Sunday, 23 November 2014

The North Face of the Wine Cupboard

Leo Houlding & Sir Chris Bonington - proper adventurers
We've spent the past day or so lurking around Kendal Mountain Festival.  We've watched the likes of Leo Houlding, Sir Chris Bonington, Steve Birkinshaw and Andy Cave telling us about life, death and near misses in the world of high adrenaline adventure.  Though we've never dangled from a 1000m sheer cliff at minus 30, we've had our own fair share of adventures during our time in the Lakes - we've tackled Lord's Rake, Sharp Edge and Striding Edge, we've made it safely over High Street in the dark & rain with only an iPhone torch to light our way and we've even braved Bowness on a sunny bank holiday Monday (though only the once!).  All of which makes my current predicament more embarrassing.

North face of the
wine cupboard
I've been off my feet for a few weeks due to injury and though I'm better than I was, I'm still hobbling and unable to tackle anything too tricky.  People have asked how I did it, no doubt expecting a story involving fells, rain and snow - or at the very least a tale about a crazy ass drunken exploit that went horribly wrong.  The truth is more embarrassing than that.  I did it on an overcast Monday morning, stone cold sober (not even hung over), putting the washing away.  On a return trip for socks and pants I collided with the North Face of the Wine Cupboard and managed to dislocate my little toe and rupture the ligaments around it to the extent that when the good doctors at A&E tried to put it back it refused to stay put.  They tried 4 times - ow, ow OW.

After a week of pain and not unpleasant pain killers, the hope that it would "click back in on its own" faded so they decided to operate to pin it.  A little toe - how much trouble can it be?  Turns out plenty - I never realised I needed it so much.  Anyway, the surgeon was clearly made of stern stuff and he managed to wedge it back into place and tape it up without pinning it (I'm not completely convinced as it's still jolly painful, but we'll find out if it's been a success this Wednesday.)

Gas and air in A&E while they tried to relocate the offending toe

The offending toe (arrow drawn
for surgeon)

Lovely views from hospital bed.

All done - but far from ideal hiking shoe.

I did have one fabulous injury while hiking but modesty prevented me taking any photos of it - while descending Haystacks in the pitch dark (properly kitted out with head torches this time) I slipped down a small crag ripping a 4 inch hole through my waterproofs (expensive), walking trousers (again) and backside (which was thankfully too cold and numb to feel much at the time).  The bruise was spectacular and I couldn't sit down for a week - but at least I had a decent story to tell even if I couldn't show anyone other than Steve the true beauty of the injury.

Anyway, that's why I've not been on the fells lately.  I've tried to distract myself with some gentler exploits and have still managed to occupy myself in a number of ways:

I've taken the opportunity to bottle up all my Sloe Gin (which is a lot darker than it looks in this pic)...

If the pain killers don't work...

 ...visited the wonderful Kendal Museum - a fascinating place with loads of imaginative ways to engage visitors and kids with the exhibits...

A xylophone made from Lake District rocks.

...paid another visit to the wonderful Greystoke Cafe for a quirky course - I brushed up on my pen & wash skills while Steve tackled blacksmithing (and made a fabulous rams head poker for the fire - these courses are SO fab and make the perfect chrissy pressie)...

Only my second attempt at painting
...and of course visited Leighton Moss - my very favourite "away from it all" place and only 10 minutes from home.  My ongoing quest to see the bittern continues - one day...

Leighton Moss - calm, tranquil and, whenever I'm there, bittern free.

I'm trying not to be a wuss, but I really need this to heal properly as my livelihood depends on me being able to walk.  I've delivered a few courses over the past couple of weeks through the haze of painkillers and I'm gutted the hospital refused to send me home with a bottle of gas & air (I'm sure that would help the delegates no end).  This afternoon we're back at the Mountain Festival and, if one of those rugged mountaineering types asks about the limp, I might just make something up...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

15 Things only hikers will truly understand.

Whatever the weather, if you're a hiker it's in your blood and that means we tend to see the world a little differently from everyone else...

1.  The top of a hill in the wind and the rain is better than any office, anywhere, any time.

High Street

2.  Cursing, swearing, freezing, getting soaked and being lost is all just part of the fun.

Getting soaked near the New Forest

3.  It's not a hiking pub if there's "jus" on the menu.

Proper food.

4. Finding your own "new" route is better than following a walking guide - even if it does occasionally call for a little improv...


5.  OS Maps are a thing of beauty.

Love at first sight

6.  There's no such thing as too much kit.

A small selection

7.  No one else is allowed on your hiking route.

8.  Of course there's an easier route, but where's the fun in that?

Lords Rake

9.  There will never be enough time to do all the hikes you have planned.

I want to climb that one, and that one, then that one...

