Friday, 20 February 2015

The Bacon Buttie Test

Ravenstone Lodge
I have a foolproof, 100% guaranteed cast iron method of sorting the great hotels from the merely mediocre and it doesn't involve peering behind wardrobes or checking under the toilet seat.  My simple test is this - order a bacon buttie for breakfast.  Despite most hotels having breakfast menus almost as long as their dinner menus and despite this being Great Britain, home of the great bacon buttie, pretty much nowhere has it listed as a menu item at breakfast.  (And I'm talking proper hotels here, not those nasty ones where breakfast consists of a tasteless undercooked buffet and a fight for the toaster.)

Under the pretext of "essential book research" we treated ourselves to a romantic night away at the Ravenstone Lodge Hotel on Bassenthwaite a couple of nights before Valentine's Day and I was looking forward to a bit of pampering - well I say pampering, I was actually looking forward to someone else cooking dinner and doing the washing up for a change, I'm pretty easy to please.

HUGE bed

Bath with a "come hither" look
When we arrived we were welcomed with big beaming smiles and shown around the dining rooms and generous conservatory before being taken up to our lovely big room.  The bed was HUGE which is perhaps as well because at 6ft 4ins Steve takes up a lot of space (and can you believe he is the shortest of his 3 brothers?  Imagine that - 6 ft 4ins and still "the little 'un").

"Take me to bed or lose me forever!"
I wasted no time in equipping myself with a G&T and sinking into the bath before heading down for dinner - all of which was home cooked and tailored to any and all food fads and allergies.  Replete, we sprawled on the sofa in front of the fire in the conservatory with a glass of whisky (they have a HUGE collection, it was very hard to choose) and I told Steve that if he really loved me he'd carry me up to bed.  He refused but offered to get a blanket and leave me on the sofa if I wanted. Charming.

Next morning it was time to unleash my secret hotel test - it may sound like a simple test but those of you who follow me on Twitter may remember that about six months ago I was in a smart hotel in London which refused to serve me a bacon sandwich but agreed to serve me bread and bacon separately on a plate.  I can only assume they skipped catering college on the day of the "bacon sandwich construction" course.

Perfection on a plate!
The waitress came to take our order.  Steve shifted uneasily in his seat, knowing what was coming next.  "A bacon sandwich please." I said and, sensing this was the sort of establishment that could cope with a curve ball, added "on brown bread, with grilled tomatoes if possible."   The waitress didn't bat an eyelid and 10 minutes later returned with the perfect bacon buttie.  Passed with flying colours and firmly on the list of hotels I'd recommend in a heartbeat.

The only downside to our romantic interlude was the weather, which refused to play ball.  There's a route right from the front door of the hotel leading up onto Ullock Pike and Skiddaw, but the mist was so low we couldn't even see the top of Ling Fell across the lake, so we decided instead to go and find some fun in Whitehaven (which was technically what we were supposed to be doing anyway).
View of Ullock Pike from the car park

Whitehaven is another of those fabulous but overlooked places in Cumbria.  The views from the sea front across the Solway are breathtaking, the harbour is fascinating to explore and there is a superb seaside chippy just a hundred yards from the front. (Something I've ranted about in the past.)

Our object of desire for the day was The Beacon Museum next to the harbour and I'd like to say we spent a very grown up few hours exploring serious things like local history, but the reality is we reverted to being kids and played with every single one of the many brilliantly thought out interactive kids displays.

We spent hours in there, laughed a LOT and learned loads - honestly, every museum should be more like The Beacon and that way we'd all learn more and the world would just be a much better place.

Heamatite literally asking to be touched.

Very hard to find an unsmutty caption for this.

Hard at work on history research.

He lied!  He said this was a photo of me as a beautiful princess!

Unfortunately he caught me before I started gurning...

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Back in the day...

There are many places on the internet where you can find lists of the kit and equipment needed for fell walking - none better than the information provided by Mountain Rescue – but what if you had no choice?  What if you absolutely had to hike over the high fells but you didn’t have the correct waterproofs or several layers of the latest high tech thermals to protect you?  And what if, on top of all of that you had to manhandle a very large, very heavy box and/ or a truculent horse and cart?

Our recent research has often had me ensconced in nice warm libraries while Steve freezes outdoors taking pics – trust me, I LOVE the libraries part, but it’s a lot of fun when we get out on the fells together to get up close and personal with some of the stuff I’ve been reading about. 

