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


Monday, 27 August 2018

Roman Holiday Day 5: Home Run

The problem with having fun is that time flies - the past few days have absolutely whizzed past. We've covered a lot of miles, had a lot of cake and a LOT of laughs - even when we were caught in a hailstorm on top of High Street and Steve was cracking Hail Caesar gags!

Today all we had to do was toddle from Eskdale down to Ravenglass and the train home.

Distance: 8.5 miles (I was only a little bit tempted to hop on La'al Ratty...)


Weather: Grey but at least it didn't rain. Much.


Terrain: Tarmac, woodland, occasional bog.


Accommodation: Eskdale YHA was properly cosy - loved my little nook!



Wildlife: A red squirrel - I swear it's a red squirrel.


Post yomp treat: A long hot bath - maybe not here though...

Roman Bath House - Ravenglass
Glad it's all over? Will be glad of a rest but have loved every second. 



Challenging as it was  the hike was the easy part, now we have to research it and write it all up. It's part of a bigger book project and it will be out next year.




Sunday, 26 August 2018

Roman Holiday Day 4: Highs and Blows

We'd been keeping an eye on the weather forecast for Sunday since we set off but it didn't matter which site we looked at, they all agreed it would be foul.  I thought it would help us empathise with the Romans who had to walk it in all conditions. Steve wasn't so sure...

Distance: 13.3 miles, but it felt a lot further...



Weather: Steady drizzle with occasional rainy interludes.



Terrain: Surprisingly inspirational tarmac...



Food: Beautiful Eggs Bennedict at Rothay Manor & perfect plate of home made chilli followed by divine gooey brownie at Eskdale YHA. Calories: Gazillions. Regrets: Zero.



Downside: Nearly getting mown over several times.


Upside: Beautiful waterfalls.


Saturday, 25 August 2018

Roman Holiday Day 3: Sunny Interval

Today was our scheduled rest day and we were both very glad of it - all we had to do was toddle over to Ambleside on the one sunny day wedged between two dismal downpours. There's a lot to be said for dawdling and spotting things you'd otherwise miss - today we found a lovely new footpath, a historic farmhouse and a Roman camp.

In fact the hike was almost too perfect...


Distance: 4.44 miles, mostly downhill & lots of rests.


Weather: Practically perfect in every way.


Terrain: Mile after mile of glorious footpath.


Food: Frankly disappointing breakfast (call me picky but when a hotel hikes its prices from £60 per night to £144 per night for the *exact same room* simply because it's a bank holiday, and still has the nerve to tell you that a hot breakfast is another £5 extra, I'm going to stick to the free toast & cereal. And never, EVER, return.)


State of mind: Two stiles short of a full hike...



Upside of the adventure: I suppose I should say the stunning views, the history and spending time with Steve but honestly it's snarfing a whole tub of guacamole and a huge bag of crisps knowing I'll burn it all off tomorrow.


Downside of the adventure: A full day or persistent torrential rain forecast for tomorrow. I even treated myself to some new waterproof trousers in readiness seeing as my old ones had patches on the patches...





Friday, 24 August 2018

Roman Holiday Day 2: Hail Caesar!

Steve thinks it went something like this. The
Romans in Cumbria received a message from their leader:

What's the weather like over there? 
                                  Regards Caesar.

In a hurry a telegram was sent back: "Hail, Caesar" 😁

Today was our biggest hike, Pooley Bridge to Troutbeck via High Street. Fair to say it was a challenge.

Distance: 15.1 miles and none of them were flat...
Weather: Malevolent (This was before it got *really* bad. High speed hail hurts!)


Terrain: Soupy


Wildlife: Wheatears, Goldfinches, Skylarks, some evil bug that ate half my knee and a gorgeous Herdy.


Food: Epic breakfast at Ullswater Guesthouse, 3 soggy oatcakes & a Nakd bar between hailstorms.



State of mind when finally arriving at B&B: Mildly derranged. Possible goose hallucinations...


Was it worth it?: You decide...