Start Bay Navigator A5 Traveler’s Notebook

I’ve said before, but traveller’s notebooks (TNs) continue to be extremely popular. They offer a degree of flexibility bound notebooks cannot. After some hesitation, I took the plunge and am currently using a personal size TN daily, and a passport size less frequently. I was excited to try out an A5 though. Start Bay, based on the South Devon coast, offered a sample of their A5 Navigator cover to United Inkdom for testing.

Start Bay Navigator A5
Start Bay Navigator A5


The Navigator is a large TN. It’s 160mm x 225mm x 25mm and so it comfortably accommodates several wide A5 (145mm x 210mm) notebooks. Start Bay themselves state that it will hold 4 notebooks (it has 4 elastics at the spine) but you could easily rig it up to hold more than that. If, for example, you were using slim notebooks like the Taroko ones I previously reviewed, you would want to add in a lot more than 4. (There are lots of YouTube tutorials to help you out if you’re not sure how to do this.) Its size is a huge plus point for me. You can fit a hardback notebook, like a Leuchtturm, in here with plenty of room to spare. This would be a useful way of managing a bullet journal with separate collections notebooks, for example.

Start Bay Navigator A5
Start Bay Navigator A5 with Lamy Al-Star for scale

The Navigator is made from hard-wearing full grain leather which will handle a potentially large amount of paper inside. The leather is 3mm in thickness and is stiffer than many TNs available. I currently have the slim Taroko notebook, a slim Filofax Flex notebook, and a heavier Midori MD Notebook – A5 Plain Paper. This combination leaves plenty of room (it only uses 3 of the 4 elastics). You could easily fit a Leuchtturm 1917 or even a Moleskine notebook (if you can bear Moleskine’s terrible paper) along with other items. However, it does make this a moderately heavy item to carry around. Mine currently weighs about 22oz/650g, without hardback notebooks in it.

The size is a big plus for this TN. The otherwise good Paper Republic cover was let down by its awkward size. By making the TN itself A5, Paper Republic have drastically restricted the availability of notebooks to go with it. Start Bay have avoided this important pitfall by making a cover into which A5 notebooks will fit. This is not only much more convenient, it also conforms to what people expect from a cover marketed as a standard size.

Start Bay A5 with 3 notebooks
Start Bay A5 with 3 notebooks


The Navigator is a classic, elegant design. The simplicity of the design means you could almost certainly use it in a work environment if you wanted to. They offer four colours of leather: original dark brown, mellow mid-brown, statement Sahara, and chic tan. They are also available etched with Paisley pattern.

The leather is full grain. It may include small “imperfections” and it will pick up scuffs and dents are you use it, but because the leather is good quality, this adds character rather than making it look scruffy. I think it will age well. It certainly feels like it will cope with being a bit bashed around in a bag. The thick, stiff leather makes me feel like I don’t have to be especially careful with it, the way I do with my softer leather TNs, where scuffs are more noticeable.

Start Bay A5
Start Bay A5


These covers are available from Start Bay for £48 (£58 for Paisley) which is very good value. These are high quality leather covers which will last. They are large enough to accommodate big notebooks and as many of them as any sensible person could need! Start Bay don’t try to trap you into a non-standard sized insert, so you can fill the cover with whatever notebook you’d like. They don’t even manufacture tehir own inserts (though you can buy some, like Rhodia and Clairefontaine, through their website. You can therefore manage the on-going value of your TN yourself.

Keep an eye out for a follow-up review in 2018!

Start Bay A5
Start Bay A5

Taroko Design A5 notebook

The Taroko A5 notebook is a great way to get a hold of some Tomoe River paper at a less-than-eye-watering price. For fountain pen enthusiasts, Tomoe River paper needs little introduction. It’s super lightweight but resists feathering and bleed-through like a much heavier paper. Through some paper alchemy, it’s also fantastic at showing off the sheen of inks.

The Taroko Design notebook uses this legendary paper. Bureau Direct were kind enough to send some of us United Inkdom reviewers a sample notebook to take for a test drive. The one I’m reviewing here is the A5 size with lined paper. It’s also available in traveler’s notebook sizes, with plain and dot grid paper.


