Monday, 31 October 2011

Why do we do it?

100 years ago today the first of the polar parties involved in Scott's expedition to the South Pole set off; at 11am on 1st November 1911 Scott himself left Cape Evans for the last time and began his journey south.  He was very clear on why he was doing what he did, primarily his was a scientific expedition with the additional aim of his party being the first to reach the South Pole.  As we all know he narrowly failed on the second part of his mission having been beaten to the pole by Amundsen whose party arrived there a little over a month before Scott.   What's frustrating is that the outstanding successes of the first part of his mission are often overlooked; much of the data his team bought back is still being used even to this day.  If you enjoy reading travel books then they don't get any better than "The Worst Journey in the World" by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the youngest members of Scott's team and also one of the party that discovered his body on 12th November 1912.

As I've mentioned before I'm a massive fan of Scott and all of the other early explorers, I admire the way they launched into the unknown armed with a compass and an overdeveloped sense of adventure, determined to lead the way up new mountains and across new continents simply, as George Mallory put it, "because it's there."  Their motivation is fairly easy to understand, but what about ours?  What is it about getting soaked to the skin, frozen to the core and blown off our feet that we find so enjoyable?

That thought has crossed my mind a number of times this past weekend.  It crossed my mind on Saturday when we spent over 4 hours sliding around Dungeon Ghyll in the torrential rain and yet still returned to the car giggling about something or other.  And it crossed my mind again several times yesterday when we tackled Red Screes on a less than ideal day.  In short our route went something like this; we parked opposite the pub at the top of Kirkstone Pass in the mist.  We climbed up Red Screes via the Kilnshaw Chimney in the mist.  We waded through bogs to Scandale Pass in the mist before finally descending out of the mist as we walked down Calston Glen.  Our temporarily mist free route then took us around the end of Middle Dodd and back up Kirkstone Pass to the car, which was still exactly where we left it, in the mist.  Whatever we were doing it for yesterday, it clearly wasn't for the views.

We weren't alone either, on both days we bumped into many other hikers out doing exactly the same things we were (quite literally, it really was very misty), so why do we all do it?  Is it for all the guilt free goodies we can scoff as we burn off a couple of thousand calories skidding around the hillsides?  Or maybe we're all hooked on the endorphin rush we apparently get when we engage in exercise?

Speaking personally I enjoy the challenge of reading a map, I've always loved maps and am fascinated by how they were put together in the early days - mapping all of those contours? Amazing!  Set aside your misogynistic ideas of women map readers because on all of our walks I am in charge of the map and poor old Steve barely gets a look in.  For me map reading in the mist is like solving a giant puzzle where you're one of the pieces, and so rewarding when you hit the exact point you were aiming for.  (Quite surprising too on occasion, but don't tell Steve that!)

And how much better does a big frothy mug of hot coffee and some freshly toasted fruit loaf taste when you're warming up after a cold wet day on the fells?  Almost as good as a long cold beer tastes after a very hot and sticky day on the fells.  Whatever the weather nice treats taste so much better when they're hard earned.

I suppose we're all different and have our different reasons for enjoying pitting ourselves against the elements.  Whichever way I looked at it as I mulled it over this weekend I couldn't find a better way to put it than Mallory did, we climb the fells because they're there, and wouldn't it be an awful waste if we didn't?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Dear Weather...

Dear Weather,

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for your spectacular performance of late.  I'm sure many people all over the world take your offerings for granted, but not me, I want you to know how truly grateful I am for the many and varied conditions you are able to muster.

Dungeon Ghyll
Take yesterday for example, what a wonderful autumn day.  Clear blue skies and sun all day.  The trees and fells must have looked glorious.  I say "must have looked" because I was stuck indoors in Kirkham, all day, but never mind that eh?  I had wonderful views of a fabulously sunny car park and clear visibility of the red brick wall opposite my window which the wonderful weather conditions allowed me to admire in infinite detail as I sat gazing longingly outside.  Still, it allowed me time to dream about what adventures I could enjoy on the fells at the weekend.

So what little surprise did you have in store for me today?  More gorgeous sunshine?  Of course not, you're anything but predictable and that's what I love most about you.  Honest.  No, you decided today would be a great day to top up all those gorgeous lakes and waterfalls by unleashing hour after hour of torrential rain.  Undeterred we headed off to Langdale feeling sure that you'd let up a little during the afternoon.  Choc full of optimism we parked up at the bottom of Stickle Ghyll and began our climb upwards.

