Categories
Retro gaming

Getting to RMC The Cave without a car

I live near to the most amazing retro gaming museum called RMC The Cave, which just happens to be in my hometown in Gloucestershire.

So if you’re planning a visit to The Cave, and you’d like to get there without a car, this is the info for you. I’ll keep it up to date with any bus/path changes. Please let me know if you spot any mistakes.

Last updated: 18 July 2022

By bus from Stroud

It’s not difficult to get to the cave by bus, but Stroud doesn’t have the public transport infrastructure that a city has, so there’s a bit more local knowledge needed. Don’t worry I’ve got you.

The Stagecoach 67 bus will take you most of the way to the cave, but there is still a ~22 ish minute walk from the closest bus stop to The Cave.

A day rider will cost you £3.80.

Where the 67 bus stops outside Lloyds back in Stroud.
The 67 bus stop outside Lloyds bank in Stroud

The bus stop you need is outside Lloyds bank in Stroud, which is ~3 minute walk from the train station. There’s also a taxi rank next to the bus stop if you get stuck.

The buses are every 30 minutes, there may be timetable differences on Sundays.

You might want to download the Stagecoach app for the live map and bus times. Also, since Covid there have been some regular bus cancelations, so you might want to keep an eye on the Stagecoach West Twitter account too. (As cancellations are not listed in the app).

How to get there

You’ll need to get off at Bourne Estate or Toadsmoor Road stop in Brimscombe. It’ll take about 10 minutes on the bus to get there.

Ring the bell when you see the sign for Felt Cafe (or watch for when you approach the cafe on a map app). There are no screens on the bus to say where you are and there are only paper timetables on the stops.

The bus route in blue and the walk route in orange. View the map in detail.

From here you have two options for walking (~22 minutes)

  1. Walk along the road to Chalford industrial estate (the traffic is a bit fast, and you will need to cross the road back and forth for a pavement, so sorry about that).
  2. See some lovely Stroud greenery and go along the canal tow path. To do this cross the road and follow the tow path going left past the bike shop. It could be a bit muddy and bumpy in wet weather, but you’ll have a beautiful, natural walk to the cave along between the canal and River Frome. You’ll pass through two tunnels, and there are two series of steps to go up/down.
The towpath to The Cave by the Felt Cafe
The towpath to The Cave by the Felt Cafe

Towpath partial closure

They’ve closed about 100m of the towpath temporarily this summer for redevelopment. If you’ve gotten off the bus by Felt Cafe, When you reach the blocked off area, follow the road under a very large tunnel, then take the steps on the right hand side (after the tunnel) to get back to road level.

Follow the road here until you can see the Pavilion (Indian Restaurant), opposite this there is a railway crossing to get back on the towpath.

The side of Belvedere mill witha Heber sign
The Cave is on the top floor of this mill, follow The Cave signs.

The Cave will be on your right hand side (after a 20 min walk) once you emerge from the path. Follow the signs for the right entrance to use.

Getting back

The best bus stop to return from is on the same side as Felt Cafe, you’ll need to continue walking past the cafe (towards the garage) to see it. Check that the 67 bus stops there and use the live map to check you’re in the right place. Your day rider ticket will take you back to town.

The bus stop outside the old Peacocks shop.
This is the best place to get off for the train station – just before the post office.

Get off the bus outside Peacocks to be near the train station, failing that the next stop is at the bottom of Merrywalks (but you’ll need to walk back up the hill to get to the train station).

By Bike

The road is faster, but it’s not a very pleasant road to cycle on due to traffic speed, narrowness and people overtaking you closely.

A map of the Stroud area showing the two bike routes to the cave.
The towpath route is shown in pink, and the road in green. View the map in detail.

Road

The road surface is fine, it’s a little bumpy in places. The speed limits vary from 40-60mph. It takes about 20 minutes, but it’s not a very pleasant road to cycle on due to traffic speed, narrowness and people overtaking you closely.

Please note in winter or on late nights, there is very little streetlight from Chalford to Brimscombe and you will need a decent set of lights to see the bumps in the road.

There is a steady gradient uphill for the last mile or so but I’d describe it as a nice, gentle hill (for Stroud).

Towpath

It takes me about 25 minutes to cycle to The Cave from Stroud along the towpath, it’s about 4 miles (depends on your speed).