  • The notebook is proper A5 proportions so will sit nicely with an A5 traveler’s notebook or alongside a Leuchtturm or other A5 notebook.
  • It contains 64 pages (32 sheets) of paper
  • It’s made with 62gms Tomoe River paper which is the slightly heavier of the two weights this paper is usually found in.
  • It’s staple bound
  • Price: £7.95

This isn’t a cheap notebook at £7.95 but the premium price is due to the premium paper. Tomoe River isn’t easy to get a hold of in Europe


The notebook isn’t much to look at from the outside. The lined version has a black cover (the dotted is brown and the plain blue). It’s a sugar (construction) paper cover which won’t take a lot of battering about. It’s clearly designed to be used with an additional cover. As it is, this won’t protect the insides from folding, tearing, spills or general bashing. It does keep the total weight and width down though.

Taroko A5 cover


I’d never normally choose lined paper if dot grid or even plain was available. The lines are never the right width! The Taroko lines are a comfortable 7mm apart. Were I to buy one, I’d still choose dot grid, but I found the lined to be surprisingly pleasant.

Taroko A5 cover
Its lined but I still love it



The real pleasure with Tomoe River paper is the writing experience. The paper is smooth and light. Fountain pen ink can take a little longer to dry on this paper so be prepared for that. But also be prepared to see your ink like you’ve never seen it before.

I can also say, as someone who harbours the guilty pleasure of writing with ballpoint pen on sugar paper, this notebook would also be fun with ordinary pens.

Taroko A5 cover
Herbin Caroube de Chypre- look at that shimmer!



I dropped some ink on the notebook while writing this review, just to see how it handled it. 12 hours later (TWELVE HOURS) it’s still not quite dry. Of course, this isn’t the usual amount of ink a pen, even a wet pen, would put down. Left-handed writers might want to think twice about this paper.

Sloooow drying times
The tail of the drop is still wet 12 hours later!


I really like this notebook but with some caveats. It is an absolute pleasure to write on. However, at £7.95 it’s a bit pricey. I suspect this would make me hesitant to use it and it might sit around for rather a long time while I waited for the perfect use for it. The soft cover also means that it would be better used inside an additional cover to protect it. All that said, Tomoe River paper is unparalleled and this notebook is a great way to try it out without the exorbitant shipping costs that come with buying from abroad.

Silvine Originals Notebooks review

A surprise winner in the Pocket Notebooks stash was the tiny Silvine Originals Pocket Notebook. Silvine kindly sent a few of us United Inkdom reviewers some additional products to test out.

As I said before, I didn’t expect much from the tiny Pocket, but its unassuming plain cover hid some pretty impressive paper. The pages admirably handled everything I threw at it. The paper is pure white, unlined in the case of the Pocket, and noticeably thicker than most notebooks. It has a little texture to it, but not a huge amount. It might even handle a bit of watercolour.

Silvine Originals
Selection of Silvine Original notebooks


Memo £4.50 (ruled)

Memo notebook
Untidy finishing on the stitching. Blue ruling. Perforated pages.

This is a handy pocket notebook at 97mm x 159mm, 52 perforated pages, and stitched binding. It might make a good bullet journal if you find the much-loved Leuchtturm 1917 option too bulky to carry around.


I wasn’t especially happy with the lines, and this goes for all of the Silvine ruled notebooks reviewed here. For me, the bright blue jars with the red cover and stands very starkly against the white paper. I prefer something more subtle, but this is a design choice that’s central to the branding so I don’t see it changing any time soon. The line spacing is 7mm which isn’t little too wide. It does have the feel of an old fashioned notebook as a result of the blue lines, but I don’t think it looks good. I’d definitely use this notebook with plain paper, or a dot grid provided it wasn’t printed in the same blue as the lines, but unfortunately, Silvine currently only manufacture this size with ruled pages.




Note £6 (plain)

Silvine Note
A proper notebook

This is a great sized notebook (125mm x 190mm and 52 pages). This would be an ideal TN notebook due to the high quality of the paper, but isn’t the right size. I’d be keen to see it in Traveler’s Notebook proportions (in addition to the Note size rather than instead). This was my favourite notebook of those sent by Silvine. It’s a nice size, and the plain paper is beautifully smooth. I can see me buying more of these.