Top marks for filling the Ghyll up, it looked marvellous as it crashed downwards, though the continuous downpour did make it a little tricky for taking pictures.  Never mind, we managed to grab a bite to eat during a quick lull and scampered up to the tarn before you spotted us again.  Realising that we were now somewhat exposed and that the tops of the fells had been missing, presumed misted, for some time we opted to avoid the summits and instead head directly for Dungeon Ghyll.  At this point I'd particularly like to thank you for the strong blustery wind and hailstones, nice touch.

Stickle Ghyll
In a break from the norm you managed to remain remarkable consistent as we slithered downwards.  I think it's also only fair to thank whomever laid the 'steps' along the route, honestly using sheer flat rocks and angling them 45 degrees downwards was exactly what we needed to help us on our descent, it speeded things up considerably.

And so to the end of the walk.  We noticed that you'd eased up slightly as we headed for the car park so we decided to double back and try and get a few shots of the bottom of Dungeon Ghyll, but there's no sneaking past you is there buddy?  Oh no.  Within 5 minutes you'd redoubled your efforts, though I'm sure you only meant to fill the Ghyll and make it that little bit more spectacular for us, didn't you?

Anyway, we're home and dry now and were particularly pleased to see the rain easing by the minute as we neared home, it made sitting in the warm dry car just that little bit easier.

So, thank you again for all your recent efforts, we both feel you've really surpassed yourself so far this weekend.  Now please don't think I'm being ungrateful but is it at all possible to ease up on the monsoon a little tomorrow?  I think the Lakes and Ghylls are quite full now and we'd rather like to go out and take some pictures of them, prefereably in sunshine.

Many thanks.

Warm regards


Thursday, 27 October 2011

New or Old?

So we started a new life. So what?  It's not really new is it?  It's the same life, just in a different place, but which is better and what are the differences?  Are they as different as chalk and cheese? Or as similar as Ant and Dec (still no clue which is which I'm afraid.)  In an effort to settle the argument I shall compare the two in a number of key categories.

1.  Scenery
Fleet Pond Nature Reserve
Not as much of a foregone conclusion as you'd think.  Yes we have the Lake District right on our doorstep and some of the most jaw dropping views in England are but a stones throw away.  Well maybe a bit further 'cos I throw like a girl.  But in Fleet we were lucky enough to live right next to Fleet Pond, the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire and an SSSI site.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with Fleet Pond Society and still try and do my bit to promote the work they do - please check out the link to their blog in the column on the left.  We'd often see deer around the Pond and, on occasion, in our street and there are a wide variety of rare birds, insects and invertebrates to be found there.  There are also wide expanses of heath which, on a global scale, is rarer than rain forest.  However I do have to give this round to the Lake District, mainly because it's more lumpy and I like walking up hills. 

2. Convenience
Having lived in the South East for 22 years this was always going to be a bit of a shock to the system.  Walk to Sainsbury's now?  Only if you fancy a fulls day's hike.  Order pizza to be delivered?  You must be kidding!  Order anything to be delivered?  Well you can give it a go, but even ParcelForce can't find us.  Not that we're that far out in the sticks, but we have a house name not a number and that confuses the pants off people.  I suppose it all depends on whether convenience is important to you or not.  We're only 5 mins from the station and London is just over 3 hours away so is that convenient enough?  Let's pick an arbitrary measure "Can you get a Dominos Pizza delivered to your door?"  If that were the measure then the winner would have to be Fleet, but only because I can't be bothered to cook on Fridays.

3.  The locals
True, our neighbours in Fleet were lovely, but for the friendliness of strangers Grange has to win.  Just down the road from us lives Doris (not her real name) and Doris knows *everything* about what's going on in Grange.  Her family have lived here for years and anyone who's not been local for at least 2 generations is considered new to the area.  But she's incredibly friendly and what she doesn't know about Grange isn't worth knowing.  She's shown us amazing pictures going back to the early 1900's and she helped put the word out when Monty did a runner.  In fact when Monty took off it helped us get to know lots of our neighbours and they are all truly delightful.  Even the slightly odd bloke who cut down all his real trees and made new fakes ones and stuck them to his fence.  It takes all sorts.

Morecambe Bay from Hampsfell
4.  The shops
Within 5 minutes walk we have 2 bakeries, Britain's
Best Butcher (Higginson's), Fishers Fruit and Veg and no Tesco, and for that reason alone Grange should win.  However Fleet does have Bakers, a hardware store that has been there for over 100 years and is an absolute Aladdin's cave of all things DIY.  If they don't sell it then it's not worth having.  However I'm still going to give this round to Grange because up here the people in the shops take the time to chat and get to know you.  Tourists stand in queues frustrated and bemused as we catch up on life and talk about the weather.  If you want to rush, rush, rush then don't rush to Grange, we're quite happy taking it a little more slowly.

