Sunday, 3 November 2019

Mind full or Mindful?

Last week I had to re-enter the corporate world, I'm not looking for sympathy or medals, just stating a fact.  For the past 7 years I've been a fulltime freelancer but, thanks to, ahem, uncertainties in the policital landscape, work in my particular field has dwindled somewhat of late, and we are a very long way from earning a living from our books just yet (although you could click on the link at the end and help us along a bit!).
View from Grange-over-Sands station

The upshot is that I've been lucky enough to find a job in my specialist field (learning & development, thanks for asking 😀), working for a lovely organisation.  The only downside is that they're in Salford.  I have nothing against Salford, it's just really tricky to get to from Grange-over-Sands.  And I mean really tricky.  It takes me just under 3 hours each way, and that's without factoring in the vagaries of Northern Rail!  To give you some idea, it also takes me just over 3 hours to get all the way to London.
Love this building next to Wigan station

The thing that has struck me most about my commute is how unhappy everyone is.  Very few people smile, no-one makes eye contact and kindness is scarce.  Those people that do talk are inevitably complaining about their boss/ co-workers/ workload, but most folks are plugged into laptops or phones, oblivious to the world around them. Some things in partcular caught my attention...

Walking to work

  • On day 1 I changed trains at Lancaster and had 20 minutes to kill (long story).  I sauntered into the waiting room to plug my phone in while I waited - I needed my map at the other end.  I then sat down with my knitting.  Five minutes later two women barelled in, frantically plugged in (between them) three mobile phones and two laptops, then sat, frantically typing what looked like emails, for 10 minutes before their train arrived, whereupon (fabulous word!) they equally frantically stuffed everything back into their bags and raced to the train.  It was 7:20am.  I wondered when their working day was supposed to start.  The day they were getting paid for.  How much have organisations taken advantage of the fact that we can work from anywhere now?  No wonder everyone is so unhappy.
  • On a crammed train a lady got on.  She didn't look well.  Every seat was taken and folks were stuffed into every nook and cranny along the aisles.  She asked very loudly and politely if there was anyone in a priority seat who didn't need it.  No-one moved.  Not one person.  No-one even made eye contact.  I'm aware that not not all disabilities are visible but I refuse to believe that every single person in that carriage had one.  I was right down the far end but still stood up and called her down.  I'm not special, I'm just doing what I was taught as a child; have some decency and respect for others, especially those in need.
  • On every single trip I made this week I'd say that well over 90% of folks were staring at their phone screens, mostly doing work, but a few were playing games.  A handful of people were reading and, on most occasions, I was the only one knitting and gazing out of the window.  When are our brains getting any downtime?  At the office I've already chatted to a couple of folks who say how stressed they are and how they can't switch off.  I'm not surprised - most organisations will take every single second we give them, so we need to set boundaries to save our sanity.  
  • Boarding etiquette is non-existant - it's every man for himself.  If I do pause to allow someone on in front of me, the person behind has tutted, huffed and practically climbed into my rucksack.  I've been pushed and barged an it's only week one.  

Gorgeous autumn colours

These days it's way too easy to have our minds full of things, work, home, family, finances; the list goes on and on, but when are we making time for ourselves?  Even if it's just giving our mind a break on our commute.  How often are we truly mindful - right there, in the moment, as opposed to having our minds full of a million different things?  Your computer doesn't perform as well with lots of tabs open, and neither do you.

So many people are racing through life from dawn to dusk and not really enjoying very much of it at all, then they take it out on others and so the cycle continues.  Misery, it seems, is contagious.
Discovering local landmarks

I refuse to believe it's complicated, we just need to be a bit nicer to ourselves, and each other. If misery is contagious, why not happiness?

My mission is this:  I resolve to smile at people, to be courteous, to stare out of the windows and not to bitch about my co-workers - we are all in this together and none of us are perfect.  There will be times when I fail, I am only human, but if we all tried just a little bit harder the maybe the world wouldn't be quite such a crappy place.

