Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Everyone's a winner

As Monty Python would say "And now for something completely different!" I am a firm believer in continually stretching myself so, not content with being up to our necks in book writing projects (with another new idea bubbling away for whenever the good lord sees fit to add an extra couple of days to the week!) I thought I'd try my hand at fiction.

This story was inspired by a real life discovery that I made in a ladies loo (see photo at the end) - when I saw the items I just knew there had to be a story behind them and as there's no chance I'll ever discover the real sequence of events which led to them being there, I thought I'd make up my own.  Hope you like it.

Everyone's a Winner

Laura licked the doughnut sugar from the corner of her mouth as a small blob of jam crept down her chin.

“You missed a bit” laughed Emily, pointing to her own chin to show where it was.

Laura picked up the napkin from the table and wiped her chin.

“Other side”

Laura tried again, this time clearing the offending jammy blob. “That’ll teach me, I really shouldn’t have had that.  Heaven knows how many Slimming World Syns there were in it!”

“Who cares?” said Emily, poring over the map “We’ve got another 2 miles ahead of us and that’s on top of the 8 we’ve already done” She fiddled around with the string on the top of her well packed rucksack, gently pressing her neatly folded top down inside so it didn’t catch on the toggle.  She leaned the rucksack against the table leg then tidied their plates away onto the empty tray and wiped the crumbs off the table with her napkin.

Laura peered out through the steamed up windows of the cafe into the slow drizzle of the late afternoon, the mist from the windows indistinguishable from the clouds beyond.  She pulled her chair in to let someone squeeze past “Why do they always cram the tables so close together?” she muttered “I’ve barely got room to breathe here!”

Emily smirked. “You putting your waterproofs back on?”

“Nah, too hot.  Well, maybe the top, but not the legs.  How hilly is the next section?”

“All flat” replied Emily.

Laura sighed, screwing up her nose as she peered out of the window again.  “How about we just give it 5 more minutes to see if it clears up?”

Emily clenched her jaw with irritation and wondered why Laura had agreed to come on the hike when all she’d done was complain about the weather.  She’d been in an odd mood all morning.  She watched as Laura tipped half the contents of her rucksack onto the floor of the cafe and rummaged through them looking for a hair band.  Locating one she slipped it on, pushing her loose blonde hair back off her face.  “That’s better” she smiled, haphazardly stuffing the contents back in and pulling the lid down tight.  “Damn!  Forgot my hat!” she muttered before repeating the entire process again.

Emily thought back to the networking event where they’d met just 2 weeks earlier.  They’d really clicked and had kept in touch with texts and messages since then.  Their shared love of hiking led Emily to suggest a 10 mile yomp around Derwent Water; it had been glorious weather when they planned it but today was the first dismal day in ages.

Glancing at the floor she noticed a small box half under Laura’s chair.  “You missed something” she said, using her foot to slide it closer before bending to pick it up.  She handed it over to Laura. Clear Blue Pregnancy Testing Kit.  “Anything you want to tell me?” asked Emily, smiling.

Laura’s face flushed.  They’d only known each other such a short time.  Emily reached over and put her hand on Laura’s arm.  “Honestly, just blurt it out, I promise you can trust me.”

Laura hesitated, biting her lower lip and searching Emily’s face for some sign of reassurance.

“Well, it’s like this” she finally began.  “We’ve been trying for kids for a little while and I think I may actually be pregnant, except now it’s finally real I am absolutely terrified.  I haven’t even told Pete.  I bought the test before I met you in Keswick earlier, but I’m too scared to use it.  I’m scared I might be pregnant and equally scared that I might not be; does that make any sense at all?”

“Sort of a SchrΓΆdinger’s baby scenario?” said Emily. 

Laura laughed “Exactly; if I don’t take the test then I am both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time.”

“What are you scared of?” asked Emily, her hand still resting on Laura’s arm and her hazel eyes never leaving her face.

“Everything” blurted Laura “I just don’t feel grown up enough to look after a baby.  I’ve killed every houseplant I’ve ever owned!”

“Babies are different” said Emily reassuringly “For a start you can’t leave them on windowsills unattended and I’m pretty sure you need to water them more than once a week.”

They both laughed.

“Seriously though” she continued “You can do this; millions of women have done it before you and there will be loads of people around to support you – Pete, your family, the nurses, your friends, me.”

