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.

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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!