Sunday, 2 December 2018

Why I’m supporting the Ban the Booths Campaign

I have spent twenty-five years teaching and leading schools across Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Cheshire. I have led a school with a resource base for children with statements for behaviour, I have led a school out of an OFSTED Category, and I have worked as Local Authority Improvement Advisor with a number of schools that require improvement.

In my experience, the vast majority of children who display the most challenging behaviour have a significant challenge establishing a sense of belonging. This can be a result of a difficult start to life, communication and learning difficulties, a chaotic home life, or from being excluded from school. There are two routes to school exclusion: through the official routes of fixed term and permanent exclusions, or the more widespread practice of social exclusion. 

Tragically, I have worked with children who have moved schools two, three or sometimes four times before the age of nine. I have witnessed children demonised by small groups of parents who use the language of zero tolerance and no excuses. I have seen schools where a disproportionate number of the most challenging children in a local area attend because neighbouring Headteachers tell parents that the schoolup the road” is good with behaviour. The incentives for excluding through the back door are high, with an improved league table position and more funds available to spend on well behaved” children. 

There are other forms of social exclusion in our schools that I am less familiar with; these include an insistence on an expensive uniform and sports kits, school trips that cost more than a family holiday and hidden extras that nurseries ask parents to contribute to. I thought I was well informed on the subject of exclusion until Monday 12th November when I discovered the practice of exclusion through excessive isolation as reported by BBC News. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46044394

I was aware that some schools used isolation, and I agree there are times when children need to be removed from a class for a short period, taught in a small group or taught on their own. However, I was genuinely shocked by the reported conditions of isolation used in some of our schools; large classrooms converted into isolation suites, poorly lit booths where children completed worksheet after worksheet, children spending seven hours a day in self-styled punishment booths. My professional opinion is that excessive isolation will cause the most vulnerable pupils harm,  and is likely to be a passport to full-time disengagement. 

I acknowledge that not all schools are misusing isolation and Vic Goddards blog talks openly about the conditions of isolation and how alternatives to exclusion are being used at Passmore Academy.  

https://passmorespedagogy.wordpress.com/2018/11/13/i-am-saying-it-quietly-we-have-booths/

However, I do believe that excessive, punitive isolation is fundamentally wrong. 

For our most vulnerable children developing a sense of belonging takes time, resilience, and love. Children of all ages need trusted adults who will teach them how to behave, they need clear rules and boundaries, and they need interventions that are time-limited and do not cause further emotional damage. They need a proportional response to poor conduct that does not significantly disrupt the learning of others; they need interventions that do not prejudice their entitlement to full-time education, and finally, they need an approach that will enable them to learn from their mistakes. 

The best schools I visit have a strong sense of place and a core identity that is deeply felt by all the pupils and staff. The best schools have brilliant adults that show relentless kindness and take responsibility for all the children in their community.

Therefore, I am supporting the #BantheBooths campaign which calls for: 

•           The removal of deep confinement booths in all schools
•           The regulation and reporting of all children isolated for more than half a day
•           Funding to support schools in shifting from Isolation booths to better practice

I fully appreciate that not every booth is misused, but there are too many examples of excessive use, too many examples of disengaged children being off-rolled to theschool up the road, and too many parents choosing home education. (1)

Schools in England have more freedoms than ever before, the #BanTheBooths campaign is a clarion call for School Leaders and Governors to develop robust reporting and monitoring arrangements to enable schools to evaluate the impact and conditions of isolation in their own schools. 

(1) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/11/15/schools-putting-parents-pressure-home-school-pupils-want-expel/


Friday, 17 August 2018

Three is the Magic Number



My friend Bill is a photographer. He is adept at capturing images of daily life in our hometown of Sandbach and tells me that his rule of three for taking a high-quality photo is moment, composition and edit. 

The rule of three has been known and used throughout history, the Latin phrase “omne trium perfectum" translates to everything that comes in threes is perfect.  Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Mark Antony starts his speech by using the rule of three: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Advertisers have enticed us to buy their products with promises of chocolate that will help us to work rest and play, fast food that is finger licking good and cars that are vorsprung durch technik. Early in my teaching career, Tony Blair prioritized education, education education. 

