Campfire cooking – French onion soup

This easy to prepare version of the timeless French classic provides perfect warming lunch respite during chilly spring or autumn sea kayak expeditions.

Whole onions keep well in the hold of a sea kayak as long as they are kept in a dry bag and the crunch of fresh vegetables can provide a welcome break from dried boil in the bag foods.

The following recipe feeds 4 people.


– 2 onions, sliced
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 tbsp (15 ml) maple syrup
– 8 cups (2 litres) water
– 2 beef bouillon cubes
– ½ tsp pepper
– ½ tsp salt1 ½ cups croutons
– 200 gm cheddar cheese, grated
– Fresh chives to taste


  1. Heat the oil and brown the onions and garlic
  2. Add the maple syrup to sweeten the onion
  3. Add water, salt and pepper, beef bouillon cubes and simmer for 20 minutes
  4. Serve topped with fried croutons, grated cheddar cheese and chopped chives
  5. A large thermos flask will keep the soup hot for 8 hours whilst kayaking


Huddle under tarp in the lee of your upturned kayak and drink the soup from a mug using both hands. Bask in luxury as the feeling returns to your fingers.

Campfire cooking – grill marinade

This marinade is perfect as it stands – one needs go no further in dressing ocean fresh* fish for the grill.

But equally it can be used as a building block to greater things, by adding thyme, oregano or marjoram, rosemary, mustard or fresh shoreline wild garlic leaves.

Good for a couple of meals for 3–4


lemon juice 100ml, 2–3 lemons
– extra virgin olive oil 150ml
garlic cloves 3 peeled and crushed
sea salt 1 tsp

Combine all the ingredients in an airtight container and store in a dry bag in a cool place and out of the sun and shake before use.

*The term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught and eaten same-day.

See ocean fresh in practice – ocean fresh calamari caught, cooked and served in an hour.

Octane offers gastro wilderness expeditions and, employing Octane’s Eight** methods of sourcing wild food for the pot, we eat the world’s best food, ocean fresh.

**Octane’s Eight is our philosophy. We believe our travelling guests, being closest to the world’s wildest fresh foods, might quite like to eat the world’s wildest fresh foods. 1) We line fish, 2) we lobster pot, 3) we spear fish, 4) we sea forage, 5) we land forage, 6) we deer stalk, 7) we seed the sea, 8) we seed the land.


Iona, Scotland’s sacred isle

This tranquil isle has attracted saints, raiders, kings and pilgrims all with an eye to creating, viewing or stealing the art within.

Columba (Callum), an Irish missionary, traveled to Scotland to convert the Picts to Christianity and inhabited the island of Iona starting his mission from a cave.

He arrived in 563 AD with twelve dedicated companions and built a monastery, which stands to this day with pilgrims by the thousand visiting from every corner of the world each year.

Monking slouch

Monks were technical masters in agriculture, irrigation and building and monastic communities became trailblazers in trade, agriculture and learning, securing themselves a pivotal, authoritative and long lasting position in society. Monks of the time were no slouches.

The island gained a history of global importance and, as a result, Iona receives over half a million visitors annually. Not bad for a windswept island with no cars, barely one mile square.

Human sacrifice

When Columba was building the first chapel on Iona, and in line with other British legends of foundation sacrifice, a voice is said to have told Columba that the walls of the chapel would not stand until a living man was buried below its foundations.

Unfortunate Odan

The legend is that Odan, another missionary who had preceded Columba’s arrival at Iona, asked to be buried alive beneath the chapel and, in accordance with his wishes, was consigned to the earth believing his soul would be saved. Hence the name Odan’s Chapel (Reilig Odhrain)

Generous burial

According to different versions of the same tale, either Columba wanted to see Odan again or Odan attempted to climb out of his grave, and in both versions Columba quickly covered the pit with earth to save Odan’s soul from the world of sin.

Odan was the first of many to be buried there – it became a burial place for the Lords of the Isles and Scottish, Viking and Irish kings alike are all buried here.

Iona Abbey

Columba went on to build Iona’s great abbey. The abbey stands to this day and has become one of the most iconic centres of Christianity the world has known.

From a network of churches, starting at Iona and stretching all over Scotland, Christianity eventually spread. Much credit is due to later missionaries, but they all drew their inspiration from Calum Cille, ‘the island of Columba’s church’.

Murderous pillage

When Vikings landed at Iona in 795 AD, fuelled by the taste for previous sackings of ecclesiastical outposts such as Lindisfarne, they killed some 100 monks in a single day on what is now known as Martyr’s Bay.

