The week before last week, as the Christmas holidays petered out, I picked up, from a local charity shop, Slow Coast Home by Josie Dew.

Humorous travel books are pretty much a genre in their own right and I do own a fair number of them. Consequently I was a touch surprised not to have heard of the author, who has a number of books to her name. Even more so as she seems to be quite well known, particularly in cycling circles; certainly in the book people keep recognising her. I’m currently about a third of the way through it, although on the page Josie hasn’t got very far in her journey around the British coast.

Whilst on a visit to a wartime museum in the Channel Islands she writes of a display including some rather patronising instructions to housewives on the timings for Hay Box Cookery. Although plainly something culinary I had no idea what this actually was. But by astounding coincidence the same day that I’d read that, I bought this book, purely because of the look of it’s cover and the fact that it was in practically mint condition.


The 1958 second print of a 1953 book by Jack Cox, “Editor of Boy’s Own Paper”, Camping For All is an absolute hoot. A good deal of it reads as being very Cholmondley-Warner , but there are some things of interest, both historically and for those who like to camp in a rather more basic fashion than most do in these gadget-ridden times.

All that aside, it also told me what a hay box is and how to make one – though I don’t suppose I ever shall. Basically it’s exactly what it says – a box (made from wood) that’s filled with hay and is used to keep a lidded cooking-pot of food warm (or hot even) for an extended period. The book describes it as a 2ft box constructed from 1/2 inch pine, with a tightly fitting lid held shut by a hasp. It can be lined with felt, but must be “Lined generously with newspaper, then a nest of old hay is made” This must be old dry hay as new damp hay might spontaneously combust. “The nest is made so that a dixie or cooking pot full of hot cooked porridge or stew can be placed directly in it from the fire covered with a hay-newspaper lid and then the wooden lid is closed firmly. The food will keep hot in a good well insulated hay box for 24 hours and longer. Even used to keep supplies of hot water available during the day.”

Apparently “It is a first class method of preparing porridge overnight.” Gruugh!

It seems like hell of a thing to take on a camping trip in a decade when car ownership was far from common. I have visions of it being lashed to a luggage rack on the back of a motorcycle sidecar.

All very Wallace and Gromit.

hay box