Fairy Steps nr Silverdale
We’ve been uncovering old trade routes recently and, more interestingly, old coffin routes.  If a community didn’t have a church, they had to carry their dead to the nearest consecrated ground and that’s how coffin trails, or corpse roads as they’re also known, came to be.  Some of them are obvious and clearly labelled – such as the one we tackled this week near Haweswater – but some are hidden away and require a little more effort to track down.  There are also some, like the fairy steps near Silverdale, that make you wonder how they ever managed it.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to know where public footpaths and rights of way came from, how were they established in the first place?  Who were the first people to walk along them?  Why do they exist here and not there? Why did more than one person think it was a good idea to walk that particular route?

Obviously the answer to all those questions is never going to be straightforward – many began as communication routes between farms, others were old trade routes, some were built by the Romans, whereas others have symbolic significance or are shrouded in folklore and myth.  Whatever their origins one thing always strikes me when I’m standing on one; back in the day, folks would have walked these routes in all sorts of weather, without the protection of the many layers of expensive thermals and high tech waterproofs we have today.

The Old Corpse Road
At best routes would have been marked on rudimentary maps, but more often than not passed down from generation to generation simply by walking them – that they still exist today is testimony to how important they were back then.  There are many stories of people losing their way, surviving by sheltering in caves, falling from crags after getting lost in bad weather or just simply never returning.

You don't have to sit in a library to learn about the fells - next time you're up there take a closer look at your map, or study the hills around you while you're enjoying your coffee, and spare a thought for the poor folks through hstory who had to go up there whatever the weather, long before Gore-Tex was ever invented.

Tarmac road? Luxury!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

By the book.

Since starting this blog I've probably written thousands of words, but now I'm required to string 20,000 of them together for a book I'm starting to panic, but only a little.  I've often wondered what goes into writing a book, well now I know - blood, sweat, tears and a few snowy hikes.  I'm guessing the snowy hikes weren't part of J K Rowling's requirements, but they're a part of ours.

Over the past few months we've been doing a LOT of research and since the start of January I've been putting pen to paper, eyes to books and feet to fells.  Luckily we've been very curious about our surroundings since we first arrived, but now we're wading through the research, we're realising how little we actually know.  The book will cover the natural, ancient and recent history of 10 sites in Cumbria - which is really exciting as it means we can tell the world about the whole county - don't get me wrong, we LOVE the Lake District, but there is so much more to see and explore in Cumbria, places like...



 and here.
But it's not all about running around the hills - sometimes I have my nose, and entire desk, buried in books.  Hell - absolute hell I tell ya.

Original sketch of GImmer Crag from 1934

Fantastic access to the resources of Mountain Heritage Trust

We're incredibly lucky to have the support of people like the RSPB, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Mountain Heritage Trust and assorted local history groups - all of whom are taking the time to meet with us, tell us a few inside stories and allow us access to materials, some of which have never been in print before.  Along the way we've already dug out some fabulous facts, gripping stories and fascinating people.

Seeing as the book will be an equal balance of Steve's fab photos and my inane ramblings we're trying to take advantage of any breaks in the weather and as today promised blue skies and snowy summits we headed for the Langdale Valley (one of the few sites we're looking at within the National Park).  Our plan was to get to the top of The Band to get some shots but around 3/4 of the way to the top it felt as if we'd stepped directly into the Jet Stream so, discretion being by far the better part of valour, we turned and headed down.

Getting blown away in every sense of the word.

The luscious Langdales

I've seen many films and documentaries where explorers are caught in similar situations with wind and snow whipping all around them and it always looked rather exhilarating - but the reality is it's more akin to standing in a freezer, in a force 9 gale while someone pelts you with boiling hot needles.  On the plus side I've had a full facial exfoliation and probably now look 10 years younger - take that Oil of Olay.

So having had an extraordinarily healthy day full of hiking, fresh air and facials, there's only one thing for it - feet up in front of the fire, a bottle of red and my body weight in peanut M&Ms - I'm counting the orange ones as one of my 5 a day.  I have this healthy living malarkey sussed!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Avoiding the crowds at the gym

The route to my "gym"
It's January and gyms everywhere are packed to the rafters with new years resolutioners full of the very best intentions.  Many years ago I was a member of a local gym - back in those days I used to compete in triathlons and gyms were the best way to get through some of the strengths exercise and ensure a little clear space in the pool for endless plodding up and down - and come January there wasn't a space to be found on the equipment.  Queues formed at the rowing machines, the stair master and the cross trainer - most probably known as that due to the grumpy nature of many of those queuing to use it, ironic really as one of the side benefits of going to the gym was a chance to let off steam and exorcise the stress demons.