5.  Health & wellbeing
True, since we moved up here I have developed a spectacular allergy to one of the local bitey insects, done my dodgy back in on several occasions up on the fells and nearly come a cropper hiking over the 31st highest mountain in England in the dark, and rain, and mist, plus I got a shocking case of shin splints that even impressed the doctor, BUT it has all been worth it.  Maybe better add "gone slightly loopy" to that list too.  That was all just acclimatization.  Sorry Fleet.

So 4 - 1 to Grange, which makes Fleet look bad I wouldn't want that.  I always struggled in the South East but Fleet was the nicest place I lived down there, lovely neighbours, lovely friends and the gorgeous Fleet Pond.  In any other contest it would have come out on top, but Fleet shouldn't feel too bad, I've been lucky enough to travel across most of the UK and, to be perfectly honest, I can't imagine anywhere that could beat Cumbria.  All we need to do now is persuade Domino's to increase their delivery radius.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Big up for Barrow!

Walney Island
Each year Cumbria receives in excess of 8 million visitors which should be fine as it's the third largest county in England (behind North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire), but most of these 8 million or so people head for the same few places; Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick and Kendal.  True, a few hardier souls will brave the peaks, but even then they all aim for the same peaks; Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw.  With 6768 Km2 to play with you'd think a few people might be a little more curious as to what else Cumbria has to offer.

I can't imagine Barrow is high on many people's “must do” list but it dates back to the 12th century and boasts the beautiful Furness Abbey which is perched high on the edge of the town. The Abbey provided inspiration to Wordsworth and Turner and was visited by a young Theodore Roosevelt in 1869.  Although only the ruins remain it does lay claim to several ghostly visitors, including one regular sighting of a monk brutally murdered during the reformation.
Inside Barrow Dock Museum

If you prefer your history a little more recent and a little less bloody then head across to The Dock Museum.  With free car parking, a fab little cafè and housed in an old dry dock, the museum is tucked away on the industrial side of town.  However once inside you'll find a detailed history of Barrow's proud ship building past, a fascinating insight into the evolution of the town from small farming community to major industrial centre and amazing scale models of some of the most famous ships built there.

Beyond Barrow lies Walney Island which has two major things going for it.  Firstly it's largely comprised of protected nature reserves meaning that there are miles of unspoilt dune and marsh habitats providing safe havens for many of the UK's most endangered species, including the very rare Natterjack Toad and secondly, and perhaps more importantly for the weary legged visitor, it's flat.  Just off the coast of Walney Island is tiny Piel Island which, although small in size, boasts it's own castle and pub, the landlord of which is crowned King of the island in a ceremony that dates back to the 1400's.

I might be a massive fan of the fells, but Cumbria isn't just about hills and lakes.  Barrow may not be the prettiest place in Cumbria but it's still worth a visit.

Peel Island from Walney Island

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Blown away by the Great Gable

Well, here I am, back in the land of the living after a couple of nights away on Delores with zero phone signal.  It's amazing how out of touch you can feel after only 48 hours of living as we did 10 years ago.  Looking at the BBC website it doesn't seem we missed much...

Sour Milk Gyhll during a downpour
Although we were only camped in Troutbeck, just north of Ullswater, it meant we only had a 20 minute drive at the start and end of the big hike rather than an hour and 20 mins and when you're tired and cold it's comforting to know the gin and biscuits are only just down the road.  After we arrived on Friday we took a quick jaunt around to Sour Milk Ghyll during a torrential downpour and found it surprisingly easy to park at Seathwaite Farm, proof were it needed that the Cumbrian rain really does sort the men from the boys.  Or the sane from the mildly unhinged.  After an hour or so poking around and taking pics we headed back to the van to dry off and ready ourselves an assault on the Great Dodd on Saturday.

Saturday morning was glorious, but sadly I wasn't.  Hit by an annoying migraine I was doing battle with my stomach and head in a bid to remain vertical, but it takes more than that to keep me of the fells.  Not much more though, I really was feeling pretty rough.  I'd noticed during my frequent visits to the loo block (don't ask) that the fresh air was helping me feel somewhat more perky so I decided to crack on and make the sarnies.  It took me 3 attempts to get the sarnies made and packed with lots of lying down inbetween times.  Eventually I plonked myself in the car just after midday and demanded to be taken to a fell.  Given the lateness of our start and the state of my head we opted to return to Sour Milk Ghyll as we knew the path was an easy one and we could shoot back to the car at any time should the need arise.