Education may have been a millennial priority, but the reality is that assessment, metrics, and accountability is the current hendiatris pervading our education system. Test outcomes rule over every other measure of school quality. Published league tables celebrate schools with advantaged intakes and schools with the highest tests scores become exempt from routine inspection. The high stakes nature of the tests has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, shortened Key Stage 3 and repetitive test paper drill and practice. 

The Government drive for school performance to align with the Olympic motto of faster, higher and stronger is admirable, but over-reliance on test results to judge school quality is having a negative effect. 

The School Leaders Union the NAHT, the Beyond Levels movement led by Dame Alison Peacock and the Educational Select Committee have presented a robust challenge towards the data-centric approach. Challenge is also emerging from an unlikely source, OFSTED. Her Majesties Chief Inspector for Schools thoughtful, evidence-based approach is questioning King Data and has identified the quality of the curriculum as a key indicator of school quality. 

“School leaders need to recognize how easy it is to focus on the performance of the school and lose sight of the pupil. I acknowledge that inspection may well have helped to tip this balance in the past.”


At our most recent inspection in November 2018, I welcomed the fact that I spent as much time talking about the quality of our curriculum as I did talking about numbers. 


The TES has reported that  OFSTED is considering replacing the judgment for outcomes with a broader measure of the quality of education. 


It is important to remember the rule of three when judging the quality of education in our schools. Equal emphasis on outcomes, curriculum, and personal development should be considered, data from national tests should be used to raise questions and politicians and policymakers should remember that the most important work we do in our schools cannot be distilled into a simple soundbite-friendly metric. 



Wednesday, 18 April 2018

An Inspector Calls


Yesterday I awoke to the uncomfortable news article in the TES -https://www.tes.com/news/exclusive-ofsted-looking-no-notice-school-inspections-again - Ofsted are considering introducing “no-notice” inspections for all schools. A “no-notice” inspection is one where Inspectors turn up on the school car park and inform the school that they will be inspecting the school over the next one or two days. Currently, the vast majority of schools receive a maximum of half a days notice before an inspection takes place.

It is important to note that schools can currently receive a “no-notice” inspection if there are concerns about behaviour and or safeguarding at the school. 

Waiting for Godot

My first experience of OFSTED was back in summer of 1996: a time when England last performed well at an international football tournament, Ask Jeeves was the search engine of choice and the year Dolly the Sheep was making headlines across the world. I had proudly been appointed as the new maths lead in a great school in my hometown- Stoke-on-Trent. At the time of my January appointment, the school knew they were going to be inspected in June. Despite the positive outcome for the school, the long lead-in time led was damaging for the school, it led to excessive workload, a June half term spent double mounting and mitering borders, and the premature retirement of a successful and well respected Headteacher.  

Like the size of Mars Bars from the 90s the notice of school inspections has shrunken. I believe this is a positive development I would even argue that the two days notice schools, given to schools under the previous inspection framework, was still too long. I was saddened to hear of a colleague missing the 2011 FA cup final between Stoke City and Manchester City because their school had received notice of an inspection on the Friday before the final. 


All’s Well That End Well

The current arrangements of half a day notice should continue for one simple reason- half a day gives School Leaders and Governors the opportunity to rearrange their diaries, return from school trips or cancel travel to national CPD. The current one and two-day inspections are highly focused and rely heavily on evidence presented by School Leaders and Governors. Leading a school through an Ofsted Inspection is the Headteachers responsibility and one of the reasons why they are the highest paid lead professionals in our schools. A negative Ofsted report can have a devastating impact on a school community and delegation of this core duty should rarely happen, for instance when a Headteacher is unfit for work or if they are on a long-term secondment. Moving to a “no-notice” arrangement would effectively “shackle” Headteachers. 