The lights of Morecambe


You know that bit above where I said you could buy our books?  Well you can buy them all right HERE.  You could even read them on your commute! We will be happy to sign them and they make the perfect gift for lovers of Cumbria.  Honest they do.  Also Christmas is coming.  Just saying...


Sunday, 6 October 2019

Pilgrim's Way to Lindisfarne

Recently I was lucky enough to land a small piece of work in Berwick-upon-Tweed, so I made the most of it and headed over early for a spot of exploring.  I really rather like Berwick, here are a few reasons why...




It's a place crammed full of history and amazing views, and there's plenty to keep a history nerd occupied for a while.

Just down the coast from Berwick is Lindisfarne.  We'd visited there a few years ago (actually 9 years ago, where did the time go?!) when we pootled over on Delores; this time I was on my own and instead of driving over, I wanted to walk over, following the Pilgrim's Way.  The weather and tides looked to be perfect and, although I would be alone, I knew I wouldn't be on my own as there were bound to be others taking advantage of the conditions.  I was right.

I scoured the internet for tips but couldn't seem to find all the information I needed about the crosing in one place - how long did it take?  What was the best footwear? etc. so, having done the walk, both ways, I thought I'd share my insights.

1.  Check the tide times.
2. CHECK THE TIDE TIMES - seriously, I cannot stress this enough.  I live on Morecambe Bay so am well awae of the dangers of heading out across tidal marshes.
3. Getting there and parking.  We'd visited before so I know about the huge car park on the mainland right next to the causeway.  This car park is now CLOSED.  No, I do not know why.  It's blocked off with huge concrete blocks.  To be honest, as I'd arrived not knowing this I parked on the roadside - not ideal and space is VERY limited, but I was determined to cross.  A better solution would probably be to take the bus from Berwick.  Bus times etc. are here.
4.  How far is it?  I plotted the route in Viewranger and it came out as 2.79 miles one way, so double that if you're planning to walk back.
5.  Boots or feet?  This is a tricky one.  The going is soft, very soft, with lots of paddling. I found that on the way out I wore my boots for the first, muddier, part because, as I quickly learned, boots grip a LOT better than bare feet.  In the middle, paddling tends to take over for a while, so I took my boots off for the second half. I did the reverse on the way back.


6.  What else will I need?  I found a walking pole incredibly useful.  It really is very slippery out there and I have a rubbish sense of balance anyway, so really needed the pole.
7. What's the walk really like?  It's a great walk, though more challenging than it first appears.  Soft mud is tiring.  It's also (depending on the time of year) cold in the paddling bits.  There's one stretch of hard sand with lots of broken shells, which I tackled in bare feet, but my feet were so cold that I didn't notice the pain so much.  There's also a channel to cross - having watched the folks ahead of me wade through a narrow part that went up to their thighs, I opted for a wider section, which was shallower, and only went in up to my knees.  These channels will, of course, shift with the tides, but it's a useful rule of thumb.

8.  How long will it take?  When I was researching it I read a post from someone who claimed that he and his wife had made the crosing in 35 minutes - that's pretty impressive stuff!  I walked briskly, pausing only to take a few photos, and it took me a shade over an hour to get across.
9.  Is there anywhere to rest?  Not during the walk, no.  There's nowhere to sit and the refuges dotted along the route are there for emergencies only, plus they are tricky to haul yourself up into.  There is a nice bench at the far side though, where you can wolf down some tea and cake before heading back.  Or you could get the bus back, or walk along the causeway, just be aware that there's no pavement and it can get pretty busy.

10.  How to time it.  I figured it would take me about an hour.  I'd also read that it wasn't wise to set out the moment the causeway opens as the channel at the far side can still be quite deep.  I set off an hour before low tide, so was on the island for low tide and walking back just as it turned, and I didn't encounter any problems at all, conditions were identical in both directions.
11. Is it easy to follow the route?  Yes, very easy.  From the mainland, walk along the causeway (watch for the cars, there's not a lot of space and they whiz past!) and over the first bridge, you will easily see the tall poles marking the route all the way across; just stick close to them and you'll be fine.