As the weather was rather more lovely than it had been 24 hours earlier the nearest parking space we could find was right back at Seathwaite Bridge.  I have to confess I still wasn't entirely sure this was a good idea, but I'd shovelled in the painkillers and figured that migraines only get better and anyway, having something to take my mind off feeling rotten was bound to help no end.  I took it really slowly as we crossed the beck and headed up towards the falls and gradually the pills started to work their magic and soon with each step I was feeling brighter and brighter.  Hallelujah!  Buoyed by my rapidly returning faculties we decided to press onwards to Great Gable.  If you're bonkers enough to have read my blog from last year you'll know I have a great fondness of Great Gable and have been itching to climb it.

Our route took us up and over the top of Sour Milk Ghyll, up and over the top of Green Gable, down through Windy Gap and up to the summit of Great Gable before dropping back into Windy Gap, then down to Styhead Tarn then back past Taylorgill Force before crossing Stockley Bridge and heading back to the car.  It was an absolutely wonderful route with much to see and take pics of along the way.  One of the benefits of climbing a central fell is that you can see all of the other fells laid out around you, it's hard to imagine a more stunning view than the one from the top of Great Gable, as you look around you can see Wast Water, Haystacks, Buttermere, the Borrowdale Fells, Glaramara and of course Scafell Pike with Esk Pike & Bow Fell peeking out behind.

View down from Windy Gap
But we were blown away by more than the view, or at least we nearly were.  Windy Gap is called that for a very good reason and we'd been joking on the way up that if it was quite breezy down in the valley then what on earth would it be like there?  Windy.  The clue was in the name.  As we dropped down from Green Gable towards Windy Gap we were both blown off our feet twice and had to crouch low until the gust subsided, as soon as we crossed the gap and headed up Great Gable things calmed down a little, there's clearly something about the geology there that funnels the wind and anyone smaller and lighter than us would be well advised to remain tethered at all times to someone of a rather more sturdy build.  Pausing only to take some pics of Taylorgill Force we made it back to the car without incident and, thankfully, without a migraine.

Today (Sunday) we wanted to check out one last waterfall up at Caldbeck so we left Delores & a happily snoozing Monty in a suitable parking spot and headed even further north.  It all started off rather well when I found a £20 note on the grass verge.  If you cast your mind back to the blog a couple of weeks back you'll remember that I only had £1.02 to last me until the end of the month, so this is riches beyond my wildest dreams. Well, almost. 

It's a very different landscape up there as you skirt around the back of Blencathra and Skiddaw and I finally saw my very first red squirrels, cheekily sitting on a wall at the side of the road and watching the world go by.  I've waded through bogs, fought through forests and slogged up fells and I finally see my first red squirrels sat on a wall next to a B road. Typical.

The Howk at Caldbeck is only a 1/2 mile easy walk from the centre of the village and if you're unsure of the route then the very nice man in the Old Smithy Tea Room & Shop will give you a sheet with directions on for free.  To thank him for his kindness I blew some of my new found wealth on a bag of liquorice, you never know what emergency supplies you'll need on a 1/2 mile walk and maybe I could use them to lure more red squirrels out of hiding...

After that we wound our way back home and immediately plugged ourselves back into the hive/ internet.  I'm beginning to think The Matrix wasn't that wide of the mark afterall.  A few days away and it seems nothing much has changed in the world at large, same old doom and gloom glaring out of all the news websites.  Maybe if people took the time to get out into the fells it might blow away some of their angst and ill will?  Well it worked for my migraine anyway.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A little blog about a little hike.

Sunset from the top of the Hospice

It's easy to overlook what's right under your nose, or underlook what's right over your nose perhaps in this case.  I've blogged about many of our big hikes but have missed the one that's right on our doorstep.  A brisk 25 minute walk from our home will get you to the top of Hampsfell, one of the furthest flung of the fells with some of the most amazing views.  The route up is clearly marked and winds through Eggerslack Woods, which we're a little too familiar with from the time Monty went missing.  Once you pop out of the woods it's a straightforward stroll up and over the gorgeous limestone pavements to the hospice at the top.

I was quite taken aback when I first heard about the Hospice as I assumed it was some sort of rest home.  I was concerned that though it undoubtedly offered wonderful views, it seemed a little unorthodox, if not plain cruel, to put it on the top of a fell, albeit a small one.  Turns out the Hospice is actually a large stone shelter built in 1846 to offer protection from the elements.We've made the most of Hampsfell and have visited it roughly once a month since we moved here, often on days like today when I'm working from home and the gorgeous weather keeps banging on the window until I go out and play with it.

