Saturday, 2 March 2019

Through the Arched Window

View from Virgin Train
I'm giving my age away a bit now, but I was always most excited by the arched window on Play School.  The journeys through the windows were always entertaining and educational, although I do recall lots of visits to milk bottling factories for some reason, and I'm sure we all learned loads.

These days windows are largely ignored.  I regularly take trains all over the country and most of the time folks have their faces in their phones while the landscape outside slips past unnoticed.  Travelling from A to B has become a chore to be done in the quickest time possible while the journey itself is simply an inconvenience.

View from train leaving Grange-over-Sands
Time really is money when it comes to travel; I recently took the train from Grange-over-Sands to Carlisle and was told it was cheaper for me to get a ticket which came back around the coast (which took much longer, covered more miles and, presumably therefore, required more driver's time and diesel) than it was for me to come back on the quick train via Lancaster.

I also regularly find myself working in offices with very little or no natural light, often buried deep in a basement and although I may find a day of that irritating, for me it's just a day, there are plenty of people who are working in those environments, disconnected from the outside, for 40 hours a week.  Of course sometimes I'm lucky enough to enjoy magnificent views, like this photo from a work project in Bahrain.  To be honest, now I think about it, maybe it is less distracting to be stuck in a basement...

Then there are the cheap hotels (of which I have stayed in many!) that will charge extra for a room with a window.  I recently booked a stay in an Easy Hotel which was £30 for a room without a window and £39.99 for a room with one.  I did wrestle with my conscience on that one because I splashed out for the window even though it was dark when I arrived so the curtains were drawn and the window was locked so it offered no means of escape in the event of a fire.  I find it hard to justify logically, I just needed a window to peek out of briefly the next morning.

And lets not forget cars which these days come with built in screens for the kids in the back to plug in, slap on the headphones and disappear into a virtual world of films or games.  When I was a kid we played all sorts of games on journeys (which were usually by bus as we didn't have a car) - counting cows, rearranging the number plates on cars to make new words or just generally looking at what was going on outside.  Whenever we took the bus from Birmingam to Coventry for a day out I always remember looking out for the archers in Meriden who were often out practising.  I also remember the excitement of watching the NEC being built - yes, I am indeed old!

But why on earth does all this matter?  I worry that people are becoming more and more disconnected from the outdoors when, even through an office window in the heart of the city, there are things to see - cloud formations, historical buildings or even a local tree or two to chart the passing of the seasons.  And I'm not knocking Virgin Trains onboard entertainment, but there are no films that can compete with a couple of hours of unadulterated British countryside.  Even Northern Rail, although their service is inexcusably abysmal, run trains through some of the most spectacular scenery in the British Isles.  The tickets may be overpriced but the views are free.

We're losing the art of gazing out of a window, we're forcing our minds to be active the entire time; playing apps, reading emails, catching up on spreadsheets and that's not good for our mental health or creativity. The greatest thinkers did just that, they thought.  The found time to let their minds drift and because of that great discoveries were made and fantastic works of art created.

In an attempt to fight back against the tide of screen staring I am declaring 19th March 2019, to be National "Look out of the Window Day" and would love you to join me by sharing photos through your window on social media using #ThroughMyWindow My plan is to try and flood social media with fantastic images and encourage more people to look out of the window and enjoy the view.

(Please note, I am encouraging you to look OUT of your own window not go peering into your neighbours windows taking photos!) 😀

To join in just share a photo on Twitter or Instagram add #ThroughMyWindow and tag me in @CumbrianRambler then we can all share and enjoy some wonderful scenery.  (You don't even have to wait until 19th March - we can start doing this today!)

BEFORE YOU GO!  Did you notice that this blog isn't swamped with adverts or pop-ups pestering you to sign up for a newsletter?  That's because we hate that sort of thing BUT we still need to earn a living!  I know you can find all our books on Amazon, but we make next to nothing that way - plus if you buy from us we'll be happy to sign them for you.  Just click the pictures below to find out more.  Cheers! 😀

Click here to find out more

Click here to find out more

Click here to find out more

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The A-Z of starting a new life