Much A Do About Nothing

I know of no School Leader, Governor or teacher who is of the opinion that a no notice inspection is an improvement on the current arrangements.  The previous two Chief Inspectors considered “no-notice” inspections and it was trialed in some schools. The policy was kicked into touch for two key reasons: 
  • Little time for parents to give written feedback to Inspectors
  • The logistical challenge of School leaders and Governors being available for Inspection. 

So why after huge strides to improve the quality of school inspections and the relationship between Ofsted and schools is the spectre of no notice inspection being revisited?

The reason is the response of 1128 parents to the three questions below.



In my opinion, the three questions are poorly designed and do not provide strong enough evidence for the introduction of a policy that would be unpopular and damaging. Schools effectively now have a workable short notice period, and the logistical challenges far outweigh any perceived benefits of reducing the notice period further.




Amanda Speilman’s considered, evidence based approach towards improving inspection is helping to build trust between teachers and the inspectorate. A return to ideological pronouncements based on a weak evidence is a backward step. 





Sunday, 18 February 2018

Happy Birthday to The Chartered College of Teaching

Here is a piece I  have been asked to write for the Cheshire West Governors bulletin. 


The Chartered College of Teaching

As the first teacher and university graduate in my immediate family, I know how proud my mum and dad are that I became a teacher.  I enjoyed my time at school. However, I was never one of those people who always wanted to be a teacher. People talk about the teacher who inspired them, and for me, it was Mr Rowe, from Parkhall Primary School, Stoke-on-Trent, but my most significant influence and person who motivated me to be a teacher is without question, my father.

Dad left school at fifteen and like his dad, his granddad and all the men in our family he started working in the coal mines. After many years working full time underground he gained the necessary qualifications to become an electrical engineer and became a proud member of the Association of Mining Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Teaching in a primary school would not have been the first choice for a boy from a working-class background and my school heavily promoted careers in heavy engineering and the armed services; I am eternally grateful that my family has supported my journey towards becoming a school leader.

I have now worked in schools for twenty-four years, and it was with great excitement and anticipation when I heard about the formation of The Chartered College of Teaching in 2016. I joined the College as Founder Member in January 2017 and would like to briefly share my experiences from the last 12 months of membership.

Being  Connected

Developing strong and constructive professional networks is the one piece of advice I would offer to all new teachers. Being part of Chartered College Community has enabled our school to strengthen our networks. In the last twelve months, our school has developed strong partnership working with The Ignite and CLTA teaching alliances, we worked with St Bernard’s Catholic Primary School to bring the Learning First Conference to Chester, and we have connected and visited some of the most successful schools in the country.

Being  Informed

Through interactions via social media,  journals like the “Impact Journal”, and educational conferences, I feel that I, and our staff at Hartford Manor, have never been as well informed.

Being Recognised

As a school leader membership of organisations like the National Association of Headteachers and qualifications such the NPQH give you professional recognition. By working with The Chartered College, teachers will have the opportunity to engage with a programme that will lead to Chartered Teacher Status.

Being  Inspired

Over the last twelve months, our school has engaged with teachers from across the country. The opportunity to engage with professionals like Dame Alison Peacock, Simon Smith, Sinead Gaffney and Michael Tidd has raised our game as we continue to strive to be the best school we can be.


In summary, The Chartered College of Teaching has been an inspirational place to be, and I would ask Governors and School Leaders to encourage teachers and students to consider membership. 

Friday, 29 December 2017

My Interview with @bbcteaching

Welcome to the next #bbcinterview with Simon Kidwell @simonkidwell
Please introduce yourself...

My name is Simon Kidwell, I'm the Headteacher at Hartford Manor Primary, I also work for Cheshire West as an Associate School Improvement Advisor, and I'm the Branch Secretary for Cheshire NAHT. I grew up in Stoke and have spent my career teaching across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

What made you become a teacher?

My friend's son Joe.
Richard and Caroline were my best friends at University and still are gorgeous and valued friends. When I met their son, Joe, I and hadn't much idea what I was going to do with life post-University. I had little contact with younger children growing up, as my sister and close cousins are all of a similar age, and always thought that if I did go into teaching, it would be as secondary maths specialist; however, I had an epiphany when I realised that I could communicate with this four-year-old. Subsequent evenings spent reading Mr Men Books sealed the deal.  I applied to Keele University for a PGCE, shared a house with the effevesant force of nature @chrisdyson, met my future wife, and have enjoyed the last 24 years immensely.


