Monday, 20 November 2017

Behind the scenes at Kendal Mountain Festival

Endurance, grit, determination, a drive to push yourself beyond the limits of your comfort zone and a willingness to face fear square in the face are just a few of the qualities you'll need to be a volunteer at Kendal Mountain Festival.

Having visited the festival for many years, this year we decided to get involved so we volunteered to help out a bit and see things from the others side.  We had an absolutely brilliant time.  Utterly exhausting but brilliant.  At one point I was sat in a film session where there was a Q&A with the film-makers who had survived untold challenges canoeing along the Amazon in a dugout boat (which they'd dugout themselves and documented in a film called Dugout).

They talked about how they'd survived the extremes of tiredness and hunger.  "That's nothing" I thought "I haven't had a hot dinner for 3 days and all that stands between me and the end of my shift in 8 hours are two Yorkie bars and a bag of mini Cheddars".  I should have listened to Jean - a seasoned volunteer who had wisely packed a tuna sandwich and had a rucksack full of enticing snacks.

So what does being a volunteer entail?  Well, pretty much anything and everything.  The amazing Kendal Mountain Festival (KMF) team are there to ensure everyone has a fantastic time at the festival and our job is to do whatever they need us to do in order to make that happen.  In exchange we got a rather lovely T shirt, a Hydroflask and a pass to get in to see films and events when we're not on shift.  Me & Steve absolutely LOVE watching the films at the festival so over the course of 4 days we worked 27 hours and also fitted in well over 15 hours of films, which didn't leave a lot of time for food.  Or sleep.  I knew exactly how the Dugout guys felt - bar the odd swarm of enormous ants and the occasional dog-sized spider.

Between us our duties encompassed:
  • Putting up bunting
  • Taking bunting down when an angry lady told us off for putting it in the wrong place
  • Giving out brochures
  • Answering questings
  • Acting as VIP drivers and ferry folks to the station and assorted hotels
  • Selling festival merchandise
  • Handing out passes and tickets to VIPs
  • Not recognising some VIPS and feeling bad about it later*
  • Picking up litter
  • Fetching a burger for Tom and trying not to lick it as it smelled so good
  • Giving out tickets at the opening ceremony
  • Taking tickets in again at the opening ceremony
  • Buying batteries
  • Putting said batteries into tealights
  • Putting up posters
  • Helping to pack stuff away again when it all ended
Another famous bloke
* A young guy arrived at the Summit Desk (VIP spot) when I was there alone.  I looked at him.  "I know I know you" I said "and I know you're a climber, but I'm so sorry, your name completely escapes me just now".  It was Pete Whittaker - one of the most talented climbers on the planet and thoroughly nice guy to boot.  If you don't know him take a look at this.  The man is a legend.

Pretty much everyone we met was utterly delightful, including world famous climbers and the occasional TV star.  The tetchiest person we met (apart from the scary bunting lady) was a journalist who shall remain nameless.  They wanted a lift from the Brewery Arts Centre to an event at the Leisure Centre (a distance of around a mile for those not familiar with Kendal).  Both pool cars were out and it would have been half an hour before we could take him over there.  He glared at me.  "I'm happy to walk you over there if you're unsure of the directions" I offered.  "I know where it is" he hissed back "but it rained on me one year and I don't want to get wet."  

What I wanted to say was "this is a mountain festival so man up and face the drizzle".  What I actually said was "would you like to take a seat and I'll see if I can find you a coffee while you wait?"  Sometimes I hate myself.

The entire KMF team were appreciative of our efforts throughout, though special mention should go to Tom for his unending cheerfulness and Festival Manager Paul Scully who stopped to say thank you every time he passed a volunteer.  The KMF team were easy to spot as they were all sporting eco-friendly white down jackets from festival sponsors Columbia.  The jackets may have many fantastic features including being warm, waterproof and made from 21 recycled water bottles, but every time I saw 4 of them gathered together I started humming E17's Stay Another Day - all they needed were fur trimmed hoods.  (The whiteness is another eco-feature which avoids the use of coloured dyes)

Will we be back next year?  Absolutely - if they haven't been put off by me insulting world famous climbers and surreptitiously Googling other vaguely familiar faces and names.  It is one of the most exhausting, brilliantly fun weekends I've had in a long time.  I think I might even film our experience and enter it into the following year's event.  You want endurance mate? I'll give you endurance...