Exercise £7 (ruled)

Silvine Exercise notebook
Red! Blue! Silvine Exercise notebook

This is another nice sized notebook (162mm x 230mm, 52 pages), intentionally reminiscent of school jotters. This too is a stitched binding with perforated pages, so it opens flat. This time, there is a red margin on the right. I quite like that, and think it might be nicer to have it paired with grey, or even red, line ruling. I just can’t get on board with that blue!

Project £14 (plain and squared)

Silvine Project
Silvine Project binding

This is a bigger book, slightly narrower and taller than A4 in size (200mm x 305mm) with plain and squared pages (squared recto and blank verso). It’s a multi-signature sewn binding with a spine, so is different from the other, single signature, notebooks made by Silvine. This allows more pages, and manages the weight of the increased size. It reminds me of softback version of school lab books. It’s a good size, and I can imagine that the squared and plain paper have many uses beyond drawing your Chemistry apparatus.

Silvine Project
Silvine Project plain and squared paper



  • lovely paper that is a pleasure to write on (particularly the plain paper)
  • classic, old school look
  • handy range of sizes
  • manufactured to high standards in Yorkshire, not mass produced cheaply (though this may make it difficult to get and pricey for non-Europeans)
  • sewn binding lies flat


  • limited range of size-rule types mean you might not be able to get the ruling you want in the right size
  • bright blue lines are a bit of an acquired taste
  • non-standard sizes may not be convenient
  • no dot grid option
  • ‘untidy’ finishing of sewing might annoy perfectionists


N.B. Silvine sent these samples in return for an unbiased review. Prices indicated were taken from the Silvine website and were correct at time of publishing. Other retailers may vary.


Mega Mini-Notebooks Review

The lovely Stu over at Pocket Notebooks sent some United Inkdom members a bumper pack of small notebooks to review. I received a really nicely presented box containing 6 approx. A6 notebooks, and a tiny wee Silvine.

Pocket Notebooks box
Pocket Notebooks box (including a little ‘sweetener’)

All of these notebooks should be able to handle fountain pens, so I decided to put the manufacturers’ claims to the test with a variety of pens and inks. I selected a variety of purple inks for no particular reason except I like purple. Here are the pens I used:

From bottom to top (the order used in the tests):

Tester pen selection
The selection of mostly) purple pens used to put these notebooks through their paces
  • Stabilo Boss purple highlighter
  • Stabilo Boss pastel purple highlighter
  • Zebra Mildliner soft purple
  • Muji gel pen (0.5mm)
  • Staedtler Triplus Fineliner
  • Uni-ball Eye (fine)
  • Pentel Touch brush sign pen
  • Tombow Mono Twin
  • Tombow ABT (636 Imperial Purple)
  • Lamy Safari fountain pen, M nib with Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst ink
  • Faber-Castell Basic fountain pen, EF nib, with Diamine Grape ink
  • Pelikan P405 fountain pen, gold EF nib, with Diamine Imperial Purple ink
  • Vintage Waterman fountain pen, flexible italic nib, with Diamine Asa Blue ink

The Tombow Mono Twin is a permanent, solvent-based ink, which I expected to go through the paper. You would be hard pushed to find through which the Mono Twin wouldn’t bleed- what I was checking here was how well the notebooks stood up to potential feathering with this pen, so judge the results on that rather than bleed.

The vintage Waterman is a VERY wet writer, so this really tested how well the notebooks could deal with a lot of ink. The results were somewhat surprising.


Silvine Pocket



This teeny-tiny notebook is on 110mm x 72mm and 40 pages in size, but is nonetheless an impressive piece of writing kit. They retail for £7.00 for 3 (approx. €8.25 or $9 US). The paper is plain, off-white, and the notebook has a sewn binding.

This unassuming wee notebook was one of the best at standing up to the rigours of the pen test.

None of the pens tested feathered at all, which was impressive. The Mono Twin did bleed through a little but there was no ghosting apart from that.

I’d definitely put Silvine notebooks on my To Buy List, but not this small. I’d be interested in an A5 notebook from this manufacturer if it had the same thick, off-white paper. The tiny pocket would get chewed up in my bag.


