Monday, 10 December 2018

Guest Blog - Don't Drink and Drown

I've never hosted a guest blog on here before, but this is such an important message that I wanted to help get it out there.  Please share this to help us raise awareness.  Thank you.

The number of alcohol related drownings rose a staggering 41% last year prompting drowning prevention charity the Royal LSS UK to step up its efforts to warn revellers to take care near water whilst under the influence of alcohol.

Dozens of people tragically die each year because they’ve entered the water with alcohol in their bloodstream, either deliberately or completely by accident. Drinking near or in water can be a dangerous and deadly cocktail and alcohol can seriously impede your ability to survive in water.

Over the last five years there have been 1,581 accidental deaths in the UK and almost 30% of the victims (346) had alcohol in their bloodstream. In 2017 alone, there were 75 alcohol related drownings recorded, compared to 53 the previous year.

The Don’t Drink and Drown campaign was launched in 2014 following a string of tragic drownings of young people. Research indicated that around a quarter of all adult drowning victims had alcohol in their bloodstream. RLSS UK was keen to prevent more tragedies, by targeting at risk groups in hot spot areas at particular points in the year where alcohol related drowning incidences increase - September (at the start of the new university term) and December (during the festive period).

RLSS UK wants everyone to have a great time this Christmas and through the Don’t Drink and Drown campaign, the chaity aims to give essential advice to party-goers to make sure they know how to stay safe when they’re out celebrating.

When walking home from a night out, avoid routes that are alongside water, particularly in the darkness, and always stay with and look out for your friends.

Stay Safe this Christmas:
Stay safe around water
  • Don’t walk home near water, you might fall in
  • Look out for your friends, make sure they get home safely
  • Don’t enter the water if you have been drinking
  • Alcohol seriously affects your ability to get yourself out of trouble

Across the regions, organisations join forces with RLSS UK to hammer out the water safety messages, including a wide range of fire and rescue services, police, local authorities, bars and businesses across the UK, as well as the Canal and River Trust, RNLI and the Environment Agency.

As part of the campaign volunteers host stalls at busy shopping areas and walk the queues at popular waterfront establishments, talking to people about the dangers of walking home near water after a night out drinking. Bars, nightclubs and universities display posters, beermats and other resources with water safety messaging, and throwline training is given to door staff.

For more information on RLSS UK’s Don’t Drink and Drown campaign:

Visit our website at

Follow us on Twitter - @RLSSUK

Visit our Facebook page -

Join our LinkedIn page - @rlssuk

Call - 0300 323 0096

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Not all walks are amazing...

You know me, I'm generally a happy camper who sees the best in everything but whichever way you look at it, today's walk was a bit crap.  The only good thing to say about it is that it was better than being stuck indoors. Marginally.

We planned it as a short Sunday stroll; nothing too taxing, nothing too high but, unfortunately, nothing went right...

First up we got a bit lost looking for the start of the walk, never a good sign. Then all the nice pristine paths turned out to be barely discernable boggy fields.

Then there were the blocked rights of way. Three in total (yes, I'm reporting them) which resulted in us criss-crossing one particularly boggy field 3 times before then having to cross an even boggier one.

Thankfully one of Gods Lunch Huts (aka a church) was open so we could enjoy our sarnies in comfort - always a perk of a low level walk.

Next we met the grumpy farmer - you know the type, zero signs to direct you through the farm but ready to leap out at you from behind the cow shed to point out you're going the wrong way.

Shortly after that was "the path less travelled" - a clearly marked and signposted footpath right through the middle of 4ft high brambles.

Despite all of that, and the obvious near continuous bickering, we still tried to stick to our route before we both eventually agreed to call it a day when our route disappeared into a swamp next to a river.

We diverted to the slightly longer but undoubtably quicker road route just in time to get soaked by a passing downpour just before we reached the car.

On the bright side, these are the hikes that we will laugh and tell stories about in the future. Just maybe not right now...

