Author Archives: Dougie Nisbet

Calderdale Hike

To say I was unprepared for this race would be an understatement.

Lately I’ve been rolling up for races, such as the CTS Northumberland Ultra, with a pretty good idea in my head of the route, maps and GPS ready, only to discover the entire race liberally sprinkled with bright yellow arrows. The Wooler Trail Marathon wasn’t much better. Despite its remoteness there was usually a bold arrow stapled to a fencepost pointing you on your way.

Trawling back through the race reports I was surprised to see that no one was owning up to having done the Calderdale Hike before, not even Dave Robson. Still, how hard could it be? The organisers had uploaded a ‘suggested’ GPX trail and I dutifully transferred it to my Garmin. This gave me a belt and braces Breadcrumb Trail. Just to be on the safe side, I uploaded it to my iPhone, overlayed it onto some proper OS maps (I like maps), and had a pixel perfect plan of the journey ahead. I also had a battery pack so the phone would easily last me all day. I also had a map and compass, because that was in the kit list, and you
had to carry that. Yawn.

For the last 5 years I’ve been the IT technician at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. I finished there on Friday the 31st of March. Some people mark these things with a night in the pub, or a big party. I decided to do an Ultra. So I asked if it was OK to leave early on my last day as I was off to do an Ultra (my Manager is also a runner, he understood), and so Friday evening found Roberta and me sitting in the New Hobbit Inn in Sowerby Bridge. We could’ve have chosen the Premier Inn, but, like wines, this place had a more interesting label. I was still a little preoccupied by leaving my job so I wasn’t giving this race the attention it deserved. I thought I was prepared though.

The next morning I was at the Start with bags of time to spare, but, sadly, not sufficient bags to go back to the hotel and collect my water bottles that were sitting next to the telly. Luckily Roberta found a bottle of 500ml bottle of water next to the spare wheel in the car, and, deciding not to think about it too much, I shoved it in my bum bag. Mildly unnerved, I wondered what else I might have forgotten or taken for granted.

The Calderdale HikIt was probably around here I lost my battery packe is a 37 mile trail ultra that covers a gorgeous variety of town, village and fell. I had very little idea of where I was going but had the trail programmed into my Garmin, my phone, and if the worst came to the worse, I even had a map and a list of the checkpoint grid references. I planned to follow the gadgies in front for a while and then just follow the pixels.

Away we went and then a mere 100 yards from the start something quite unexpected happened, the bunch of runners split into two. This, I had not expected, and, thinking quickly, tagged onto the the slightly bigger of the two bunches. Sticking with the slightly bigger herd I tootled along, getting dropped a bit earlier than I expected but no worries. I fished out my phone and followed myself on the map. This was fine. I’m not fast, but fast enough to be ahead of the cut-offs, so for the next couple of miles I took a few photos and admired the view. I wasn’t in a rush. 37 miles is a long way. I was feeling mellow.

The route was fascinating. Following the waterways and reservoirs with meanderings along roads and paths. It’s not a part of the country I’m familiar with and I was enjoying the scenery a lot. I noticed that with all the photos I was taking the charge on my phone was dropping rapidly, so I decided to fish out my battery pack to give it a boost. The battery pack, sadly, had fished itself out of its own accord at some place unknown when I’d left my bumbag unzipped, and with a pang of anxiety I realised that I would have to re-evaluate the reliance on the phone for the maps.

I switched it off to conserve power and gave my attention to the breadcrumb trail on my Garmin. It’s not perfect but at least you know if you’re going wildly of course. This served me fine for a good few miles and the only times I knew there was a checkpoint was when a tent appeared ahead. Checkpoint 5 was just south of the M62 and I followed a few intrepid runners who had decided to forego the fells in favour of the (still legal) jog up a major ‘A’ road as the weather had got a bit manky at this point. Back north over the motorway, and up over the moors, where things were beginning to feel a bit more grown up. Checkpoint 6 was about 13 miles at which point a divine cup of tea was available. It was like being at Swaledale.

Checkpoint 7 was at Sladen Fold, after which there was some great canal-side running before my breadcrumb trail brought me onto the moors. I was keeping a trio of runners in my sights but it was clear that we were all doing a bit of dead-reckoning to get across the soft tussocky moorland and it was tough going. After a while I found myself on a firm trod, and it teased me away to the left. I was fine with that. I can go left, or straight on. But I decided to ease left for a bit to enjoy the better surface, with a view to bearing right again when things firmed up.

The weather was undecided between, mist, sleet or sun, and I kept my eyes on the trod, and jogged steadily on a pleasantly downward slope. It didn’t feel right. I was veering too far to the left surely, but my Garmin breadcrumb trail was rock steady, and I decided to keep the faith.