The California Back Pocket Journal

California Backpocket Journal
California Back Pocket Journal (right)
California Backpocket pen test
California Back Pocket pen test

These notebooks are slightly smaller than A5 at 88mm x 133mm and have 48 sheets, and a sewn (pamphlet stitch) binding. They’re available in lined, blank (as here), dot grid, graph, or a mixture of plain, lined, and dot grid, and are 3 for £10.50. The paper is 105gsm HP paper which is incredibly smooth.

The paper feels lovely, and handled everything except the very wet vintage nib, which, as you can see, feathered terribly and bled through the page. The bleed through on this was even worse than that of the Mono Twin. This was by far the worst result for the Waterman, which is surprising when everything else fared so well. There was hardly even any ghosting.

The Waterman result aside, this is a nice little notebook.

California backpocket detail
California back Pocket detail
California backpocket verso
California back Pocket verso

Another California Back Pocket: Tomoe River Paper



This appears almost identical to the previous, except it contains glorious Japanese Tomoe River paper. This is ivory-coloured and very thin, but can take just about anything a fountain pen can throw at it. I used a Hobonichi diary last year which was made from Tomoe River paper and have been a big fan ever since. It’s definitely worth the hype. Three of the California notebooks retail at £14.

The test results for this notebook are not at all surprising: no bleed through except for a small amount with the Mono Twin; no feathering; some ghosting due to how thin the paper is. The latter will bother some people but I don’t mind it. Tomoe River paper is a pleasure to write on.

Inky Fingers



This is the same size as the California notebooks, but has a coated cover which is a little stronger. It consists of 44 sheets of environmentally-friendly and sustainable wheat straw paper. It feels a little like recycled paper, having more texture than the other papers reviewed here, but doesn’t have the drawbacks of feathering and bleeding usually associated with recycled paper. The paper is white with very subtle specks, and the notebook is staple-bound.

This is a nice notebook, but at £6 each, they’re pricey. For my money, I’d rather get a Tomoe River notebook for £4.67, though I appreciate the environmentally-sustainable way the Inky Fingers notebooks are made.

The lines are narrow at 6mm, which I like. The lines are made of micro-dots which is a nice detail.

Also available are a blank notebook, and a Currently Inked Log book for the same price.


Clairefontaine 1951 Retro Nova



French company Clairefontaine make a variety of notebooks and jotters, supplying a lot of French schoolchildren with their classroom needs. They’re a favourite manufacturer of mine because of their high-quality paper, wide range, and good prices.

The Retro Nova is marginally bigger than the previous notebooks at 88mm x 140mm with 64 smooth ivory pages, and a sewn binding. They are 3 for £8, which is a stone cold bargain. Each of the three has a different cover pattern too. The one pictured here is “novelle vague.”

The pen test showed just how good Clairefontaine paper is. There was no feathering, minimal ghosting, and only the infamous Mono Twin bled through.


Story Supply Co.



Beneath a plain exterior decorated only by the Story Supply co.’s cheerful, retro logo, lies a solid little notebook. It’s 90mm x 140mm, with 48 pages of staple-bound, off-white paper. I tested the lined notebook, which has 5mm spacing. This retails at 3 for £11.

I wasn’t familiar with this company before, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the paper dealt with all of the pens. There was no feathering, little ghosting, and only the Mono Twin bled through (though there were slight hints of almost-bleeding through from the Waterman).

I liked this notebook a lot, but if pushed would have to state a preference for the Clairefontaine above. The Story Supply Co. paper is not quite as good, and it’s an extra £1 per notebook, for an inferior binding.


Darkstar Nomad



This is a differently sized notebook at 100mm x 140mm, so it looks a bit squarer than the others. It has 56 pages of white, dot grid, 100gsm paper and is staple-bound. Interestingly, the ‘dots’ are tiny crosses. These cost £8 for 3.

The Darkstar handled most of the pens well but the Waterman and even the Pentel Touch (which is also a wet writer) both feathered slightly. The Mono Twin and the Waterman bled through the paper, though the ghosting wasn’t bad at all.












Final Thoughts

This was a really interesting set of notebooks and I’m very grateful for the chance to test them all. My favourites were the Clairefontaine and the California Tomoe River. The Clairefontaine is the ideal combination of high quality and good value. The Tomoe River is a higher price for a specialist product that some people (like me) will love but  may find the ghosting and long ink-drying times a frustration.