Hampsfell Hospice

Once you're up there the panorama is breathtaking, to the south Blackpool Tower is easily visible and on a clear day you can see all the way up to Skiddaw in the north.  If you're brave enough to tackle the rickety stairs then you'll be able to make full use of the viewfinder on the top to identify the many peaks away in the distance.  I keep trying to memorise them all but I keep failing miserably, I can pick out the Old Man but that's about it.

We took our lunchtime sarnies up there and a small flask of tea and I honestly don't think anyone could have had a more refreshing lunch break with better views than the ones we enjoyed today, complete with nosey sheep and worryingly loud cows.  Bliss!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Walk this Way.

Considering how many women have an unhealthy obsession with shoes it's surprising how many of them don't like walking anywhere in them.  I'm a massive fan of public transport and that usually involves a bit of a walk one end or the other, which I enjoy, but when I recount my journey to people they generally recoil in horror "You walked?" the ask incredulously.  "From the station?", as if Northern Trains were now offering a range of drop-off points around town.  So how far away is the station?  20 minutes walk but judging by the reaction I get it may as well be in another time zone.

Were things any different down south?  No, not at all.  This reluctance by most people to walk anywhere is reassuringly, if worryingly, consistent across the country.  In Fleet our house was a 20 minute walk from the station through a safe, pleasant and flat woodland and yet when it was on the market several people commented that it was "too far away from the station."  Cars that I knew "lived" just down the road from us were regularly parked in the station car park at a cost of £6.50 per day.  More money than shoe leather some people.  And when I worked in London I would walk from Waterloo station to Tower Bridge every day, a distance of roughly 2.5 miles which, I admit, is a little on the long side either end of the working day, but it saved me a fortune in tube fares each month.  In fact the combined savings from the carpark and the tube fares came to over £156 per month - more than enough for a decent pair of walking boots and some high grade socks.
My fabulous Brasher boots!

So we've established that a bit of a walk will save you money and help get you fit for free but is that enough to lure people into the great outdoors?  No it is not.  Instead many will fork out an additional £50 - £60 per month in gym membership and then walk indoors on a treadmill, and this after they've ensured they've parked as close to the gym doors as humanly possible thus safely averting the need to walk any further than necessary through the wilds of deepest, darkest, tarmacked Surrey.

Even in Cumbria, one of the most "outdoorsy" counties in England, this reluctance to venture far from the car is evident.  Waterfalls and other tourist attractions within 10 minutes of a carpark are generally packed leaving the rest of the county pleasingly peaceful.  Ambleside shops do a roaring trade in outdoor attire when the furthest outdoors most of it will ever go is the local beer garden.  Did you know that Cumbria apparently has 4660 miles of public rights of way which, the Cumbria County Council website helpfully tells us, is the equivalent of walking to Kathmandu, a somewhat moot point seeing as many people won't walk from K Village to Kendal town centre. (A distance of about 1/2 mile for those unfamiliar with the area.)

When I started writing today it was a toss up between Aerosmith and Nancy Sinatra for the title of this blog, but somehow "These Boots are Made for Walking" didn't seem appropriate seeing as most of the boots made don't appear to walk anywhere.  So, all I ask of you this weekend is that you dust off a pair of decent walking boots and venture out into the great outdoors; your heart and waistline will thank me for it, but, if you're determined to live dangerously, you can spend the money you save on carparking on a decent bottle of wine instead.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Shagpile sheep and Brambling.

Today I had planned to proudly announce my new form of internet communication having been inspired by the wise words of a professional writer.  I'd asked for some feedback on this blog and was told that blogs are more punchy and I needed to get to my point a little more quickly.  She was absolutely right, problem is I'm a bit of a rambler in every sense of the word (hence the name), plus I've never been one to conform or do as I'm told.  I considered the conundrum during our hike yesterday and decided that rather than tweak my writing style to suit what's expected of a blogger I'd invent a whole new writing genre just for me. What I came up with was the Bramble.  If a "blog" is a "web log" then a "Bramble" is a "web ramble".  I was feeling most proud of myself and envisaged my name being spelled out in lights as the inventor of a new and wonderful contribution to the online world.  Problem is, when I came home and checked, I found that a journo at the Telegraph had the exact same idea a few weeks ago.  Curses!  Great minds and all that.  Still I bet they weren't inspired by such amazing scenery when they had their flash of inspiration. (And I'm sticking with Bramble by the way.)