(And if you want to volunteer next year just click here for more info)

The brilliant Dan Keeley

I'm calling this one "Psychohorizontal"

Absolutely no idea what Tom had just sat on...
My favourite film of the festival - just 5 minutes and guaranteed to make you smile.

MORE THINGS TO MAKE YOU SMILE - our books are packed with fun facts and fab photos - perfect as a pressie or just to treat yourself!  Click HERE to learn more!

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Friday, 17 November 2017

5 Ways to explore the Lake District

Back in the day, when this blog first began, it was very much focused on exploring the different fells on foot but we decided to make 2017 the year we did something different.  It's not that we got bored with hiking, far from it, it's just that different modes of transport offer different views and different experiences and we love them all.  We've also met up with some utterly fab people who are proving that exploring the fells isn't just a passtime for those with 2 healthy legs.

1. Bikes and electric bikes

I am a fair weather, unashamed, not too hilly cyclist.  I love my bike but I'm never going to be one of those Lycra clad lovelies you see pounding their way up Hard Knott Pass, so we stick to relatively flat places like Thirlmere and Grizedale.  If your legs are really feeling the train, or you don't have your own bike, then fear not for there is an entire network of cycle hire places around Morecambe Bay (also blissfully non hilly) or there's Velo Bikes in Grizedale where we borrowed a couple of ebikes from last week.

For a few blissful hours I understood a little of what it felt like to be Laura Trott - not that I'd ever catch her even with electric assistance, but it was wonderful to zoom up hills with hardly any effort and polish off a 21 mile bike ride in under two hours and still be able to talk at the end of it.

Ebikes from Velo bikes in Grizedale
2.  On foot

To be fair, I end up exploring on foot even when I'm riding a bike as I push it up so many hills.  Nothing will ever replace my love of hiking but it's always fun escaping the crowds and exploring some of the less visited spots.  One of my favourite walks this year was the day we spent around Ennerdale Water - it was a glorious day, the heather was in full bloom and we hardly saw another soul once we left the car park.  Perfect.

3.  On the water

2017 was the year we cracked out the kayaks - and the canoes!  Fed up of walking and cycling around the lakes we thought it was about time we got out onto the lakes, so we booked a day's kayaking with Distant Horizons on Ullswater.  They gave us all the tuition we needed and kept a close eye on us all day, which was perhaps as well...  We had so much fun that we went back for a go on their canoes a few weeks later.  I wanted to love the kayaks more but I found the canoes a lot more comfortable - plus there was more room for a picnic in there...

(I bought the adventures as a Christmas gift for Steve - if you fancy it you can find the vouchers here.)

4.  IN the water

I turned 50 this year and my middle aged crisis took the form of wetsuits.  I figured it was about time to return to my swimming roots and start splashing around.  Steve was rather less gung-ho about this than I was but we ended up having several wonderful adventures hiking to a lake or tarn, going for a swim and then enjoying a BBQ on the shores.  Admittedly the photo below is in Consiton Water which didn't require much of a hike, but it was a lot of fun!

Strange aquatic mammal spotted in Consiton Water
5.  In a Terrain Hopper

It's easy to see the fells as just something for those on two legs but, as my awesome friend Debs proves, there's ways of exploring the hills even if you're not a gnarly hairy hiker.  (Like Deb's husband Andy...) 😀

My name is Debbie and I live in Cumbria. In 2011 I was diagnosed with spinal degeneration and have since used a wheelchair. 

Before this, I had always been a keen hill walker. My husband Andy and I enjoyed long-distance treks,we’d completed a few together, including Coast to Coast, Dales Way and Cumbria Way. 

