Sunday, 23 April 2017

Voyage to the middle of everywhere

Dunstanburgh Castle
When I was a kid I always wondered where people who lived at the seaside went for their holidays.  Now I live at the seaside I know the answer – or at least I know the answer for us – we usually head for Scotland.  Over the past few years we’ve explored huge chunks of the country but there is still so much more to see – and we haven’t even started on the islands yet.

This trip began just south of the border at Alnwick (and a trip to the rather lovely Dunstanburgh Castle) before heading up to Dunbar, Biggar and finally Moffat. I’m simply not one of those people who can keep returning to the same place time and time again – there’s just too much to explore.

John Muir
In Dunbar we learned about John Muir who was born there before emigrating to America when he was just a child and going on to become one of the founding fathers of conservationism. We also spent a fun day in Edinburgh journeying back to the Big Bang (courtesy of Dynamic Earth).

After all that activity a change of pace was called for so we parked up Delores for a lovely night in the Tinto House Hotel – it’s an absolutely perfect spot for accessing loads of wonderful walks (including the Tinto Hill) and is a great base for seeing lots of the sights in this very pretty corner of Scotland.  It's only an hour from Dunbar, 40 mins to the Edinburgh park and ride (free), 40 mins from the glorious walk up to Loch Skeen (at the top of Grey Mare's Tail) and a short 30 minute tootle from Moffat, home of the toffee, “miraculous health giving spring” and a number of very pleasant and not too taxing family walks.

Tinto Hill
The only downside to life on Delores is the lack of a bath so I made the most of our room with a long hot soak in the huge tub – surrounded by bubbles in the tub and in my glass!  The hotel is a lot like The Haweswater Hotel but bigger and a bit posher with a stunning Art Deco stained glass window half way up the main staircase.

Had the weather been a little warmer we could have enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in their lovely gardens but instead we headed straight for the restaurant.  There’s a good range of food on offer with an excellent selection of vegetarian and vegan options (they even have a vegan night once a month when the chef whips up an array of vegan delights).

After the obligatory whisky and a good night’s sleep we dragged ourselves back downstairs for more food – this time a full Scottish breakfast – after which I couldn’t manage another thing until tea time.  All of the food is sourced locally and cooked just how you like it.

Tinto Hotel Gardens
We reluctantly bade them farewell and continued off on our adventures...  I can’t resist a good roadside monument so we screeched to a halt just after a particularly large one we spotted near the Devil's Beef Tub (awesome name!).  The monument is for two postal workers who died in 1831 trying to deliver the mail during a particularly vicious snowstorm.  You can discover the full story in the small, but perfectly formed, Moffat Museum and their graves are in the local churchyard.

As I write this I’m sitting in the sunshine on Delores with two snoozing cats beside me – it may sound idyllic but we’re actually waiting for someone to give us a jump start as our battery has died...  But it’s not all bad news - for me the very best thing about living “beside the seaside” is that fact that I never dread going home in the way I used to when we lived in a town – it’s so lovely to return home from holiday and feel, just a little bit, like the holiday never properly ended.

PS Delores sorted and now safely home again.  😊

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Curious Corner of Cambridge

OS Maps are fantastic - not only do they guide us and keep us safe on high mountains, they also enable us to discover hidden away treasures in the middle of busy cities.  My non-writing life takes me all over the country and, whenever I can, I try to do a spot of exploring.

Last week I was in Cambridge and had an afternoon to myself to explore the city.  It was a bright sunny day and the place was heaving, so I kitted myself out with a £1 walking guide and set off.  The guide was perfect for navigating me around all the "must see" honey pots but I was keen to stretch my legs along the river - cue my OS map!

I spied a rather pleasant river walk so set off to explore.  It's hard to believe but although I was less than half a mile from the jam packed city centre I hardly saw another soul.

As I crossed the river I noticed what I thought were the remains of a large building but, it turns out, it was actually the complete remains of a fabulous Victorian folly known as Hodson's Folly.

Hodson's Folly
It was commissioned by John Hodson (a butler at nearby Pembroke College) and built around 1897 - purportedly to enable him to keep an eye on his daughters when they were bathing in the river while he tended to his nearby land.  The folly itself is at the far end and the walls were erected later (1904) to give additional privacy.