“I know, I’m being silly”

“Not silly at all, this is the biggest change you’ll ever make in your life.  Of course you’ll be nervous, but you’ve got this; whatever the result of that test you’ll cope just fine.”

Laura smiled and put her hand on top of Emily’s.  “Thank you.  I just need to take a deep breath and pull myself together.”

“Tell you what” said Emily “When we get back to Keswick we’ll nip to the public loos in Booth’s and do it.  I’ll be right outside the whole time.”


As they trudged their way back into Keswick they talked about a million different things and none of them were baby related.  Crossing the bridge back into town Laura stopped again.

“I can’t do this.  I am so scared!”

“Wait there 2 minutes” said Emily, disappearing off into the nearby CoOp.  She emerged soon after clutching a small bottle of Shiraz and a scratch card.

“This is for Dutch courage” she said, waving the wine bottle “and this” waving the scratch card “is to give me something to do while you’re in there.”

Giggling like naughty school children they drank the wine straight from the bottle and raced to Booth’s before Laura changed her mind again.

“Right” said Emily “In you go.  I’ll wait out here and see how many millions I’ve won.”

Laura disappeared into the cubicle while Emily dug 2p out of her purse and started on her scratch card.

“You ok?”she called through

“Yup, just got to wait 2 minutes now”

“Can you remember the Countdown music?”  They both began giggling and humming together, finishing with a flourishing “did-di, did-di, diddly bum!”

“Well?” asked Emily

“Negative” said Laura, opening the cubicle door

“Same here; it would seem that we are neither pregnant nor millionaires.  How are you feeling?”

“I’m OK actually” said Laura, her voice muffled in Emily’s shoulder as she gave her a big hug.  “Thanks for being there.”

“No worries” smiled Emily “What shall I do with these?”  They looked around for a bin, but there was none.

“There’s a sanitary bin next to the loo” said Laura “It’s not perfect but we may as well just leave them there.”

“Fair enough” said Emily, placing the lottery ticket, the empty wine bottle and the pregnancy test on top of the bin next to the toilet.

“I think after all that we deserve a larger glass of wine; the Dog and Gun do great food too – you in?”

“Definitely” smiled Laura as they made their way outside and the first rays of weak sunshine finally broke through the clouds.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Me Time

This blog is inspired by a very good friend of mine, she will remain nameless but she'll know who she is.  Like many of us she is crazy busy and is definitely the sort of person about whom you could say "she'll do anything for anyone" but, also like many of us, the one person she rarely does anything for is herself.

We've all been there, racing around trying to do a million things at once then wondering why we feel so frazzled.  In an era where long hours and stressed out lives are worn like a badge of honour taking a day out to focus on yourself seems sinful; like somehow you're failing, or not trying hard enough.  "I've had a long day" you say. "Hah! You think *you've* had a long day - wait till you hear about mine!" comes the reply, and so the competition begins.

Well, today I had a "me" day and I don't even feel a little bit guilty, so there! I'm working in Edinburgh in the morning so instead of working all day on projects at home and arriving late this evening, I got an early train and enjoyed a flipping big yomp around the city (not everyone's idea of a fun day, but it was MY day & I loved it!).

I munched my favourite chocolates, made my squash extra strong and instead of reheating the pot of homemade chilli I brought with me I ate it cold, from the tub, whilst sat on Portobello beach - something that definitely would NOT have happened had my lovely husband been with me.

Working hard is fine, but so is taking time out to recharge your batteries. In fact it's essential - and particularly challenging for the self employed where the notion of a regular working week flew out the window some time ago.

In my non-writing life I deliver courses on time management and stress management and it's sad to see how many people are missing out on time with loved ones, or doing things they love, because of being tied to an office (or smartphone!) So, do yourself a favour, over the next 7 days take some time out to focus on you - even if it's just an hour - I promise the world won't end, and it may just do you some good.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

The Five Coolest Walks in Cumbria

As the record temperatures continue I have a confession to make:  I really do NOT get on well with hot weather.  Sunny is fine, but I don't fare well in the heat which makes getting out for a hike in this weather problematic.  I'm fair skinned and burn easily, which also doesn't help, so I have two choices:  stay indoors in a darkened room with all the windows open or find a decent walk which won't fry me to a crisp.  As I get very easily bored the first option doesn't really work for more than a day or so, so plan B it is - and here are my five favourite "keep cool" walks in Cumbria.