10.  You only realise you've lost track of time when you're trying to find the car in the dark.

"But it was 2pm only a minute ago..."

11.  Snow is magnetic and resistance is futile.

Think of all the snowmen...

12.  The times you were the most scared were probably your best adventures.

Stirrup Crag, Yewbarrow

13.  There's no such thing as the "wrong path" - it's just a different route

Halls Fell Ridge, Blencathra

14.  This is your expression when someone tells you you need to finish the hike early to get home for something.

Whaddya mean, "early"?

15.  Whatever you've been through, the views will always make it worthwhile.

Thirlmere from Raven Crag

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The first rule of spoon club is...

Getting back to nature
Luckily there are no rules for spoon club, unless you count "bring lunch and water", but what exactly is spoon club - or "Spooniversity"?  Well, as their Facebook group page says it's...

"A community based project for people who like to be outdoors in woodlands and being creative, socialising, learning new skills and meeting new friends.  Getting back into woodlands and appreciating their value for wildlife, productivity and a sense of well being."

Composting loos
We've been meaning to go along for a while as they meet in Brown Robin Nature Reserve in Grange-over-Sands - a mere stones-throw from our house - but never quite got around to it until last weekend.  (For those not too sure where it is, it's up behind the Netherwood Hotel)

We arrived at 10am and spent the first hour or so chatting, warming our hands around the open fire and drinking coffee (tea and coffee are provided but as water is heavy to carry everyone is asked to bring their own).  There was something quite lovely about being sat in the middle of a woodland on a gorgeous autumn morning with smoke form the fire curling around as Tony told us a bit about woodland management and identified the various birds calling from nearby trees.

This was followed by a DVD showing us some key woodworking techniques before lunch and then getting stuck in to some serious spoon making.  Everything is about sustainability and that includes the wood working tools - no power tools here (well, there's no power for a start) - but Tony is on hand throughout to make sure you're keeping yourself safe and to help you with your carving techniques.

My woodworking background consists of 6 lessons at school that resulted in a wonky mirror stand which my mum still proudly displays in her bathroom so trust me when I tell you I am a rank amateur.

We started off with a lump of wood which we had to plane down into something rather more spoon sized.

Once we had the basic size about right we drew the outline of a spoon on the wood and began refining our creation.  This involved the use of a VERY sharp knife.  I'm not good with very sharp knives so, while Steve remained pristine clean, I cursed and swore as I pricked and jabbed myself - but no serious harm done and I did eventually learn how to handle it properly.

I'll be honest, we both intended to make much larger spoons but a few errors along the way resulted in something rather closer to teaspoons than the mixing spoon I'd envisaged at the start.  At one point I thought I may end up with a spice spoon or even a matchstick, but Tony's advice and expertise saved the day!

It may not look much but I really was rather pleased with my spoon - not least because I managed to get all the blood stains out of it.  (Please don't let that put you off, I really am the most clumsy person I know and everyone else managed to avoid bloodshed).  This was only our first outing and as as our expertise improves we hope to make more elaborate spoons and maybe, one day, a bowl or two as we learn more about the local woodland and how they were once worked and managed.

Spoon club was a fantastic experience and we are definitely hooked.  Ancient woodlands are under serious threat in this country so the more we can learn about them, and how to work in them and manage them properly, the more chance we have of protecting them.

Spoon club meets on the 2nd Sunday of every month at Brown Robin Nature Reserve and is open to absolutely everyone.  We kick off at 10am and finish between 3pm and 4pm depending on the light and the weather.  The sessions are run by Tony Saunders who is an expert in woodland management and spoon making (amongst many other things) - there is a small membership charge to cover refreshments, tools and materials.  More details can be found on the Facebook Page here.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A rucksack is for life, not just for hiking.

I’m not much of a “girly girl” but one thing I do have a fondness for is handbags, well, not a fondness as such, I’m actually on a lifelong quest to find the perfect bag – the handbag holy grail if you will - and I’ll be very happy to stop spending my hard earned money on them once I eventually find it – honest.  The problem with most specimens is that they favour fashion over practicality often resulting in a ridiculous creation I could barely fit my car keys in.

Perhaps that’s why I prefer my rucksacks – solid, practical and far fewer pointless gold buckles.
At one with the countryside.

Living in the Lake District we’re not short of shops to peruse when we’re in need of a new rucksack but once you walk into one, how on earth do you decide which one is best for you?  You could read online reviews but to be honest I’m not a big fan – what suits one person perfectly will be another’s worst nightmare.