The first Monday in February is popularly known as being the day most people throw a sickie.  Many of us have done it at some point in time - it's not that we're not sick, but we just don't feel up to it.  Ground down by work, life, family, finances and the relentless stream of bad news pouring in, who wouldn't want to spend a day hiding away from it all under a duvet?  Sometimes making a fresh start is exactly what you need; in January 2011 we upped sticks and moved 300 miles from our home in Southeast England to return to Steve's roots in South Cumbria so, now we're well settled into our new lives, here's a run down of the things we learned along the way.
A is for Ask. Before you start not only will you not know all the answers, you won't know many of the questions, so don't be afraid to ask, no matter how dumb it sounds.
B is for Be Bold. Starting a new life is scary, and there will be many occasions when you'll wonder if it's worth it, but just keep reminding yourself why you're doing it and you'll get there.
C is for Creativity. You always have more options than you think you do, so write down all the reasons you think you can't do it and challenge yourself to find answers.
D is for De-clutter. If your house is anything like ours then it's full of junk. Boxes of papers and bits and bobs put safely away "just in case". Well now's the time to get rid of them, unburden yourself at the recycling centre and the local charity store. New life, new habits!
E is for Evaluate: what's really important in your life. Money? Time to relax and do stuff? Family? Friends? Would those priorities shift if you knew you were on the clock? Well you are on the clock, so make sure you get them in the order that's right for you.
F is for Face the Facts. Often, as in our case, the initial impetus for the move isn't a good one, however the sooner you face up to the new challenge life has hurled at you the quicker you'll be able to turn it into a positive. Face the facts and find the information you need from financial advisers, estate agents and employers.
G is for Get Ahead. There will be a million and one things to do at the last moment so start early and tick off as many jobs as you can as quickly as you can - don't leave things till the last minute. 
H is for Harass People. This move might be the most important thing in your life but to the estate agents, financial advisers and mortgage companies you're just another account so, in the nicest possible way, be a thorn in their side. Please resist the urge to yell at them, this may be tough at times, but you'll get a lot further a lot more quickly if they're on your side and want to help you.
I is for Ignore the Naysayers! There will be plenty of them. People who don't have the nerve to do what you're doing, people who are jealous, and people who are genuinely concerned and don't know how else to tell you. We heard them all, and some of them could be quite persuasive, but we stuck to our guns and saw it through and now many of them have told us how they wish they had the nerve to do what we did. How many people have you heard say they'd love to start a new life? And how many have actually done it? I rest my case.
J is for Join Join online communities where you'll find loads of useful advice. Join social networks so you can more easily keep in touch with the friends and family you're leaving behind. When you arrive join clubs and societies to make new friends. Just take every opportunity to join things!
K is for Kit. Make sure you're well kitted out with all the tech you'll need. The first few weeks can be pretty lonely so you want to make sure you can remain in contact with everyone as easily as possible. It doesn't need to be expensive, older versions of smartphones or laptops will do everything you need at a fraction of the cost of their original sale price.
L is for Lose your cat! I'm not suggesting this is something you should do on purpose, but it happened to us during our first couple of weeks and it meant we got to know all our neighbours really quickly. Luckily he came home again a couple of weeks later, but it certainly broke the ice with people!
M is for Make time to Relax. This is one of the most stressful things you'll do, so don't be too hard on yourself. Pace yourself and take time to "not do moving stuff". Watch a movie, read a book, take a walk, anything to take your mind off things for an hour or two.
N is for Network. You know more people than you think you do, and you'll need most of them. Don't try to do this alone, talk to people, be honest about the highs and lows, you'll be amazed how many will have been through something similar and have some invaluable gems of advice.
O is for OMG we did it! Celebrate your achievements along the way. Getting the mortgage deal, finding the perfect house, figuring out where to store your stuff, locating the nearest cattery. There will be plenty of things that will go wrong and drive you to distraction, so make sure you celebrate all the good stuff.
P is for Prepare your Paperwork. A new life comes with lots of paperwork. I'm not a paperwork person so this was a tough one for me, but there will be a mountain of paperwork so set up a system and make sure you keep it all organised. You'll be juggling official documents from estate agents, removal firms, insurance companies, mortgage companies, utilities companies, local councils etc. etc. etc. For a couple of quid you can get an expanding wallet file from the stationery store which should see you through.
Q is for Question your sanity! 'm not saying you should do this, I'm saying you will do this, so better be prepared for it. My best advice is to refer back to M and do something different to take your mind of things for a while.
R is for Reconnaissance. In this digital age you can find out everything you need to know virtually. Before we moved I'd checked out all the local bus and train times, located the nearest doctors, tracked down all the supermarkets within a 10 mile radius and even virtually walked the route from my new home to the local railway station. Many towns and villages now have their own websites so you can really get a feel for the place before you move there.
S is for Smile. Cheesy, but the quickest and easiest way to start making new friends. Chat to people, pass the time of day, ask questions, read notice boards, take an interest, but most of all, do it with a smile.
T is for Try something new and exciting. This is all about doing something new and exciting so try to embrace all the set backs as challenges to be overcome not barriers to success. So much went wrong for us along the way and we spent the first three months of our new life living in a small camper van whilst we sorted out the house situation, but we had fun and learned new things every day. Of course there were times when we felt utterly despondent and tempted to give up and that's OK occasionally, it's just not a good idea to make a habit of it.
U is for the Unexpected. You may be the most meticulous planner in the world, but I guarantee that at some point during a move like this, several things will ambush you that you'd never even considered. During our first week the clutch went on the car, we had no idea where the local garages were and didn't really know many people to ask, but we figured it out. Just keep on your toes and expect the unexpected.
V is for Vital bits and pieces. I found it really useful to keep a small stash of vital, personal bits and pieces around me at all times. Photos, a few keepsakes even, I'm not ashamed to admit, my teddy bear. When you're thrusting yourself headlong into the unfamiliar a few familiar things can be a real help to hang on to.
W is for Wine. Or whatever your favourite tipple is, even if it's non-alcoholic. Whenever I felt like going into meltdown a large glass of red and a bit of a giggle popped me back on the straight and narrow.
X is for Xenophobia. Xenophobia is a fear of strangers or foreigners and there's no room for it in a move like this. Seek out all the strangers you can and start to build new friendships, the sooner you manage that the sooner you'll start to feel part of the community.
Y is for Yet another setback. Despite how lovely they always make it look on the TV, starting a new life will be fraught with difficulties but you will be able to overcome them. As they saying goes "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger", so learn from the setbacks. When they happen don't be afraid to ask for help or support, most people will be only too happy to lend a hand.
Z is for Zeal! Approach your new life with a generous helping of zeal and any setbacks you face will soon be a thing of the past. I lost count of the number of things people told me couldn't be done, we couldn't live in a motorhome for 3 months, we couldn't push a house purchase through in 4 weeks, we'd never find employment in the current job market and so on. Just dig deep, find your energy and focus it all on the task in hand and you'll be happily settled in your new life before you know it.