Dabs out and about on her Terrain Hopper
Following the diagnosis, I began investigating all terrain wheelchairs which could get me back out into the hills. I found one called a TerrainHopper, a 4x4 all terrain wheelchair and it was with this that Andy and I completed the Coast to Coast walk, from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay in 2015.  Last year we published our first book, 'In the Spirit of Wainwright', which is a guide to the route we took across the county. 

In 2016, we devised a new long-distance route from Semerwater, North Yorkshire to 
Bassenwaite in Cumbria. This is a trek of 81 miles, and is entirely all terrain wheelchair accessible. 

At present time we are developing a new long distance through the Lakeland passes. We
don’t know as yet if it is possible to do – but that’s part of the fun! We enjoy trying new,
different routes, hoping to make the inaccessible accessible.

Being able to get back out into the hills has given me my life back. I can now enjoy being 
back outside with my family and friends. I work with The Outdoor Guide with Julia Bradbury to promote wheel friendly walks. (  Our aim is to encourage other people with disabilities to  get outdoors.

For more information about the TerrainHopper, please visit

Saturday, 4 November 2017

10 Happy Things

Is it just me or is the news more depressing than usual at the moment?  Whenever I turn on the TV or check the BBC app on my phone all I see is misery.  Most of the internet isn't much better - provocative articles and editorial pieces designed to provoke debate and argument, followed by rude and abusive posts as people ditch their manners and lay into one another.

"If it bleeds, it leads" as they say in journalism - bad news is good business so, assuming that's true, this blog should absolutely bomb as I've decided I'm going to buck the trend and tell you about 10 things that made me happy this week.  Some big, most small, but all a blissful respite from the misery of the news cycle.

1.  The view from the train as I come home

I know that I am incredibly lucky to live where I do and I appreciate it every single day.  These were taken on Thursday as I came home from work and were the perfect antidote to a busy day.

2. A proper record player!

On Monday were lucky enough to enjoy a night away at The Plough in Lupton, an absolutely beautiful hotel not too far from Kirkby Lonsdale.  It's an utterly gorgeous place to stay, the rooms are superb and the food divine, but what was the thing that made me happiest?  The enormous roll top bath?  No.  The supersized shower?  No.  The thing which made me squeal with delight was finding a proper old record player in our room complete with a box of classic albums.  I could have happily have stayed in our room all evening listening to them and reliving my youth.

3.  Liverpool

I travel around the UK a lot for work - seriously, if "RailMiles" were a thing I'd have enough to go to the moon and back (though there'd probably be a rail replacement bus service on somewhere along the way). Wherever I go I always try and make time for a spot of sightseeing and I was blessed with beautiful weather as I explored Liverpool on Wednesday evening.  I wandered through the city and took a ferry across the Mersey but this was my favourite view of the day - perfect light and a perfect reflection - just wish I'd had a better camera with me to do it justice.

4. A new plaque!

Last Saturday the weather wasn't great but we were out and about anyway around one of my favourite places - Thirlmere. I love the views but I also love the history of the valley (we wrote a whole chapter about it in our first book)  but in all the times I'd visited I'd not spotted this particular plaque, probably because it's situated along the western road at a place where you wouldn't normally stop, but as the road across the dam is closed there's a lot less traffic so a lot more time to pause and spot little gems like this.

5. The Jacobean Moon Man of Wigan Parish Church

On Wednesday morning I was working in Wigan and had a bit of time to kill before my train to Liverpool so I took a wander around the Parish Church.  There I chatted to a very lovely man who filled me in on a little of the history. I was particularly interested to learn about one of their former Rectors, a man named John Wilkins.  In 1638 he wrote a book called "The Discovery of a World in the Moone" where he put forward the idea of building "mechanical chariots" to fly to the moon.  Seriously, click on this link. it's well worth a read.

