Wednesday, 11 March 2015

14 Things Hiking can learn from Gaming

I went out hiking all on my own yesterday - not a problem in itself, but it gave me too much time to think.  I put that time to good use though and by the end of the day had a whole list of improvements to hiking which could be made if only it were a computer game...

1.  First up there'd be achievements - "Achievement Unlocked - Climbing Blencathra" or "Achievement Unlocked - you remembered the flasks"  that sort of thing.
2.  At the drop of a hat you'd be able to change into any clothes to suit any conditions - and ALL of them would be way more impressive than your current set of waterproofs.

3.  Never mind geocaching, the hills would be full of hidden health packs and whatever illness, fatigue or injury has befallen you, wolf one of these babies down and you'll be just fine.

4.  Whenever you spot a monument, building or feature you were previously unaware of, a large white arrow and helpful text box would pop up next to it telling you all you need to know.

5.  You would NEVER get lost again because the route would light up ahead of you just like it does in Fable 2.

6.   At all times there would be a proximity detector available on your phone to tell you if there are other people in your general vicinity.  This would be useful for changes of clothes, toilet visits and arguments.

7.  Invisibility cloaks would allow you to sneak past sheep without disturbing them and creep up on any other wildlife you've been trying for years to get a photograph of.

8.  When you reach an uncrossable river or bog, any surrounding objects such as fence posts, drinking troughs or old farm machinery would bounce up and down Lego style, allowing you to assemble them into a bridge, boat or raft.  (This will, of course, unlock another achievement)

9.  Light bridges - there'd be hand held light bridges which could be deployed with the flick of a wrist and allow you to cross from, say, Scafell Pike to Sca Fell without going all the way down and back up again,

10.  Magic maps would allow you to select your destination and zoom right there.  Not to cheat when getting to the top of the fells (where's the fun in that?), but to help when you're soaked through and still 5 miles from the pub.

11.  You'd be able to carry an ENORMOUS quantity of stuff before you became over encumbered.

12.  Your regenerating shields would protect you from midges and cleggs.  Especially cleggs.

13.  When required, absolutely any wire could be used as a zipwire, all you'd need to do is jump on and assume a stylish pose.

14.  Cortana would replace your GPRS - not the voice on your windows phone, the original Cortana from Halo - because, let's face it, she rocks and is a WAY better idea than having HAL in your head "I can't let you go that way Dave"

And just to prove I really did get out on the fells yesterday - here's a few pics of my jolly up Black Combe.

Achievement unlocked - Black Combe

The fabled town of Bootle

Black Combe with zipwires...  ;-)

Beautiful beach at Silecroft

View from the transporter home.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

How big is your comfort zone?

When I was a kid we didn't have central heating  which wasn't a problem in itself but could make bath-times interesting.  I can clearly remember the luxury of sinking down into a nice hot bath with clouds of steam rising upward fogging the windows and the mirror.  I could have stayed there forever with my little rubber duck, but the problem was the bathwater inevitably got cooler, as did the room, and my exit had to be finely judged; too soon and I wasted good hot bathwater, too late and I'd have gotten myself just that little bit too cold.  Perfection was a flawlessly timed leap from the hot bath, through the cold bathroom, to warm dry clothes and a mug of hot chocolate in front of the fire downstairs.

"It's a sign..."
Comfort zones come in all shapes and sizes - when I was a kid mine was clearly bath-sized, but it's grown a little as I've gotten older.  Take moving up here for example - a pretty big leap by anyone's standards, and now things are more settled it's easy to remember things as being less tough than they actually were.

I have one of those "Time-Hop" apps and yesterday in popped a picture I remember only too well. I took it as I walked from the campsite we were staying in at the time to the train station and it looks like a nice enough photo - but that day was the day we'd reached rock bottom and genuinely thought we'd have to pack everything up an give up on our dream.  We'd been knocked down so many times my knees were getting sore and I took the photo to strengthen my resolve and remind me why it was so important for us to keep on fighting.  That's the thing about leaping outside your comfort zone, by definition, it's going to be uncomfortable.

But comfort zones come in all shapes and sizes and it's no good feeling inadequate by comparing your own comfort zone to someone else's.  I have long had a love of mountaineers and early explorers - especially those who pushed the boundaries and forged new routes.  Last night we attended an excellent lecture by Doug Scott who, together with Chris Bonington, Joe Tasker, Pete Boardman, Don Whillans, Dougal Haston etc. took many of the world's major peaks by storm.  As he described the epic bivouac at just shy of 29,000feet on Everest, it occurred to me that his comfort zone was somewhat larger than mine...

And then there are folks like Danny Macaskill - he of the "The Ridge" fame.  (And if you think the film is impressive take a look at the "Making of the Inaccessible Ridge" clip) - I genuinely don't believe this man has ever even come across the concept of the comfort zone.

You don't have to be outside dangling upside down by one boot from the nearest cliff face to be outside your comfort zone - I have spent the past few months way outside of mine by sitting indoors writing a book.  I've been determined to get all 10 chapters rough drafted before the weather picks up and although I've succeeded I'm now beginning to drive myself, and those around me (mainly Steve), slightly mad.  That's why there haven't been any big blogs about bonkers adventures recently - a shot of me sat at my laptop, in my PJs with yet another cup of cold decaff next to me just doesn't compare to a jaw dropping panorama of the fells.

Far more interesting than me in my PJs
I guess the point of all this is that whatever the size of your comfort zone, don't wait to be pushed before you step outside of it.  Though we battled long and hard to forge a new life, we only did it when life turned sour and forced us to do something drastic - what we've both realised since is that there was absolutely nothing to stop us making the move years ago.

Perhaps we stayed in the nice hot bath a bit too long because we were scared how cold it would be if we got out - turns out it wasn't that bad afterall.  Now brace yourselves 'cos I'm back out on the fells this week and I've got a lot of energy to burn off!

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.