• Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Freedom Machine: How bikes changed your world

    Where does our deep-rooted love of cycling come from? We know we’ll always make cycling-friendly bags, canvas shoulder bags, rugged waist packs and more for journeys on two wheels. Why are we so sure?

    Let’s look back in time a little. You see, the incredible thing about bikes isn’t the joy of the hobby, the thrill of the speed, the geekery of maintenance. It’s the fact that when the humble bicycle was first invented, mass-produced and available to all – even the thrifty, by the time the good-old second-hand market was thriving – it actually transformed society. It made the world a better place.

    In his wonderful book It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, Robert Penn wrote:

    “There was a democracy to the bicycle that society was powerless to resist.”

    Class, gender, occupation, size and stature became irrelevant – every man, woman and child could pedal their way out of their pigeonhole and explore opportunity freely and safely. They could go as far as their legs would take them. Work became accessible, weekends became adventurous, bodies became more active, confidence grew and people from all walks of life experienced an inspiring sense of self-sufficiency.

    In those precious moments on their bikes people were freed – from the constraints of class, and also those of discrimination.  Even Susan B Anthony, the famous suffragette who was arrested for voting in the 1872 presidential election, claimed cycling “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world…”

    In 1894, mother of three young children Annie Cohen Kopchovsky set out on a mission that would see her become the first woman to cycle around the world. Her adventure arose from a bet, that challenged her not only to finish her trip in 15 months, but to begin it penniless and return having earned $5000 more than the expenses she needed for her trip. Her resourcefulness in achieving this mission made quite a point at the time – and her name changed to Londonderry as a result of her first creative money-making scheme, to carry a Londenderry Lithia Spring Water Company placard on her way out of Boston.

    Annie Londonderry - the first woman to cycle around the world

    It’s in our blood to innovate, and bikes became faster and faster. We discovered the excitement of speed, and it’s ability to unify widespread communities. By 1893, racing cyclists topped 60kph, carrying simple race packs of food as their distances grew (the same race packs inspired our new Dan the Musette).


    Leon Georget in 1909

    Leon Georget in 1909

    Even closer to our hearts is the story of the early cycle campers, one of whom was our namesake Millican Dalton – the original adventurous spirit and legend of the Lake District. In the early 1900s, before his notorious move to the wilds of Borrowdale, Millican was among the first to realise the true adventure-potential of travel on two wheels. In his teens and as a young adult, Millican and his brother would load their bikes with camping equipment to explore England, Wales, Scotland and of course the Lake District . It was at this time, that the humble bicycle inspired Edwardians to discover the joys of camping – further and further afield.

    Cycle camping in the 1900s

    Cycle campers in the 1900s – set free by the humble bicycle

    Before long, Millican was looking for ways to innovate his cargo, making his equipment lighter and easier to carry – all in pursuit of freedom and a smoother ride. We’ve no doubt those early adventures inspired our namesake’s original take on life.

    The world is so full of cycling stories – it seems that every day someone realises just how much they can change their life on a bike.

    It’s no wonder historian Robert A. Smith called the bike a ‘Freedom Machine’.

    But in all seriousness – our world went a little overboard with the excitement of speed. Fast cars, gas guzzlers, private jets and motorbikes…we all know the consequences, even if we enjoyed the ride.

    And we all know it’s time for bikes to change the world again.

    To celebrate the history and the future of cycling, the latest bag from our Universal Works collaboration is inspired by the ‘musette’ race packs used in the 1900s. A fast-paced everyday bag and compact cycling companion. See you in the cycle lane >



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  • Friday, April 4, 2014

    3 DAYS OF FREEDOM: Festival thoughts

    It’s time to equip your body and soul for the summer. Adventure, travel, outdoor living – and those long hazy days that bring people together. So where will you adventurous spirits be gathering this year?

    Our summer of adventurous events will start on May 15th at Keswick Mountain Festival (more of that soon). But Wilderness Festival also caught our eye early this year. Festivals are always changing but Wilderness seems to be blazing a new trail as a ‘finer things in life’ experience that’s still firmly in touch with its grassroots festival values. Outdoor living and natural treasures are headlining acts.