6. Eleanor Rigby statue, Liverpool

Back in Liverpool for this one.  The city is full of statues and memorials to the very many famous people who are connected with the place - Billy Fury, Cilla Black and, of course, The Beatles, but my favourite statue was this, for 2 main reasons.  Firstly because Eleanor Rigby is my favourite Beatles tune and I think this statue captures the essence of the song perfectly.  The second reason I love it is because it was designed and created by Tommy Steele - a man not usually associated with sculpture - and I love little nuggets of history like that.

7.  Perfect chips in Giggleswick

After our lovely evening in Lupton, we headed for Settle - a beautiful little town which I'm terribly fond of and don't visit nearly enough.  You can pick up some interesting historic trails around the town from the tourist info and if you fancy something more adventurous there's a fabulous caves walk taking in the hills around the town.  What made me happy here were the perfect pile of chips with my burger. Considering it's one half of our national dish it's amazing how many places manage to cock it up; but not at the Harts Head - perfectly crispy on the outside, light and fluffy in the middle and with a pot of garlic mayo which will ward off vampires for the next week or so!

8.  My favourite view (well, one of them anyway)

Back at Thirlmere again but this time on Sunday and with better weather.  This is definitely one of my favourite views in Cumbria and it's so easy to get to.  As you drive over Dunmail Raise towards Keswick, park up at the top of the hill on the grass verge on the left then follow the tarmac track running parallel to the road for a couple of hundred yards until you see this.  If that doesn't absolutely blow you away then there's no hope for you.

9.  People paid to hear us talk!

Admittedly it was only 10 people, but even so, we were utterly delighted!  We were giving a talk at Waterstone's in Lancaster on Friday evening about what happened behind the scenes on our Trails with Tails book and 10 people came along - how cool is that?  They didn't even know about the cake before they arrived either! I've always dreamed of writing books so to have a book out which people are interested enough in to give up an hour of their Friday night to learn more about just blew me away!

10.  Mucking around with my bloke and a Kodaiq

I don't always get to spend days working with Steve, but I love it when I do!  This must be the blog with the least number of adverts on it - mainly because there's nothing I hate more than following an interesting sounding link only to be bombarded with adverts in every size shape and form which make it pretty much impossible to read whatever it was that lured me there in the first place, so I just don't do it. One of the perks of the blog though is that we get to work with people like Vantage Motors in Morecambe who occasionally loan us a car to play with for the weekend.  Last weekend it was a Skoda Kodiaq and we had a LOT of fun - we piled the bikes into the back and spent 2 days mucking around in Thirlmere creating our very own cycling video, which we plan to upload just as soon as Steve has finished editing out my swearing... 

DON'T LET THE NEWS GET YOU DOWN - our books are packed with fun facts and fab photos - perfect as a pressie or just to treat yourself!  Click HERE to learn more!

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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Fact or Folklore?

Cast your mind back to when you were a child - most of us remember long hot summer days and idyllic snow filled winters - we delete the miserable rainy days spent indoors driving our parents up the wall.  It's sort of the same with history - having written 3 books which explore the hidden histories of the region I can report that trying to separate out fact from folklore was one of the most challenging aspects.  I'm not suggesting I've now got it 100% correct, but I have managed to disprove a few popular local myths.  (I was considering calling this blog "Snopes for the Slopes", but felt that was perhaps a step too far...)

Anyway, here are 5 of my favourite busted myths.

The Bishop of Barf marks the spot where a bishop died and Keswick MR paint it

Possibly, and no.  The story behind this is that the distinctive white stones on the hillside mark the spot where the bishop of Derry (now Londonderry) died in 1783 whilst trying to win a drunken bet that he could ride his horse up and over the hill.  Turns out he couldn't.  To commemorate this the patrons of the Swan Inn at the foot of this hill where he'd been drinking, painted the rocks white and continued to do so in his memory.  When the Swan changed hands and became holiday apartments this practice stopped - someone still paints the rocks, but I can't figure out who.  Wikipedia tells me it's Keswick Mountain Rescue - but they swear it's not them.  As I say in our 50 Gems book: "The reality is it's a 7m high lump of rock in a rather inaccessible spot and painting it would require a good degree of expertise (not to mention paint!) so, if you notice anyone in the area with an abseiling kit and a couple of large bags from B&Q, do let us know."  NOTE:  Please do NOT try and walk to the Bishop - there has been a spate of strandings this year.