12.  Is it worth it?  Yes. I was properly muddy and soggy by the end, but it's a great walk with loads of amazing photo opportunities.  Just make sure you CHECK THE TIDE TIMES before you go.  (Sorry, did I already mention that?)  It's really quite something to be out there, in the middle of the walk, with nothing else around you, knowing that you're following in the footsteps of thousands of folks who didn't have GoreTex boots.  The road only opened in 1954, before then, this was the only way over.  Well, this and boats.


If you have any other questions, please just ask - it really was a great walk and I'd be happy to help with any other info if you need it.

Meanwhile - we haven't written any books about Northumberland (yet!) but we have written LOADS of books about Cumbria.  You can buy them all right HERE.  We will be happy to sign them and they make the perfect gift for lovers of Cumbria.  Honest they do.


Saturday, 7 September 2019

Sir Edmund Hillary

This is a bit of a different blog - I'm going to call it an "audioblog" - think it might catch on?  Anyway, earlier this week I interviewed Peter and Alexander Hillary, the son & grandson of Sir Edmund Hillary and I was planning to transcribe the interview into blog form but then thought it might be nicer to just listen to it all instead (plus it would have been a *really* long blog)!

I've broken it down into 4 sections, each of around 4 minutes each, so you don't have to listen to it all at once.  They were both utterly delightful and, what you can't see (because I'm only publishing the audio files not the full Skype call) is that there was lots of smiling and laughing.  It's my first ever experience of doing anything like this so I hope you enjoy it!

Section 1 - where we chat about Sir Edmund Hillary and what it was like having him as a father/ grandfather



Section 2 - where we chat about their clothing range and how it is respnsibly sourced



Section 3 - where we chat about present day mountaineering and the future


Section 4 - where we chat about Mallory, clothing and Kendal Mint Cake



I'll be honest, at the end of the interview, immediately after I said my thank yous and bid the lovely gents farewell, I cracked up and had a little cry.  My bookshelves are full of books by/ about Hillary, Scott, Mallory etc. so it was quite overwhelming to chat to Peter and Alexander and I am so incredily grateful that they took the time to speak with me.


Their clothing range looks superb - you can buy it locally at Joules B in Kendal or online here.

If you're interested in investing in the clothing range as they expand in the future, you can find out more here.

FINALLY - I am massively indebted to Helen Woodman who is a friend of my friend Vicki.  It turns out that Helen's mum sewed the name labels into Sir Edmund Hillary's clothing for the expedition and she has written a small piece about it.  I've included the full text below with her kind permission (and my eternal thanks!).  Sadly, Betty passed away earlier this year.

Cash’s Name Tapes and the Ascent of Everest on 29 May 1953

My mother, Betty Genn (nÊe Mott), an Australian Grazier’s daughter from the outback in North West Queensland, Australia, met my father, Robert Seymour Genn MC, at Farnborough when he was Adjutant, 9 Training Regiment, Royal Engineers, at Cove, Aldershot, in 1951. Betty had not long arrived in the UK and found work at Aldershot General Hospital as a trained nurse and midwife. She had come over to the UK on a whim to accompany her sister, a Rocket Tracker Computer from Long Range Weapons at Woomera Test Range, and two other girls who had the expertise required by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. The four girls lived in a hostel in Farnborough. Betty and Bob got married soon after and lived in the married quarters at Southwood Camp, Cove.