On Saturday we'd been off apple pressing at Staveley and nipped up Reston Scar to see what we could see.  Turns out we could see Kentmere Pike and that seemed as good a place as any for a Sunday hike.  The apple pressing went well too and apple juice is making a refreshing change from apple jam, apple chutney, apple pie, apple jelly and apple sauce.  As least you can mix the juice with vodka for a little variety.

Shagpile Sheep (or Swardales)
Anyway, back to the hike.  We set off from Sadgill and made our way along Gatesgarth Pass up towards Adam Seat.  Along the way we were overtaken by 8 other people, not that we were going all that slowly, rather they were cheating and using Land Rovers.  I don't know quite where the sense of achievement comes from driving up a fell, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Having learned that fell tops and lunch breaks are rarely a comfortable combo, we paused for lunch at Wrengill Quarry and spotted some sheep which were far more furry than woolly.  Steve instantly named them Shagpile Sheep and even though someone has very kindly informed they are in fact Swaledales (or Swardles), I think I might stick with Shagpile Sheep as it describes them so perfectly.

Longsleddale Valley
When we reached the top of Harter Fell we were afforded wonderful views down over Haweswater and an almost birds eye view of the route we should have followed last weekend, before it all went a bit pear shaped.  It seems so obvious in broad, mist free, daylight, but it's so easy to go wrong when it's misty and your stupid enough not to look at your compass.  No mistakes this week however and our route along the top of Kentmere Pike and down over Shipman Knotts passed without incident.

The route we took skirts around Longsleddale valley which is a picturesque and peaceful place (when the Land Rovers aren't around) and has provided inspiration to both Wainwright and John Cunliffe, writer of the Postman Pat cartoons.  Who knows, maybe that red Land Rover that came past was Pat himself out on his rounds...

I had been thinking that this week's hike was a bit of a let down after last week's adventures but, on reflection, we've named a new variety of sheep, solved the mystery of last week's wrong turn and invented a whole new genre of online writing (even if the Telegraph did technically beat us to it by a week or so).  Not bad for a sunny afternoon in Longsleddale valley, clearly an inspirational place.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

It'll be and adventure!

That phrase and "I've just had a bit of a bonkers idea" are pretty much guaranteed to induce a sense of fear and trepidation in poor Steve, especially if they are used in the same sentence.  Reason being that they usually indicate that I'm about to embark on yet another "crazy ass adventure" as he calls them.  These adventures can range from the relatively minor, such as hiking over a fell in the pitch dark, to the rather more major, such as relocating 300 miles north and living in a caravan for 3 months over the winter.  Not that he's in anyway an unwilling participant, far from it, Steve is utterly invaluable as the voice of reason in this relationship and were it not for him I'd have probably met my maker in spectacular fashion quite sometime ago.  All he's made me do is promise that we finish one "crazy ass adventure" before we embark on the next.

So where does this overdeveloped sense of humour and unswerving desire to remain optimistic at all times come from?  Well I'm afraid I blame my dad for that as he was a no-nonsense kind of a chap who, unfortunately, died 2 days before my 19th birthday.  Traumatic though that was it has given me an incredible sense of perspective on life and for that I will always be grateful.  The upside is that I can almost always find the good in any given situation and, if I can't, then I'll find a way to have a laugh to take my mind off it.
Recently I've heard people say "It's alright for you..." and "I wish I had your life" when the reality is it's probably not alright for me and, I'm afraid, my life is just as dull and bothersome as everyone else's, but blogging about the bothersome doesn't make for good reading.  However, in the interests of giving a clear and balanced picture of our new life in Cumbria, I thought I'd mention of couple of the big challenges we've faced (and are still facing) and how we're getting to grips with them.

One of the biggest ongoing challenges is being potless; I know that we are far from unique on that front and we have a lot of things stacked in our favour, like not having kids (not something we chose but, look on the brightside, we'd have had to put them to work in a mine or something right now in order for them to pay their way).  Let's be clear, when I say potless, I don't mean we're about to lose our home or anything like that (though we did face that prospect 18 months ago when a combination of an idiot boss, ill health and job loss meant we had to do something dramatic, which is how we ended up living in the most beautiful county in England, so again, not all bad) I mean we have just about enough money for the essentials in life, like food and gin, but very little more more.  This month I can't even splash out on a copy of the Westmoreland Gazette (75p) as all I've had in my purse for the past 2 weeks is £1.02 and it's got to last me till payday at the end of this month.

So where's the brightside?  Well look at all the stuff I've learned and done for free.  I've learned to make jams and preserves from fruit and veg in the garden.  This weekend I'll be making some sort of runner bean preserve as we have a bountiful crop of the hardest most boiling resistant crop known to man.  I've boiled them, casseroled them and microwaved them and they still remain capable of breaking teeth and removing fillings, so now I'm going to chutney the little buggers to teach them a lesson.