BEFORE YOU GO!  Did you notice that this blog isn't swamped with adverts or pop-ups pestering you to sign up for a newsletter?  That's because we hate that sort of thing BUT we still need to earn a living!  Part of our 'new life' dream was to write books and we've been lucky enough to do that - the fun part is writing them and the hard part is selling them. Yes, you can get them all on Amazon too, but we make next to nothing that way - plus if you buy from us we'll be happy to sign them for you.  Just click the pictures below to find out more.  Cheers! 😀

Click here to find out more

Click here to find out more

Click here to find out more

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Relentless Optimism

I've had a lot of blog ideas colliding in my head over the past few weeks but haven't been able to pin down anything concrete, so apologies if this one strays.  Things haven't been helped by me being in a bit of a fug since mid December - lots of causes that I won't bore you with but suffice to say I temporarily misplaced my usual chirpy demeanour.

The more I pondered the more I realised that all the ideas were actually related.  I wanted to write about Health -v- Wealth and how we are continually encouraged to trade a desire for bigger, better and shinier things by working longer hours which we ultimately pay for with our health.

I also wanted to write a blog called "I wore pink today" about how easily we miss the signs that someone around us is depressed, or struggling, because we're so wrapped up with our own struggles and challenges.  We miss the fact that someone who normally wears bright and cheerful colours is suddenly wearing a lot of grey and black.  Of course it might be nothing more than a new fashion trend (or the only clean thing in the wardrobe!) but we so rarely ask to check.

