Sunday, 19 June 2016

Give Me The Wide Vast Spaces

First up, Happy Father's Day to all the dads reading this - I trust you're all being thoroughly spoiled right now!

Sadly my own dad died of cancer on June 16th 1986.  The last time I ever saw him was on Fathers Day and, as I was born on Fathers Day, it was technically the first time I ever saw him too - but I don't really remember that much about it.  30 years is a long time and although I still wish he was around, or had least been around longer when I was growing up, the memories I have of him are happy memories, usually involving family holidays, Christmas and jokes, really bad jokes.

I was only 18 when he died so I hadn't really gotten to know him and although relatives have told me over the years that "you're just like your dad you are" I can only take their word for it.  He was a Methodist lay preacher, a stand up comedian, a gifted actor heavily involved in amateur dramatics and a keen walker.  I have an older brother and sister and it's funny how all three of us have taken after him in some way - big sister is a fabulous actress and addicted to holidays on the Scottish Islands, big brother is a Methodist Minister with a delightfully warped sense of humour and I'm the crazy hiker of the family (we all got stuff from mum too - but hey, this *is* Fathers Day!)

What I hadn't really known about dad until recently was that he also wrote.  A few months ago my sister was sorting through some old books and found a copy of a poem my dad wrote in 1950.  I absolutely love it as it echoes our shared love for the outdoors and books and hints at my writing heritage (my big sister used to write to - remember all those plays Ruth?  Everyone always loved them - you really should do more and Paul - your sermons are never boring!)

Anyway, here it is - the poem is called Happiness so please don't read it and be sad.  The message is about taking pleasure in the simple things so whether you're spending time in the "wide vast spaces" or cosy warm pubs, just be sure to make some happy memories.


Give me the wide vast spaces
Give me the open Sky
Let me wander alone at will
With a rivulet running by
Give me the sun in its heaven
Let the birds sweetly trill
Leave me alone on a mountain at dawn
While my soul drinks its fill
Give me the smell of the grass after rain
The freshness of dewy dawn
Give me the sea breeze that clears the brain
The crispy winters morn
Give me all these and I’m satisfied
Give me a love that’s free
Give me a book that I may read
And happy I shall be.

Reg Saunders

June 1950

Friday, 17 June 2016

Monty's Blog

This is a very short but very sad blog. Back in July 2010 when we started this blog it lived on another site and was called Monty's Blog after our cat.  We'd set off on a 6 week adventure in our camper van and were bringing Monty along with us.  I couldn't be bothered to keep emailing our families with what we were up to so started the blog and told them they could all look there if they wanted to keep tabs on our adventures..

Our very first post is here and we had no idea then where it would lead us.  (There are earlier posts now on this site but they were posts I've copied across from a forum I used to be part of).  Since then Monty accompanied us on trips from Lands End to John O'Groats and all points in between - some of our best memories are when the 3 of us were living together on the van for three months in Jan/ Feb March 2011 when we first moved up here.  He even went off "on safari" for 2 weeks when we finally moved into our new home.  He really was a very well travelled cat.

Sadly, this week he was hit by a car along Windermere Road and died.  We are, of course, utterly heartbroken as I'm sure any pet owner will understand and, as this blog was originally started in his name, I couldn't let his passing go unmentioned.  He was an absolute character - we loved him dearly and will miss him greatly but I'm sure once the tears have dried there will be plenty of smiles as we recall his many adventures.


Monday, 13 June 2016

Not right in the head

I'm really not one for taking it easy but, since my almighty crack on the head, I'm having to slow down somewhat.  My broken arm is well on the mend, though far from sorted, but the bang on the bonce is proving rather more irksome.  At the moment I have pretty much zero desire for, or tolerance of, alcohol (unheard of!), I've gained a sweet tooth I never had before plus I've also developed a couple of strange allergies (including liquorice which I love) and I still get tired a lot more easily than I should.  All par for the course apparently and just requires a little patience before I'm back to full strength.  Ha - yeah, I'm SO good at patience!

Anyway, we decided to head to Gozo (next to Malta) for a spot of sunshine for a week to try and get me back on my feet again.  This was an excellent plan apart from two minor flaws - firstly I don't really like hot weather and secondly I am absolutely terrified of flying.  (Yeah, yeah I know it's the safest form of travel, but logic doesn't enter into it when you're terrified.  Let's say you have a fear of big fat hairy spiders but you have to hold a tarantula in your hand for 3 hours 15 mins - there's very little chance it will bite you and, even if it does, you're most likely to survive.  Does that wee spot of logic make you less scared?  Thought not.  That's how it is with me and flying - 3 hours and 15 mins of pure, unadulterated, terror.)