    Rowing in Cornbury Park – Wilderness Festival 2013

    We’re proud of our Lakeland roots, so to see local hero chef, Simon Rogan ‘headlining’ the festival’s gastronomic offering is very cool indeed. Foodies will already know that Simon Rogan is famous for his L’enclume restaurant here in the Lakes – where he also blazes a trail using local ingredients from farm land surrounding his award-winning restaurant. He and his team are renowned for their connection with nature, and it works wonders for their menus. Watch a beautiful film about his work here.

    Bizarrely yet brilliantly, Wilderness Festival’s swanky line-up of food and music is accompanied by a rich mix of outdoor living pursuits. If you don’t fancy a spot of wild swimming in the waters of Cornbury Park, how about trying your hand at traditional woodcraft, or learning how to forage for and cook with wild food? If long bow archery doesn’t interest you, why not join a mind-bending Philosophy Walk through the park? Millican Dalton would feel right at home.

    Ready to stow your essentials and lose your inhibitions? 





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  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014

    I, Porter – An Adventurous Idea

    You will remember Rob Fraser as co-founder of the Land Keepers project – an inspiring look at the life of hill farmers in Cumbria. Now he’s trekking to Everest base camp to raise awareness for porters all over the world. Find out how we helped him, and join us at Keswick Mountain Festival (15-19 May 2014) to hear his story. Rob’s talk will be on the Sunday morning (18th) at 10am – in the festival’s ‘Adventure Theatre’.

    Rob Fraser

    I,Porter is a documentary project that will see Rob portering on a commercial trek to Everest Base Camp, to raise awareness of the tough lives that porters lead.

    Rob was going to need a serious carry system, unlike any trekking rucksack you might find in the shops. So the Millican crew helped out by adapting Rob’s old faithful rucksack to be fit for the monumental task. And at the Keswick Mountain Festival in May, we’re giving him a platform to tell you all about his epic adventure (listen out for an announcement soon).

    Want to know more? Here’s the lowdown from Rob Fraser, and our co-founder Jorrit.

    Rob – would you tell our readers about I, Porter? 

    I, Porter is a documentary project that I literally dreamt up in Nepal two years ago. It’s named in homage to the Asimov book, I Robot.

    As well as photographer I am also a trekking guide and have led 70 treks all over the world over the past 11 years for Keswick-based KE Adventure. Whilst leading a group in the remote Humla region of western Nepal, this mad dream came to me one sleepless night in my tent: I would become a porter on a trek.

    That dream has crystallised into becoming a reality and in April I head off to porter on a commercial trek for KE Adventure, up to Everest Base Camp via the high and tricky Cho La pass.

    I’m keen to raise awareness of the work that porters do, and how tough their job can be.

    For seventeen days I will be hauling a heavy load alongside the porters, sleeping in the shelters and scoffing dhal bhat with them. I will be making a video of the project that I have been asked to show at this years Kendal Mountain Festival, making a series of portraits of the porters I work with, as well as amass whatever other material I can gather from the experience.

    I’m sure it will be tough but I’m looking forward to it. In a strange way.

    So what are you carrying? 

    Jorrit and Vera have kindly adapted an old rucksack I have, to carry the heavy and wide load along the trail. I figured it would be hard enough doing the job of a porter without trying to support the load using my forehead like the local guys do.

    Jorrit, tell us about it?

    This project was all about salvaging the best bits of a trusty old pack, while giving it the advanced functionality Rob needs for his epic trek.

    Rob gave us one of his old favourite rucksacks. Knowing that the back panel suited him and was comfortable, we used this as a starting point. We stripped out the front and part of the side and base panels keeping the fit intact, upcycled some of the existing webbing and added a multitude of attachments and straps (with new strong buckles) to cater for a porter’s cargo.