The massacre made distinct from other bloody events on Britain’s coastlines only by the sheer numbers involved. The Vikings also laid waste to the abbey.

Cows and women

Columba is known for his abstinence and he banned cows and women from the island. He is believed to have said ‘where there is a cow there is a woman, and where there are women there is mischief’.

Cowboy builders

However, in 1203 AD a chieftain called Macdonald Reginald rebuilt the abbey and, doing away with traditional ways of Iona, added a nunnery.

Clearly Columba had the last word for it lies derelict today with the roof caved in and some walls falling in – perhaps the builders had omitted the burial of a living man below its foundations.

Iona today

Today visitors come in the hundreds daily. Iona is at the end of long pilgrim route, similar to Santiago de Compostela only much, much older – indeed its history precedes Columba with St Oran arriving even earlier.

Beautiful Benedictine cloisters are preserved, ancient Celtic crosses and artifacts, works of art and stained glass windows – the abbey is a most tranquil and refined place in the wildest of locations.

Mochalattéd masses

For those who can’t bear the madding crowd, visitor centres and those convinced a hiking stick is necessary for walking between coffee shops, there are some hidden gems on Iona.

The absence of cars on the island means many don’t, won’t or can’t venture beyond the ferry terminal, the coffee shop and the abbey so it’s easy to find deserted white sand beaches, wilderness coves, aqua marine waters and abandoned bothies.

I recommend the disused quarry and quarrymen’s croft, well worth a visit.

Campfire cooking – Italian arrabbiata in wilderness Scotland

Bulked to the bulwark with a ballast of pasta and rice on sea kayak trips, this is a classic recipe on standby — just in case the fish don’t bite.

Arrabiata is a rich tomato based pasta recipe using basic ingredients such as passata and items from a boat’s dry-packed stowage larder. Most items are bottled or dried and impervious to the rigors of being at sea for stretches of time. It’s just the bruises on the onion that might need explaining.

Fresh herbs

In addition to the onion I prefer to pack some fresh items which make every bit of difference to morale – garlic cloves, fresh chilli and fresh parsley. And, depending on which shores an expedition passes, wild thyme can be found on a south facing, well drained sandy dune whilst ransoms garlic thrives on shady shorelines during early spring.

Lighter foods

Dried survival foods are handy for the likes of packing–light mountaineers but think of your kayak like a mule and it will do all the hard lugging for you – a sea kayak can pack as much as a yomping Marine, with considerably less effort. Just don’t let you’re beautiful craft know you think she’s a stubborn beast of burden.

Load capacity

A sea kayak with a carry capacity of 400 pounds and a paddler weighing 11 stone will safely allow for about 50 to 80 pounds of kit. There are online forum discussions on the matter of kayak load ratios but a sensible maxim is to ensure your combined weight (paddler and equipment) remains at about 50% of a kayak’s recommended load. That’s a lot of capacity for onions.

Load cap

Traditionally arrabiata is eaten with penne but I prefer spaghetti which is more efficient with space when packing a sea kayak. The very tubes enabling penne to hold rich sauces also pack air taking up valuable space in a small boat. On the other hand packing items containing air makes one’s bags more buoyant which is useful in capsize but that’s probably another discussion.

Penne prima

Don’t produce this recipe if you have Italians in your group, they can get awfully touchy about their penne.

Recipe feeds 4 people.


Olive oil
– Two onions, diced
– Five garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 1 x fresh red chili, deseeded and sliced
– 700g passata
– Fresh parsley
Handful of ransoms garlic, chopped
– Sprigs of wilde thyme, ripped
– Handful of black olives
Salt and pepper
– 300gsm spaghetti
Parmesan cheese


  1. Heat the pan for a minute, pour in three tablespoons of olive oil
  2. When oil is hot, add onions to soften
  3. As onions glisten, add garlic and chili. Sauté for another 2 minutes
  4. Pour passata into the pan
  5. Once bubbling, add olives. Add salt
  6. Simmer slowly for at least an hour with lid on. The richness comes from the amalgamation of flavours condensed over time – the longer this sits on the campfire, the richer the reduced sauce becomes
  7. About 15 mins from serving, get a water pan onto the coals for pasta
  8. Once simmering, add enough spaghetti to feed your crew – noting recommended cooking times (ave. 10 mins for dried spaghetti)
  9. Sieve the pasta and add to the sauce for 1 min whilst still on the heat. The porous pasta will absorb the sauce and combine flavours
  10. Serve with a few sprigs of fresh wild thyme, freshly chopped ransoms garlic leaves and parmesan shavings

To serve

If there are any disgruntled Italians about, agog at being served arrabiata with spaghetti, this is your chance to win them back – only now break out the pepper from the kitchen and offer some. Italians never cook pasta sauces with pepper, it is always added to taste on the plate. You might have just recovered the penne situation.