The towpath entrance that you need next to some lock gates.
The entrance to the towpath at Wallbridge, Stroud

For the towpath find the lock gate at Wallbridge (down from the Lockkeepers Cafe), after about 5 minutes you’ll eventually reach a crossroads (after a tunnel) with a signpost, follow the sign up to the right to Brimscombe, and follow the road along for a short distance to get back on the towpath.

Towpath partial closure


They’ve closed about 100m of the towpath temporarily this summer for redevelopment. So at the moment it might be best to cycle on the road from the crossroads at Brimscombe lane. Otherwise you’ll need to carry your bike through a couple gates and some steps on the towpath (follow the walk instructions above. The pavements on the road are narrow and very, very bumpy and unpleasant to cycle on, but that’s another option.

It’s a shared used path so please be sensible when it comes to speed and be kind to others. There are two spots that will require you to carry your bike up/down stairs. One of these has a step free route (but one) right by the cave does now.

I would not recommend cycling on the towpath in the dark, there are large stretches with no lights at all. The surface is very bumpy and rough in places (it starts off very tidy) so it’s not suitable for road bike tyres.

Feedback

Hope that helps, please let me know if there are any updates or if you have any issues.

Categories
Sustainability

How our heat pump installation went

Following on from my last blog post about how we researched our heat pump. We’ve just finished having the unit, new equipment, electrics and plumbing done. Our home has been upgraded with a heat pump.

It’s exciting to finally have one in our garden after months of researching it. There’s lots of information online about how heat pumps work but not quite so much on how the install goes and what’s involved in that step by step. So here’s a breakdown to everything that happened and what to expect.

How it went

This is just my experience of installation, your home and therefore your setup and experience may be entirely different, but I really wanted to provide a bit more detail around what actually happened on each of the days.

We worked from home for the duration of the project. There was loud drilling and sawing for short periods of time on each day. Mostly because new pipes and power lines were drilled from the external house wall into our boiler cupboard area and near the fusebox.

The workmen worked quickly, put protective sheets down on our carpets, took off their shoes and made sure our indoor cats didn’t escape!

We had a really positive experience with the installation overall.

What to expect

  • We were advised there would be 5 days for work, but it ended up taking 6 (as the electrician wasn’t available to wrap up the project until the following week)
  • We were without hot water for around 3 days. This was while the old water storage tank was removed and the new tank (with immersion heater) was installed
  • We had about a half day without cold water while our old water storage tanks in the attic were removed and new water storage and expanders were installed
  • We were without heating for the duration of the project (for about a month beforehand due to boiler breaking) but if this wasn’t the case, we would have been without heating for 8 days, basically from the moment the installation started (with everything disconnected) to the moment the electrician commissioned the heatpump
  • There was no power in our home for about 2 hours in total on the final day while the heat pump was made live with the fuse box and other electrical work in the old boiler cupboard was done.

How to prepare for heat pump installation

We weren’t given any instructions for what to do to prepare our house, so this is what I’d suggest to do before your installer arrives.

  • Inform your neighbours ahead of time about the noise and roughly when you’ll complete, especially if you have any party walls
  • Completely empty your boiler cupboard, removing all shelving and any other objects, so only the plumbed units and electrical controls are in there with no other clutter
  • Clear the room around where your new tanks and plumbing will be (in our case the boiler cupboard), the installers had a lot of equipment and they’ll need somewhere to leave their equipment each night
  • Make clear space around where your current water storage is, or make your attic accessible as best you can as they’ll need space to work and remove these if applicable
  • Make space in the garden for all the equipment, pipes and boxes that need to be delivered and obviously, clear where the heat pump needs to go.