Like the many other thousands of visitors in Cambridge that day I took plenty of photos of the colleges, chapels and other landmarks - but I'm pretty sure I'm one of only a handful who ventured out and found this little gem.

(And, just for the record - here are all the other lovely things I saw)

The Mathematical Bridge

Kings College

Trinity College

Apple tree grown from a cutting from Sir Isaac Newton's "gravity" tree

Henry VIII - note missin scepter - it was replaced
with a table leg by students in the late 1800's

St John's College

The Round Church

A busier stretch of river

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Massive makeover for Elter Water

The new Mount Rushmore
Elter Water is to be renamed and revamped into a bold new family friendly attraction.  In a tribute to the Disney movie 'Frozen' the popular tourist destination is to be permanently turned to ice and become a year-round skating rink.

The lake was selected as it's one of the smallest and shallowest in the National Park and it was anticipated that it would take months for the initial freezing of the lake to be completed.  We have, however, been advised that thanks to the coronation of a local young dignitary, this process could be drastically speeded up.

In honour of the transformation the lake will be re-named Elsa Water and a special "Kristoff Express" bus will run from nearby Arendelle-side (formerly Ambleside) complete with a pair of giant antlers strapped to the front.

To complete the Disney/Frozen theme the Langdale Pikes are to be given a massive face-lift and turned into a UK version of Mount Rushmore with Loft Crag, Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle being carved into giant likenesses of Elsa, Anna and Olaf respectively.

Naturally there have been a number of vocal opponents to this ambitious scheme, but a spokesperson for the company behind the transformation flicked back her long white plait before saying "We know people are annoyed, but we think it's best if they just let it go, let it go, they can't hold it back any more - I don't care what they're going to say; let the storm rage on, the cold shoulder never bothered me anyway."

Advance tickets are selling fast and anyone interested is recommended to reserve their place by emailing

(And if you want to help us raise some funds to help Mountain Rescue buy a much needed glow in the dark Hoverboard please click here)

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY - a few other important events occurred on this day...

2016 - Lake District Submarine Tours make their debut
2015 - Amazing new gadget boots launched
2014 - Major new Lake District Sponsor announced
2013 - Global warming affects the bird life on Morecambe Bay
2012 - Construction of the Ambleside Bypass begins

Sunday, 26 March 2017

10 Curious Cumbrian Keepsakes

From crystal used by James Bond to mattresses filled with Herdy wool and some of the finest gin in the land - I have nothing at all against Cumberland Sausage and Sticky Toffee Pudding, but there are a whole range of gifts you could buy to remind you of your Cumbrian hols.  Here's my pick of the best!

1.  It's Crystal, Cumbria Crystal

Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a James Bond?  Well, here's your chance to own a glass that was used by Bond himself in Casino Royale.  Each beautiful crystal glass, bowl or goblet is crafted by hand and takes around 14 days to produce - you can even visit them and see the whole process for yourself. They're based in Ulverson, down on the south coast of Cumbira and it's free to go and take a look around the factory - plus there's plenty of free parking for your Aston Martin. (Or you can shop online here.)

2, Gin - the perfect tonic

Those who know me know I like gin.  There are a number of gin distilleries in the Lake District (on account of all the lovely water we have for them to work with) but my favourite is the One Gin. Brewed by the Lakes Distillery - it even managed to replace Plymouth Gin in my affections (trust me, that's no mean feat!). The tour of the distillery includes a free tasting of their gins (so make sure you've ducked out of driving duties).  (You can also find a number of gin parlours across the county - such as the excellent Virginia House in Ulverston.)

3. Perfect reminder of a dirty weekend...

After you've got good and dirty on the fells (what other sort of dirty weekend did you have in mind?!) - what you'll need is a good long soak in the bath and some lovely hand made soaps.  The Soap Company Keswick is a social enterprise offering a fabulous range of soaps and soap related products all made by a local team of disabled and/ or disadvantaged people.  The shop smells divine and whichever part of you is dirty, they're bound to have something to clean it (except perhaps for your dirty mind...)

4. Candle in the wind

We all know that no county can hold a candle to Cumbria (you see what I did there?) so picture the scene: you're lying in your bath full of Soap Company bubbles, holding a Cumbria Crystal glass full of One Gin (with a dash of tonic) - all that's missing are the scented candles.  Well, here they are!  These candles don't contain any paraffin or palm oil - they're 100% Eco Soy Wax, which means you won't get any of that nasty black smoke.  They're made by a tiny family business up on the Solway coast and there's no better way of bringing a piece of Cumbria home with you.