PLEASE NOTE:  You know the routine - even on a cool walk ensure you have a decent hat, high SPF cream smothered all over you, long sleeves and plenty of fluids.

Derwent Water

Although it's a good long hike (around 9 miles) to complete a full lap of the lake, it's mostly flat and huge sections of it are in woodland so there are plenty of places to avoid the heat of the sun.  The last time I did it I loaded the rucksack with drinks and snacks and took most of the day over it (hot weather is not the time for speedy hikes!) and I enjoyed plenty of stops along the way.  The other perk to a hike around Derwent Water is that if you decide you've had enough half way around you can jump on the gondola to get back into Keswick.  Perfect!

Armathwaite - River Eden

River Eden

The Eden Valley is one of the most beautiful corners of Cumbria and a stroll along the banks of the Eden is a joy at any time of the year, however during very hot spells it also has the added benefit of being largely shady and that, together with the ever present river, results in a very cool and pleasing hike with plenty of gorgeous views along the way.  (You may recall we recently went headhunting along the River Eden and, if you missed that, it's right here.)

Hampsfell - Grange-over-Sands

Hampsfell Hospice
It may be a hill but the beauty of Hampsfell is that for most of the climb upwards you're walking through the cool woods of Eggerslack.  True, the last section is exposed but by then you've got a cooling breeze and, at the summit, there's the Hospice where you can sit in the shade and catch your breath.  After that there are the dramatic limestone pavements to explore and a long cool descent through either Eggerslack or Charney woods - either way you end up back in the village where there are a plethora of excellent cafes, pubs and pie shops to choose from.

St Bees Cliffs

St Bees Cliffs
What this walk lacks in shade it makes up for with sea breezes, plus it's a great one way walk and those can be hard to come by.  There are regular busses and trains between St Bees and Whitehaven so, whichever one you start from you know there's an easy way back.  One of my favourite walks is to enjoy a nice pub lunch in St Bees before setting off and then arrive into Whitehaven in time for a chippy tea.  Be sure to leave plenty of time for exploring though as there is loads of fascinating history around Whitehaven and a number of excellent museums (including the superb, and much underrated Rum Story)

Duddon Valley

Pretty much every time I write about the Duddon Valley, someone tells me off for "giving away the secret", but it is a spectacular valley and it would be a shame if all of those breathtaking views went to waste!  There are plenty of paths around the valley, most are not too hilly and plenty of them are in the shade.  If you fancy exploring then do the unthinkable - turn left at Torver (where everyone else turns right to get to Coniston), then take the first road on your right (narrow and steep) and follow it until you find the two small car parks.  From the car parks there are paths down through the woods to Appletree Worth and on over to the River Lickle and a beautiful woodland path.

BEFORE YOU GO!  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! πŸ˜€

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Friday, 29 June 2018

Head Hunting in the Eden Valley

River Eden - Armathwaite
This is literally a story of blood, sweat and tears - trust me when I tell you that all three bodily fluids have been shed in pursuit of this particular goal.  It was definitely worth it but not something I'd recommend to everyone.

The story goes something like this - when we were researching 50 Gems of Cumbria we scoured the web and the history books for interesting and unusual things to include, and came across stories and photos of heads carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Eden valley.  Well now, that sounded way too good to miss so off we set to try and find them (those of you who know where they are will be chuckling already!)  After a couple of minor failed missions during 2016 we set off on a proper attempt in October.

We had a lovely afternoon in the autumn sunshine before our final attempt of the day ended with a footpath collapsing underneath me resulting in a 10 foot fall into a pile of brambles (the full story is here).  That's where the "blood and tears" part came in - 3 staples in my head and a hand the size of a small football.  Still, it could have been a LOT worse.

More research told us that the heads were "more easily" accessible when the water levels were low, so we shelved our hunt over the winter.  During 2017 Steve was busy racing around taking photos for his new Cumbria in Photos book and he had another attempt - this time wisely leaving me safely at home - but still drew a blank.  These pesky things are properly hard to get at, so they sadly didn't make it into that book either (but loads of other awesome stuff did!)