What is your favourite part of the job?

Every year I block out time to join year 5 and Year 6 on their Lake District and London residential visits. Accompanying children and staff on residential visits is a privilege. I return from these visits re-energized and full of admiration for the work of our fantastic staff and children.

Those moments seeing children outside of school in a different environment are so important.

What has been best thing you have done at work this year?

Learning First Chester.
After attending the inspirational  #LearningFirst Conferences. I worked with colleague Headteacher, Andy Moor @amoor4ed , and Alison Peacock's wing woman, the tireless Julie Lilly @JulesLilly,  to bring the caravan of educational love, #LearningFirst to Chester. A room full of Galacticos of the educational world gave up their time, pro bono, and we had the most "learningful" day with 200 plus educators. The cherry on the cake for me was the attendance of our Chair of Governors, ten of our teachers and six of our children, sharing their pupil research at a workshop.


Again, so important to hear pupil voice. Sometimes it´s easy to forget their views on Education.

What is the most frustrating thing about teaching at the moment?

Punitive accountability. I'm not against assessment or the collection of quantitive data to help improve schools and pupil outcomes.  What I am against is the use of data to label children, and furthermore to punitively judge schools. Scaled scores should stand alone, and arbitrary damaging terms like age-related expectations need to be binned. Floor standards and coasting measures are another label that needs to assigned to Room 101 terrible educational ideas. The measure was introduced by Nicky Morgan and designed for a previous curriculum and assessment system.
Sean Hartford and the best inspectors use data to raise questions, and I would like to see the same principled approach applied across all RSCs, all LAs and all inspection teams.


What songs would be on your driving to work playlist?

I love music and try to get out to see live music as much as I can. I rediscovered the joy of small venues when my friend Mike was organising small unplugged events at his bike shop.
Back in February 2015 the headliner for the evening was Luke Jackson, a young singer-songwriter from Kent. I'd spotted Luke earlier in the evening and assumed he was a teenage friend of Mike's daughter. He opened with an acapella version of his song Sister, and I was blown away by his vocals and presence. I've seen Luke at least six times since and I shout about his music whenever I get the opportunity. In January he tours the U.K. with Ed Sheeran's songwriting partner, the magnificent Amy Wadge. I recommend you get tickets if he's playing near you. Alongside Luke, on the playlist, I'd currently include  Kaleo, John Bramwell, Future Islands, Billy Bragg, Elbow and Amy Winehouse.


What is the funniest thing a child has ever said/written in your class?

It's not particularly funny, but it's one that sticks in mind. When I was working as a full time teaching Deputy, the school had a policy of keeping a behaviour book, and children whose names appeared in the book had to miss a proportion of their Golden Time. A long-term supply was working in Year 3 and unfortunately used the book as her main classroom management strategy. One Friday when names were being read out a spirited year three pupil, with a keen sense of justice stood up, grabbed the book, tore it in half,  and proclaimed "this book is a source of misery for all children in this school". I'm still in contact the pupil. He has just graduated from Oxford, where he read PPE- a career in politics beckons.

Future Ed. Sec.?

What is your guilty pleasure?

After listening to the wonderful Sue Perkins interview on Desert Island Discs, I'm currently going through the back catalogue rediscovering the best show on the radio. Kirsty Young is a wonderfully warm and generous interviewer and brings out the best in her guests. Education and its power to shape people's lives is a recurring theme in all her interviews.

If you weren´t a teacher, what would you be and why?

A politician
Growing up in a coal mining family in the 1980s it was difficult not to be engaged in politics. Since I started teaching, I have been more of a political spectator; this was until last year when my political flame reignited. The reason for my re-engagement was what Michael Tidd calls the dog's breakfast of primary assessment. At the 2016  NAHT Conference, I challenged the then Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, to move away from a secure fit. She replied with a bland politicians answer. I earned short-term notoriety and appeared in every National Paper and the second slot on The News At Ten when she labeled me a sexist for asking a follow-up question - ´Was she was in charge or Nick Gibb?´
The press coverage was mostly positive, and since then I have been invited to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Specific Learning Difficulties at Westminster, I have met Nick Gibb at Sanctuary House to discuss assessment reform, and I am now the Branch Secretary for NAHT Cheshire.