But something wasn’t right. I was on my own. The runners ahead had disappeared. I looked again at my Garmin. It hadn’t changed. At all. Some Striders might remember the famous scene in the China Syndrome, where Jack Lemmon taps the dodgy gauge and it silently glides down the scale. This wasn’t a nuclear meltdown, although it felt like it. I realised my Garmin had frozen. It hadn’t moved for the last hour. I’d been following an illusion. In Orienteering terms, it was a classic ‘180 degree’ error. I was running in exactly the opposite direction to what I should have been.

Total distance: 46840 m
Max elevation: 516 m
Min elevation: 155 m
Total climbing: 1465 m
Total descent: -1426 m

I found myself at the bottom of a valley on a track with no idea where I was. The last clear waypoint where I’d been paying any real attention was when I crossed the M62. And that was well over an hour ago. I’d been following my Garmin in SatNav mentality with no real overall idea of where I was. Visibility was poor and the wind was getting up again. Shit, as they say, had just got real. Anxiety was bubbling up inside me. I got my map and compass out of my rucksack and started talking to myself. Ok, I said, which way is North …

It took me a good 15 minutes to work out where I was and then there was the small matter of locating the next checkpoint. I examined a rapidly disintegrating piece of paper and identified the general direction that I needed to go. Unfortunately I’d bled off a lot of height in my careless following of the nice trod, and that height had to be regained. I stood up and headed North West. Up.

Some time later, slightly calmer aOne more rain shower and this is historynd a lot humbler, I got to Checkpoint 8 at Coolam. I was still disoriented and paranoid, even more so when the way out from CP8 was the same as the way in. Another long, long look at the map, something that I should’ve done at home days before the race, another examination of what was left of the checkpoints sheet, and onwards and upwards to Checkpoint 9.

Gradually I regained confidence. My Garmin was working after I’d switched if off and on again (I did say I was an IT tech), the weather had improved, and, despite being slow, I was comfortable and content. I plodded on through checkpoint 10 and turned east on the home run to Sowerby Bridge. By the time I got to Checkppoint 11 at Cross Stones I was quite perky again. The sun was out, I was feeling fine, and I was settling down for the last 10 miles or whatever (I had no idea) to the finish.

They were very kind at checkpoint 11, when they told me I was being timed out. I was feeling fine, so asked if it was ok to continue unassisted, in the full knowledge that I was no longer part of the race. I could tell the marshall wasn’t wild about the idea (“there’s a nice bus”), but he could also see I wasn’t at the end of my tether. I asked him how far it was to go, what the paths were like, if there were many hills, and, even as I heard myself asking these questions, I thought, I don’t deserve to finish this race. This was all avoidable. I lost well over 30 minutes by going wrong on the tops. Not a huge amount perhaps, but I’m not a fast runner. I have the stamina, but I don’t have the speed. I can’t afford to make mistakes like that. If I hadn’t gone wrong, I would’ve have been timed out.

So I settled down to sit on a Somewhere nice to sit and admire the view while waiting for the BoSvery nice bench and admired the view while waiting for the Bus of Shame. It was a jolly journey back to base and when I later looked at the finish times of the last walkers I realised I would’ve actually caught them up if I had kept going. Provided, of course, I knew where I was going.


Next year is the 40th anniversary of the Calderdale Hike. It’s on Sat 14th of April 2018. It’s a fantastic race. I’ll be there. And I’ll be ready this time.




Species List, Attempt One, Take Three

Ok, if I create a table, that’s fine. Except that I’ll update it won’t I. And then it won’t be a reflection of current recollection. So let’s keep it messy. What do I have. What do I remember?


  • Beech (Fagus sylvatica)
  • Silver Birch (Betula pendula)
  • Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) 
  • Stags Horn Sumach (Rhus typhina)

I have a share of a gorgeous Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris). It’s half in Mike’s garden, as is a Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) that fell over last year and had to be cut down. That’s coppicing nicely. I thought and hoped it would. It is. It’s great to see.


  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
  • Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Actually the beech should be down here. There’s no big beech trees. Only little ones I’ve planted.

There are Cherry Trees. I think they’re probably something like Prunus kanzan as they fit the picture when in flower. Definitely not wild cherry (Prunus avium).

There’s a big tree I forgot. I think it’s Leylandii (X cupressocyparis leylandii) although it might be a Leyland Cypress (Chamaecyparis leylandii).

I’ve got some:

  • Elder (Sambucus nigra)
  • Willow (Salix spp. not sure …)
  • Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)
  • Dogwood (Cornus?)
  • Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) [yeah, I looked it up]
  • 5 Apple Trees. Little ones.

Lots of Snowdrops, Bluebells, Daffs, crocuses, aconites.