5.  Aaaannnnnddd relax...

OK, this one isn't exactly a pocket sized keepsake, but it is utterly awesome! Those fabulous folks at Herdy have recently collaborated in the launch of herdy®sleep, to make luxury wool mattresses with all the wool responsibly sourced from local Herdwick farmers for a proper price.  The mattresses are so snuggly and comfy that you'll be able to skip sheep counting and head straight to dreaming of Cumbria.

6.  Back on the bottle...

Whitehaven is just a short drive from Keswick and if you haven't been then you're really missing out.  There are LOADS of interesting things to do and some spectacular walks along the sea cliffs with stunning views out to sea.  The town has a fascinating history involving the deepest darkest mines, the slave trade, George Washington's granny and rum.  The Rum Story, in the middle of the town will tell you everything you need to know about to town's deep connections with rum - plus you can buy a bottle (or two) to remind you of your trip.

7.  Not a Cumberland sausage

If you don't want a Cumberland sausage but you're still craving meat products, then how about Cumbrian Biltong?  Originating in South Africa, biltong can now be found in most supermarkets, but the stuff you buy in little plastic packets doesn't compare with the real thing, properly made.  James Alexander Fine Foods is owned and run in Cumbria by Cumbrians who are passionate about showing the world that there's more to the county than sausages (although the sausages are really, really, good!)

8.  New Balance trainers, ainers, ainers, ainers...

A global brand, loved by Rihanna, and made in the heart of Cumbria - a pair of New Balance trainers are the perfect keepsake for slightly sulky, super trendy teenagers.  Their "quaint village" roots fascinate our American cousins who can't quite believe that something so cool could come from Flimby (right on the coast between Whitehaven and Maryport) - a tiny town with a population of around 1700 (though that's according to Wikipedia - it could be closer to 2.5 million in reality).

9.  Pick a peck of pickled peppers...

Hawkshead is right in the heart of the Lake District and Hawkshead Relish are right in the heart of the village.  Everyone loves their perfectly made pickles - even the Queen has had a taste - and whatever your piquant preference, there'll be something to suit your palate.  All of the positively perfect pickles and spreads are hand made in small batches in a converted 16th century barn on the edge of Esthwaite Water and taking home a jar or two is the perfect way to preserve your happy holiday memories.

A two hundred year old family business, still based in a tiny village in the Lake District and run by the great, great, grandson of the founder - that's something you don't find very often.  They closed their retail shops a few years ago, but you can still buy beautiful stationery from them here - absolutely perfect for sending wedding invites for Lake District weddings and just wonderful  to work with for those who, like me, enjoy a spot of good old fashioned letter writing.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hiking Room 101

I'm a huge fan of Room 101 - the TV show, not the Orwellian torture chamber - and I often ponder what I'd put in there.  There are plenty of non hiking things which would go in without a second thought - coat-hangers, umbrellas and anyone who tries to use their mobile phone on the train between Arnside and Carnforth (trust me, I don't care what network you are on, there is NO signal).

But what outdoors/ hiking things deserve to go in there?  Well here are my top five for starters, but do please add your own.

1.  Lying tourist information leaflets

I see no sea eagles
We've been lucky enough to spend the past couple of summers exploring the Scottish coastline and we have loved every second - it is a truly breathtaking part of the world.  We saw stunning lochs, spectacular mountains and long forgotten caves in remote hillsides.  What we didn't see were sea eagles, despite pretty much every scrap of tourist information telling us that the west coast was awash with them.  We paused, we pondered, we scanned the horizon for hours but not one.  If there is a realistic chance of seeing something then tell me what the odds are - don't adorn your leaflets with swooping golden eagles if there's more chance of me seeing Russell Brand joining the priesthood.

2.  Velcro on hoods

No, no, no, no, NO!  It's nice to have a hood that packs away but it's not nice if the collar is covered with velcro.  Look at me - I have a lot of hair.  Admittedly I don't always wear a tiara when I hike (though it was for a good cause!) but that hair gets caught in velcro and throughout the hike the hairs on the back of my neck are removed one by one. It's like slow motion waxing.  We often get offered jackets to try out and review and I always ask the same first question: "Did some sadistic so and so at the factory put velcro on the hood?"  If the answer is yes then I either politely decline or offer to visit the designer armed with a pair of tweezers to help them understand how it feels.

