Sunday, September 14, 2014

Outside Food: ABC (Autumn Beach Chilli)

There are four key ingredients that elevate this beach campfire meal above a normal chilli:  bacon, beer, dark chocolate and accidental campfire ash.  It’s ideal for keeping the dream alive into the autumn, as you can keep warm around the fire on the beach after surfing if you’re at the sort of spot where you can light a discreet fire that won’t spoil anybody else’s enjoyment of the place.  Alternatively, you could always do it over a fire pit in your garden if you have one.
I’m going to assume that you’ve all cooked some sort of "minced beef and tomato" based meal at some point in your life (chilli, bolognaise, cottage pie etc) so will let you work out for yourself the quantities of ingredients based on the number of people that you’re feeding and how hungry they are.  This will do for about 4 hungry adults who’ve spent a few hours paddling in the sea.

You will need:

  • Decent firewood (bits of tree that still look like bits of tree - nothing tanilised like garden decking and no crap gluey scrap wood like plywood or MDF)
  • Charcoal (bag of)
  • A dutch oven (big, heavy cast iron cauldron) or a heavy old casserole pot, and somebody willing and able to carry it to wherever you’re cooking.
  • Tin foil
  • Knife
  • Wooden spoon
  • Bowls + something to eat with
  • Cup + scissors (optional)

  • A couple of onions
  • A couple of carrots
  • A few cloves of garlic or a decent squirt from a handy tube of minced garlic.
  • 10 or 12 Mushrooms
  • Red and green chili pepper, more or less depending on heat
  • Green and Yellow pepper
  • 1 or 2 fancy long red Ramiro peppers
  • Bunch of coriander
  • Block of butter
  • Small bar of dark chocolate
  • Beef stock cube or pot
  • Tin of red kidney beans
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper and paprika
  • Beer – a couple of those small French stubbies in green glass bottles is ideal.
  • Bacon lardons or cubed pancetta – handful of.
  • Beef mince, about two handfuls is the way I describe the quantity that I need to my local butcher.  He has normal blokey hands, but I don’t know what this translates to in grams.
  • Jacket potatoes or rice


  • Light a small, hot fire surrounded by rocks somewhere that you’re not going to incur the anger of any busy bodies and where you can easily put out the fire and leave no trace of it ever having been your outside kitchen.
  • Once it’s well established, add charcoal and allow to get to a nice, white, even cooking temperature just like a conventional bbq.
  • Don’t cook over raging flames – wait for white, dusty, embers which give off an even heat.
  • If you’re going with baked potatoes then spike them, wrap them in foil and place them in the embers to bake for an hour or so.
  • Place the Dutch oven on the white coals.  If you’ve got a fancy tripod then hang it from that.
  • Things happen quickly when Dutch ovens get hot, so be ready.
  • Throw in a thick slice of butter and melt.
  • Roughly cut onions and carrots into this and soften until the onion is translucent.
  • Add bacon lardons or pancetta cubes.  Fry.
  • Mix in minced beef, chopped chilis and garlic.  Brown.
  • Season with salt, pepper and paprika.
  • Add about half the bar of dark chocolate, in bits.
  • Roughly chop in peppers and mushrooms (can be left whole).  Soften.
  • Throw in both tins of tomatoes.
  • Put in the beef stock cube or pot.
  • Pour in a load of beer.
  • If you’re having rice then put a pot of water on for the rice the appropriate amount of time before you plan to eat.
  • Let it bubble away and keep stirring.  You can’t control the heat aside from moving it to a cooler part of the fire so just go with it.  Ash will most likely float into the pot too.  So what?  You can’t stop that and it’s just the same as burning meat on a bbq.
  • If you need to add more liquid (beer or water) then do so.  Over the course of 45 minutes or so it should reduce down to a nice thick consistency with a gloopy, shiny gravy.
  • 5 minutes before serving tip in the can of red kidney beans.
  • Tear up the coriander or, alternatively, put it all in a cup and chop in the cup with scissors.  Throw that in.
  • Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  • Hook out the potatoes (hoping that they haven’t just turned to lumps of coal) and butter, or drain the rice.
  • Pile into an enamel bowl.
  • Serve with more beer and smoke in your eyes.

When you’re done make sure you kick out your fire or pour a few buckets of seawater on it and dig the ashes deep into the sand.  Take all of your stuff away and don’t leave any trace – there’s nothing worse than being the first person on the beach in the morning and seeing a beautiful beach with a blemish of somebody’s campfire from the night before spoiling the pristine sand.


If you're UK based and have wandered past the magazine rack in your local newsagent in the past week then you may have seen the latest issue of Wavelength Magazine (#235 Autumn 2014), and if you're particularly eagle-eyed then you may have seen my name on the new-look front cover.  I feel honoured that Tim Nunn and the team at Wavelength thought my photography worthy of a portfolio feature and ran some of my favourite surf images across several double page spreads.  These are images that I've been sitting on for a while, only letting them see the light of day at exhibitions as I was hoping that they might eventually appear at size in print.  I'm so pleased that they're now out there for others to see rather than just sitting on my hard drive.  I'm also really grateful to Mr Chris Nelson (of Approaching Lines and the London Surf/Film Festival) for writing an introduction that made me both laugh and blush in equal measure...and for giving me a new nickname.  
I'd be stoked if you take a moment to check it out, and hopefully see fit to purchase a copy to help support print media.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Come Ply With Me

"I don't know of anything so exciting as getting a perfect surf. Timing one's shoot off from the waves, and riding along on the crest and coming far inshore.  By jove!"