Because our flight was so early in the morning (a cunning ruse to spring it on me before I was awake enough to realise what was happening - like that was ever going to work), we headed to the airport the day before and booked into a nice hotel as a treat.  I'll be honest, I normally have a very sunny disposition, but this part of the holiday was one disappointment after another.

I'll skip over the 2 hour train delay, lack of any decent places to eat near the airport and confusing/ non-existent signage and reserve my wrath for Thomas Cook who, without a shadow of a doubt went out of their way to be the most difficult, money grabbing and disinterested in the customer company it has been my displeasure to encounter.

For a non seasoned air traveller it was a wake up call to read the small print and not expect any logic, common sense or decency.  We opted for the sundown bag drop to save time knowing that there was a £5 charge, but it turns out it's a charge per person not per bag, so despite the fact we'd checked in online and were only dropping off one bag we were charged £10 because the bag "belonged" to 2 people. I could rant for hours about the number of other ways they disappointed us but, at least they got us there in one piece.

Somewhere over Monaco - we were surprised to find there was no additional
charge for looking out the window...
Anyway, enough of my ranting and rambling - here's a quick guided tour of Gozo in case you ever fancy visiting.

Embracing the local food - basically beer, crisps and Parma ham

Ramla Bay - deep red sands and the occasional jellyfish

The harbour & hotel in Gozo - with strategically placed motorboat

Temples at Ggantija - the oldest freestanding manmade stricture in the world

Centuries old graffiti from the Old Prison in the Citadel
The Citadel in Rabat

The Blue Lagoon Comino  - beautiful but OH so very crowded
Escaping the crowds on Comino with a short walk around the island

Coastal walk at Xatt I-Ahmar
Ancient salt pans
Swim in the sea at Mgarr ix-Xini - location for the Brangelina film By the Sea

Festa in the local town for St Anthony, the
patron saint of lost & stolen articles - perhaps
he knows where Thomas Cook put their
customer service policy?
Qolla I-Bajda near Marsalforn

Tower at Dwerja - loads of towers on the island and TONS of
fascinating history - well worth a visit
Dwerja Bay, Fungus Rock & the Azure Window (far right 
Nope - no idea
Church at Xewkija - so many beautiful churches
2 hour "not too serious according to them" flight delay - perfect for the terrified
passenger to dream up 1001 doomsday scenarios!

And that's it.  It may be a while before I can write up any big hikes, which is a bit of a blow for an outdoors/ hiking blog, but fear not, I shall dream up a variety of other ways to keep myself entertained.  Life's too short to sit still for any longer than I absolutely have to so here's to leaping into things even when it's technically against doctors orders...

Xlendi Bay - our favourite spot

Friday, 3 June 2016

Chateauneuf Du Pape, Rodney

In honour of our recent trip to Gozo I thought I'd share with you my top 5 foreign language cock ups to prove why it's perhaps best that I stick to UK travel writing... (the Gozo blog will follow when I've sorted through all the pics!)

1.  Hello toenail!

When I got in the lift of the apartment block on my first trip to Spain a Spanish gentleman got in, smiled and said what I thought was "una" to me. I smiled & said "una" back then, not realising I'd actually misheard the word "ola", proceeded to greet every Spainiard with a bright and breezy "una", which is Spanish for "toenail". After a week of shouting "toenail" at bemused strangers, someone finally put me right.

2. One letter makes a big difference.

Same trip and on the return flight I consulted my trusty Spanish phrasebook (bought to avoid any more silly "toenail" gaffs), and confidently requested a seat next to a widow instead of a window...

3.  Divided by a common language.

To prove it's not only foreign languages that trip me up... At the tender age of 21 I made my first trip to the states with a friend's family. They'd previously lived there and were au fait with hotels, taxis and, most importantly, breakfasts. When the waitress came to take my breakfast order I asked for eggs on toast.

"How'dya like yer eggs?" She asked.  In my finest Hugh Grant bumbling English accent I replied "Gosh, poached would be lovely. " The family roared with laughter & the dad told her I'd take them "sunny side up!"