My gym days are thankfully long behind me but my stress isn't.  Over the Christmas hols someone told me they were thinking of leaving their job, sticking it to "the man" and starting a new life with no stress.  I suggested that if they found a life with no stress I'd like to be the first to know about it.  Although I love our new life in every way shape and form (it's been 4 years now - 4 years - just doesn't seem possible!), it is far from stress free and anyone doing what we've done and expecting zero stress is going to be sadly disappointed.  The stresses are very different but they are still there.

For example - office life bought me the following stresses:
List of "gym equipment"

*  Being stuck in an office when it was sunny outside.
*  Not being able to take random days to be with the family when it was a birthday etc.
*  Internal politics - aaaaaarrrrrrrrggggghhhhhhh - still get the heebeegeebees just remembering it.
*  Only 25 days off each year.
*  Having to fight for Christmas off.
*  Finishing my work by 4pm but having to stay at my desk till 5:30pm just because.

Whereas our new life brings me these stresses

*  Realising that every day not worked means no money coming in.
*  The temptation to work 7 days a week.
*  The temptation to work until 10pm at night.
*  Paying the mortgage every month because although I'm willing to barter my services with other local businesses for our mutual benefit, Santander refuse to play ball and insist they want their mortgage paid in money.  Spoilsports.
*  Not being able to be sick and lie under a duvet all day knowing that the sick pay will cover you
*  Being glad when you're busy but still worrying that you need to keep on marketing if you want to be busy next month too.

Thankfully, our new life came with a free gymnasium and mental health clinic right across the road - more commonly known as Hampsfell.  It may have been blowing a hoolie outside but after a busy and stressful week it was the perfect place to, quite literally today, blow the cobwebs away.

The Hospice

Morecambe Bay


The Hospice
It was the windiest I've ever known it up there, I could feel my rucksack being lifted from my back (thankfully there was a HUGE flask of tea in there) and several times I was nearly blown over while taking photos.  As I was stood on the top of the hospice, snug and warm inside my many layers and being blown sideways by the wind I could almost feel my worries one by one blowing away, out over Morecambe Bay - I just hope they didn't land on someone over the other side.

It was pretty quiet people wise up there, although I did see 3 joggers on the top of the fell.  Well maybe it was 2 - one of them might have blown past me twice.

DUCK!  Incoming worries!  :-)
After finishing half my flask I wandered down into the village for essential supplies (more milk for tomorrow's flasks) and decided on an impromptu picnic on the prom - much to the amusement of the few brave dog walkers/ canine kite flyers who were passing.

En route to the village

Perfect picnic spot
It may not boast a personal trainer or an enormous flat screen TV to amuse me while I exercise, but it's free, it's stunning and best of all there's plenty of room for everyone - it's almost worth getting stressed for.

Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 A Year of Adventures - Part 2

One of the reasons I love doing these end of year round ups is because I forget quite how much stuff we did - the big things stay in my mind, but a lot of the other stuff slips between the cracks.  We're lucky to have been able to do so much stuff in the first 6 months of the year - the second half was a little but quieter, but only a little bit...


July started with us swinging through the trees in Grizedale Forest with those lovely folks from Go Ape.  A lot of zipwires and a lot of Tarzan impressions...

The rest of July was then taken up with rehearsals for my role in the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony.  At the time I couldn't say a lot about what we were rehearsing, but I could say a lot about Glasgow - a spectacular city that we took the time to explore and fall in love with.  The utterly tragic news from just before Christmas really affected me but the folks of that fair city are truly amazing and I know they'll pull together to get through it all.  These are just a few photos which bring back some very happy memories - if you haven't already been, make 2015 the year you visit.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

George Square


Glasgow University

Carpet factory modelled on the Doges Palace

Footpath of album covers

Being an "athlete" at the final dress rehearsals for openning ceremony


After all that rehearsing came the performance - I will never forget being out on the field with all of the athletes and a packed Hampden Park.  It truly was a "once in a lifetime" experience and I loved every single second of it.

"Music festival" in full swing.

The end of the party - my new friends & a few athletes

Nabbed me a couple of gold medallists.
After all that excitement it was back to normality and a few lovely long walks around Lancashire to get my breath back.  The berries were already turning giving me the perfect excuse for a spot of jam and gin making.

Exploring Calder Vale

Anyone else see the toothy grin?


Leck Beck


September started with the Vintage Fair in Morecambe - glorious weather and a fly past from Lancaster Bombers.

From there it was a swift trip down to London to see the moving display of poppies at the Tower before meeting Newton Falkner at an event for Gandy's flip flops - all recorded for history with one of the worst photos of me ever taken.