Thursday, 15 November 2018

10 Great Gift Ideas for Outdoors/ Cumbria Lovers

It's that time of year again - half of us are still shouting at the Christmas adverts on the TV and the other half have already smugly completed their shopping.  The really smug ones already have it wrapped too...

As I do each year I've pulled together all my favourite gift ideas from across Cumbria and the outdoors.  I haven't received any payments or freebies from folks and I don't get any sort of commission or anything if you buy from them - I am simply a passionate supporter of local small businesses and happy to help out in any small way that I can.

I know it's easier to order from Amazon - I know they deliver next day, postage free and often cheaper than you can get if you buy direct - but there are thousands of small businesses out there, just like me, who rely on people buying direct.  To give you an example - if I sell one of our books directly I get to keep all the profit (apart from the chunks I have to hand over to HMRC and Paypal) whereas if I sell through Amazon I receive 8 - 10% of the profit (NOT the cover price) in royalties.  It's the same for everyone so please, if you possibly can, buy direct this Christmas and help support all the little guys.

1.  Distant Horizons

We have had some fantastic days out with these guys!  I initially bought Steve gift vouchers as a Christmas gift but we had so much fun we've been back several times since and even taken our nephews out too.  They have something for everyone from beginners like me, who can't tell a kayak from a canoe, to advanced folks who want to tackle something more challenging.

Why we love them - lovely folks and a wonderful way to explore the Lake District.

CLICK HERE to visit their website.

2. Conquer Lake District

Anyone who adds a spot of creative colour to the fells is alright in my book.  These guys have created a range of fantastic patches to enable you to commemorate and celebrate your visit to the Lake District.  They are hugely environmentally aware and there's no nasty plastic in any of their products.

Why we love them - because they are fab, funky, bright and original.

CLICK HERE to visit their website

3. The Lakes Calendar to support Mountain Rescue

A lovely lady called Janice Hawes has created this beautiful desk calendar crammed with wonderful images from around the Lake District and all the proceeds are going to support Mountain Rescue.  Hopefully we'll never need to use Mountain Rescue, but it's good to know they're there if we need them, and they are UTTERLY reliant on our donations.

Why we love them - because these calendars are beautiful and could help save a life

CLICK HERE to buy one

4. GYOW Apparel

These guys hand make a glorious selection of outdoor themed goodies - perfect for stocking fillers or "blow you away" main pressies.  Rachel Gaw (the owner) lives and works in the Lake District and has been working as a jeweller since 2005.  Every item is beautifully made and perfectly packaged to impress the one you love.

Why we love them - because everything they make is so lovely I just want it all...

CLICK HERE to visit their website

5. Socks from Keswick Boot Company

It's not Christmas if you don't get socks.  It just isn't!  But these aren't any old socks - these are socks that have been rigorously tested and can tackle everything life in the outdoors has to throw at them AND have a lifetime guarantee.  I've been good friends with Alex and Kerrie at Keswick Boot Company for many years, and I know that they genuinely care about every single customer and know just about everything there is to know about hiking boots.  And if "just socks" seems a bit stingy, get a gift voucher too (available in any amount) for a Happy New Year shopping spree!

Why we love them - because you will never leave that shop disappointed

CLICK HERE to visit their website.

6. The Twig Pen People

They started out by making twig pens and now they make the most wonderful range of engraved wooden goodies.  All of the wood is ethically sourced - the twigs for all of their pens come from a local woodland - and they are such wonderfully lovely people.  They have a range of imaginative ideas to choose from or are happy to chat to you if you'd like something specific engraved.  These days they're based at Farfield Mill where you can visit and support dozens of other local creative businesses.

Why we love them - because they are quirky and beautiful

CLICK HERE to visit their website

7. Jonathan Hunter Art

I stumbled across Jonathan's pictures on Twitter and instantly fell in love with them.  Jonathan began painting when he was convalescing following a serious motorbike accident and is based in Keswick. His bright and colourful images capture the energy and the essence of the towns and villages around Cumbria and would brighten up any room and delight anyone lucky enough to own one.