Apart from with Bolognese, Italians also never pour pasta sauce onto pasta on the plate. Pasta sauce is otherwise always added to the pasta in the cooking pot for a couple of minutes so it absorbs the juices and flavours of the sauce. If your Italian guest sees you do this all is forgiven.


Expedition kit – Ordnance Survey

I think every journey warrants an OS map, even some familiar ones — especially so when the nearest shop is an six mile hike along a windy footpath and then a ferry to the next island.

An Ordnance Survey map reveals a mass of information enabling its user to identify curious objects on route.

A 1:25,000 scale OS map details historic (and prehistoric) earthworks and remains, contours, terrain, water sources, woodland and more including every building, its shape and its aspect.

Since 1791, Ordnance Survey has been a world leading tool in which to place ones confidence – most recently enabling the UK to become the world’s first nation fully digitally mapped.


When sea kayaking, it is often more useful to use a nautical version of the same as coastal zones and tidal and intertidal features are more detailed.

Nautical charts, as referred to by maritimers, show water depths, navigational hazards such as sunken ships and exposed masts, buoys, tides, currents, harbours, ferry routes and shoreline characteristics.

Belt + braces

However, using the area’s map and corresponding chart in tandem can work well – especially if one must shore to find fresh water or height to attain cellular reception.

Rain stops play

Despite the OS app allowing for maps to be downloaded to be viewed on devices during periods with or without cellular signal, I often prefer a water proofed paper map which can be printed for each member of a group, can be scaled to the required level of detail and, most importantly, doesn’t sulk in the rain or run out of batteris.

Secret sassenach

Scotland’s dirty secret is that lowland Scots constitute the second English State on the Island of Britain. Sassenach (or Saxon) referred originally to the ethnic and linguistic English inhabitants of Lowland Scotland, not to ethnic English living in England.

How this came about is a fascinating story, little known in England and entirely suppressed by Nationalists in Scotland.

The Gaels only learned English in the 19C whereas for lowland Caledonia, English has been the mother tongue for 1,200 years.

Court language

Have you ever wondered why English was spoken at the Scottish Court even before the union with England, under James I?

And why Wales, ruled by England off and on since Norman times has perhaps twenty times more native Welsh speakers than Scotland has Gaelic speakers?

England’s capital

Edinburgh is likely named after King Edwin of Northumbria, the overlord of all English kings (Bretwalda) born 586 AD.

So Edinburgh was for a time the capital of England, before Scotland ever existed.

The Northumbrian English conquered southern Caledonia from the Welsh, at a time when the Irish invaders (Scots) had not yet taken all of the more northerly Caledonia from the native Picts.

Welsh language

Welsh was anyway the language originally spoken in Lowland Scotland, indeed spoken both sides of Hadrian’s Wall until it was replaced by English.

Lowland Scotland has never much spoken Gaelic, it largely went straight from Welsh to English.

Although Gaelic and Welsh are both Celtic languages their speakers are no more intelligible to each other than are speakers of English and German (both Teutonic languages).

Welsh hero

The name given by the Teutonic conquerors for a Romanised Celt is ‘Walas‘, from which we get the name for Wales, the Wallace clan (from SW Scotland – so yes, the greatest hero of Scottish Independence was a Welshman, certainly in ancestry and possibly in speech).

It also gives us the name for the Latin (now French) speaking Part of Belgium (Wallonia), one of the Latin (now Romanian) speaking areas of the Balkans (Wallachia) and even the nut introduced to Celtic Britain by the Romans (Walnut).

The other clue that English has been spoken in Lowland Scotland almost as long as it has been spoken in England is that it comes from an ancient branch of Northumbrian English called Lallans.

And just look at all the clearly English Clan names, Armstrong, Cunningham, Elphinstone Edmonstone, Aikenhead, Ayton, Bannerman, etc, (and I haven’t even gone beyond “E”in the list!).

The clue to the ancient lineage of Lallans is that modern speakers of Received Pronunciation can barely understand Glaswegian. Yet, the English spoken in the Highlands and Islands is, like Irish English, perfectly intelligible to people from London. Is this not a paradox? And the explanation is that the longer a language follows its own separate development, the more different it becomes from the original, (sort of the same thing to language as the genetic mutation rate is to the formation of new species in Evolution) and the Gaelic areas adopted English only in the 19C, whereas it was the mother tongue of the English settlers in Lowland Caledonia from the 7C.