    The next focus was ensuring total durability, for such a heavy load and arduous adventure. So we reinforced all the edge bindings, strengthened all stress points with double-bar tacking, and created a real workhorse of a rucksack.

    Rob's trusty rucksack adapted for a heavy load

    The final stage was what can only be described as a monster rain cover – nearly 2 x 2 metres in size – to cover the entire carry system as well as three separate bags.

    Vera the carry system


    Ro our product development intern, Vera our Dame of Sewing, and Co-Founder of Millican, Jorrit.

    The project is named after Vera – our dame of sewing – who handcrafted all the finer details. We can’t wait to see Vera in action in Rob’s photos and film – so much so we’ve given Rob the opportunity to tell you all about his adventure as part of our presence at Keswick Mountain Festival in May. Stay tuned!

    Rob needs a great deal of financial support for his campaign, and you can help out by making a pledge of any size on Kickstarter

    Rob will be back just in time to share his adventure at Keswick Mountain Festival (15th – 18th May). We’re proud to be hosting his talk in the ‘Adventure Theatre’ on the Sunday morning at 10am. Find out more >


    And he's off…



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  • Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Intrepid Women

    With Mother’s Day round the corner, I thought it only apt to indulge in something I love to do – grab a cup of tea and cast my mind to far off lands, while I read about the amazing adventures of women as they roamed the globe.

    Most adventure stories of explorers and intrepid types are confined to heros rather than heroines of times gone by. Though there were many courageous, quirky and down right fearless women who ventured beyond the well trodden path. So here’s a small but heart felt tribute to some of them – our top 3 favourites chosen by the team here at Millican HQ.

    1. Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922) was the pen name of American journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane. As a ground-breaking reporter, she became known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days, in emulation of Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg. Having met Jules Verne in France, he challenged her to beat his proposed “80 days around the world”, and she succeeded. Nice bag too…

    Nellie Bly – a publicity photo to promote her round the world adventure

    2. Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky (1870–1947) was the first woman to cycle around the world. A free-thinking young woman, she reinvented herself as the daring “Annie Londonderry”, and later became an entrepreneur, athlete, and globetrotter. The 25 year old mother of three headed out on her journey around the world on her bike in 1895. Despite never having ridden a bike before, Annie jumped on a challenge to cycle around the world in 15 months and earn $5,000. It deserves mentioning that her bike didn’t have any brakes – that’s a lot of shoe leather.

    Annie Londonderry

    3. Kira Salak won the PEN Award for journalism for her reporting on the war in Congo. Having appeared five times in Best American Travel Writing she has also been dubbed by The New York Times as a “real life Lara Croft”. A National Geographic Emerging Explorer and contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine, she was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea and the first person to kayak solo 600 miles to Timbuktu.

    Kira in Mali

    Fascinating and inspiring stuff. All women with fire in their bellies, who believed in themselves and would no doubt all have agreed with Nellie Bly’s quote “Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything“.

    Do the women in your life deserve something more adventurous than flowers this Mother’s Day?

    Shop our Mother’s Day collection and get a free Travelogue travel journal when you spend £75+

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  • Tuesday, March 4, 2014

    Low-carbon lunches

    It’s Climate Week this week (3rd – 9th March). Climate Week is an annual campaign that’s all about re-energising our collective ambition to combat climate change as part of a global community.

    That means assessing our own lives, our own workplaces – the real deal of what we’re all doing to help. It means reminding ourselves of the things we already know we should be doing.

    So, what can we all do?

    As a business, we’re on an open and challenging journey as we strive for sustainability in everything we do. It’s a constant learning curve, that brings together our material choices, the way we work with our producers, our office politics and of course our own everyday lives too. Alongside our work, as a team we also try to retain a focus on the small changes that we all can try to make in everyday life. Those little differences that can eventually roll into big ones.

    It’s Climate Week, and this Wednesday, lent begins. So we thought we’d share one of the policies we have as a team here at Millican HQ –  one that we feel everyone can share in the lead up to Easter, and beyond. We call it Low-Carbon Lunches.