Why we love them - because they are so wonderfully bright and colourful

CLICK HERE to visit his website

8.  Pure Lakes

If socks are one Christmas essential then surely "smellies" are the other?  But these aren't just any old smellies - these are an award winning range of natural skin care products all hand made in the Lake District.  Everything is made from natural, biodegradable raw ingredients and everything is sustainably sourced with a minimum of processing to keep it as pure and authentic as possible.

Why we love them - because they are beautiful and environmentally sound.

CLICK HERE to visit their website

9. VeloCulture Cufflinks

Brace yourselves, these guys are from t'other side of the Pennines - but how fantastic are these cufflinks?  I need to go an buy a dress shirt so I can wear them! They have perfectly combined a love of jewellery making and cycling and come up with a truly original range of upcycled (!) goodies from things which would otherwise have ended up in landfill.

Why we love them - have you seen the picture?  The are wonderful!

CLICK HERE to visit their website

10.  Our lovely books!

I can't quite believe that we have 5 books out now.  FIVE!  Our two new additions for 2018 are Steve's spectacular book of photos and my rather tipsy toddle around all the distilleries in the county.  They are all available in all good bookshops (and probably a few dodgy ones too!) and you can also order direct from us,  We've been lucky enough to receive some wonderful reviews (and not just from my mum!) so we know these will make the perfect gift for anyone interested in Cumbria, hiking, wildlife, history, hiking, the outdoors and/ or gin!

Why we love them - because we had a LOT of fun writing them

CLICK HERE to visit our book buying page

And if all of those weren't enough check out my lists from previous years here and here.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

It couldn't be done...

I learned something important this week - just how easy it is to look at other people and think that they're doing just fine and that it's only you who has dark moments of feeling overwhelmed by everything.  To be fair, I did know this already, but this week was an excellent reminder! 

As you'll know if you follow us on social media, this week we had THE book launch party for Gin, Cakes and Rucksacks, and I have to say it was far easier, and a lot less stressful to organise our wedding than it was to organise this! Firstly, there were no press releases for our wedding, secondly people were a LOT better behaved about RSVPs for our wedding and, thirdly, call us mean, but there were no goody bags at our wedding.

With co-author Karen
When it comes to the RSVPs I was a bit surprised by the number of folks who just never bothered getting back to me one way or another - I didn't send out blanket invites, each one was specially addressed and personalised - a simple "no" would have been a huge help with the catering!  There were also a number of folks who despite saying "yes" said "no" within the final 24 hours or simply didn't show up - a few of them had excellent reasons which I completely understand, but others were less convincing...  Again, I'm not being precious here, but we were paying for catering on a tight budget so numbers were very important.

Anyway, despite our party poopers the event was a HUGE success with everyone there having a fab time - so much so that they're planning to organise another get together in the spring!

As I looked around at the fantastic bunch of people in the room I got to wondering what made these folks different?  Why did they come along and not let me down at the last minute?  Why were they all so lovely, friendly and supportive, chatting to each other and forging new friendships?  Then it came to me, pretty much everyone in that room had taken the huge risk of self employment - small gin producers, communications specialists, chefs, restaurateurs, cake makers, holiday home empire builders - they all absolutely knew how scary this life is and how much the support of your friends truly matters.

I was so moved that I dug out a favourite poem of mine to read at the end of my short speech as I thought it would strike a chord with everyone - and I was right, it did.  It got a huge roar of a cheer when I finished and several people asked me for it afterwards.
With our local MP Tim Farron

It's not my poem but it is absolutely perfect for anyone thinking of "going for it" in any field - motivational posters and short quotes make it sound so easy but there are many, many, long dark moments when you find yourself sobbing over a laptop or into a bottle of wine, convinced that you can't do this.  I was gob smacked at how many people came up to me after I read the poem out to share their dark moment stories and it was truly comforting to know I wasn't alone.