  • A holly tree. (Ilex aquifolia). Right next to the house. Should give it a hack really.
  • Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)
  • Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)



Species List (First Attempt)

yes, after 10+ years living in Durham it’s about time I had a stab at this. There’s a couple of things I want to do on the garden:

  1. Species List
  2. Map

And whenever I start thinking about it I overthink it about all the things I’d like to note, plot, monitor. And in the end, I do nothing.

So let’s make a start:

Hang on, where’s my Tablepress plugin gone? It should be here? I’ve just installed it. Back in a tick.

Permissions on /dev/video0 running motion on Raspberry pi

It pretty much happens that every time I setup motion on a new build that it doesn’t work right away. There’s usually a few things I miss. Usually it’s an error reading from the camera, the logs reporting something like:

Feb 17 10:51:21 pi2 motion: [1] [NTC] [ALL] motion_init: Thread 1 started , motion detection Enabled
Feb 17 10:51:21 pi2 motion: [1] [NTC] [VID] vid_v4lx_start: Using videodevice /dev/video0 and input -1
Feb 17 10:51:21 pi2 motion: [1] [ALR] [VID] vid_v4lx_start: Failed to open video device /dev/video0:

which invariably means the camera is broken or I’ve misconfigured my motion setup.

This one was puzzling me a little though. It’s on a raspberry pi, imaginatively titled pi2, and it was failing to read from the camera. The reason I was puzzled was that the hardware combination had worked before. What had gone wrong was the micro-SD card, and I’d done a new raspbian build, copying over the relevant motion configuration files from the old card.

Clearly the difference had to be something to do with the OS. So what was different? I’d taken the opportunity of the SD failure to download and install the latest version of raspbian and everything looked good to go.

Running motion as root worked fine, both against the vanilla configuration file, and the customised config file I wanted to use. So let’s have a look at the video file:

root@pi2:~# ls -l /dev/video0
crw-rw----+ 1 root video 81, 0 Feb 17 11:17 /dev/video0

Looks about right. Ah, the video group. I need to be in the video group. That might be it:

root@pi2:~# usermod -G video dougie

Restart motion and try again. Nope. Let’s have a closer look at that file.

On pi2 (with a new version of raspbian):

crw-rw----+ 1 root video 81, 0 Feb 17 11:17 /dev/video0

and on pi1 (another rpi, running motion fine, with a slightly older version of raspbian):

dougie@pi1:~ $ ls -l /dev/video0
crw-rw---- 1 root video 81, 0 Jan 8 22:54 /dev/video0

Very similar, but not identical. The newer version of the device file has and extra + at the end of the permissions bit, which means the file has extra security permissions set. I’ve not had cause to use Access Control Lists (ACLs) before, and it was a temptation just to chmod 777 on the file as a quick and dirty, and lazy, fix, but I thought it’d be better to take a closer look. Using the getfacl command:

root@pi2:~# getfacl /dev/video0
getfacl: Removing leading '/' from absolute path names
# file: dev/video0
# owner: root
# group: video

I could see that I (me: dougie) did not appear on the list, although the default rpi user pi does. I rarely use the pi account. One of the first things I do is change its password, create my own user, and use that instead. So it looks like the default install for raspbian allows user pi to access /dev/video0. It also looks like I can’t access the file, despite being a member of the group video.

I found a good command summary on the centos documentation website, and using that gave myself access:

root@pi2:~# setfacl -m u:dougie:rw /dev/video0

That did the trick.



Trackr Bravo battery life

The TrackR does many things badly. The Tile just does one thing well.

Another email from Trackr – this time about their new Battery Program. This is about a wizard wheeze where you can pay Trackr for replacement batteries.

Reading on in their email there’s a section subtitled:

What if every time your battery was dead, you had to buy a brand new device?

Well, what indeed. One wonders what can they be alluding to? I wonder if it’s another well known Bluetooth tracking device that has to be replaced about once a year when the battery nears end of life?

The TrackR Bravo is a slick, elegant looking device, and looks better than the Tile. But having bought a handful of both devices as soon as they hit the market, the Tile is the winner by a mile. On reliability, build quality, and Customer Service the Tile is the winner. My experience of using Trackr has been one of interminable irritability. I’ve tried its various features and abandoned them finding them gimmicky, unreliable and pointless. I’m struggling to think of any redeeming features, and the closest I can get is that the Bravo looks ok.

Trying a different brand of battery

I’ve just replaced the batteries in all my Trackr Bravos. The ones I’ve removed were brand new Maxells. Perhaps I was unlucky. I thought Maxell were a pretty good brand. This time I’m replacing them with GP batteries. I only found the batteries were dead by accident, as I thought I get more than 3 months out of the Maxells. It didn’t occur to me to check connectivity every day, and on the TrackR app (unlike the Tileapp), you need to check each TrackR individually – whereas with Tile you can scan all your tiles’ status in one glance.