Rannerdale Bluebells grow from the blood of fallen Norman soldiers

No, they don't.  I particularly like this one as it can be traced to someone with credibility embroidering a story to generate pubic interest.  The story comes from a book called The Secret Valley published in 1930 by Nicholas Size.  Nicholas, a keen historian, bought the Victoria Hotel (now the Bridge Hotel) and, in an effort to drum up a little trade, published his colourful version of the valley's history involving immense and bloody battles.  His efforts were successful though he was less than popular with the local farmers who quickly got fed up of visitors tramping across their fields.

King Dunmail is buried under the pile of stones at the top of Dunmail Raise

No, he isn't.  Folklore states that King Dunmail (King of Cumberland) was killed her during an epic battle and his soldiers buried him under a huge pile of stones. Depending on which account you read eyes may or may not have been gouged out his crown hurled into Grisedale Tarn.  The truth is that there was a big battle in the 5th century between Dunmail and Edmund (King of England) and although no-one quite knows for sure where it happened Dunmail Raise has been ruled out as no graves or other evidence have ever been found there.

Jenny Brown's Point is named after a nanny who saved her charges from drowning.

No, it isn't - or at least we're pretty sure it isn't. The story goes that sometime during the 18th Century a nanny by the name of Jenny Brown heroically saved the two children in her care from the treacherous tides of Morecambe Bay.  There's a fabulous local history group called the Mourholme Society who are continually researching and discovering new things about the region.  They can't find any evidence to support the nanny story, but they have identified that a local woman named Jenny Brown was named as a beneficiary in a will in 1671 - although we still don't really know why the point was named after her, but it could just have been because she lived there.  (And if you're interested in more history on that particular area check out Andy Denwood's fabulous re-edited version of John Lucas classic book on the region.)

Devil's Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale is named after the devil himself

Unlikely.  Unless you happen to believe in the devil appearing and making wagers with people.  It’s said that an old woman who lived on the banks of the river lost one of her cows when it wandered across to the other side and refused to come back. The Devil appeared and offered to build a bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross the bridge, assuming it would be the old woman’s. When the bridge was built the old woman tossed a bun across the bridge which was chased after by her little dog thwarting and incensing the devil. This is an ancient crossing point of the River Lune and what's more likely is that the story was created to explain the presence of the large rocks (which apparently burst from the Devil's purse) back in the days before we understood all about glaciation and geology.

OUR THREE BOOKS are packed with loads more stories like these - perfect as a pressie or just to treat yourself!  Click HERE to learn more!

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Friday, 15 September 2017

Spirit Trail - The Finale

After all that excitement I'm now sat at home with one minor blister (it got a bit gory for a while but is improving now) and slightly aching legs - the sort of ache that says you've done a long walk but you could crack on again if you needed to.

For those that have followed our whole journey - THANK YOU - we really appreciate all the reads, likes and retweets and we've been blown away by the number of people who've taken an interest in what we've been doing.  This all began as me having a mad idea on a fell so I can't quite believe we've actually done it.  To be fair, out of all the mad ideas I've had on fells this is probably the only one that could work in reality - the others generally involve the use of ray guns, personal shields or teleporters.

I would say I'll miss going out in the hills and drinking gin every day but I plan to spend most of the next 4 days doing exactly that!  I will miss all the wonderful people we met along the way though - people who took the time to meet with us and allow us to sample their wonderful drinks, and I definitely plan to keep in touch with as many as I can.
The lovely folks from Virginia House on Day 1

So, what's next I hear you ask?  Well first of all me and Karen need to get our book written so expect to see that sometime between Easter and Summer 2018.  We got along famously during our trek but, as we both said to each other, we rarely spend that much time alone with our husbands, never mind a virtual stranger, so we're both enjoying a bit of a breather today (plus I'm sure Karen is enjoying a break from my ear splitting snoring!)