By way of illustrating this important point, the English had themselves arrived from Germany after 445AD and Continental Saxons, Angles Frisians and Franks could still understand the English until about 750–800 AD.

This is why the Pope was able to use English missionaries like St Boniface (or Winfrith, born near Crediton in Devon) to convert continental Germans – indeed this English cleric is known as “The Apostle of Germany”. As he put it “for we are of one blood and one bone with you”. (Do look up St Boniface on Wiki, he is probably the most significant Englishman that no one has ever heard of, and hard to think of any Englishman before Churchill who played a greater role in the destiny of Continental Europe).

Much of NW Europe was evangelised by Anglo-Saxons. Even the patron Saint of Finland is an Englishman.

Getting back to Lallans, or lowland Scots English (the language of Robbie Burns), this developed separately from mainstream English after the Vikings took most of Northumbria, from around 800AD, and cut off the unconquered English in what is now SE Scotland, Lothian, and Bamburgh, from the rest of the English speakers of Britain, to the South of what had become Viking territory.

So Wessex was NOT “The Last Kingdom”, both Bamburgh and Anglo-Saxon Scotland also successfully retained their independence from the Vikings, but only Bamburgh and the rest of what became modern Northumbria was later reincorporated into the English State after 927 when Athelstan (grandson of Alfred of Wessex) united all of England by ending the last surviving Viking Kingdom and deposing Eric Bloodaxe, Viking king of York. (Yes, they don’t make names like that anymore).

In the intervening 200 years between the fall of most of Northumbria to the Vikings and the West Saxon reconquest of the whole of England, which established the modern English State, the English who had been cut off in Lowland Scotland had, in order to survive, allied themselves with their fellow Christians, the Scots, who had come from Ireland to invade northern Caledonia (inhabited originally by the Picts) at about the same time as the English had invaded Southern Caledonia. And given the choice of heathen Viking rule (by kings with names like Eric Bloodaxe ) or incorporating yourself into a single State with the Christian Scots from Ireland, the Caledonian English of course chose to become part of Scotland, and they were natural allies, both Scots and English were Christian and both were being attacked by the same horrific enemy, the Vikings, who had actually seized Dublin and the Hebrides. Thus by the time the West Saxon liberators reached the Tweed, around 927, those ancient English subjects of what had once been Northern Northumbria were now part of the new Kingdom of Scotland, so the Northern part of what had been Northumbria, including its old Capital, “Edwin’s Burgh”,was permanently lost to England, and its people became the only Anglo-Saxons never to become part of the English Unitary State. But they were, in blood, language and culture, Northumbrian English, and Gaelic was never much spoken in their part of Southern Scotland, which today includes both the largest city (Glasgow)and the Capital. They adopted tartans, bagpipes (which were also an English instrument, Chaucer mentions the Northumbrian pipes) and a great Anglo-Gaelic Cultural fusion took place in which the Gaels ultimately adopted English (but only in the 18C and 19C) and the sassenachs (or English speaking Southern Caledonians) accepted the Irish Clan system and tartan dress, etc.

This is why modern English ears understand highland Scots and Irish English infinitely better than they understand lowland Scots, spoken by the descendants of the original English invaders of Britain. The Gaels of the Highlands only adopted English in the 18-19C so the English they adopted was essentially modern English, whereas in Glasgow they speak the descendant of ancient Lallans, a form of English with a thousand years of separate development from Southern English.

Southern English people also struggle to understand Ulster English for the same reason, many of the 17C Protestant colonists to Ulster came from lowland Scotland , and spoke the ancient Lallans variety of English.

And as for all these poor deluded lowland Scots who are caught up in the current vogue and attending Gaelic classes in the mistaken belief that they are somehow “rediscovering their roots”, Gaelic is the language of foreign invaders of Caledonia exactly as much as is English.

The only original languages of Caledonia are the extinct lowland Welsh and Pictish (which has no written record whatever, but is now often assumed to be a form of Welsh – but I “ha’e me doots” about this, because they had some radically different social customs, such as matrilineal descent and inheritance, so they could have been a Bronze Age pre Celtic relict people). The truth is that modern Scotland is the product of the fusion mainly of Anglo Saxon and Irish Gaelic cultures. The Anglo Saxons loved the Irish for having converted them to Christianity, (the Venerable Bede, the first English historian, a Northumbrian monk writing around 730 AD almost worships the Irish) whereas the Welsh had refused to evangelise their English oppressors. I’m afraid Bede took a very dim view of the Welsh for this.