I've also learned how to earn cash from completing online surveys which isn't as dull as it sounds.  I've passed many an interesting evening giving my opinions on such varied topics as breakfast cereals, fishfingers, talking washing machines and financial services products.  OK, maybe the last one is as dull as it sounds, but this month I've earned £33 quid for telling people what I think.  If I could apply that to the rest of life then I'd be a millionaire in no time.

And, most importantly, the fells are free and thanks to my over developed sense of adventure the fells have helped me get fit, get thin, get lost, get found, get wet, get muddy, get wet again and get out there.  They are the most incredibly beautiful place to be and are guaranteed to make you forget about all your other worries.

The other big challenge we've faced is making new friends.  We're in Grange-over-Sands which is a wonderfully pretty place but is apparently the 5th most popular retirement town in England.  The downside is we're a good 20 years younger than most residents and most of the clubs and societies are geared towards people who are no longer working, but the upside is that we're always being introduced as the "new young couple" and, in my mid 40's, I like being described as being young again.  Everyone we've met has been wonderfully friendly and welcoming, especially our neighbours, but we just don't have a lot in common with them.  So what have I done about that?  I've taken to the virtual world and am finding lots of lovely new friends on Twitter and Facebook.  I don't know them all that well yet, but there's plenty of time and my track record of meeting people on the internet is good; I found Steve when I went looking for cheap car insurance, which I've always been grateful for and I'm I'm sure he's pleased about too, well, most of the time anyway.

So, there you go, a teeny glimpse into the less glamorous side of life in Cumbria.  This weekend will be a whirl of apple juicing at Staveley and most likely hiking up a fell tomorrow.  We haven't decided which one yet, but after last week's "incident" I shall be taking plenty of compass readings.  Hope everyone reading this has a wonderful weekend and I promise a return to our fell adventures in my next instalment!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Haweswater hates us.

Before you dismiss me as an irrational woman at least read what I've got to say.  You may decide to stick with your original opinion, but at least you'll be in full possession of the facts.

Our first experience of Haweswater came with a hike around the Kentmere Horseshoe.  We were blessed with rather lovely weather but as we approached High Street Steve started to feel unwell.  By the time we got to Mardale Ill Bell he was white and shaking so we curtailed the walk and dropped back down to Kentmere as quickly as we could and hightailed it back to the car.

Our second experience is recounted elsewhere in this blog and involved us setting out to walk around Haweswater on a gloriously clear and sunny day, so clear and sunny in fact that we opted not to take our waterproofs with us.  When we reached the far side of the lake the clouds arrived en masse and it poured down.  We arrived back at the car soaked to the skin and truly penitent.
The route as seen from Harter Fell. Looks simple enough...

Our third experience with Haweswater was yesterday when a fairly straightforward 4 - 5 hour hike turned into a 7 hour battle against the elements and resulted in us navigating over High Street in the dark, rain and mist before finally making it back to the car at 9:45pm.    It might be helpful if you have a map handy for this, unless you know the area particularly well, as we now do.

It all started at around 1:30pm at the car park at the top of Haweswater, our plan was simple; to hike around Riggindale, going up via Rough Crag, along High Street and then back via Kidsty Pike.  We reckoned we had 5.5 hours of daylight and a little dusk to play with so no worries.  The route up was amazing, definitely one of my favourite hikes to date, a steady climb with a little scrambling and loads of amazing scenery.  I did become distracted by rabbit pooh on a few occasions though as it's something I feel I need to understand more about.  My concern is this, rabbit pooh tends to appear in vast piles of pellets, but why?  Does one rabbit eject half its bodyweight in pooh in one go?  Is there communal poohing?  Do they return to the same spot again and again?  Is it their version of a cairn designed to help them navigate on the fells?  Or are the Wombles also at large on the fells, sweeping it all into large piles to collect later?  If you have answers please let me know...

The mist descends...
Meanwhile, back on the fell; we made it to the cairn at the top of Long Stile in around 3 hours and this is where the trouble started.  It was fairly misty with visibility down to a few hundred yards and what we should have done was turn immediately right and follow the path along the top of the ridge in the general direction of The Knott.  What we actually did was become distracted by the trig point marking the top of Racecourse Hill and wander over to take a few pics.  (Mistake number one).  When we got to the trig point we stopped for food and drink before heading off again. 