What are you passionate about (teaching-related or not)?

Mountains and big landscapes. Despite living in the plains of Cheshire, I'm passionate about mountains and their surroundings.  I've just returned from trekking the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland and have spent previous school holidays trekking in the Himalayas, Alps, Morrocco, North America and Scotland. Switching off in the holidays can be a problem for me, but there's nothing like trying to pitch a tent in volcanic dust storm to focus your mind away from school
Mountains also provide a powerful metaphor for school leadership. The writings of Joe Simpson, John Krakauer, Sir Edmund Hilary and James Rebanks continue to inspire.


Wow, didn´t know you were teaching´s answer to Sir Ranulph Fiennes!

If you had to pick one subject/topic to teach on a loop forever, what would it be?

I didn't enjoy History at school as it seemed to focus on isolated facts and dates, rather than how we should learn from the past. The Reformation period and the relationship between Monarchy, The Church, and the people, is fascinating, and most importantly it gets children thinking about big ideas.

What is the most effective resource/technology/app you use in the classroom?

It's 12 years since I taught in the classroom on a regular basis and there are practitioners far better qualified to answer this question. However, regarding staff CPD and communication I have to opt for Twitter. All of our teachers tweet about the fantastic curriculum on offer at Hartford Manor. Many of our teachers engage with #PrimaryRocks #ReadingRocks and  #LearningFirst communities, and a large proportion of our teachers have attended weekend  Edu conferences. We are living in a golden age of communication; the democratisation of educational knowledge is transformational, and I urge all teachers to engage.

My practice has certainly exploded since I´ve started using it!


What is the most effective routine/method/system you use in the classroom?

A healthy balance between teacher and pupil talk. The very best teachers engage their students as learning partners. They teach children to speak articulately about the learning process. Certain structures can promote student talk, but the key is honest and trusting classroom relationships.

If you had to pick 4 people (Twitter or otherwise) to invite to a dinner party who
would it be and why?

In Simon Smith´s recent interview he kindly said we recently had a dream dinner party line up at my house back in May. Pie Corbett @PieCorbett Simon Smith @smithsmm, Ed Finch @MrEFinch, and Jack Brown @jack_m_brown were present that evening. However,  in the interests of gender balance, I would like to invite four inspirational female educators to join us.

Alison Peacock is a force of nature. What she achieved at Wroxham, #LearningFirst and now the Chartered Colledge is remarkable. She is the standard bearer for teachers across the country, and I am proud to know her. Alongside @AlisonMPeacock I would like to invite the irresistible Ros Wilson. Her tales from her time as a secondary teacher and Bernard the B******d would have us all in stitches. Next, to @rosBIGWRITING I would have the magnificent  
Mary Myatt @MaryMyatt. Her style, wit, and clarity around leadership and learning are second to none. Finally, I would invite Justine Greening. She has made a promising start in her first year as Secretary of State and is proving to be a good listener. With all the brilliant educational minds around the table, I'm sure we could solve 95% of educational problems.


What is the best and worst advice you have been given as a teacher?

Mick Brookes, former Primary Headteacher and General Secretary of the NAHT,  told me that he was proud that when he Headteacher he wasn't the best teacher in his school. This thought has stayed with me in my 12 years as a Head. I believe my role is to enable all the teachers in our school to be a better teacher than I ever was.

The worst advice- 15-15-20-10 punctuated with some brain gym!


Final Question: What drives you as a teacher?

Enabling staff to the best they can be.

If you could choose one person who you´d love to have the bbc interview treatment, who would it be and why?

Alison Peacock. I am fascinated how she made the from journey class teacher to one of the most respected and authentic voices in education.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Mathematical fluency, a school filled with love, and an enormous radish



Parkland’s School, Leeds, September 2017.