John Betjemen

The first Sunday in September each year is really rather special around these parts, and today was no exception.  The World Bellyboarding Championships is a wonderfully "British" event; a competition celebrating traditional wooden prone surf riding (judged primarily on smiles and length of ride) with the air of a vintage village fĂȘte.  Wetsuits are definitely not allowed, the Junior category is for the under-60s and the cake bake-off is as hotly contested as the surfing.  It's a day rich in bent plywood and cups of tea.

The Polzeath contingent; my former housemate Matt and Andy Cameron, who runs bellyboard company Dick Pearce and Friends.

Today I took three photos.  Last year I took about a thousand.  I had been commissioned by Coast magazine to document the champs and the article that I produced appeared in the September issue this year, which because of their slightly funny publication schedule was on newsagents shelves for the duration of August and has recently been replaced by the October issue.  It was great fun shooting the 2013 event and having an excuse to really research the fascinating history of prone surf riding in the UK - I geek out pretty hard on the history of surfing, vintage surf-craft and stuff made from wood - as well as getting to sit down and chat with so many of the people involved in the champs.   

The Expression Session

This year I entered again and had a thoroughly enjoyable and really quiet uncompetitive ten minute heat as the high tide started to push up into the cove.  The water was warm and I wore a pair of mid-century US navy seal canvas swim shorts in keeping with the spirit of the event.  I have no idea how I did.  I don't think any of the entrants outside of the podium finishers do, and most probably don't care.  It's not really about the competition, you see, but more about sharing the enjoyment of wading out to waist depth with a group of smiling folk (whose ages probably span 44 years), turning around and pushing off to ride a wave back towards shore on a flat piece of wood - the design of which hasn't really changed much in more than fifty years.  

These are some of my favourite images, shot at the World Bellyboarding Championships over the past few years.  They were all shot on 35mm film and I like them because, to me, they are the ones that really capture the spirit of the event.  I hope that some of you have had a chance to pick up a copy of Coast and check out the article that I produced (and that you enjoyed it!), and I hope to see some of you at Chapel Porth on the first Sunday of September next year with a thermos of tea in one hand and a bent plywood bellyboard in the other.

Jenni is the sister of the event's founder, Chris Ryan.  Chris (who works for the National Trust who own the beach) and local head lifeguard Martyn Ward held the first competition to celebrate the life of regular visitor and surf-riding enthusiast Arthur Traveller.

Photographer and bellyboard revivalist John Isaac, leaning on his Model A Ford.

Sally Parkin of the Original Surfboard Company (who very kindly lent me a lovely board to compete on this year) and John Isaac, next to the Museum of British Surfing's old van.

Chapel Porth

The Starter's Claxon

The opening spread of the article that I produced for the September issue of Coast magazine.

It was great to see so many competitors this year riding bellyboards that they'd made themselves whilst attending a one-day "Build-Your-Own" workshop at Otter Surfboards.  Click on the photo to see the short video, and click here to find out more about how you can make your own bellyboard to carry you to victory at next year's event.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Magic Beans

A handful of seeds, a patch of dirt and some water.  

It's magical what some people are able to produce when they add a bit of care and devotion to that simple equation, isn't it? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To

In a couple of days I return to the UK and am due to pick up my car from my magician of a mechanic who's had it in for its annual MOT (UK vehicle safety and roadworthiness check).  I am due to pick it up but, just the same as every year, I am not entirely confident that it will have passed and that I'll be able to.  When I dropped it off he lowered his voice (to the tone reserved for use by concerned vets who don't want the family pet to overhear that it might not have much time left) and said that my run-of-the-mill mundane silver estate car (which has getting on for 250,000 former sales-rep miles on the clock) has served me well and added, "There's a similar car for sale over the road.  I'm only saying, just in case..."

For as long as I've been able to drive and afford to run a car I've placed a whole heap of other things higher on the list of what to spend my money on than my vehicle (see this former post).  Actually getting to the beach has always been far more important than what I get to the beach in, and thus over the last 12 years or so I have owned a succession of loveable bangers or functional wagons, each with their own stories to tell.  Every year I am still however, without fail, slightly surprised when my car fails its test and needs work doing and money spending on it.  I really shouldn't be.  And, every time that I need to consign an old four-wheeled friend to the scrap-heap and search out a new set of wheels, I always end up spending the bare minimum on another barely functioning motor car.  But one day - one day -  I'll get my act together and hunt down an old car that comes pre-loaded with stories; a vehicle older than I am with a front-end like a smiling face and an interior that smells like an antique shop.  I adore cars with character.  I've no doubt that if I ever manage to do this I will be lumbered with an absolute heap that costs an inordinate amount to fill up with fuel, that I can't drive in the rain, is impossible to source parts for and that I won't be able to transport surfboards in.  But I'll love it all the same because if you're going to spend some time broken down by the side of the road anyway, then you might as well do so with some small degree of style stood next to a beautiful machine.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


The house that I used to live in was, without doubt, the best place to go if you wanted to know what the weather or swell was going to be doing for the next few days in North Cornwall; we worked, breathed and slept the forecast and it was normally displayed on at least one screen in the living area, and not because we surfed:  My housemates founded and run Cornish Rock Tors Ltd, an outdoor activity company specialising in coasteering and sea-kayaking, and are masters of reading weather forecasts because of the central role that it plays in operating their business.  