I also wanted to write something about the health benefits of being outdoors; not just on our mental health but on our overall wellbeing.  The benefits of removing our faces from a phone screen and sucking in great lungfuls of fresh air.  Our electronic devices are purveyors of doom and inadequacy.  There's a saying in journalism: "If it bleeds, it leads".  Bad news sells so in many ways we've only ourselves to blame.  Even negative comments by "trolls" attract more attention than positive "yeah that's amazing" posts and we all have that one friend who only ever comments to pick out the flaws in something we just shared...

Right now things look bleak.  January is never a good month - we're all broke after Christmas, the nights are long and dark and for some insane reason people insist on making it even tougher by giving up alcohol, going vegan or forcing themselves to go to the gym when they really don't want to.  The news isn't helping with Brexit dividing families, Trump trying to literally divide the American continent and a bunch of people getting upset because Gillette are suggesting that bullying kids and harassing women isn't how men should behave.

On top of all that I'm bombarded with adverts telling me that getting old is a bad thing and that somehow I can reverse the ageing process by buying some ludicrously expensive gloop to smear on my face.  I'm no Brian Cox but I'm pretty sure it will take a serious deviation from the laws of physics to stop me getting older.  Ageing is a fact of life.  It's a fact of the universe - but we live in a culture that celebrates and values youth and beauty.  Well, b******s to that! 

I once did a personality assessment which told me that it is my "relentless optimism" which most annoys other people so I have chosen to take that as a compliment and not only build on it, but channel it right into the heart of everything Cumbrian Rambler does.  The world is NOT full of misery but it is so easy to miss the good stuff, or overlook the small joys in everyday living and find faults instead of fun. So, here it is.  In a world where s**t happens every single day this is my remedy for 2019; I will find the fun in everything I can and continue my relentless optimism to the end - who's with me?


Thursday, 3 January 2019

If Mother Nature relied on Northern Rail, we'd all be screwed

I live in Grange-over-Sands on the northern shores of Morecambe Bay.  Every year thousands of birds migrate to the bay to spend their winters paddling around the rich, shallow waters.  Collectively they travel millions of miles from all around the globe to get here.  All I had to do was travel 82 miles to Manchester in time for a 10 O’clock meeting.
My options were the 7:20 arriving at 9:11 or the 6:39 arriving at 8:11. This is Northern Rail we're dealing with. The meeting was important so I opted for the 6:39 and envisioned enjoying a nice warm bowl of porridge in Pret once I got there.
I arrived at Grange station in the dark at 6:33; plenty of time to buy a ticket.  Unfortunately the new ticket guy is lovely but Spanish and has a Spanish approach to timekeeping, meaning the ticket office usually opens at 6:30am give or take 10 minutes. Usually take.
I sat on the platform and checked the timetable display. 6:36 - train on time, good. I glance down at my phone then glance back up.  6:37 and the train is now 15 minutes late. Then 16. Then 17. I check my app; the train left Barrow 1 min late but arrived Ulverston 19 mins late with no stops in-between - how is that even possible? I have time to kill so I dig out my knitting and cast on.  The ticket office opens - yay!

The train arrives 19 minutes late sounding very unwell. I board and continue knitting.  We’re a bit broke so our families are getting home made cowls for Christmas this year.  In fact they’re getting an entire bag filled with homemade goodies – jams, sloe gin etc. – things all made with love and care so they’d better darned well appreciate them, or else there’ll be trouble!
South of Carnforth I glance up to see a stag in the reed beds near Leighton Moss; it’s rutting season so they’re often easier to spot.   I look around the carriage, everyone else has their faces firmly planted in their phones and I’m the only one to see him.  I want to shout out but realise this may not be considered appropriate early morning commuter behaviour.  I return to my knitting.
We arrive at Carnforth. We remain at Carnforth. Luckily I find knitting very calming. They need to reboot the system so they switch everything off, including the lights, but it's OK, we've been there so long the sun has come up.
I decide that if Northern Rail trains had a Performance Behaviour Framework, this train's behaviours would be "Undesirable". I reckon the scale would be:
Behaviour: Moving