Twitter is a fantastic place.  In March 2016 my university housemate and friend @ChrisDyson got in touch after he read a tweet that @PieCorbett had tagged me into. Over the last 18 months, we have rekindled our friendship and met up at the excellent #ReadingRocks and #PrimaryRocks.

Since I got back in touch with Chris, the Twittersphere has been full of testimonials about the quality of mathematical learning and teaching at Parklands Leeds. Today, Chris invited three colleagues and me for a road trip up north.

Chris’s  open invitations to the  UK’s best educators is an opportunity for him to showcase the work he does with the young people and families at Parklands. In many schools inviting a conveyer  belt  of teachers  into  school each week would  fill staff with fear and apprehension, but this is no vanity project, and in my view, the open door policy fulfills  two purposes:

•    it makes the children and staff at Parklands feel immensely proud of their school

•    Chris and his team get the opportunity to learn from others.

Our day started at 10:30 am with Chris sharing his leadership journey. Here he generously credited support from colleague Headteachers,  a supportive LA and an HMI Maths inspector who invested a large amount of time post inspection to shape an improvement plan with the aim of making the teaching of mathematics outstanding.

Chris then took us on a tour of all the classrooms. Our pre-visit brief was to see high-quality mathematics learning and the school generously flipped their morning timetable to facilitate this.

As a long-serving school improvement advisor and serving Headteacher, I have been privileged to see some brilliant teachers, inspiring classroom environments, and many wonderful motivated children. However, the level of mathematical engagement and understanding  I observed this morning took my breath away. The numerical fluency at Parklands was simply the best I have ever seen. Young children fired back number bonds, a KS1 child, with complex needs, knew all their tables and children in KS2 could recite multiplication facts and calculate the number bond to 100 quicker than my University educated maths brain could compute. This was not just an example of children robotically regurgitating multiplication facts; there was clear evidence that the children’s secure knowledge of multiplication facts and number bonds were applied to real-life problem solving and mastery mathematics.

In addition to the outstanding mathematicians, we observed the highest standards behaviour and kindness. Three children were chosen to eat lunch with us; they helped us navigate the routines of an unfamiliar dinner hall, and demonstrated wonderful manners and conversational skills over our meal.

Walking through the lunchtime corridors, the children smiled and politely waved to us as we toured their school. I observed a year two child patiently teaching one of their peers how to tie a shoelace.

In summary, the standards of arithmetic at Parklands Leeds are the highest I have seen in any Primary School and  I do not doubt that the determined team at Parklands will reach the same standards in reading and writing.

Parklands serve a community with the highest rates of deprivation in Leeds. Chris, and his team is proving that if you have a relentless focus on what children can do and build on these achievements you can build a magical palace of learning.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Langavegur Trek- Iceland July 2017

Land of Fire and Ice- Day 1 

Manchester to Landmannalaugar- Tent City

After 4 days weighing head torches, speedos and shopping for dried foodstuffs, my first day of my Icelandic adventure began with a night at my Mum and Dads, and a 4 am drop off at Manchester Airport from the ever kind and helpful Peter Kidwell. My first job was to get my backpack wrapped in protective cling film followed by some last minute shopping for Compede blister blasters after the epic fail of Boot's own brand back in June. 

After a two and a quarter hour flight sat next to wriggly 2-year-old sitting in his mum's lap, I landed at Keflavik airport at 9 am. The 50km bus transfer to Reykiojic cost 2500 IKR and took 45 minutes. I arrived at the bus terminal with three hours to kill. 

There was an imposing church behind the bus station, and I decided to take a stroll to the prominent landmark my friend Clifford Darlington described as part Thunderbird, part Italian Trulli. A brief google informed me it was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish church topping 74.5 metres high, it is the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country. 

After an amble around the capital city, I caught a bus to the Landmannalaugar area. My bus was a serious piece of kit with raised suspension and what looked like 4 wheel drive. The 4-hour journey took us tarmac roads with the last 30 miles on volcanic tracks and five river crossings. The bus ride was exactly 1% as scary as travelling in Nepal, but some steep descents and high rivers added to the sense of adventure. 