My father was a junior officer under the then Colonel John Hunt, and on 11 September 1952 Hunt was chosen to lead the expedition for the ascent of Everest. Betty volunteered to help Joy, his wife, with part of the enormous task of sorting equipment and sewing name tapes on to the personal equipment and clothes of the team members. She journeyed up to London by train for days on end in the freezing cold of January/February 1952 (this was a girl from the tropics who had only just seen her first snow on her wedding day) to the warehouse at Wapping Wall of Messrs. Andrew Lusk, where all the expedition equipment and provisions were being gathered, prepared and packed for the boat journey leaving Tilbury for Bombay and onward transmission to Base Camp at the foot of Everest. As far as I understand, Joy Hunt, Mrs. Goodfellow, Mrs. Mowbray-Green and my mother (with, maybe, with other women relatives of the expedition members) spent many hours in the vast, cold Thames warehouse filled with the aroma of exotic spices. Betty, being as she calls herself “a Colonial” took pity on New Zealander, Edmund Hillary, deciding that she would sew on all his name tapes to his clothes, sleeping bags and other personal equipment. It was deemed necessary to name all personal equipment because tempers flare easily at high altitude and, besides, it was important that as the clothing had all been tailored to fit and to personal preference, each man wore his own clothing and used his own equipment. The trying on of clothing took place on 20th January at Lusk’s Warehouse. Betty recalls how she also cleaned some of the very dirty cooking equipment, pressure cookers, cutlery, plates, etc., that were piled high on the floor of the warehouse, loaned by the army. The Royal Aircraft Establishment tested materials and equipment; a new windproof material was put into the wind tunnel.

And so, on 2nd June 1953, the news came over the wireless that Betty’s sewing had ascended Mount Everest when it was announced “Her Majesty the Queen was crowned today in Westminster Abbey. Crowds waiting in the Mall also heard that Mount Everest had been climbed by the British Expedition. Messages of congratulations have been sent to the Leader, Colonel Hunt, by Her Majesty and the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.”

Betty Joan Genn, widowed in 2005, lives in Manor Street, Dittisham and will celebrate her 90th birthday in the first week of January 2014. The Wapping Wall warehouses are now prime river frontage accommodation.


Helen Woodma

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Are they available online?

I got told off on FB - someone said they thought this was rude...
My in-laws probably think I'm somewhat odd.  OK, they *know* I'm odd, but they probably think I'm somewhat odder than usual this week, and can't understand why I'm so bent out of shape about Costa opening in Grange-over-Sands.

As long time readers of this blog will know, I am a passionate supporter of local businesses. I live in Grange and do 80% of my shopping at Higginsons, Fletchers or the Co-Op.  I'll be honest, I rarely, if ever, buy coffee or meals out in Grange, but that's mainly because we can't afford to - although I do look forward to my chippy tea from Fish over Chips every Friday - so why does Costa bother me so much?

Because the very lovely At Home Bistro opposite is bound to suffer as a consequence.  And, if they suffer, other local businesses suffer too.  The Bistro gets their bread from Grange Bakery, their milk from the local supplier, their coffee from Farrers (Cumbrian) and their meat from Plumgarths (Kendal) so, if the Bistro suffers, all of those other business will suffer too.  (Costa bus all of their provisions in from a regional distribution centre miles away).
Fletchers - for fruit, veg & everything else!

People keep banging on about the high street and losing shops, but retail is very much a "use it or lose it" situation.  Visitors love Grange because of its unique collection of shops and cafes but, if everyone starts shopping at Tesco (opened last year) and Costa, then our high street will turn into just another of those idenikit high streets we see all over the UK.

In a different context we see it whenever we have a stall on a market to try and sell our books; I have genuinely lost count of the number of times I've had this conversation:

Customer:  Where can I buy the books?
Me (standing behind a table full of our books): Well, we're selling them here all day today.
Customer:  I mean, where else can I buy them?
Me:  Most of the local bookshops stock them.
Customer:  Are they available online?
Me:  Yes, but they're also available here, today.
Customer:  I'll just take a book mark to remind me. (Wanders off)

I *know* they're asking if Amazon sell them.  (Yes, they do).  Amazon is to me what Costa is to the At Home Bistro - which is maybe why I want to do all I can to help the little guy.
Pizza at The Estuary

One of the reasons we don't eat out in Grange (and I would LOVE to go spend an evening at The Estuary munching pizza and sipping wine) is because we simply can't afford to and one of the reasons we can't afford to is because people prefer to buy off Amazon rather than us.  We were at a market again all day today and failed to break even, again.  I chat to customers, I'm helpful, polite and friendly, I offer directions to other places they ask about or might be interested in, but still the "is it available online" folks far outnumber the wonderful "could I buy this one please" folks.