Day 1

Old boiler and tank is removed, showing the empty cupboard where they both were
Felt good to get rid of that old boiler and tank, also here’s the empty cupboard where they lived.
  • Delivery of items for install (including 200 litre water cylinder, 8kW Midea heat pump, 5x radiators, 1x towel radiator among many other things)
  • Removal of immersion heater, old boiler, and two old water storage tanks
  • Prepping the cupboard for the cylinder (new, stronger floor needed)
  • Placement of cylinder in cupboard
  • Removal of old pipes
  • Loss and restoration of cold water
  • Loss of hot water
  • Recycling of old tanks and boiler

Day 2

  • Removal of old radiators
  • Hanging new (larger) radiators
  • Plumbing in cylinder, adding extra stop valves
  • Installing most of the items in the old boiler cupboard
  • Putting the heat pump unit in place
  • Deciding on plumbing and wiring routes for heat pump
  • Recycling of old radiators

Day 3

You can see the water tank, expanders (white for cold water, red for hot water) the diverter at the top and the black magnetic filter on the right.
  • Hanging last radiator
  • Soldering all the new radiator connections
  • Drilling three holes into the external wall for the heat pump connections
  • Placing and soldering pipe route from outside of house into old boiler cupboard
  • Restoration of hot water (from new immersion heater)

Day 4

It’s important to have some space around all sides of the heat pump, this shows it quite well.
  • Moving our outdoor tap
  • Putting feet on the pump to give it clearance on our drain
  • Unboxing pump and placing it in our garden
  • Finishing external pipework and connecting to heat pump
  • System pressurised and air removed by bleeding radiators

Day 5 (half day)

Ready for the electrician to start.
  • Filling in old flue hole
  • Clearing rooms of tools and mess
  • Adding lagging (foam wrapping) to internal and external pipes
  • Registering our new water tank

Day 6 (half day)

  • Electrician visit – drilled holes for power wires to heat pump
  • Connected heat pump to home, from line to fuse box
  • Added an outside isolator switch
  • Added meter to calculate electricity usage just for heat pump
  • Wired in internal controls for heat pump and immersion heater
  • Installed Midea heat pump internal control and Honeywell wireless thermostat and receiver
  • Loss of about power for about two hours total on and off (with warning)
  • Commissioning of system and showing us how to use our three control panels (heat pump, thermostat, immersion heater)
  • Handover of manuals etc.

Wrapping up

So all in all it was a really positive experience and I am looking forward to how our system does in its first year. I’ll be collecting lots of data as I go to compare how the heat pump does to our old gas boiler.

Next time: initial impressions from our first few weeks with a heat pump and what it feels and sounds like inside and outside the house. Plus some starting impressions of how it’s managing heating our water and home.

Categories
Video games

Knuckles knock out special scans – for Sonic The Comic fans

I’m a huge fan of the UK Sonic the Comic, and I’ve been enjoying Sonic the Comic the podcast a lot too.

That said it’s been incredibly difficult to find a scan of the Knuckles knockout special (which I was not fortunate enough to own as a child).

People on Ebay are charging way too much for this special edition comic, so here are the scans of a copy I recently acquired for every Sonic fan to enjoy. Download links are below too.

Categories
Sustainability

How to find out more about getting a heat pump

We’re getting an air source heat pump installed at the moment. It’s something that we’ve been thinking about doing for about a year now but when our ancient boiler finally died this spring we decided to make the leap to heating our home in a cleaner way.

The main thing that put me off doing it sooner was the vast amount of unknowns about what heating with a heat pump would actually mean in practice. So I want to use this as an opportunity to learn as I go and crucially pass on what I’ve learnt to others who are heat pump curious.

I want to know all the little things that matters day to day, like what it looks and sounds like, how you service it, and what the controls are like and how long it takes to get used to the different way of heating your home.


My information is UK-centric, but those of you outside of the UK may still get some benefit.

I’m not going to talk about how heat pumps work because there’s plenty of other advice about this online.

Aren’t heat pumps expensive?

Well, yes they are. Ours is going to cost about £12,000, but at time of install we get £5,000 up front in subsidies from the UK Government for not choosing another gas boiler. This is organised through our installer.

To look at it another way though. I work from home now, as I have a fully remote job I never go to an office. So the largest part of my carbon footprint is now heating my home. Previously my rail season ticket was about £3,300 a year (not including price increases), so two years of not travelling by train has paid for our heat pump.

What an indictment on the state of the British rail network…

Ground source heat pumps cost more, and need a big garden or space around the property to dig down into which we do not have. So I can only share my experience with an air to water heat pump.

What are the benefits?

I’m doing this to reduce my carbon footprint. The upgrade we’re going for makes more economic sense for someone not on mains gas.