Just to add to the confusion, it was the Welsh from the borders of Caledonia who had evanglised and converted the Irish Scots, St Patrick was a Welsh boy seized from near modern Carlisle by Irish slave raiders, and taken to Ireland. So you can see how incredibly intertwined are the cultural ethnic and linguistic origins of all the peoples of the British Isles.

(But the Welsh did refuse to evangelize the English directly, and refusal of forgiveness was a great sin in English – as indeed in all – Christianity, something the embittered vanquished the World over often struggle to remember, once sin is genuinely acknowledged, contrition expressed and forgiveness sought. This is at the cultural heart of our old religion, and was central to the ultimate ability of English and the newly converted Danes later to form a new Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom. It sounds like a sermon, today, but these cultural traits really mattered, helped blood feuds (the plague of many of non Christian early European societies) to be settled, and allowed us as a Nation to progress).

So there is nothing to be ashamed of in Scotland being a new creation from many different ethnic and cultural groups. Rejoice in all parts which have given rise to modern Scotland. It is the entwinement of the very best of many cultures.

Sadly, anti English bigotry has become routine in some Nationalist circles, so there is a complete denial that the Anglo-Saxons are as much a part of Scottish cultural and ethnic identity as are the Irish, the Welsh and the Picts. The glory of Britain is the cultural union forged amongst different ethnic groups to make a union capable of resisting barbarian attack, from the Vikings to the Nazis, perceiving what were our shared cultural values and how these outweigh our cultural and ethnic differences.

Such a message runs counter to the divisive element among some Scottish Nationalists who seek to present Scottish Culture and people as if they were a pure and uncorrupted entity, sprung magically either from nothing, or from exclusively the Irish Gaelic strand, to the exclusion of the non Gaelic Pictish, Welsh and English elements, and ignoring also the powerful bonds of politics and religion which have bound all of the people of Britain into a single Cultural identity, joyfully composed of many rich and distinct strands.

Lemon chicken pesticide wrapped in smokey steroid bacon back served on a bed of freshly bleach-washed loose-leaved lambs lettuce

It may sound like a gastro horror show but this is factually the food sold in our less than super markets and served daily in the most celebrity of chefs’ zeitgeist brasseries.

However, if the specials menu hasn’t yet put you off yet, here’s the recipe again, with the unabridged waiter’s drum–roll flounce:

Waiter’s special

Locally sourced lemon chicken pesticide wrapped in smoked steroid bacon back and processed white rice served on a bed of freshly bleach-washed loose-leaved lambs lettuce with E coli

And here are the facts: 46% of British chicken contains pesticide residue*, 29% of British bacon contains pesticide residue*, 100% of lemons imported to Britain contain multiple pesticide residue**, 13% of pre-washed loose-leaved salad contains E coli***

Ocean fresh

Catching ocean fresh**** food for the pot is a peculiar carry-on for some.

However, I might suggest meat contained in a plastic tray, cellophane wrapped, bar-coded, best-befored, de-boned, de-skinned, de-fatted and cut to manageable nuggets is pretty peculiar.

Especially so when much of the above wrapping carry on is packaging a horse disguised as a sausage which is to disguise its an animal.

Not to mention the modern fetish of farmers to use growth steroids, growth hormones and antibiotics.

When standing in the supermarket isle, piously scanning ingredients lists, don’t forget it’s not a list of ingredients – that would be just too simple. It is more of a top-line only guide and sales brochure — all detail is subject to change and only some items ever makes the ingredients list.

Less than super

Supermarkets are legally obligated to list and declare items added to a food product but not a list of items within.

Blind eye

When selling porridge oats for example it sounds more wholesome to say oats rather than oats and pesticide — technically the retailer did not add the pesticide of course, the farmer did.

A bit like, when selling a car, keeping quiet about a chassis bending crash it was involved in because you weren’t at the wheel at the time.

Pesticide Action Network UK
** Government Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food
*** Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian. 2008. “I pointed out that between 1992 and 2000, the period during which the new phenomenon of bagged salads took off, nearly 6% of food-poisoning outbreaks were associated with prepared vegetables and salads. A study in 1996 of retail samples of bagged salad found 13% contained E coli.”

****The term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught and eaten same-day.

See ocean fresh in practice with the post ‘Drive through calimari’ – ocean fresh calimari caught, cooked and served in under an hour