Monday, 19 January 2015

Peddle Power

Winter can be a hard time to get outside. It's dark, it's cold and (at least in the South West) it's often wet too; not the most appealing conditions. But as much as I'd like to I can't  hibernate at home (except for the occasional glorious frosty walk) for the whole season so go outside I must.

It's a 30 minute walk for me to get to my office and an hour walk for the husband (his extra time, he reminds me, is up a massive hill too) and although it's a very pretty walk along the riverside with the chance of kingfishers, long tailed tits and cormorants we often find ourselves easily convinced to walk the five minutes up to the bus stop instead. Despite the bus having a higher top speed with waiting times and so much traffic in Exeter this journey actually isn't any quicker for  me than walking!

One week last November we realized that we hadn't walked once, in either direction. So five days ended without any exercise worth mentioning, and having spent roughly £16 (£1.60 each way) each on unnecessary transport. Enough was enough, that Saturday we visited our local Halfords and spent some of our wedding gift money on new bikes, helmets, high-visibility jackets, lights, panniers and locks. I'm very pleased with my new helmet; it's high-vis green!

I won't pretend that this was all cheap. There are some things you don't want to be stingy about (for most of the safety equipment and locks you get what you pay for) but while we took the easy option of buying everything new and off the shelf a quick Google search of "second hand bikes Exeter" reveals loads of places where starting cycling doesn't have to break the bank. See here, here or here. Also, we found that when we compared the price of bikes to how much we would be saving by not taking the bus it didn't take long before we were breaking even!

So with all this new kit and the excitement of my first brand new bike since I was ten the initial few days were easy. Speeding down the riverside looking out for wildlife we were amazed as how much quicker our journeys were. I quickly gave up taking a change of clothes to the office, as the extra 5-10 minutes it took to get changed meant I was still leaving as early as if I'd walked and after a week or two I wasn't really sweaty or out of breath enough to need to change. It only takes me 15 minutes to cycle now so we also get an extra 30 minutes each day which means more sleep and more spare time in the evenings.

Since the new year we've been tempted by the buses twice. Once due to extreme weather (so windy we were literally peddling to stay still) and once because we were going out in the evening after work and didn't fancy cycling home separately (it's hard to chat on single track paths). But that's not too bad. We're getting 30 minutes exercise most days and although cycling actually uses less calories than walking at the speeds I'm going at least I'm doing the activity rather than sitting on a bus. The fresh air makes a difference too. We've both found that cycling home helps us clear our heads, when walking or busing found us still mulling work problems over dinner.

It's not the first time I've blogged about cycling (see here and here) but I've already kept it up for longer than ever before and after two months we're both still firm bicycle fans. We've been adventuring along the local cycle routes at weekends too discovering that pubs and favourite nature spots are within easy reach and most have cycle racks which we'd never noticed before. I've even found that cycling to my local choir is quicker than sitting in evening traffic! The speed, fresh air, cheapness and small amount of exercise cycling provides all add up to a great reason to swap the bus or car for the bikes this winter, and if you can get through the winter enjoying the outside just think how good spring and summer will be!

Speaking of the seasons, this weekend is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch and I'll be spending an hour with friends discovering the wildlife in a garden away from Devon. Come back next Monday to find out where we were and what we saw. Don't forget to count the birds in your garden this weekend too!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Energy Without The Guilt

How much energy we use has always been a heated topic in our house. My husband has reasonably normal requirements like being warm enough not to be shivering when inside and having enough light that you don't need to feel your way around the house. If left unchecked my habits however become a little fanatical in terms of saving energy. When home alone for the day I'll normally be found either wrapped in jumpers and quilts insisting there's enough light ( until a light is turned on and I'm amazed how much better I can see) or tucked into our tiny kitchen which is kept toasty by our washer/dryer.

The reason for my refusal to use more energy than that needed to keep the pipes from freezing is partly concern for fossil fuel use, and partly habits left over from student days when an extra light being on was a considerable cost.

But recently I've had to reassess my mantra of ' turn that light off, it's killing the planet' as we've switched to Ecotricity. With 100% renewable energy leaving a light on only hurts my pocket ( still bad enough) not the planet. The husband is enjoying my new found confusion as for the first time in my life a house full of light has no green guilt. I'm finding it hard to adjust but it is nice.

Ecotricity is slightly more expensive than our previous provider EDF, it will probably cost us about £50 more a year; really a very small amount compared to our annual bill. Also when we joined Ecotricity gave a £60 donation to the RSPB as part of a promotion, so I'm happy to pay the little extra it costs. When deciding to switch; a friend, who'd already done it, explained their choice this way

" I see it as paying my normal cheap energy bill and then the extra is a donation to a company developing green energy, as all profits Ecotricity make go back into expanding the business"

This made real sense to me. Choosing to pay more for energy feels counter intuitive but for to options of 100% renewable rather than 13.5% with EDF is worth it. The amazing customer service is an extra lovely bonus too!

Friday, 2 January 2015

A Fresh Start

Well, after a seven month break for my wedding and then Christmas I'm finally back blogging and it's the start of a new year.

The last few weeks have been spent happily in the company of friends and family; giving and receiving home made gifts, storing away this year's wrapping paper and ribbons ready to use next year and testing out last year's berry brandy liquor and elderflower champagne (both delicious).

From now on though blogs will be back to normal with a new blog appearing here every Monday. Over the next few weeks you'll find blogs on green energy suppliers, the joys of cycling, my veg box and the RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch (if you haven't registered yet click on the link ). As ever I'll be looking at how I can green my life without missing out on the best bits.