    How does it work? As a team, our rule is to minimise the packaging and food miles that go into our everyday lunches right here in the office. We try to revolve our working days around trips to Keswick market with our re-used bags in tow. We take the time to make soup and sandwiches at home, or together in the office kitchen.

    Low-Carbon lunches make us think more carefully about what we’re eating, talk more about where it comes from, and relish every mouthful. Low Carbon Lunches give our working days a natural work/life balance – we always stop for lunch, and we always feel great for it.

    Fancy joining us for lent, and hopefully beyond?

    We’ll post as many pics as we can (it’s high time we got better at snapping our life in the office) and we hope you’ll share yours too.

    Let’s champion the small changes with #Lowcarbonlunches


    Keswick market


    Cakes at Keswick market


    Fresh Cauliflower

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  • Monday, March 3, 2014

    Land Keepers

    We are lucky to be part of a special rural community here in the Lake District. Jorrit and Nicky recently attended the opening of an inspirational exhibition in Grasmere, not far from Millican HQ, run by two local friends.

    Land Keepers is a project created by Rob and Harriet Fraser – two talented artists – a photographer and a writer (among other exciting things). Combining imagery and words to convey the lives of Cumbria’s upland farmers, their exhibition tells an intriguing and important story – incorporating insight and ideas from local organisations, and local people, to convey the reality of hill farming in our spectacular region.

    We think that in Climate Week, this story is a great source of inspiration that connects people and planet – helping us understand the important role that farmers play not only in food production, but in our global efforts toward sustainability.

    So, we decided to share the inspiration and catch up with Rob Fraser for a fascinating Q&A. (All images: Copyright rob fraser/landkeepers.co.uk)

    Keswick Tup Fair 2013 – hands under chin

    Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourselves  – and your unique creative partnership?

    I have been a photographer for 30 years and a freelance location specialist since 1990. During that time I have worked on commissions all over the world for architectural, advertising, corporate and editorial clients. I moved to the Lake District a decade ago and now split my time between working for clients, undertaking photo-art projects and working with schools and community groups. I met Harriet four years ago at a party in Ambleside and very soon we were living together – we married two years ago on the shores of Wastwater, a very special day, but we forgot to get any pictures of the occasion and had to go back a week later to get some photographs of us by the lake in our finery.

    Harriet has been a professional writer for the past 20 years. She was the youngest ever writer for Rough Guides and was one of the contributors to the first guide to India. She also wrote the guide for the north of England. Having children in the late nineties stopped the travel writing and she switched to writing about issues of pregnancy and child-care and has written a number of influential books on the subject.

    Since our meeting we have started working together and formed a collaborative called somewhere nowhere two years ago. We both love being outdoors, immersed in the natural landscape, be it in the mountains, woodlands or on the coast. Somewhere nowhere was set up to celebrate the value of the landscape and the people that are connected to it. Sometimes nature is at the fore; sometimes it’s human effort, endurance and vision that grabs our attention.

    So how did Land Keepers come about – what inspired you?

    Seven years ago I was commissioned to shoot a series of images of a Cumbrian stone barn. Invariably I got chatting to the farmer who owned the barn I was photographing. He would hang over the gate telling me about what it was like to work the fells and I would spend about 20 minutes making the pictures and two hours listening to him.

    It became clear that these people had such a great set of stories to tell, but, not being a writer, I couldn’t move the project idea forwards. Fast-forward a few years to me and Harriet getting together: it seemed like the perfect opportunity to re-visit the project and Land Keepers was born.

    Initially we put together a pilot exhibition at the Cylinders Estate in Elterwater – where the famed Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn sits in the woods – which was very well received. We then set out to find funding for an 18-month project and got all the backing we needed within four months.

    It became clear that it was a good time to be looking at the culture of hill farming and a lot of organisations were keen to find out what we could discover and how we, as complete ‘outsiders’, would choose to present our findings.

    Tell us a little about the research that’s gone into this project, and your approach to recording your subjects. 

    We have now spent two years during the documentary phase of the project and have met with and interviewed 30 hill farmers spread out across Cumbria.