So, here's the poem - by American poet Edgar Alan Guest - and I hope it helps you as much as it helps me.

It Couldn't Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
      But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
      Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
      At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
      And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
      There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
      The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
      Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
      That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

With eternal thanks to everyone who came along and supported us!

Gin, Cakes and Rucksacks is available NOW!  You can buy it directly from us by clicking HERE and I'll even sign if for you if you want!  OR, you can buy it directly from the publisher here.  It's also on the database for folks like Waterstones, Hatchards, Daunt Books, WH Smith etc. so if it's not on the shelves of your local one do pester them and ask for it.  If you have a small independent bookshop then ask them too - it should be available via their local wholesaler.  Thank you!  😀

PS If you want a peek behind the scenes, check out my blog for Julia Bradbury's The Outdoor Guide website HERE.

Friday, 14 September 2018

The 7 stages of swimming with Suzanna

Photo from Suzanna Swims
It turns out I'm more of a wuss than I thought I was.  Last year me & Steve invested in a wetsuit each and have been enjoying a little open water swimming.  We've explored a number of lakes and a couple of beaches but never quite had the nerve to launch into a river.  Last week I met up with Suzanna from Suzanna swims and over the course of a few days she took a number of us out wild swimming in the lakes, rivers and tarns of north Cumbria.  I'd been really looking forward to it until I heard we were going sans wetsuits!  Eeek!  (To be fair, we could have worn one if we'd wanted but I didn't want to be the only wuss in the group!)

Anyway, having been out with her on 3 separate occasions (including once at 7am!) I realised that there are 7 stages to swimming with Suzanna and they look something like this...

Stage 1:  Woo hoo!  This is going to be awesome!

Photo from Suzanna Swims

The excitement of the unknown!  Heading off to do something different and brave, surrounded by a like minded group of people.  What could possibly go wrong?

Stage 2:  Hmm... this is looking a bit remote...

As you head higher into the fells the reality of the situation begins to sink in.  You spot the river, or tarn, from afar, and begin to wonder what on earth made you agree to do this in the first place...

Stage 3:  What was I thinking?

I won't lie to you - as you begin to strip down to your swimsuit on the side of a freezing cold river, you *will* question your sanity.  Suddenly those grotty changing rooms from compulsory swimming lessons at school become appealing.  In fact anything with walls and a heater becomes appealing.

Stage 4:  Holy &%$£*@!!! This is cold!

Photo from Wild Rambling

Rivers are not heated.  Rivers are cold.  Getting in will be painful but, as I kept telling myself, the only thing stopping me is me.  It's best to keep going because a) a slow and steady pace is best and b) if you stand still for too long Suzanna does this...

Photo from Wild Rambling

Stage 5:  This is actually rather lovely

Photo from Suzanna Swims

The first minute is by far the worst.  Once you get past that your body adjusts and the whole thing becomes rather lovely and invigorating and you understand what drives Suzanna to do this day after day as she guides groups through the experience.

Photo from Wild Rambling

Stage 6:  Can I stay in a bit longer?

Photo from Wild Rambling

Once we were all in, getting us out again within a safe period of time became the issue.  Suzanna has her watch on and keeps close tabs on us at all times, she know exactly how long it's safe for us to stay in and ensures we are all out and drying off before we get into any trouble.

Stage 7:  That was FANTASTIC - when can I go again?

Photo from Wild Rambling

Once you've done it you'll definitely want to do it again, I promise you.  It's such a fantastic experience!  Yes you get cold but you also get warm again afterwards and the hot chocolate tastes so much sweeter when it's hard earned!

If you're looking to do something different on your next visit to the lakes then definitely track Suzanna down - you can find her website here or follow her on social media:  Twitter, Instagram or Facebook

Photo from Suzanna Swims

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Confessions of a Group Walking Holiday Virgin

Last week I went on my very first group walking holiday.  35 women based at Glaramara House in deepest darkest Borrowdale.  My very good friend Helen organises these hols and they are so incredibly popular that they sell out pretty much as soon as she announces them - check out her Facebook page if you want to see what she gets up to and fancy joining the next hols (or the one after, I think the next one is booked up already!)