Fast forward to this week and we were back up near Carlisle researching another book, which for now has to remain a secret but, funnily enough, does not require us to find the carved heads - however we are in the middle of a heatwave and it hasn't rained properly for ages so we decided to have one last crack at finding the elusive carved heads.

As you can see from the top the river looked superb but the weather meant that even though the walk along the riverbank is mostly shady, it was still a hot and sticky affair (this is the "sweat" part!).  To give you an idea, this is what the route to the carved heads looks like:

No, I'm not kidding.  The easiest way in is probably to swim but the cameras don't like that, so the only alternative is to inch along a very narrow sandstone ledge, battling weeds and nettles, with very deep water just inches away.  There was cursing, there was definitely more blood (but only bramble scratches this time) but we finally made it.  So, was it worth it?  Well, here are the pics we eventually got:


The carvings are said to have been done by William Mounsey (a local eccentric who clearly had a good set of wellies or the river was lower back then) and the quote is from The Compleat Angler (Isaac Walton).  The fish is a salmon as the River Eden is an excellent salmon river - one of the finest in England, apparently.

For me it was definitely worth it - I love tracking down curiosities like these, especially ones that are hard to find.  I'd only recommend the adventure to those who are very sure footed or don't mind falling into the river.  As well as the carvings the natural sandstone along there was also stunning.

Once we were done we celebrated with nice cool drink on a much safer rock and pondered what to tackle next now that we'd finally achieved this goal.  (If you have any ideas, do let me know!)

As you can see, we put a LOT of effort into all our books and they are all available to buy directly from us.  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! πŸ˜€

Click here to find out more

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

Great Walks around Grasmere

Grasmere is a victim of its own success - it's a gorgeous little village, right in the heart of the Lake District, crammed full of history and the perfect starting point for dozens of walks.  This all means that it can get very busy so we generally visit outside of the main season (when there's more chance of finding a parking space!) but as a birthday treat for me we headed up there last week for a night at the lovely Lancrigg Hotel to enjoy some great food and a few relaxing walks.  Not all the walks from Grasmere are relaxing mind, one of them scared the wits out of me (and Wainwright apparently!) so here are three of my favourites.

Helm Crag

Steve on the Howitzer
Let's start with the infamous Wainwright that Wainwright himself never made it to the top of - Helm Crag.  Most of the walk is a pretty straightforward hike, and the views from the top are glorious...

At the top of Helm Crag you'll find the Howitzer which is a huge lump of rock that only the brave, the skilled or the slightly bonkers attempt to climb.  You can decide for yourself which category to put Steve in but this is as far as I got...

The route back down into Grasmere goes directly past the Lancrigg and it would be rude not to stop in for a coffee and a delicious scone the size of your head...

Easedale Tarn

We both love Easedale Tarn - it's almost the perfect tarn to visit.  The walk up out of Grasmere is varied but straightforward and it passes the fabulous waterfalls of Sourmilk Gill where you can pause, cool down and maybe dip your toes in the water.

Although it's a straightforward route right next to Grasmere it's usually surprisingly quiet, especially around the tarn itself.  It's definitely the perfect spot for a picnic and if you need sustenance on the way back there's always this...

A lap of the lake

This is definitely a walk of two halves with the first half skirting the shores of the lake and the second half following an ancient coffin route back into Grasmere.  Along the way there are stunning views, museums, historic relics, more stunning views and, if you're up for a short detour, enormous caves.

Just a short detour from the route
There aren't many walks that pack so many different things into such a short space of time.  Although not too far in terms of miles it's a walk that could easily take you all day as you enjoy the many distractions along the way - and watch out for the water trough dedicated to Wordsworth as you head back into the village - most folks miss it.

Lancrigg Hotel

As I mentioned, we stayed at the Lancrigg Hotel and would certainly recommend it - both to stay at or to visit at the end of a good walk.  The rooms are spacious and the food is spectacular - a perfect birthday treat for me!  If the walks above all sound a bit more than you fancy then you can take a gentle wander around the hotel grounds, visit the memorial where Wordsworth used to work, or let the more adventurous folks enjoy the adventure playground while you put your feet up with a drink.

Lancrigg Hotel
Wordsworth Memorial
Gorgeous walks around the grounds

Lovely short walks nearby

Stunning views from our room