1.  What will you use it for?

The best place to start is to have a really good think about what exactly you’ll be using it for – long hikes, short hikes, summer hikes, winter hikes, solo camping trips, camping trips with friends and/ or family – and therefore, what will you want to put in it? 

For me I also take into account the fact that I use my rucksack a lot when I’m not on the fells (to plug the woeful gap in the handbag market) – I regularly travel to London for my job and as I’m not wealthy enough to afford a rucksack to go with each of my outfits, I need one that will work on the fells and in the city.  This means that not only am I after a pack that I can cram my waterproofs into, I also want one which will take my laptop, wash bag and work shoes.

Knowing what you want to use it for will give you a good idea on the size of rucksack you need – we have a big Berghaus Bioflex 50+10 which is perfect for our super long hikes, especially in the winter when you need to carry a lot more kit.  For shorter hikes we have a 25 litre pack which is ideal for sarnies, snacks and flasks and a waterproof just in case.

Big rucksacks allow room for stowaways...
Away from the fells, the smaller rucksack is good for overnight stays, but for 2 nights or more I’ll need the big one. 

2.  How are you going to get at what's inside?

Once you know what you want to put in it you then need to think about how you’ll access it all once it’s in there.  Whether you’re on the high fells or in the middle of Euston station in the rush hour, you don’t want to have to completely unpack the entire thing just to get to something stuffed way down at the bottom – so check out side zips and hidden pockets.

Luckily the features that work well to provide access and protection for things when I’m on the fells also work well from a security point of view when I’m in the city.  For example, the map pocket inside the back of most rucksacks doubles nicely as a laptop holder and the hidden zipped pocket inside the “lid” (foldy over top thingumy) protects my phone and keys on the fells and also hides away my valuables when I’m in London.

3.  Don't be tempted by cheaper models

A good rucksack is worth investing in – I foolishly bought a cheaper brand (which it would be indiscreet to mention here) but it was a false economy.  It began to fray after a couple of months and just isn’t comfortable to wear on a long hike.

4.  Try before you buy

Talking of wearing them – before you hand over your cash be sure to try them on in the shop.  Pop them on your back and stretch, twist and bend as you might on a decent hike – even stuff a few things in to see how they feel with some weight in them.  I must confess I’m a big fan of the freeflow range – the ones with a frame that keeps the pack away from your back - there’s nothing worse than a horrible hot, wet and sticky back, it’s uncomfortable on the fells and it doesn’t look good when I arrive in the office either.

Big rucksacks - perfect for long hikes.

5.  Colour?

I don’t really care about the colour – except that I have a strong personal dislike for anything coloured pink to appeal to the female market and will avoid buying it on principle – but a brightly coloured pack will help you get spotted on the hills should you ever be unfortunate enough to require the services of mountain rescue.

6.  What if it rains?

The final thing to think about is a waterproof cover – it may seem tiny but, if you’re likely to be hiking in poor weather then it’s definitely worth considering.  Rucksacks are not particularly waterproof – no idea why, they just aren’t – and an integrated waterproof cover is a godsend.  For a start you don’t have to continually worry about packing it as it will already be there, stashed away in a tiny pocket on the base of the pack, and secondly it will be attached to the pack – something you will only truly appreciate if you’ve ever tried to fit an unattached one in pouring rain and howling gale.

So, now you’ve seen my long list of requirements for a rucksack, is it any surprise that the entire handbag manufacturing industry has so far failed to meet my exacting standards?  I can only hope that Berghaus will one day decide to launch a range of handbags – just as long as they consult with me first I’m sure everything will be fine.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Real inspiration

Click here to visit Gandys webpage
Since I started writing this blog lots of things have changed for me - most notably I've been fortunate enough to pick up some real writing work.  One of the other spin offs is that I occasionally get offered free stuff - nothing too flash or fancy - usually books, invites to events, meals etc.  We very, very rarely take up these offers - I'd much rather experience something as a paying guest and be free to say what I genuinely think than feel I ought to say something nice because I got sent it for free or was bribed in some way by nice hospitality.

Last week we got an invite which was a little different and you can tell how eager I was to attend because a) I willingly gave up 2 days of our precious hols to travel to London, b) I wore girl clothes and c) I put on make up for the third time this year (a new personal record).  So what was it that caused such a reaction?  The Gandys End of Summer Party.

L-R Rob Forkan, Newton Faulkner, Paul Forkan

If you don't know who Gandys are, let me explain.  In 2004 when the Boxing Day tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Rob and Paul Forkan (and their siblings Matty and Rosie) lost both their parents.  These weren't over privileged kids on a flashy Christmas break - this was a family that had spent years travelling to some of the poorest parts of the world working on humanitarian projects.  You can read more of their journey in their own words here.