3.  Hot weather

The only good thing about hot weather
How could I possibly put hot weather into Room 101?  Because it is a complete pain in the backside for hiking.  I like clear sunny weather but not hot weather - I did not move to the north of England to endure 30C on the fells.  Last summer, when we were doing the final checks on a couple of walks for our book, it was face meltingly hot.  I clearly remember staggering around the coast from Arnside to Silverdale with only the thought of a cool pint of Wainwright at The Albion keeping me going...

4.  Boring brown hiking boots

Beth & her boots of many colours
Why are hiking boots brown?  Or grey?  Why are they all such boring colours?  Is it so the mud doesn't show up?  Most hikers I meet aren't boring so why is the kit always made in such drab colours?  I like bright colours and it's taken me years to find a nice, colourful, selection of outdoor kit - a bright orange jacket, funky purple socks and, finally, a pair of fabulous funky Aku boots (which you can only get in the UK via Keswick Boot Company)

 5. Kendal Mint Cake

I can hear you shouting at your screen and telling me what a disloyal Cumbrian I am, but I can't help it, I hate the stuff.  As a kid people spoke in hushed tones of the energy giving powers of Kendal Mint Cake and it was always in our emergency ration packs on our Duke of Edinburgh's expeditions.  I can clearly recall the day when, safely home, I tucked into my emergency rations and first encountered the sickly, grainy, sugary overdose.  I can just about cope with it in tiny quantities if it's covered in dark chocolate but, other than that, not a chance.  For the record, my hiking snacks of choice are maltloaf, eccles cakes and Solpadeine Max.

Disagree with my choices?  Or have other things you'd put into Room 101? Tell me all about it!  😀

Thursday, 9 March 2017

I would really love to, but...

You see that photo - the one of the footpath sign with the sun behind it? It's not the greatest photo but for me it means so much.

Six years ago on March 7th 2011 we'd been living in a campervan for 2 1/2 months. We were desperately trying to find a house but, as often happens with these things, it was turning into a catalogue of disasters.

The day before that photo was taken so much had gone wrong that we honestly thought we'd have to give up on our dream and go home. It had been a rough & sleepless night with many tears of frustration. In the morning I was walking to Silverdale station to catch my train to work - the weather was perfect & the views sublime. I was so moved that I took this picture & vowed to fight on, determined that nothing would stop us achieving the things we wanted.

Spool forward 6 years and here we are; one book already published, two more out next month with two different publishers - both of whom have indicated they want to work with us again in the future - and, most importantly, we have a roof over our heads.

Each year this photo pops up and reminds me how desperate we were and how deep we had to dig and each year, wherever my head is, it inspires me to keep fighting.  Especially whenever I catch myself saying "I would really love to, but..."  Dreams don't come true all by themselves, and they certainly don't come true without a little blood, sweat & tears.

Published 3rd April 2017

Published 15th April 2017

Published October 2015

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Blencathra the easy way

There's only one problem with hiking up Blencathra - you can't see Blencathra.  We've been up there many times including across Sharp Edge and, one of our absolute favourite hikes in the world, up over Halls Fell Ridge (Blencathra the Hard Way) - but today we needed something a little less brutal, so opted for a gentle  stroll along the River Glenderamackin at the foot of Clough Head.

Well, I say a little less brutal, the second half turned out to be a world class boggy yomp - my GriSports boots leaked like a sieve and I was lucky to escape without a severe case of Trench Foot (the boots are super comfortable but rubbish in the wet).

Anyway, back to the start, and the glorious drive in along St John's in the Vale.

The easy part...
River Glenderamackin


Nosy local

Odd locals

And how often do you find the perfect picnic spot, precisely at dinner time?

The difficult bit...

"Yeah, it looks a bit boggy but I think we'll be fine..."

Recreating scenes from Gladiator

Odd, and slightly soggy, locals...

"Get my good side!"

This was one of the drier sections...

Definitely new boots time!
In summary, an excellent walk for views of Blencathra, testing out waterproof capabilities of walking boots and meeting horses...