4. Absolutely Fabulous

I actually love foreign languages and spent 5 years learning Italian, but managed to make my best Italian gaff in an Italian café  in London.  As I was enjoying a lovely lunch I was conjugating the past tense and going over how to say "Thank you, that was lovely" in my best Italian. The moment came - as I left the café I called out to the waitress "Ero ottima, grazie, ciao!".  It wasn't until 10 mins after I'd left that I realised I'd got it wrong and what I'd actually said was "I was fabulous, thank you, goodbye!" Doh!

5. And finally...

When I met Steve I told him some of these stories and included another that happened in Spain. I told him how I'd gone to a beach bar and ordered 2 beers in Spanish but was given 2 cappuccinos. He laughed and thought nothing more of it.

Fast forward a few years and we're on holiday in Madeira. After a strenuous morning spent clambering up a very steep hill path we arrived at lunchtime at a nice café bar. I went in to get us a couple of beers using my finest Portuguese. Five minutes later I emerged with 2 cappuccinos. Steve looked at me. "Don't ask" I said "Just don't ask."

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

10 Fascinating Facts about Cumbria

Writing a book with the word "History" in the title is bound to put some people off.  We don't all love history.  Hell, *I* didn't even love history when I was at school - I'd be nodding off before you could say 1066.  Our mission is to unearth facts that have the "oooohh" factor - as in "oooohh, I never knew that" - so here are 10 of my favourite fab facts about Cumbria; some are in the book and some aren't, but I guarantee all of them are more fun than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

1.  There used to be a bridge from Bowness-on-Solway to Scotland, but it was demolished due to drunken Scots.

The bridge was over 1 mile long and was used by iron ore carrying trains to avoid the busy junction at Carlisle.  It was badly damaged by icebergs in 1881 after the rivers Esk & Eden froze - as they thawed ice broke off and demolished a third of the bridge.  It was rebuilt but eventually closed in 1921.  At that time you couldn't buy alcohol in Scotland on a Sunday so, each Sunday a number of our Scottish friends crossed the bridge to enjoy a "relaxing sweet sherry" after dinner.  Unfortunately they were prone to having one too many and, after a few folks sadly fell from the bridge and drown as they staggered home, the bridge was demolished in 1933.

2.  George Washington's Granny is buried in Whitehaven

Honestly, there are SO many fascinating things to say about Whitehaven that it's hard to pick just one - but this was the one that surprised me the most.  Mildred Gale - George Washington's paternal grandmother is buried there.  She was born in Virginia but married a shipping merchant who traded on ships between Virginia and Whitehaven (which was a very busy and important port at that time).  She's buried in St Nicholas' churchyard, though the exact location of the grave isn't known.

3.  There's a road which runs parallel to the A6 between Kendal and Shap which used to be one of the most important roads in the country.

OK, it doesn't parallel the whole way - it does criss cross a few times, but the Old North Road is still there and very easy to spot.  Most of it remains accessible and it makes for a lovely walk well away from the crowds.  There's a fabulous road map from 1675 which records all of the main coach roads in Britain - there were only 4 roads noted in the whole of Cumbria and this is one of them. And if a dusty old book from the seventeenth century doesn't impress you then maybe the fact that AW himself loved the old road and was fascinated by its history might persuade you to take a second look.

4.  Grange-over-Sands got its name from an annoyed vicar

You may have noticed that there are two Granges in Cumbria - the one up near Keswick and Grange-over-Sands in the south - but until 1858 they were both just called Grange (a name usually indicating a nearby granary).  When the Reverend Wilson Rigg arrived in the southern Grange, after an eventful coach journey across Morecambe Bay sands, he quickly got fed up of his mail getting misdirected to Keswick Grange, so he changed the name of the town to Grange-over-Sands to distinguish between the two.

5.  There's a rock up above Launchy Gills that was the site of illegal trading

Anyone who's ever trekked from Ullscarf to High Tove will tell you what a bogfest it is - unless they did it when it was all frozen solid (a top tip for those attempting all the Wainwrights).  There are only a few rocks up there and one of them has an interesting history. When the plague hit in 1665 public markets were stopped to try and prevent the spread of the disease, but people still needed money, so the folks of Thirlmere Valley had a plan...  Far away from the eyes of the law they snuck up onto the top of the fell to a place called Web Rock to trade their "web" (woven fabric) and earn money to buy food.  No-one has quite pinpointed exactly which rock it is but there are a few likely contenders.