Highly Desirable - Moving forwards quickly
Desirable - Moving forwards
Undesirable - Stationary
Highly Undesirable – Reversing
 Then the inevitable "everyone off" announcement and a race across the station to the train I would have got if I'd stayed in bed 30 minutes more and caught the 7:20.
We arrive at Preston. My knitting is coming along nicely; 6 rows completed (it’s 90 stitches a row and I’m a slow knitter, don’t judge me!). I check my app, the 8:24 is cancelled. Damn! I check again.  The 8:24 is not cancelled. Yay! I look along the platform.  The 8:24 is actually there but no-one's confirming anything and there are no station staff to be seen.  People jab at their phones and look around in puzzlement, searching for clues.  I’ve often noticed how the clearly labelled and sequentially numbered platforms at Preston seem to cause confusion. Geese don’t have this problem. Nominate a leader, form a V then set off.  Next stop Norway.
The platform sign says the 8:24 is going but by now we all have trust issues. We board. We hope. We depart!  Apparently (I later learn) we leave behind a collection of folks who still thought it was cancelled.
By Bolton the “tss-tss-tss” from the (clearly cheap and shoddy) noise cancelling headphones clamped to the ears of my seat-mate, cause me to pause and consider a range of alternative uses for my knitting needles...
I finally arrive at Manchester Oxford Road at 9:15, 2 ¾ hours after I left home.  Interesting fact: the Arctic Tern averages around 25mph, only slightly slower than I managed on Northern Rail, but they do migrate over 50,000 miles each year and arrive on time.  Still, I’m pretty sure they can’t knit and fly.

On my journey home the 15:26 Trans Pennine Express train is delayed into Manchester Piccadilly by 2 late running Northern Rail trains ahead of it, the guard announces this indignantly after we've boarded.  On arrival the driver only pulled halfway down the platform meaning all those of us who had listened to the endless "please move down the platform" announcements had to race back to the train and are wedged into the front carriage sardine style. Knitting standing up, I discover, is not easy. The guard helpfully announces that there are plenty of seats in the rear carriages (the ones we couldn’t get to). No shit Sherlock...
The train arrives at Preston. The train remains Preston (Definitely another "undesirable"). The relief conductor has apparently gone AWOL. Can't say I blame him. (Or her). Do geese have this problem?  “This migration is delayed because the relief leader is still paddling around that nice pond we stayed at last night.”
Everyone is turfed off the train in time to experience Preston station as twighlight falls. Bewitching...

The Virgin train arrives & we all jostle for the best standing position.  I nab a nice corner spot and resume knitting but each time I crouch down to adjust the wool in my bag the gent next to me moves meaning I collide with his elbow every time I bob back up again.  Every, single, time.  Starlings can swoop and turn in murmurations of over 100,000 without once colliding and I can’t make it from Preston to Lancaster without getting cracked on the head from the guy stood next to me.

The train finally makes it to Lancaster in time for us to race across to platform 5 for the irritatingly (and surprisingly) punctual Carlisle train.  I eventually make it back to Grange at 5:33pm. My knitting is half complete and on the basis of my journey today I’m considering making everyone a set of matching jumpers next year, and possibly socks too.

As I head along the track back to my house I hear the train hoot as it continues its Odysseyan journey towards Kents Bank.  An owl from the nearby woods answers it.  One of those hoots put a smile on my face; I’ll let you figure out which one.

PRETTY PLEASE - BEFORE YOU GO!  Did you notice that this blog isn't swamped with adverts or pop-ups pestering you to sign up for a newsletter?  That's because we hate that sort of thing BUT we still need to earn a living!  We are lucky enough to make part of our living from writing books - the fun part is writing them and the hard part is selling them. Yes, you can get them all on Amazon too, but we make next to nothing that way - plus if you buy from us we'll be happy to sign them for you.  Just click the pictures below to find out more.  Cheers! 😀

Click here to find out more

Click here to find out more

Click here to find out more

Sunday, 23 December 2018

A busy year outside

I was wondering if my annual 'end of year' blog looking back over the highlights of our year is a bit like one of those 'round robin' letters that come with a Christmas card?  Well, on account of the fact we don't have kids, there are no lists of their many achievements, although we are quite proud of the cats...

Looking back over the year one thing that's apparent is that although we were outside a lot we didn't take a lot of time off - something I'd definitely like to fix for 2019.  We are incredibly fortunate that time outdoors in some amazing places counts as work, but sadly it's the sort of work that doesn't pay a lot - perhaps 2019 will be the year of our best seller?  We have three books out next year, so watch this space...