The bus wound its way through volcanic desserts and river valleys. The remote landscape both inspired and made me a little edgy -I was further away from civilization than I had anticipated. My nerves were soon calmed when we rounded the final corner before Landmannalaugar. Not only were there the few expected mountains huts, but there were also tents and camper vans to rival a medium sized music festival. Finding a pitch for my Big Agnes (tent) proved a little taxing. There seemed to be a binary choice- rock fields or bog? Fortunately Big Agnes, contrary to her name, and like her owner, has a small footprint. I pitched on a mildly moist stretch of grass between a rocky path and a brook. I made a pretty tasty meal of pasta, pesto and pine nuts, used the excellent facilities to clean up and spoke to Jill. 

My highlight of the day was a dip in the hot spring. Which brings me back to my backpack weight saving. On Sunday in a bid to save a few grams I found a pair of running shorts that were acceptable in the 80s golden age of middle distance running. The only person I know still wears such minimalistic attire is Sandbach Strider's Scott Portman. I managed to get into the spring without scaring too many children. Unfortunately, my walk out wasn't as discrete. I emerged from the water in full view of a group of Japanese tourists armed with cameras. If you can picture the polar opposite of Daniel Craig emerging from the Caribbean in Casino Royal, you will get an idea. 

I'm finishing off the evening listening to Iceland's excellent Kaleo, drinking a mug of PG Tips and it's still light.




Day 2 Landmannalaugar to the moon (Hrafntinnusker)
After breakfast, I started the climb out of Landmannalaugar to start the Langavegur trail. Day 1 of the trek goes pretty much straight up and beyond the snow line. I walked through stunning rainbow coloured volcanic hills peppered with hot rock belching acrid sulphuric gas. I found a lunch stop up-wind of a volcanic spring and used the hot water to wash my pots. 

The second half of took me over snow fields and black volcanic hills. The monochromatic landscape of the afternoon contrasting wildly from the kaleidoscope of colours of the morning. The trek across the snow fields was hard work and made progress slow. I was reminded of the unforgiving landscape when, 1km before camp 2, I passed a memorial for a young 24 year old hiker who had died in a blizzard so near to shelter. 



I arrived at Hrafntinnusker at 3 pm. The weather has just started to turn, I battled strong winds and light rain as I pitched my tent. Hrafntinnusker is bleak. Stone circles surround each camping pitch to try and protect tents against the wind. A fine black volcanic dust gets everywhere, even inside your inner tent. The next 15 hours were wet with high winds, and all the tents took a battering. 
I managed to cook inside the porch of my tent and stay warm and dry throughout a bleak night. Only emerging from my tent to visit foul smelling by drop toilet. 
Not all the campers stayed dry. A surprisingly cheery Ukrainian couple told me that the rain had got into their tent, as they cooked breakfast under a corrugated iron porch that served as the camp kitchen. 

I left Hrafntinnusker at 8 am looking for the sun.  
















Day 3 (trekking day 2) 

After a cold and wet night in Hrafntinnusker, I left for hoping for better weather in Álftavatn. Following the early morning trek through snow fields and precarious snow bridges, I dropped into an area of volcanic activity. Boiling water and steam emerged from the earth with sulphuric gases stinging your nostrils. Yesterday I used a hot spring to wash my pot which gave me a cunning plan. I was doubling up on my evening meals and sealing the remainder in zip seal bags for lunch the following day. Inspired by 1980s boil in the bag dinners I experimented with reheating my cold pasta dish with the steam from emerging the ground. I prodded my bag after five minutes and success-I had a piping hot meal. The boil in the bag meal could be making a comeback!




Day 2 of the Langavegur is where you see the money shot. As you exit the volcanic fields you are treated with a Tolkienesque landscape of conical volcanoes protruding across a 10mile volcanic plateau. My pictures don't do it justice and I have copied on from a professional photographer below. 






I arrived in Álftavatn, pitched my tent by the lake and enjoyed some welcome sunshine.





