6.  Kentmere had such rowdy drunks they changed the law of the land

Back in the nineteenth century there were plenty of mines, quarries and mills along the Kentmere valley and, on payday, things could get a bit rowdy.  In 1887 the pub in the village had its licence revoked thanks to the lively goings on.  The owners pursued the decision all the way to the House of Lords and ultimately lost but their case Sharp -v- Wakefield set a precedent still cited today.

7.  The Cumbrian Dialect is a foreign language

Many folks are familiar with the "Yan, tan, tethera" sheep counting language used in Cumbria, but the Cumbrian dialect (now sadly in decline) is pretty much a language in its own right.  During World War Two a local gent who joined the Royal Navy was stationed in Iceland - he spoke with a strong Cumbrian dialect and apparently had little trouble conversing with the locals.

8.  The monks of Furness Abbey engaged in both smuggling and bribery

Furness Abbey is a beautiful place to visit, sadly now a ruin but back in the day it was one of the most powerful Abbies in the country.  The monks built the castle on Piel Island to support their import and export trade which, as they didn't pay any taxes on it, was basically a smuggling operation.  The Abbot is also said to have paid a "ransom" to Robert the Bruce to protect the Abbey.  Some call it a "ransom" others may call it a "bribe".  I bet their confessions were interesting...

9.  George Stevenson planned an enormous bridge from Morecambe to Ulverston

When they were originally planning the expansion of the railways in the region, George Stevenson proposed the idea of running a railway line directly out across Morecambe Bay.  The enormous structure would have connected Morecambe to Ulverston, but the backers of the time understandably got the jitters and backed out of the idea, leading to the current railway and viaduct we see today.

10.  There was once a plan to heat Cumbria using geothermal energy

Shap Granite with its big pink crystals is easily recognisable and was much used in architecture across the country (including the bollards around St Paul's Cathedral in London).  As recently as the 1980s the British Geological Survey carried out test drilling to see if there was enough residual heat deep down in the rocks to provide heat to the county - sadly there wasn't, but then the rock is over 400 million years old.

Our book is PACKED with hundreds of fascinating nuggets just like these so please don't think it's just another boring old history book.  Click here to find out more and buy your copy.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Don't pay the ferryman

The A591 may well now be open but on Monday I tried to take Glebe Road in Bowness out of commission using only my head.  We were running to catch the last ferry back to Lakeside when I tripped & fell head first onto the pavement.  Contrary to popular opinion the road was harder than my head and I ended up in Westmorland General for 2 nights with a severe concussion and a broken right arm.  I'm home now and doing OK but very light-headed and washed out and learning how to type with my left hand - but back to Monday...

The day had started out so well - as a thank you for the April Fool's Day blog the jolly nice folks at Windermere Lake Cruises sent us a free ticket to enjoy and we waited for a clear, sunny day so we could go along and take plenty of lovely photos.

We took the first ferry of the day from Lakeside - our plan was to travel to Ambleside, catch the little ferry across to Wray Castle, explore the castle then walk down to Claife Heights before getting the ferry back to Bowness and then down to Lakeside.  Their excellent Walkers Ticket will let you do a shorter version of our cruise starting and ending at Bowness.

The weather was perfect and the lake looked superb.

Wray Castle is always fantastic fun to visit with games and activities set up in many rooms, an excellent cafe and a great guided tour.

I should stress that the following photos were taken before any head injury occurred - honest!

Then came the lovely sunny walk back along the lake shore - just beautiful!

The last time we'd been to Claife Heights it was all boarded up so we were delighted to find it now fully renovated and offering superb views up and down the lake.

By now time was getting on so we headed for the small ferry back to Bowness.  We somehow managed to miss the Windermere Cruises one so took the chain ferry giving us 10 mins the other side to run back to the pier for the 16:55.

This is the last photo I took before my fall and the following 8 hours remain a complete blank despite the fact I never actually lost consciousness.

Apparently when we reached the other side we started to run for the ferry; Steve was ahead and about half way along he heard a shout followed by a big crack as I hit the deck.  I was clearly very dazed and when he tried talking to me I was spouting more gibberish than usual and he realised that an ambulance was required. (I have no recollection at all of what happened next so the following is based on what Steve has told me). 