    We have also been to auctions, numerous shows and even an abattoir as part of the project. We have been out on the fells to help gather in the flock in all types of weather (perhaps the most magical aspect of the project), helped with scanning, lambing, clouting (sewing a chastity belt onto a young ewe – honestly), walling and shearing.

    Joe Richardson

    As well as the farmers, we also met with representatives of organisations that have a key role to play in the management of the Cumbrian uplands: Natural England, Lake District National Park Authority, National Trust, United Utilities, RSPB and Federation of Cumbria Commoners amongst many others.

    Our conversations with all these people have given us a fairly unique perspective on how the land is managed and the pressures on the landscape to provide us with so much more than just food production, such as carbon storage, clean water, biodiversity, leisure access and, many would argue, spiritual well-being. It seems that everyone is trying to find a way to balance the asks on the land, although it is proving an elusive quest.

    Each and every person we have met with, I have photographed them in monochrome using an old-fashioned, cloth-over-the-head, large format plate camera. It is an event camera, one that encourages the subject to stand and look directly into the lens and therefore at the viewer when presented as a photograph. It was a deliberate choice to use this camera, as I wanted to slow down the process of shooting them and then only shoot four images of each. I am really pleased with the results. Although the prints have a timeless feel, they still capture the essence of the people that are working this land right now.

    We have followed four farmers more closely throughout the seasons and I have had a great time photographing them candidly as they go about their work.

    The Bland Family

    Why is this project about more than photography?

    It is a case of the sum of the parts, photography and writing, being greater than the individual skills. Our work compliments each other and helps tell the story of hill farming as it is now and the challenges that lie ahead for the culture.

    At the start we may have felt that this would be a ‘nice’ project to work on, but we quickly discovered that there is a great deal of politics swirling around the hills at the moment. Farmers get paid under stewardship schemes to manage the land and increasingly they are being required to lower sheep stocking levels under the terms of these schemes. Many farmers are worried that the numbers are dropping too far, too fast and could jeopardise the whole system of managing a flock in a viable way. They acknowledge that they could not survive without the stewardship payments, yet are apprehensive about the future of their culture. “I don’t get up in the morning to think about storing carbon,’ one farmer wryly quipped to us.

    As well as comprehensive documentary pieces that talk of the balance, how the meat is produced and our process in producing the project Harriet has also included some beautiful and compelling word-art pieces that perfectly tell of our relationship with the land.

    Perhaps her most evocative piece of writing, however, is a poem simply titled ‘Michael’. We spent a wonderful day walling with Anthony Hartley last summer in the Duddon Valley, together with two of his workers, Andrew Birkett and Michael Longworth. At the end of the day, over a cup of tea in his kitchen, Anthony told us that Michael was moving to Derbyshire to take up a tenancy of farm there as he could not secure one in Cumbria. Although this move has been positive and Michael has embraced the change, Anthony was saddened that a young guy has left the region, taking all his knowledge, skills and passion for the culture with him (read the poem below).

    We have published a 48-page booklet on the back of the project that, as well as showing lots of pretty pictures, gives, through Harriet’s writing, a concise overview of what we have found out about over the two years.

    Anthony Hartley (left) walling with Michael Longworth at Turner Hall Farm

    Of all the images and stories you’ve collected, is there one (or a few) that is most powerful to you?

    Aside from the images taken of Anthony and Michael walling, perhaps the most powerful set of images I produced were those taken on a gather below Helvellyn last April with farmer and champion fell runner, Gavin Bland. The snow line was quite low and we spent several hours beetling around the 700-metre line flushing out the swaledale and herdwick sheep for a neighbouring farmer in Patterdale.

    Gavin Bland gathering in the snow

    I’m a trekking guide and have spent many years walking in the mountains, but this was probably the most extreme day I have spent in the Cumbrian hills. We dropped onto and crossed numerous snow-filled gullies with no winter gear: no ice axes, ropes or crampons. On a normal winters walk I wouldn’t have dreamed of going where we went, but this wasn’t a normal walk – we were there to gather in the sheep for lambing. What made it worse was the fact that I forgot to take any food and I ran out of energy trying to keep up with Gavin. Still, it was a brilliant day out in the hills and one I will never forget.