Bread and cakes in The Hazelmere
We're not alone either - our very good friends at Keswick Boot Company recently had a customer who spent 30 minutes being fitted for boots and trying on a variety of different brands before telling the owner, "Thanks, but I'll do what my wife did last year, I'll buy them cheaper online" - and people wonder why the High Street is dying!

If this sounds ranty then I apologise; I'm as wound up about the treatment of At Home Bistro and Keswick Boot Company as I am about folks buying our books on Amazon.  Maybe it's just me - I did get told off on FaceBook by someone who took offence to the image at the top of the blog and told me I was being rude.  I'm sure the multi-billionaire owner of Costa has barely slept a wink since they saw it... Other folks have said that I'm over sensitive or pessimistic and that perhaps Costa won't adversley affect the trade of the little coffee shop directly opposite, but their track record does not bear that out and their owners, Whitbread, proudly talk about their "aggressive expansion plans".

My lovely in-laws visited Costa during their stay, but it cost them more than they bargained for.  My brother-in-law had mentioned how much he'd love a jar of damson jam, so I'd bought him one as a gift, planning to hand it over later in the hols.  After their visit to Costa I revoked all damson jam priviledges.  To be fair they did also visit the At Home Bistro, S Cafe and The Hazelmere during their stay but the damage was done; the jar of damson jam remains in our cupboard and I remain unrepentant. Odd and oversensitive or justifiably principled?  I'll let you decide.


If you want to help me achieve our modest dream of enjoying a pizza and glass of wine at The Estuary, then click here for our bookstore.  If you want to buy them off Amazon then go ahead, it's a free country, but don't expect damson jam off me anytime soon... 😀


Thursday, 11 July 2019

Brewers Loop - third trimester - on our last legs...

Well we only flipping did it! We spent 18 days hauling a beer cask 138 miles all around the county. We met some truly amazing people along the way & were blown away by the kindness & generosity of folks.

On the last legs we truly were on our last legs - my fault really as the whole concept of "rest days" completely eluded me.  Thankfully our many lovely walking companions consistently revived our flagging spirits.

So who were the heoroes & heroines who helped drag our weary carcasses over the finish line?

From Workington to Whitehaven my big sis Ruth & bruv-in-law Ken (and lunatic dog Maya) journeyed with us, chatting about growing up as city kids & how we learned about nature despite being miles from the nearest cow...

It was also the only time on the entire hike that we got lost - in the middle of a trading estate...


The following day the fabulous folks from the equally fabulous Ennerdale Brewery spent the day with us walking from Whitehaven to St Bees.  They then whisked us away to their brewery and forced us to eat the finest steak pie I have ever wolfed down. Fine beer, fine food & great company.


From St Bees we were on our own (after enjoying an ice cream with our lovely friend Kate!) and it was a long old slog down to Seascale. Sellafield dominated the landscape - and our conversation - as we tried piece together what we knew about the site before meeting with one of their media team who filled in the colossal gaps in our knowledge.


We knew the Seascale to Ravenglass stretch was going to be a little bit different/wacky/ nuts because we were walking with the effervescent Sally from Sally's Cottages.  There was a LOT of laughter and the miles raced by as she donned a spot of war paint to take on the world.  It also turns out she knows just about everyone in the Eskdale Valley... 


From Fisherground to Seathwaite (the Duddon one!) it was just me, him, and the rain.  As we trudged through the mizzle and midges I thought I was hallucinating when I spied a cake cupboard, thankfully I wasn't and we timed it perfectly as it had just been stocked up with muffins fresh from the oven. Rarrr!


All of a sudden we were looking at our final day! We headed off alone but soon bumped into a local hiking group who were all keen to donate to our Mountain Rescue cause.


The last few miles to the Prince of Wales (Foxfield) flew by and it was wonderful to see Diane Hannah from The Herdy Co waiting for us with a nice cold beer & a giant Herdy.


She very kimdly offered us a lift home so we shamelessy took advantage of her generosity, rounded up some old friends, and took a short detour to our starting point 18 days earlier.


It's been an amazing journey.  We have learned a lot and made loads of new friends along the way, and we have so many wonderful stories & experiences to share in our book (out spring 2020). 