Determined to do something which would both honour their parents memory and ensure something positive came out of such an awful tragedy they founded Gandys as a sustainable social enterprise.  They sell flip flops to generate income which in turn provides nutrition, education and support to children living in appalling conditions - they have already funded children's homes in India and Sri Lanka and their vision is to open them all around the world.

Newton Faulkner before the power died...
The end of summer party was a chance to celebrate everything they have achieved so far and an unassuming beer garden was transformed into a beach party with henna tattoos, pedicures and iced drinks for all. Newton Faulkner provided the perfect soundtrack performing a small but lovingly crafted set.  The power gliched halfway through his final number but the crowd enthusiastically stepped in supplying both vocals and percussion when needed.

A few people have very kindly said that in some tiny way I've inspired them, well these two guys inspire me.  I lost my father quite suddenly when I was just 18 but the experience had a profound effect on my life and my personal values so I absolutely understand what drives Rob and Paul.  When something like that happens it permanently changes the way you see the world and switches your priorities for ever.

If you don't already own a pair then you can buy your Gandys flipflops here (just don't let me catch you wearing them atop of Helvellyn!).  Rob and Paul have also written a book about their journey so far - it's not available until 27th November but you can pre-order it on Amazon here.  I've not used this blog to promote anything in the past so hopefully, as this is such an amazing story, you'll forgive me just this once.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Life in the sloe lane.

View from the train
You may have noticed a distinct lack of hiking blogs over recent months - this is mainly due to the fact I've had a spectacularly busy summer working as well, of course, of all my Glasgow shenanigans.

View from the station
Wonderful though it's all been so far as paying the mortgage is concerned, I've not been doing very well from a "new and better balanced life" standpoint.  Days have been a blur of train journeys up and down the country tapping  away on my laptop to meet another print deadline.  Fair to say I've been getting my hiking kicks vicariously via Steve who is still doing really well on his 214 fells in 214 days adventure (he's behind on the blog as he's using all the good weather days to get up the hills).

Just one reason to visit Morecambe Bay
Things have thankfully slowed a little over the past couple of weeks allowing me to take stock.  I've made a couple of big decisions - I turned down a big contract working overseas as although it would have been gloriously well paid, it would have taken me away from home far too much.  It's no good having values unless you're going to stick to them.  I've also trimmed some other work out which didn't tie in to the work life balance principle.  I'm still questioning my sanity a little, but I know deep down it was exactly the right thing to do.

So what have I been doing instead?  Well I've been getting more involved with the group promoting Morecambe Bay as a tourist destination, taking the time to walk to appointments instead of just jumping on a bus or taking the car and yes, finally getting a bit of hiking in.

Morecambe Bay Sunset

Morecambe Moonrise

Funny how no one walks these days - not like they used to.  With more and more cars on the road the emphasis is always on how fast you can get there rather than enjoying the journey.  I had a meeting at the Lancaster House Hotel last week and though I could have taken a bus from the city centre, I decided to walk instead.  The few miles there along the A6 weren't the most picturesque, but when the meeting was over I took the pretty way back along the canal - took a lot longer than driving, but I saw so much more.

Beautiful hedgerows

Lancaster Canal

Lancaster Canal

Then yesterday I finally got my hiking boots back on again.  Steve nabbed the car and was off conquering most of the Crinkle Crags range so I decided to explore more local paths and found a rather lovely route winding away from Grange, over the far side of Hampsfell and around the fields near Cartmel.  Utterly stunning and I didn't see another person until the end of the route back up by the hospice.

Finally back out hiking

Curious ramp

The views were glorious, the weather spectacular and the hedgerow laden with sloes.  I already have 2 litres of sloe gin on the go, plus a litre of damson gin and 4 jars of damson jam - but it seemed a sin to leave them there and the "scratched to ribbons arms" were a small price to pay.  But the very best part about it all was that I had the time to do it.  No rushing, no racing and no nagging worry at the back of my mind that I really should be getting a move on.

Ripe for the picking!

I've heard many people wondering where this year has gone, it's flown by so fast and how can it be September already?  But so did last year, and the year before that.  Before we know it we'll be old and grey and wondering how it all went by so quickly without us even noticing. You may question my sanity for turning down a big contract, I could have bought a lot of nice stuff with the money I made - but turning it down has bought me the one thing the contract never could - time - and for me that's more important than pretty much anything else.

Beautiful Morecambe Bay