We’ve been advised that our monthly energy costs should be comparable to our old gas boiler. Electricity usage is more expensive than gas in the UK, but the heat pump generates up to 3 times the energy for the amount of energy used to create it. So it should work out about the same, or slightly less than what we pay now. I used to work for two green energy companies and doing the maths, this checks out. It will be more expensive than quoted, but this is because the energy prices are going up so much generally.

Given the economics of the world too, I’m primarily also doing this to reduce my gas usage. It will reduce the local pollution in our area. Plus more electricity and a greener grid is key to energy independence.

Energy prices are only going to go up from here on in as prices in the UK are tied to the energy price cap which is due to go up this autumn, so it’s going to be harder for me to measure the financial benefits in the short term, but I’ll collect all the data I can.

Some stats about our home (pre heat pump)

How well a heat pump works is based on your home and things like its physical footprint, how big it is, the number of rooms you have and how much heat loss you have.

  • Victorian semi-detached property with a small modern extension
  • 3 bedrooms
  • Energy rating D (with potential to be B)
  • Powered by green energy supplier
  • 6 radiators in the house
  • Done all the easy insulation we can do, we have some insulated floors and split bedroom/attic roof insulation that needs upgrading
  • No underfloor heating
  • 75 square meters of floor space over three floors
  • Our house has rising damp (which is common for something built around 1891). It’s been treated, but something we have to balance when improving insulation more
  • We have a wood burner as backup heating, although this is used sparingly due to local pollution
  • Our average electricity usage in a year is 2,861 kWh and our gas is 12,409 kWh
  • Normally have our heating on from end of September to March, we don’t have our heating on overnight and have our thermostat at 19 degrees when we do.

What are the steps for getting started?

  • Find an MCS accredited installer – this is important for making sure that the correct steps are followed for both assessing the suitability of your home and handling the commissioning and eligibility for the boiler upgrade scheme (which gives you £5,000 towards a heat pump, paid directly to your installer)
  • Get a suitability assessment booked in, this is where representatives from your installer visit your home, measure your rooms and your radiators and look as your current plumbing and heating and complete a form that will form the basis for your quote. From this they’ll work out what capacity heat pump your home needs, and what if anything (such as radiators) need upgrading. They’ll need details from you like where your energy meters are, where your fuse box is, where your boiler is currently sited, where your cold water tanks are etc
  • They’ll also measure the space where you intend to place your heat pump. For air source you need more space than you think – over a meter wide and two meters clear space in front. There can’t be anything blocking the air flow. We had a small wall that had to be removed for example. They’ll let you know about the feasible spots for your heat pump unit, and where your water tank should go – normally in the location where your boiler was
  • You’ll also need a new Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) created. You may already have one if your home has any other green tech installed, or if it’s been put on the market in the past two years. Otherwise you’ll need a separate, independent assessor to come to your home to assess how your home is currently heated, what insulation you have, and what your likely heat loss is. An EPC is a requirement for proof of eligibility for the boiler upgrade scheme
  • Both of these checks take about an hour each, and are organised through your chosen installer. It’ll cost about £150-£200 although many installers seem to deduct this from the overall bill if you do decide to go ahead
  • Get a few different quotes and compare their advice and prices, ask lots of questions. It’s a lot of money to spend on something that’s still quite a new idea for a lot of people
  • Once you have a quote, you should an an estimation of your energy costs/usage, and your expected stats, including your Coefficient of Performance (COP) and Seasonal Performance Factor (SPF). Basically how efficiently your system could work in your home at its best and at different times of the year
  • Visit a heat pump – if you’ve not actually seen one, they’re rather like an outside air conditioning unit that works in reverse. I didn’t know anyone else with one, but it would be good to get an idea of their size and what they sound like. I didn’t have this option sadly.

What are some of the pitfalls?

  • Don’t you need underfloor heating? Some homes might, but our small little victorian semi should be toasty enough with upgraded radiators
  • Don’t you need to be fully insulated? Yes, but you should really be with gas as well and many homes are not. This is something we’ll have to improve more as we go
  • It may take more time – depends on ow busy your installer is but in theory we could have gone from about a month from initial enquiry to install
  • Prices for running a heat pump are going up but then the costs for heating are going up across the board. I’m hoping this will make our home more resilient to this in the longer term
  • They people say don’t heat as well, this may be subjective, it uses slower ambient heat, either way I will be a good test subject because I run cold and really prefer warmer weather
  • Refrigerant is needed for heating to work, but arguably has less impact and no air pollution fumes when compared to something like gas or oil
  • Heat pumps are more hands on than gas, requiring you to monitor how it’s working, optimise and improve things as you go. I find this sort of thing fascinating, but others may not
  • There are fewer people to service and help when things go wrong but this is something that should improve over time.

