaps no longer in stock). He told us he had had sidecars on a motorcycle and before that on a tandem bicycle. I had a quick search to see if I could find out anything about bicycle sidecars: I'd never seen one. A few pages mentioned "Watsonian" sidecars, which I recall Dennis mentioning as the make of one of his sidecars. Feast your eyes on these beauties:

1936 BSA T64 Piled Arms Tandem with Watsonian Sidecar

Coventry Eagle tandem and Watsonian Sidecar

A bicycle sidecar sounds more romantic than practical to me - I can only dream of what it must be like to ride one!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Take my hand...

I've surprised myself - never one to spend very long choosing a domain name, this one just popped into my head. Now I wouldn't normally consider myself a Tony Bennett fan, but I knew immediately from where the idea had come!

We're new (as of late April 2012) to Tavistock, and enjoying living here so far. We're having plenty of adventures and discovering lots of new things about Tavistock; I intend to use this blog as a way of capturing some of that. I can't promise any more Tony Bennett, but I hope you'll find something of interest here!