Coasteering is the pursuit of exploring a largely inaccessible stretch of coastline from the water with a guide: swimming, traversing across the base of cliffs, going in and out of coves and caves and, of course, jumping from the rocks into the water.  It's a journey involving many different disciplines and challenges, and has become an enormously popular summer activity around the south and west coasts of the UK.  My friends were one of the first providers to offer coasteering as an activity alongside sea-kayaking and climbing;  they swam the coast, plumb-lining the water depths beneath safe jumps, measured the effects of the swell and tides, and explored the multitude of caves with waterproof torches and glow-sticks.  It's a strictly controlled activity with a licensing body and some full-on insurance requirements, and as such it demands the utmost professionalism from guides.  That is why it is such a shame that when coasteering is featured in the national press the article is often beneath an attention-grabbing and sensationalist headline that does more to damage the industry through negative associations rather then applaud it for its stringent safety standards.  Tomb-stoning this is not.  Planned, assessed, controlled (as far as you can in the natural environment) and led by experienced and qualified local guides, it is.  

I recently headed out on a coasteering session with Cornish Rock Tors, the first time that I've been out with them in several years, with my camera rig in-tow to see what sort of imagery I could capture.  The stretch of coastline where they operate is truly stunning on a summer day (although I'm heavily biased because home is where the heart is) and never more so than when viewed from the water - a perspective that not many people ordinarily get to experience. 

I asked Jon (CRT's Head Guide) to wave to me from the top of this jump.  He misheard and instead pulled out his party-trick, this enormous back-flip.  Jon is an incredibly experienced guide and has perfected this "stunt" through a great deal of time spent training in a pool, so don't try and copy him.   

A moment of calm in the sea caves.

Cornwall looks positively Caribbean when the sun shines, with beautifully clear and turquoise water.

Whilst I was coasteering a kayaking group paddled past so I swam out into the bay to get some photos of them too.  They're able to travel further in a half-day session and access some really beautiful and remote coves and beaches further up the coast.  

If you're interested in exploring the Cornish coast from the water, learning more about the marine environment and perhaps jumping from a few rocks along the way then give Cornish Rock Tors a call. They offer guided coasteering, ecoasteering (with an emphasis on the marine environment), sea kayaking, wild swimming and climbing around the Polzeath and Port Isaac area, Cornwall.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014


“So I don’t think that I like grease and sparks quite as much as I like knitting and baking” Kate said as she handed over a box containing the various pieces of her vintage ladies shopper bike.  She’d found the dilapidated Hercules Balmoral online and proceeded to disassemble and strip the entire bike with the intention of refurbishing it, but now it looked like the task of reassembly was going to fall to me.  I took the opportunity to break down and rebuild my own bike, which had been my Dad’s mountain bike that he used to ride alongside me when I was a child, and come the start of the summer we had two good-as-new bicycles.  Her bike looked classic in black with a brown Brookes saddle and a wicker basket; mine looked like Frankenbike in green and black, with various boxes bolted on and a rack to hold my surfboard hanging off one side.

Kate and I used to live an hour's drive apart, she on the south coast of Cornwall and me about 45 miles away on the north coast.  It seemed like a nice idea for our first roll out last summer to be an overnight bicycle camping trip leaving from my home and travelling to hers, pedalling the coast roads and the cycle trails and stopping off at beaches along the way.  We’d upcycled our bicycles and we upcycled an awful lot of steep hills as we wound our way down the Cornish coast.  What follows is a photographic journal of our trip, shot entirely on 35mm film by Kate and myself:

We should've caught the ferry at high tide.

Long hills and lots of luggage.

Coasting downhill to the beach.

The Upcycling chalkboard.

Kate checking out the distance to our campsite, just the other side of that far headland.

Cyclo-shortcuts to avoid the holiday traffic. 


Washing the road off with a quick sunset bellyboard session. 


We stopped at backroad farm-stalls to buy fruit and lunch provisions. 

 Two and a half foot at eight seconds with a light nor-westerly wind.  I probably needn't have bothered hauling my surfboard along with me if I'm honest.

A polite reminder to myself for all of the "up" bits.

Can you overflow a bike?

It turns out that Kate's house sits at quite some elevation.

The Last Lane.

The Finish Line.

A big thanks to the team at Babes&Bikes in Wadebridge for sorting out our gears and brakes (and giving my probably quite questionable workmanship the necessary once-over) before we set off on our journey, and to various colleagues of ours for the help and advice that they gave whilst ridiculing how heavy I'd made my bike.