When we do get out we like to explore away from the main routes.  January saw us getting some final pics for Steve's amazing Cumbria in Photos book and enjoying a wonderfully snowy drive along Thirlmere before wolfing down a divine 'Ginuary' Afternoon Tea' at Lakes Distillery.

Hell's Gill
Fox's Pulpit


In Feb we tackled a few lovely old routes and explored Longsleddale and Swindale before The Beast From the East dumped snow across the land - we even got snow on Grange prom!

Wrengill Quarry
Grange Prom

Lots of travelling in March, but we also learned how to pronounce Brougham Castle, visited Nottingham AND admire the first daffodils at Ullswater.

Brougham Castle



Sun, sea and family! We enjoyed what turned out to be our only proper hols of the year, a week in North Wales, so of course I *had* to paddle!  Later that month we stranded ourselves on Roa Island for a blissful picnic before spending time with Steve's Parents admiring posh houses.

Yes, it was freezing!

Black Rock Sands

Roa Island


In May I got to explore one of my favourite nerdy bits of history (I'm busy drafting the book just now, watch for it around May time!), then we had Hardknott Roman Fort all to ourselves on a glorious evening.  Next up was the cover shot for Gin, Cakes and Rucksacks before giving our lovely nephews a taste of the outdoor life.

Any guesses where I am?

Harknott Fort

Getting the cover shot!

Wearing out the nephews

June was mostly HOT, HOT, HOT!  Work took me to Brussels and we squeezed in a couple of days sightseeing - The Atomium was, without any shadow of a doubt, my absolute favourite thing!  Then there was a protest march against Northern Rail's abysmal service before exploring a couple of old ruins on Morecambe Bay and finally finding our heads in the Eden Valley.

The Atomium
Quicker than taking the train
Near Naze
Sandstone Heads

Still hot but thankfully cooling down!  It may look like the Caribbean, but it's actually Walney Island.  A quick work trip to Edinburgh then over to Chapel Island before a lovely long walk along a Lancashire canal.

The tropical paradise island of Walney


Arriving at Chapel Island

Lancaster Canal

We finally got around to visiting the amazing model village in Flookburgh, then managed a couple of nights break at Barnard Castle before a very long, VERY wet hike from Penrith to Ravenglass.

Miniature Village

Cockersands Abbey

Barnard Castle

Awwwww... Incredible Camping Cats!

"Are we there yet?"

In September I was introduced to freezing cold dips, thanks to Suzanna Swims, then I joined my first ever major group hike, run by the amazing Helen of Wild Rambling, and then I compared the relative merits of Barrow and Birmingham,,,

Freezing cold fun!  More here

En route to Haystacks

Beautiful Barrow!


We finally launched Gin, Cakes and Rucksacks and were incredibly lucky that so many amazing people came along to support us!  We followed that up with a surprisingly hot hike over Nan Bield Pass before I met one of the heroines from my youth.  Last up we discovered some wonderful walks around Keswick.

SO lucky to have so many fab folks support us!

Hotter than it looks!

Sharron Davies

Beautiful autumnal Keswick 

Still walking, still working.  This time we tootled around Wetsleddale and then tried our hand at a Christmas market - first up was gate-crashing Shed 1's stand at HolkerHall.  Then there was Kendal Mountain Festival (they go on tour too - check here to see when they'll be visiting a town near you.)  without a shadow of a doubt the most fantastic and exhausting weekend of the year.  After finally getting a little sleep we took a wander around Argill Woods for Cumbria Wildlife Trust.


Holker Hall shenanigans

Kendal Mountain Festival

Argill Woods

The last of the Christmas markets - hard work and long days but fun to meet lots of fab people!  Then a wonderful walk up and over Humphrey Head and making very early plans for one of next year's BIG projects - so exciting!  We've seen lots of fab places again this year, but nothing can beat a stroll along Grange prom, it's the perfect place to clear my head.  Lastly there was the walking nativity through the streets of the village - thankfully the sun shone!  It's the first time they've done it but I hope it wont be the last.

Windermere Market

Limbo dancing tree on Humphrey Head

Grange Prom

Walking nativity in Grange

Thank you SO much for reading our blog this year - and an especially HUGE thank you to everyone who has bought one of our books - we really do appreciate it!  We sincerely hope you all have a very merry Christmas full of family and fun, and a peaceful and happy new year.  Here's to 2019!

Merry Christmas!