I have never done anything like this before, in fact I've actively avoided it thinking I'd hate it but, it turns out, I had an amazing time.  Absolutely everything was taken care of, all I had to do was present myself in appropriate attire for hiking or eating.  Breakfast, dinner and tea were all provided and each day there was a a choice of 3 different walks (to suit 3 different levels) and the option of swimming with Suzanna Swims (who was utterly amazing and I'll write more about my adventures with her soon!).

So what was so fabulous about it all?  Well...

1.  I discovered new footpaths and routes I'd not followed before

Langstrath Valley
Because the hikes were all guided by professional guides (Gaynor, Barbara and Helen) I could relax and enjoy the company and the views.  Inevitably they chose routes that were new to me - being based in South Cumbria my knowledge of the Northern Fells is patchy in places and I've now found a whole host of new places to drag Steve to.  I'd not been up along the Langstrath Valley before and on the final morning Helen took us along a new (to me) route to Castle Crag.  A lifetime in Cumbria will never be long enough to discover all of its secrets!

2.  We were a hardy bunch!

I absolutely *loved* the adventurous spirit of everyone there, during the course of the week most of us pushed ourselves outside our comfort zones and had a go at things we'd never tried before.  Day 1 was wet, soggy and rainy but did anyone even murmur a complain?  No they did not, they donned their waterproofs and cracked on.  In fact we even took the open top bus to the start of our first walk!

And there was no shortage of people ready to take up Suzanna's many challenges - like a dip in a river at the end of our soggy first walk.  Well, I suppose we were all wet by then anyway!

I did go in - honest I did!

3.  Everyone was so supportive

There were 35 us living and hiking together for a week and the atmosphere was fabulous.  I'll admit I found it a little overwhelming at first but that was down to me an no-one else.  Everyone was massively supportive of each other; problems were shared, hiking tactics were discussed and sore knees were sympathised with. And if ever volunteers were called for to help with anything, there was always a ready bunch of folks raising their hands.

 It was so great to be surrounded by a group of people intent on seeking solutions and getting out and stretching themselves.  Each day the hiking groups mixed around depending on who'd signed up for what and each day I walked with different people and every day we all chatted merrily as we pottered along.  New friendships were formed and existing friendships were deepened.

4.  I saw things through new eyes

Innominate Tarn
I swear I have never, ever, taken things for granted up here and each time I'm out and about I take a moment to appreciate the amazing views.  That said it was fantastic to be with a group of people who, in many cases, were new to the area and were experiencing it for the first time.  The different things they noticed really struck a chord with me and watching their faces as we took in the views at the top of Haystacks, or wandered along the Langstrath Valley genuinely brought me to the brink of tears.  I am such a lucky, lucky moo to live here!

5.  We were all equal

We were a really mixed bunch, every size, shape, height and dimension.  Some retired, some still working, some rich, some less so, some straight, some not, some keen and hardened hikers, some weekend walkers - but it didn't make a scrap of difference, we all mucked in and got along. I chatted to folks from lots of different places and definitely made a few new friends.  At breakfast and tea the dining hall was buzzing with chatter and laughter and I'm pretty sure that every single person had a fantastic time.  Would I go again?  In a heartbeat!

I know she's a great friend but the linchpin of the entire thing is Helen - not only does she do the most fantastic job organising the behind-the-scenes logistics but her energy and infectious enthusiasm drives and forms the group. She really is the heartbeat of Wild Rambling and the holidays would really not be so much fun without her.  

The best way to find out which holidays are coming up is to sign up to the newsletter by emailing Helen here. You can also follow the Wild Rambling Facebook page or keep an eye out for the all new and updated website coming soon.

Me & Helen