Blog entry 3rd March 17

Writing is the last thing I want to do at the moment. I’m busy: testing kit, making kit, prepping food, finding stuff that I used last time that I now regret putting away, and planning my route. When I’m busy I don’t want to stop: not even to write. But I need to have a record of what I’m up to so I can recall it when I need it again.

There are some new things this time that I’m trying. I’ve mentioned that I’m making my tarp and bivy bag – going well so far – and I’m probably going to use off-cuts to make some new gaiters.

Making my own expedition food (sauerkraut and pemmican) is second- nature now. To test myself further with self-reliance this time, though, I’m making a starter culture for my sauerkraut from raw (unpasteurised) milk. It’s the whey that I need (as in curds and whey).

Being fortunate enough to be able to get some raw milk, we’ve been having a lot of fun at home. You can do things with raw milk that you can’t do with pasteurised milk, because the helpful microbes aren’t dead. All you have to do is leave it to separate and sour, which produces cream, yoghurt, butter, cheese and whey. We made some butter in less than 20 minutes this morning from the soured cream. What came as a revelation to me is that the acids produced when you let the milk sour actually extend the ‘shelf-life’ of the raw milk products. When milk is pasteurised, though, it just goes toxic when it sours.

It’s the whey that I want for my sauerkraut, to start the fermentation process. You can make sauerkraut without it – the microbes on the cabbage and in the air will do it – but more slowly and with a more mild result. It’d be really tragic to get a contaminated batch, as I did last time, so I plan to be really careful with cleaning the pot and keeping the water seal on the pot full. Mould grew because the water seal dried up. It probably wouldn’t have been harmful but the sauerkraut tasted off, so I didn’t use it.

I used to use tallow (beef kidney fat) for my pemmican but last time I preferred using scraps of fat taken from ordinary cuts of beef for the taste and texture. So I have some tallow left over from the first expedition that I might use to make some soap to take with me. That would be really satisfying. In the processing time I have left I might only be able to make soft soap, but that will do. All you need is lye (leached from hard wood ashes) and fat (my tallow), and heat. The acid (fatty acids) react with the alkali (lye) to make a salt (soap) and glycerol. You just need time to let it set and to make sure all the lye has reacted with the fat, otherwise it could be caustic.

On the more prosaic side of things my physical state is a worry. The hip is quite limiting at the moment (painful to walk on), and the knee is acting up again because of it. I have another injection into the hip booked in two weeks’ time, which I am relying on to see me right for the expedition, otherwise it doesn’t look promising. As before, though, I just have to get on with preparing and trust to things turning out well. I’ve set a date and place (Sat 6th May at Inverie or Mallaig) to be met by my sister for a lift out, so reality now bites!

Welcome to Scotland: Scottish Border Fence

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