As he made the call some lovely people sat with me (I have NO idea who you are but thank you!) and I was stuck in some sort of brain loop with my conversation apparently going something like this...

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?
Ans:  Yes
Me: Oh that explains why I have Don't Pay the Ferryman in my head.

Short pause

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?
Ans: Yes
Me: Oh that explains why I have Don't Pay the Ferryman in my head.

Short pause

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?

And so on until the ambulance arrived - very funny now but probably quite disturbing for those folks who were kind enough to sit with me.

I was taken to Westmorland General where my brain loop continued but with a few added elements now:

Me:  Have I been on a ferry?
Steve: Yes
Me:  That explains why I have Don't Pay the Ferryman in my head
Steve: Yes
Me:  I'm in hospital aren't I?
Steve: Yes
Me: Is it Barrow or Kendal?
Steve: Barrow
Me: Do I have any training courses this week?
Steve: Yes
Me: Oh well we need to cancel them
Steve: I have
Me: OK

Short pause

Me: Have I been on a ferry...

Apparently on one loop Steve got his middle answer wrong and this happened...

Have I been on a ferry?
Me:  Do I have any training courses this week?
Steve: Yes
Me:  Oh well we need to cancel them
Steve:  Yeah, I will do
Me:  So you haven't?  Go and do it now - you need to call them else they'll all be waiting for me...
Steve:  OK
(Good to know I'm a control freak even when I've completely lost the plot!)

The great thing is that it was like GroundHog Day so once Steve knew that one answer was going to bother me, he just changed it on the next loop so I was happy again.

I was CT scanned (all clear but I'm gutted I don't remember it) and X-rayed.  Because of my continued gibberish they clearly weren't letting me out of their sight so I was admitted.  The odd thing was I was processing everything like a dream so when a nurse I'd seen earlier reappeared I'd gaze at her in wonder and tell her I'd had a dream about her and wasn't that amazing?

Eventually they got me up to a ward and although it was late Steve was allowed to stay for as long as we wanted.  By now I was beginning to return to the land of the living and realising what had happened to me I was getting very frightened and upset (I know a bit about brain injures and the dangers of the first 36 - 72 hours).  After I'd calmed down a little Steve headed home (it was now gone 2am) and he left me in the care of Jess who checked my blood pressure and shone a light in my eyes every hour or so.  

I was too scared to sleep and as clarity began to return I was doing whatever I could to keep my brain working - counting the ceiling tiles, pacing the ward, reading all the notices on the ward - anything so I didn't fall asleep.

As dawn broke I heard oystercatchers outside (one of the joys of hospitals up here - there's plenty of green around) and watched herring gulls circling above the warm air vents.

Dawn from the ward
Slowly I was beginning to piece together the day before and I could elaborate on my "Have I been on a ferry?" routine though to be honest, even though I can now recall it all I remember it more as a dream than as an actual event.  Of course what wasn't helping was that when anyone asked what I'd been doing that day (to see how my memory was getting on) my answer started "well, you see I wrote this blog about submarine tours under Windermere..."

The docs decided that I was still confused enough for them to want to keep an eye on me so I stayed put for another 24 hours.  The nurses and the doctors were all absolutely amazing - superb care - I honestly don't know how they do it.  My only teeny tiny, eeny winey complaint is that there were no decaff drinks on offer on the drinks trolley, (there wasn't any G&T either, but that was probably pushing things to be fair) but one of the nurses took pity on me and gave me some of her fruit tea teabags.

I took a wander around the ward and noticed that they were somewhat blunt with their medical notes...

Just glad this wasn't my medical chart
Anyway, the upshot of all of that is that I'm now back at home though still coming to my senses.  If any of you has been unfortunate enough to have a similar style clout on the head you'll know how scary, confusing and disorientating it is.  I know I'm still not processing things properly and I feel tired after doing almost nothing.  

For once I've cleared my diary to give myself time to recover - though being freelance if I don't work I don't get paid so it is a bit of a worry (you could always encourage your friends to buy our book to help fund our "not beans on toast again" coffers :-)  )

I've promised everyone I'm gong to take it easy and I mean it - I've given myself (and Steve) a proper scare and this isn't the time for bravado, this is the time for looking after myself a bit.  It may be a while before I'm back on the high fells but I'm sure I'll still find some fun things to do.  

Meanwhile, there really is only one person who can have the last word on this blog...