If you're not sure who he is click the pic for his video.
Then it was off to Yorkshire for a week of walking. The evening we arrived the weather was clear - then the fog moved in and refused to move out again for the entire week...

Last view before the fog rolled in.

Super close up of Scarborough Castle

Sheriff Hutton

Sheriff Hutton church - where Richard III's son
is buried.
And after such a long and dry (if everso slightly foggy in places) summer we just had time to pop to Haweswater Reservoir to take a peek at the old village of Mardale Green - flooded when they created the reservoir it appears every now and again when the water levels dropped.  Some of the newspapers at the time described it as an "Atlantis" - not quite, but it was eerie wandering along the long submerged streets and sitting on the ruins of an old farmhouse for lunch.

Oh - an there was Shap Abbey on the way home.


The big news in October, which I don't really have a photo for, is that we were approached by a publisher and asked to write a book about Cumbria.  There was a bit of too-ing and fro-ing on content, the upshot of which being that we have now been commissioned to write a book covering the recent, ancient and natural history of 10 sites in Cumbria.  It will be a balance of Steve's gorgeous pics and my mad ramblings and will be available in October 2015 - perfect for next year's Christmas lists!

The book will have lots of Steve's gorgeous pics!
In other news in October, we introduced some very dear friends to Cumbria, explored Stott Park Bobbin Mill, slummed it Hipping Hall for a night and attended our very first spoon club meeting.  Oh, and on 31st of October I stuffed my foot up, thus curtailing hiking activities for the rest of the year...

Gorgeous Cumbrian View

Stott Park Bobbin Mill

Stott Park Bobbin Mill
Spoon club - from this... this.

Hipping Hall - hell - hell on earth I tell you...


So... things to do with a dodgy foot.  First of all there was Kendal Museum - fascinating and everso slightly brilliantly bonkers!

Kendal Museum
Then there was Kendal Mountain Festival where people with far worse injuries than mine explained how they shrugged them off before hopping up the north face of the Eiger, on stilts whilst juggling flaming torches... or something like that.

Next was a spot of Christmas Card making back at the glorious Quirky Cafe in Greystoke (well I made Christmas Cards, Steve was learning how to blacksmith) - we were even treated to an inversion along the way.

Taken from the M6.

Learning to paint Christmas cards

The Legend of Greystoke

But the MOST exciting thing in November was that Steve finished his challenge of 214 Wainwrights in 214 days in 2014.  We celebrated in style on top of Castle Crag.

A fantastic achievement!

And all of that goes some way to explaining how December seems to have come around way too soon again.  At the start of the month there was a quick visit to London where I finally managed a trip to the top of the Monument.- been meaning to do that for ages - there are a LOT of steps to climb but the views from the top are worth every step.  It was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London and is definitely worth a look - it's one of London's quirkier attractions plus you get a step class to boot!

Then on to Glasgow for a reunion with my Commonwealth Games friends and an excuse to explore the Botanical Gardens which we missed last time.  Not every country celebrates the gardens of the world in the same way we do - but where else can you wander around the tropical house in t-shirts in December while the hail pounds down outside?

Love how this captures the energy of the evening.

Back home and it was time to welcome an old friend back to Morecambe Prom - so great to see Eric back where he belongs, and lovely to meet his wife and daughter too.

From old friends to old adversaries and scores to settle.  For 4 years we've been trying to spot the bittern at Leighton Moss and finally we managed it - but was that enough for us?  Oh no - now Steve wants a pic of it in the snow.  Some folks are never satisfied!

Just time for a festive trip to Spoon Club where my hands fared rather better than last time and I managed to create a vaguely festive tree decoration - albeit one a little on the large side.

Christmas with the family meant lots of food, lots of fun and even a sighting of Santa on Christmas eve...

Christmas Eve sunset - complete with Santa zooming past
Of course we found time for a quick hike - at 7 miles it's the longest since I did my foot in, and I paid for it afterwards - but sometimes you just need to stretch your legs. The Chilterns are a little less lumpy than the fells we're used to, but it was a perfect crisp winters day and we definitely made the most of it.

St Giles Church, Chalfont St Giles
Our fabulous year was rounded off with lots of excitement when we found that we'd made the shortlist for the UK Blog Awards and got our pics in the local paper - not quite sure what it all means, but my mum's convinced I'm famous.  :-)

So that's it for 2014 - it's been a cracking year and 2015 has a tough act to follow (if you missed Part 1 it's here).  We have the small matter of writing a book and launching our walking guides to fit in around our adventures, but I'm sure we'll manage it somehow.  Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and may we both wish you a fabulous, fun and adventure filled new year.

Here's to 2015!