Heat pumps require some behaviour change

Heat pumps use ambient heat, which means setting the temperature for it to come on and leaving it on (even overnight) rather than boosting up the heating as and when you need it. The carbon cost is a lot lower than having the heating on and off as with gas, but that is going to take some getting used to. I’m so used to turning something off when it’s not needed, but that’s simply going to make the heat pump less efficient at what it does.

Some people say heat pumps don’t heat as well, but they heat your home different to something like oil and gas, you can’t boost the temperature up really quickly, and that leads people to say they’re not as warm, when it simply works differently, and takes some adjustment.

They make some noise outside so it’s worth having a chat to your neighbours about it, but this should only be an issue in the winter when it’s working harder. It’ll be quieter than the road at the back of our house at up to 35 decibels. I am looking forward to hearing this in the real world.

Our planned system

  • Midea 8kw air source heat pump using R32 refrigerant
  • 200L water cylinder (with immersion heater)
  • All but one of our radiators are being upgraded, one is being reused in one of our smaller rooms
  • Old boiler will be taken away and recycled, as will some of the old piping, and supply to boiler will be capped off (as we still have a gas hob to cook on)
  • Coefficient of Performance (COP) estimated at 3.67 (average)
  • Electricity usage total estimated at 4,605 kWh (heating and hot water)
  • Installation will take about 5 days

What could I improve in the future?

This heat pump itself will last about 20 years, and I expect the costs will come down over time, a new unit will be much cheaper by the time we need one again, and the pipework, electrics and radiators will already be upgraded for this purpose by our initial install.

Heat pumps don’t improve your rating on your EPC rating as far as I can tell which seems a bit of an oversight, but clearly they do improve the energy impact of your home, so I hope this will be addressed.

There are no heat pump tariffs in the UK at the moment. Seems to me that we should be charging people less for electricity and more for gas due to its lower carbon cost. Some suppliers are trialing heat pump specific tariffs in the UK, and there are smart tariffs (which charge you less when there’s less strain on the grid). Reducing the unit rates for electricity or having cheaper rates to use in the summer would encourage more people to make the leap.

Retrofitting insulation – our EPC advises that we could improve our energy rating by at least one letter by looking at this. it’s on the list, but is potentially more expensive than the heat pump and more intrusive in terms of the work needed (scaffolding etc) and changes the outside appearance of our house. We have few cavity walls in our home, so this or internal insulation are our only options I believe.

We might consider putting some solar panels on the roof, but we don’t have a lot of feasible roof space that would make this viable, however it’s more of an appealing prospect with a heat pump (we’d use it primarily to heat water).

We will remove our gas hob in the future, as we’ll only be paying the standing charge for gas to cook with (we have an electric oven).

Next time

What happens during installation, and more pictures.

Categories
Site updates

Pioneer Project, 9 years later with a new focus

I’m very touched that a handful of people and some good friends reached out in the past year to say how much they missed Pioneer Project and if it’s something that I’d be interested in updating again.

It’s been nine years since I last wrote something here, and five since I parked writing about chronic illness, so it’s time for a bit of a life update.

This used to be a website about video game lore and analysis, and it still is… kind of. I’m going to be expanding my focus for this site to include user experience topics (that I sort of did before with games) and sustainability topics.

I think it’s really important that I try to explain how I can be kind to the planet, enjoy video games and be a digital designer, it’s all a bit of a contradiction, but something I hope to explore here.

So here’s what’s happened in my life since 2013 (in no particular order).


Studying Japanese as a second language

I’ve been studying Japanese daily for around six years now. With a focus on reading. I’m entering the beginner/intermediate stage. I keep a paper diary in Japanese and I’ve started playing games in Japanese too. Here’s a list of the Japanese resources I use.