I’ve had Tile and TrackR since they became available in the UK – and have been running them head to head since I bought them. It’s a very unequal contest. Give me the Tile any day.

TrackR Tile Head to Head

MLN Orienteering Event

MLN Orienteering, Marne Training Area, 27th January

blue course

Dougie Nisbet

I wasn’t surprised to get no takers for my offer of a lift to Marne Barracks for a bit of orienteering. However, a last minute check of the email and I saw that Paul had decided to accompany me on this drizzly Wednesday for a trip down the A1 to run around an abandoned airfield.

We were somewhere south of Scotch Corner and we’d pretty much solved all of the world’s problems when I noticed the road noise through the roadworks was a bit excessive, and it seemed to be a bit bumpy too. A minute or two of this and I realised that this was just one possible interpretation of the noise and bumps that were hitting our senses. Another interpretation could be that we had a puncture. Yes, the more I thought about it, the more the puncture scenario seemed to fit the evidence, and driving along in a state of denial wasn’t going to change the facts.

Well there's no point both of us getting our knees dirty. I'll just keep an eye on things.

We pulled off the A1 and had a look at the tyres. One of them had a flat bit at the bottom and I knew that wasn’t good. I contemplated calling the AA but, despite being ok for time, wondered how long they’d take to attend a scene for two blokes too feeble to change a wheel. I mean, it couldn’t be that difficult, could it? I’m sure I’ve done it before. The first step was finding the spare wheel. We found it, eventually, under the back bit where I always assumed the fuel tank was. Trying to get the wheel out was a different manner. As an IT technician I then did something that pained me greatly, I had a look for the manual. I’d already tried switching the engine off and on again but that hadn’t helped. We got there eventually, except for the small matter of the jack, which we eventually found in a cubby hole in the car that I never knew existed. We were unstoppable now.

Man at Work.

A false start where we started trying to jack the car on one of the crunchy bits rather than the proper tough bit, but soon we were cruising. Well, I say we, it was mostly Paul. It had started raining so I spent most of the time standing in the bus shelter taking photos and making encouraging noises.

Back on the road and into Marne Barracks, where passports were shown, disclaimers were signed, and we were driving slowly down the old runway looking for somewhere to park. Speed bumps on a runway, no matter how obviously disused, are an incongruous sight. The last time I orienteered here registration had been at the end of the runway out of a transit van. This time it was inside a nice building, with toilets, drinks, warmth and a costcutter. It seemed a shame to go outside again.

choice: control 15 to 16Paul and I were both doing the same course and I went of first with the organisers observing a strict 90 second interval between starters. The first few controls were around the buildings and access roads and navigation was easy, and by the 3rd control I’d already been caught by the guy starting after me, which was pretty depressing. Then out into the woodland and the navigation got a bit more interesting. I bumped into Paul a few times which, given that he started about 6 minutes after me, meant two things. One, he was running a lot faster than me, and two, he must be making a few errors otherwise I’d only have seen him once.

At control 15 our paths crossed again and Paul sped of to the east, which, given that the control was due north, confused me a bit. I headed straight for the control, knowing that there was the small matter of a fence between it and me. Whether it was ‘crossable’ or ‘uncrossable’, I was about to find out. Thankfully it was the former, but Paul had decided to go for the fast long way round. We finished at the same time, which was handy, as Paul’s dibber had failed to work properly, and we could use my time minus the time that he’d started after me to work out his.

Our journey back up the A1 was less eventful than the outward journey and I had fully intended calling it a day until Paul said he was doing a ‘gentle’ ‘slow’ headtorch run that evening. The ‘gentle’ and ‘slow’ bit I liked the sound of. Turned out there was a bit of mis-selling going on there. Perhaps I should’ve offered to help a bit more changing that wheel …

The next army event is at Scarth Wood Moor, Osmotherley on Wednesday 10th Feb. It’s not somewhere I’ve orienteered before but it looks nice. I’ll be going if anyone wants to tag along. Must be good at changing wheels.

Meta information for this post:


We often spot this chap (or chapess) fishing around here. Reassuringly nonplussed by all the building work going on all around. There’s something magical about seeing wildlife getting on with living alongside us; whether it’s Herons, Red Kites or Kittiwakes.

Animalia - Ardea - Ardea cinerea (Grey Heron) - Ardeidae - Aves - Chordata - Durham - Durham City Riverbanks - England - Europe - Pelecaniformes -- Mon 28 Dec 2015 16-18-22 GMT

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) fishing on the River Wear in Durham

Animalia - Ardea - Ardea cinerea (Grey Heron) - Ardeidae - Aves - Chordata - Durham - Durham City Riverbanks - England - Europe - Pelecaniformes -- Mon 28 Dec 2015 16-17-03 GMT

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) fishing on the River Wear in Durham