Day 4 (trekking day 4) Dust


For the large part of the trek from Álftavatn to Emstrur is across the volcanic plateau. Three river crossings, across icy glacial melt, add some excitement to what is the least spectacular of the four days. The first two river crossings are knee deep and involve rolling up your trouser legs, donning your crocs/sandals and bracing yourself for the freezing waters. The third river crossing is a different beast. I could see from other trekkers that river was moving very fast and was way over knee high. My legs are only 29 inches long and rolling my trouser legs up wasn't going to be enough. I packed my trousers, unbuckled my rucksack and took the plunge. The icy current was hard work. The water came right up to the top of my rolled up boxer shorts, and half way across my legs started to go numb. I made it across, but appreciated how quickly the body stops working in icy cold temperatures. 

I arrived at a very windy Emstrur at 3:30 pm. Limited camping spaces, on terraces of volcanic sand, meant there was a rush to try and find a sheltered spot. It took me less than 10minutes to discover there wasn't any shelter. My first attempt at pitching my tent blew my pegged ground sheet and inner tent from the ground. For my second attempt, I used rocks to secure my pegs only to find the wind had changed and was battering the broadside of my tent. For my third attempt, I managed to rotate my tent and re-peg it securely with rocks. Exhausted I climbed into my tent and could hear the wind blowing volcanic dust against the tents. The dust was fine enough to get under the skirt of my outer tent and make its way through the mesh of the inner tent- everything was now covered in fine black dust. I had dust in my hair, dust in my ears and dust in my eyes. My attempts make some tea was thwarted by dust. I put on my airline eye mask, got into my sleeping bag and took shelter. I awoke three hours later covered in dust, but the wind had stopped!































Day 5 - Final Day trekking - Mushrooms Emstrur to Þórsmörk 

Thankfully, the wind and dust storm had not returned, and I managed to cook breakfast and clean my gear. Climbing out of Emstrur there is warning sign informing you that you are heading to an area where serious flash flooding occurs once or twice every century; the snow topped volcanoes erupt, melt the ice, and the whole valley is flooded. In the event of an imminent eruption, warning shots are fired from the volcanic huts, and you are advised to head for higher ground, how high it didn't say, but I was ready! The landscape for day 4 has been forged by the intense flash floods which result in deep canyons and a large river plateau that runs into the sea. 

I found the perfect spot for lunch and cooked the meal I should have had the previous evening. I was joined by a group of Kiwi trekkers who had collected a stash of mushrooms. They clocked me as a man with culinary knowledge and asked me if they were edible. My friends know that when I'm asked a question that I don't know the answer to, I confidently reply with the first thing that comes in my head. Not wishing to see my fellow trekkers hallucinating around their calor gas flame, or worse, I took a cautious approach and messaged Sandbach's mushroom expert, Chris Steel, with a picture of the mushrooms. I also did a quick google search just in case Chris had partaken in too many Sunday afternoon shandies- both gave a positive thumbs up. The mushroom they had found is the beech bolette that grows in the beech forests of the Þórsmörk region. 

Arriving at my final campsite, I was met with civilisation. There was food, cold beer, hot showers, electricity and most importantly grass to pitch my tent on. I showered for the first time in five days and washed my filthy clothes and emerged clean and resplendent in my sky blue 80's running shorts and matching crocs. 



I ate dinner on a luxurious wooden bench with a Marjorie and Rob from the Netherlands. We shared tales of the Emstrur dust storm, and I shared my boil in the bag technique that I was now using to reheat today's lunch. They told me that we're planning to trek for two more days to Skogar and had arranged for food to be sent to tonight's camp site. Unfortunately, their package had gone missing. A helpful bus driver had managed to get them some fuel, two fellow trekkers and I offered them our remaining food. Rob and Majorie repaid me with beer at £9 a pint and the offer of photos from the glacier. I also met up with the Kiwi travellers and sampled some of bollette mushroom. 




After a good nights sleep, with some rather vivid dreams  I'm now travelling by a 4x4 bus to Reykjavik.