I started Japanese after travelling to Japan twice. It’s been so rewarding to understand Japanese media in the original language used. I’ve enjoyed playing Final Fantasy VII, Shenmue and the original Legend of Zelda in Japanese and I hope to start branching out to games like 僕の夏休み for Japanese language practice. Something I hope to talk about more as it’s amazing how much of the personality of characters are lost during localisation, it’s nice to take games apart – back to their original contexts.

Diagnosis with fibromyalgia & pain management

A pavement bordered on each side by trees.

I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia around my birthday in 2017. I’ve no doubt developed it since I’ve lived with endometriosis for so long and it’s started to put my body on red alert when it comes to pain. So since then life has meant living with whole body pain, and its knock on to gaming is that I now have a lot of hand pain.

This has meant I use the accessibility modes in games now and I rely on them in some cases as I have a motor impairment when it comes to holding buttons for a long time, or pressing the same button or trigger repeatedly or very quickly. I’ve actually had to give up some games for this reason so I might talk about that some more.

I manage my daily pain levels by using exercise and pain management. I still only use a bicycle as a method of transport and since 2020 I’ve started running, and I now run 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) a week for pain relief.

Career changes – from digital project management to user experience

A tabby cat and a black and white cat curled up next to each other on a sofa.
These two are awesome coworkers and always give me positive feedback.

I worked in digital project management for many years, and for around the last five or so I’ve pivoted to user experience. I now work as a UX/UI designer creating designs for websites and apps. As a key part of that I run user research and usability testing on digital products to understand the problems that people have with using them and use this data to make them easier to use.

I dipped into the user experience of games a little bit on the previous version of this site, so it’s something I hope to do a bit more now I do something similar for a living.

I also work from home on a permanent basis and because I am in a comfortable working location I have a great quality of life when it comes to working with pain, so that’s freed up a bit of time for writing again.

Climate activism following my family’s trauma

A map of Dominica behind the prisoner George Alagiah on BBC News.
This wasn’t a nice thing to see, our tiny home island as the top headline on BBC news.

In 2017 Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Dominica. As a mixed-race person this is where the majority of my family live, and we had a heart-wrenching two weeks of not knowing whether or not all our family were alive or not. Hours spent making lists of where we thought friends and family might be, listening to reports from ham radio. Sleepless nights and sickness from worry.

The most disturbing thing was the silence online. All infrastructure was broken, no mobile networks, no internet, no power, no water, no airports, no post, no working ports, no shops, no banks, no hospitals. Nothing online, nothing on social media, nothing on the news (past the first reports it happened).

With no wowing social media videos to share the worlds media quickly moved on, and Dominica was dark from space. It was awful. Even when we found out they were alive, there were long weeks for them without fresh water and food, the risk of disease, the stench of trapped dead bodies.

It’s taken years to get things back to where they were. Even now things aren’t normal, many are still rebuilding, and as I spent days on the phone trying to migrate my family to other, safer islands I thought about the risk of these sort of hurricanes becoming stronger and more furious. People in the Caribbean can normally do hurricanes in their sleep, but how much longer will it be until these island nations are made inhabitable?

I’ve always been climate-focused. However three years ago I started actively getting involved in climate activism and protests. Since then I’ve protested at COP26 in Glasgow, at G7 in Cornwall and up and down the UK. I’ve done literally everything I can to open people’s eyes to impact of our lives on those in the global south.

Personally as well to further improve. I’ve become zero waste (nothing sent to landfill) and I’m a lifetime member of the vegan society. Coincidentally both of these ideals are not too dissimilar to how my family originally lived in poverty in the Caribbean (only one or two generations ago).

Turns out I like horror movies, who knew

Seven knitted pumpkins in green and orange.

To conclude on a happier note. I’ve developed quite an interest in horror films. In fact in a way those films shielded me a little from the real-life horrors my family experienced first hand, they were a comfort and cathartic in a way.

Horror fans remain the nicest, and sweetest community of people that I’ve come to know. This is a fairly new hobby for me, but I’ve since attended Frightfest in London twice, and I regularly watch new and classic horror. My favourite sub genres are folk horror and ghost stories. You can read about what I am watching on Letterboxd if you’re interested.

Back to Pioneer Project

So that’s a nice summary of the last few years (not including things like Covid and lockdown). Hopefully you’ll still find the new direction of this site interesting, bear with me while I find my groove again. I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.