NVA Hotel, Frauenwald

Exterior view of a wedge-shaped building that's been properly trashed

There’s nothing like an impromptu explore on the way to the airport, and the Sprungschanzenhaus in Frauenwald fits the bill nicely: a bit of history, zero security, and all the crumbling paint you can eat. OK, so it’s a bit trashed in places and if you’re not careful you can fall down eight flights of stairs or through an open window, but then that just adds to the charm of this wedge-shaped wonder.

From Amazon Local to the local Amazon

Yellow canoe edges into perilous looking reeds

I’m standing in a car park with three canoeists comparing folding saws and hatchets. One of them has a scythe. This wasn’t strictly what I expected when I posted a note on a forum, but my new found friends seem to know what they’re doing so I resolve to sit at the back of the class and treat this as a learning opportunity. Within the hour I’m playing limbo with a tree, struggling through 2m tall reeds, and looking at a motorway from underneath. You sure we’re still in Chertsey?

Haus der Offiziere, Wünsdorf

A large red number six is propped in the corner of a pigeon pooed bell house

It’s roots firmly in the 19th century, this sleepy town just south of Berlin was not only home and HQ to German high command through both world wars, but also played a crucial role in grooming the Reich’s elite, the olympic sports teams, and housing up to 75,000 secretive Soviets during Russia’s occupation of Germany. Today only ruins remain, and with bunkers below as numerous as buildings above ground you’d be hard pushed to find a site more richly steeped in history.

Summer Solstice 2013

Long shot of silhouetted people walking across a field at night toward a light rig

A chanting barging smiling waving cider smoking laughing falling cheering stumbling whistling noodles hare hare krishna cider mandolin heaving rozzers chips dips spliffs lager lager lager shouting photos dancing mega mega lightning chanting shouting parking strip-search cider friends cider men in robes smoking cider cider kind of morning.

Atlantic Sea Wall, Surrey

Black and white photo of a tank with some kind of frame strapped to the front

Funny what you find on Google Maps when you’re looking for a pond that you may or may not have visited years ago. Long story. Today I found a section of Atlantic sea wall, sitting there all blown to bits and looking sorry for itself, which is somewhat unreasonable considering the important role it played in D-Day.

4 Lumps Classic MTB route

Path adjacent to field glows invitingly in the morning sun

The Surrey Hills area is a mecca for mountain bikers, with rich terrain offering something for riders of all abilities. I’ve been riding here on and off for about 5 years now, following a route originally downloaded from a site that’s long since disappeared. It’s a pretty tough tour taking in four of the highest hills in southern England, but includes a bail-out loop if you want to cut out Peaslake and The Hurtwood.

Time Machine backup over VPN

I like TimeMachine for its simplicity. Like most OS-X features it’s simple to configure and just works, but if your use case is slightly more advanced than most people’s then configuration can be less straight forward. Take backing up to a NAS for example. Not all Network Attached Storage devices can be used as TimeMachine disks, and those that do offer the service only do so on the local network. Or so I thought.

Small Bike, Big Ideas

Folding Brompton bike in front of a construction fence

Another impromptu cycle ride, another cause to wonder if small bikes can be used for touring. Audax fans will tell you that luggage isn’t necessary, so why not extend the minimalist theme to your ride? Temptation to plan a longer trip is fuelled by an ad hoc ride home from my new job. Maybe I’m just eager to get out after being cooped up for a couple of weeks, or maybe it really is possible to go the distance with impossibly small wheels. Either way, this itch needs scratching.

Lap of Britain in a VW California

Black and white photo from the centre of a long, straight road as it snakes off towards the horizon

Nothing is as big a turn off – on any level – as a caravan. Their sad, beige contents are usually flimsy, they smell of chemical toilets, and they make your car handle like a combine harvester. You’re unwelcome everywhere you go, except for authorised caravan sites where you can mingle with your balding peers and bicker about the latest outrage in the news.

Why anybody would voluntarily do this is beyond me, but a camper van – now that’s an entirely different proposition. For a start you’ve got a vehicle which drives like a car, reverses like a car, and fits in a regular parking space. There’s leather, alloy wheels, a rack for your surfboard and a towing hitch for the trailer with your dirt bikes. Could this be the ideal mix of camping adventure and home comforts? We rent a VW California and take it for a lap of Britain to find out.