In the meantime Steve is already cooking up new adventures & has his sights set on Scafell Pike. I'm not ruling it out, I just need some sleep first...


Please don't forget that in amongst all the beer, fun and shennanigans  we're raising funds for Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue - you can see more & donate here: 


Thank you!

(I'll do a proper thank you to all our supportes over the weekend. Right now I can barely keep my eyes open...)

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Brewers Loop - second trimester

I really can't believe that we're 12 days in already! We began planning in early January and here we are, well over half way through.

Today we arrived on the west coast so the only way to go now is south. And a little bit east.  So what have we learned since my last post?

First up we realised that it *is* possible to get a beer cask (and trolly) to the top of Helvellyn. With the help of a friend. (Thanks Jeanette!)


Secondly we discovered that Alex from Keswick Boot Company is the best hiking buddy EVER. Not only does he sell fabulous boots which have given us zero blisters, he also arrives at the start of the walk with hot bacon sarnies. Arise, sir Alex!


Next up we discovered that a B&B landlord isn't just for breakfast; if you're really nice to him he'll help you lug a beer cask all the way up to Blencathra Field Studies Centre. (Thanks Paul from Sunnyside Guesthouse in Keswick.)


We also discovered that you can strap said beer cask to the back of a Terrain Hopper & haul it all the way up to Skiddaw House Youth Hostel. Cheers Debs! (Check out Debbie North from Access TOG).


The following day it became apparent that hauling camera gear around a mountain while making Life of a Mountain films, gives you super human strength. Well, it worked for Terry Abraham!


Later that day we learned that tapiers are adorable - and seem to have a taste for beer... (Thanks to Lakes Wildlife Park!)


On day 11 we discovered exactly what it takes to become a member of Mountain Rescue  thanks to Stephen Crowsley from the Penrith team. We also learned more than we needed to know about Tiger Leeches... Thank goodness we had a date with Jennings later in the afternoon.



I also learned that the good folks at The New Bookshop are wonderfully supportive of local authors.



This morning, at Wordsworth's House in Cockermouth we learned all about Wordsworth & how hard it is to move around in Georgian clothing. (It's *really* hard!)


Then this afternoon we found out what a Hefeweisen is and just how good it tastes. Cheers Tractor Shed!


And that's it! Down to our final 6 days. We have a LOT of fab stuff lined up so please keep following.  And also, don't forget we're raising funds for Lake District Search & Mountain Rescue - you can read more & donate here:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/beth-pipe1

Friday, 28 June 2019

Brewers Loop - the first trimester...

Yes, I know that a trimester is technically 3 months, but it feels like we've been going for a really long time...

As well as hiking with it we have already taken the cask on a horse & cart, steam train, canoe and bike and today we swam with it along Rydal Water.  So what have we learned so far?

1. The cask is heavy. 10kg may not sound a lot but try dragging it up a fell.



2. It's a cask. Not a keg and definitely NOT a barrel. (Plus, if it was a barrel we'd probably be going over Niagara Falls in it...)


3. Everyone assumes it's full. It's not because a) that would make it even heavier and b) the beer would go off, and we don't want that on our conscience.

4. It floats. To be fair, Unsworths Brewery (who loaned us the cask) always told us it would, but now we have proven it.



5.  It's blooming hard canoeing into a headwind. Our trip up Windermere with Distant Horizons was properly challenging.



6.  It doesn't roll around much. We thought we'd have to strap it down on the cycling day with Grizedale Mountain Bikes, but it was very well behaved.


7. We have bonded with it & it has a name. In fact it has several. It's been given a new name every day to match the person or the adventure. Today it was Suzanna Caskshank in honour of our swimming guide. Who knows what it will be tomorrow.

8.  Windermere YHA is NOT in Windermere. It's in Troutbeck & they need to change the name.


9.  It may be made of alluminium but it's magnetic & attracts a lot of attention wherever we are.



10. People are very generous. Lots of folks we've met on the fells have given us generous donations in our collecting pots. If you want to support our Mountain Rescue appeal you can find out more right here. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/beth-pipe1



Thank you. 😀