The success of this project has spurred me on to develop other ideas so, if you're a hiking friend of mine, watch out - I may be descending on your in-box with a harebrained hiking idea for 2018 - I have plenty of ideas brewing, now all I need is a suitable victim (oops!) companion. 😀

When the credits roll at the end of a movie the audience generally ignore them as they race for the exit but PLEASE spend a moment to take a look through our credits - we honestly could not have completed this adventure without their support.  I wasn't able to add all the fancy clickly links when we were on the road, but I can now, so all you have to do is click on them the links below to give them a "like" and a "follow" - in each case the first link is to their website - THANK YOU!  😊

Literally gin made in a shed in their back garden - love them to bits!

The make stunning crystal for James Bond & Downton Abbey & they're in the heart of Ulverston

Beautiful food, comfortable rooms and a VERY well stocked gin parlour - I'm amazed we left...

South Lakes Ecology

Who took the time to tell us what juniper looked like and why it's important for more than making gin

Kin Vodka
Kin Vodka on Facebook
Kin Vodka on Instagram

Judith has SO much passion for what she does and never misses an order - even when she was flooded out during Storm Desmond

Unsworths Brewery
Unsworths Brewery on Facebook

One of two guest ales on our trail - just to make sure we kept our fluid levels up...

Hydroflask on Facebook
Hydroflask on Instagram

Kept our tea so hot we could drink it all day!

Gilpins Gin
Gilpins on Facebook
Gilpins on Instagram

We didn't meet but they were super supportive & a very fine gin!

Cowmire Hall

Properly traditional & very lovely.

Crumble Cottages
Crumble Cottages on Facebook
Crumble Cottages on Instagram
Sadly timings meant we couldn't stay here but they did give us tea and biscuits!

Kendal Mintcake Liqueur
Also make Lakeland Moon Gin

Super green, super tasty and divine in cocktails.  The one night we almost can't remember...

Kendal Hostel
Kendal Hostel on Facebook

Our first experience of hostel and very lovely it was too!

Sally's Cottages - The Hideaway Windermere
Sally's Cottages on Facebook
Sally's Cottages on Instagram
After our first very wet day it was wonderful to come "home"

Gingerbread Vodka
Mint Drinks on Facebook

A lovely late discovery

Dodd's Restaurant
Dodd's on Facebook

Fantastic fresh cooked food in the heart of Ambleside

Ginger Bakers
Ginger Bakers on Facebook

Bakers of the best brownies on the planet. Fact.

Armathwaite Hall
Armathwaite Hall on Facebook
Armathwaite Hall on Twitter
So luxuriously perfect I'm amazed they let me in!

Herdy on Facebook
Herdy on Instagram

Because how can you not love a Herdy?

Keswick Brewing Company
Keswick Brewing Company on Facebook

Our second guest ale and home to the utterly awesome Twizy!

Windermere Lake Cruises
Windermere Lake Cruises on Facebook
Windermere Lake Cruises on Instagram

For saving our legs after a very wet hike!

Lakes Distillery
Lakes Distillery on Facebook
Lakes Distillery on Instagram

Brewers of whisky, gin AND vodka - and a fab bistro too!

The Rum Story Whitehaven
The Rum Story on Facebook

A wonderful surprise at the end of a very long trail

And for now, that's all folks!  THANK YOU for following and sharing in our adventure - we'll let you know when the book comes out!

CumbrianRambler on Facebook
CumbrianRambler on Instagram

The nut job who wades through bogs in the pouring rain for fun!

LadyHiker on Facebook
Karen Guttridge on Instagram

Who loves the sunshine and pulls a mean pint!

DON'T FORGET OUR THREE BOOKS - perfect as a pressie or just to treat yourself!  Click HERE to learn more!

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