    Besides that particularly memorable day there have been lots of instances where I have had to pinch myself, because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be doing this project.

    And what do you think is the most important thing we can learn from Land Keepers?

    The most important thing is not to lose sight of the fact that this land has been managed in much the same way for over a thousand years. The Cumbrian fells are not a wilderness landscape and look the way they do because of the culture of hill farming, not in spite of it.

    Farmers have quiet voices and are a fairly disparate group spread out in small valleys across this crumpled land. They are proud of what they do and are passionate about their stock and their place in the land, yet do not court publicity.

    If nothing else we hope that Land Keepers gives a strong voice to them, as well as reveal the wider issues that are affecting the land.

    Biodiversity, water quality, tree cover, carbon storage are all important, but then so is the culture that has hand-made this landscape over countless generations. It is imperative that the balance – when found – includes a viable place for shepherds.

    So the exhibition continues – where can our readers see it?

    The exhibition actually continues til May 10th at The Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere before heading to other locations in Cumbria, including Sizergh Barn, near Kendal from July to September. In November we have been asked to exhibit at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

    We love sharing insider tips from our friends here in the Lake District. Can you share a favourite place, or a must-visit location for our readers? 

    I love walking in some of the quieter valleys, but then doesn’t everyone. Two particular favourite places are Langstrath, near Seathwite in Borrowdale and Martindale to the east of Ullswater. And I have a particular fondness for the small peak called Helm Crag that sits over the village of Grasmere. I have been up it more times than any other hill in the lakes and still don’t tire of the hike up it.

    On the south-eastern edge of the National Park is Whitbarrow Scar. A brilliant limestone pavement area that has a very different feel to anywhere else in the Lakes and a great place to get 360-degree panoramic views from. I’m unsure about telling too many people about it though as I would like it to remain quiet.

    Thanks Rob and Harriet for sharing your work. Readers, come back soon to find out about another of Rob’s projects – I, Porter – and find out why Jorrit is busily adapting an old rucksack for Rob to carry on a 17-day trek to Everest Base Camp via the high and tricky Cho La pass.

    In the meantime, here’s a highlight from Harriet’s written work as part of the Land Keepers project. 

    ‘Michael’ – a poem by Harriet Fraser

    ‘There’s not many who ken the sheep like Michael does.’

    On the hill that Summer’s day, grey cloud hung low

                                                                                            like a lid.

    Under foot, wet grass, bracken, and tormentil standing in for sun.

    We passed Low Bridge Beck and Shepherd Gill,

    Walked beneath broad bog patches and Dawson Pike,

    Tracing the wall, holding the line between intake and fell.


    We looked back along Duddon Valley, over Turner Hall,

    Onto a land of crag, fells, screes, tarns, trees and sky,

    Onto distant ridges of England’s highest crumbs of earth,

    Across trails shadowed by shepherds, for generations,

    While above, two ravens, silhouettes, soared.


    Michael’s hands raised rocks as big as lambs, and heavier.

    As stones were lifted, passed and teased into spaces,

    And boulders hauled from the chill flow of a beck,

    Gentle banter and laughter, like moss on rock, formed

    around the edges of this symphony of work.


    These walls, land’s bones borrowed and stitched by man,

    May stand, unchanged, for a century. But on a farm this size

    There are always gaps, forced by unforgiving rains and snow.

    Today two hundred stones are fetched, fitted, back in place,

    Two gaps, three men, one rhythm.


    Now the valley has a gap                         a man gone, a rare breed.

    There’s that many, says Anthony, raising four fingers of a weather-worn hand,

    That many young ones in Cumbria who could take over a farm.

    But now he’s gone. How will you find another like that?


    Copyright: Harriet Fraser/landkeepers.co.uk

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