Mistake number two came in the form of me deciding that I didn't need to use the compass to take a bearing as all we had to do was keep the valley to our right at all times, so off we headed.  However we had somehow turned ourselves around at the trig point and what we thought was a right hand turn to follow the ridge to The Knott was in fact a left hand turn taking us towards the top of Thornthwaite Crag.  We continued onwards looking out for the right hand turn that would take us back down to Haweswater (or so we thought) so when we found a right hand turn we took it, but as we were now at Thornthwaite Crag the turn actually took us along the ridge to Grey Crag. (Mistakes number 3 & 4).  As we were walking out to Grey Crag I was becoming more and more convinced that we were heading in the wrong direction, but with the mist obscuring all landmarks we pressed onwards.  (Mistake number 5).  Eventually when we were almost at Grey Crag the mist cleared a little and there, far below, Hayeswater came into view.  Oooopppss!

It was now gone 5:30pm and we were a long way from the car with around 2 hours of light left.  Finally I did what I should have done an hour or so earlier, I got the compass out and took a bearing.  I can't believe I was dumb enough to have gotten this far without doing something as simple and obvious as that, but when you're sure you're going the right way you can convince yourself of pretty much anything.  We then had the sort of quiet and reasoned discussion that often occurs after 3.5 hours hiking when you're tired, hungry and wet and suddenly realise you're stuck out on a fell in the mist and rain with night falling fast and at least another 3 hours hiking ahead of you, mainly uphill and in the dark.  It's probably a good idea that all the other hikers were out of earshot and sensibly at home with a pie and a pint.

Discussion over we weighed up our options and decided to drop down to Hayeswater and scramble up to The Knott as quickly as possible in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Haweswater to confirm our bearings before it got too dark.  There's not really a path down to Hayeswater from Grey Crag so we slipped and slithered our way down through wet grass and bogs arriving at Hayeswater around 6:00pm.  Pausing only for Steve to take a couple of pics (we were clearly going to be hiking in the dark now so what difference was 5 more minute going to make?) we began our scramble upwards.  Although we were both tired I think we did pretty well, we always carry plenty of food and drink with us and had topped up with a couple of Snickers and a good slug of tea at the base of the climb.

Haweswater. Stunning but malevolent
Once at the top of The Knott I checked the compass every few minutes to make certain we were heading for the right path but by now it was gone 7:00pm and was really getting dark.  Either by some miracle, or as a result of my superb map reading skills* (please delete as applicable depending on whether you have more faith in me or the Almighty), we got ourselves onto the right path and headed towards Kidsty Pike and began our descent to Haweswater in the pitch dark with the mist and the rain still swirling around.  What by day is probably a lovely varied descent with spectacular views is, by night, a bog strewn yomp with a bumpy scramble as you round Kidsty Howes.  We were both more than a little relieved when we spotted the lake and hotel down through the mist.  All we needed to do now was keep our heads, take our time and not do anything daft and we'd be home and dry before we knew it.

We finally arrive back at the car at 9:45pm exhausted and cold but none the worse for our little adventure.  I've always taken the view that as you go through life you are bound to make mistakes, and I will admit we made a fair few of them yesterday, but it's absolutely fine to make mistakes as long as you learn from them, and yesterday we learned loads.  We learned that even if your plans don't involve walking in the dark then you should always take your torch with you just in case - and we were very glad we'd done that.  We also learned that even if you feel certain you know where you are and where you're headed, then take a compass reading just to be sure, especially if it's misty.  What might appear above as being a bit of a jolly adventure could have been a whole lot different had we not been properly prepared; the fells are not to be messed with so if you're heading up there make sure you go properly equipped.

And lastly we learned that Haweswater really does hate us and, given the evidence above, you must admit I have a good argument for that?  The prosecution rests m'lud.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Learning the Lingo

"There's no better cure for a hangover than a breakfast bin lid."  When I first heard this I thought it was some strange northern custom involving the use of old tin bin lids to cook a proper fryup following a night on the tiles.  Not as far fetched as you may think, where I grew up there was a pub called "The Bradford Arms" which was always known locally as "The Old Frying Pan" owing to the fact that the factory workers often popped their shovels in the fire and used them to cook their lunch.  The name stuck so well that when the old pub had to be demolished the new pub built to replace it was called "The Frying Pan", and I'm guessing most of it's regulars have no idea why.

Anyway, back to 'breakfast bin lids', which, as it turns out,  are actually enormous "barms" (we'll come to those later) filled with every fried breakfast product imaginable.  Whenever I've read stories about people starting new lives abroad I've admired their bravery for facing the challenge of a new life and a new language; by only moving to Cumbria I thought we'd avoided those sorts of problems, but apparently not.

The first time I went into a bakery and asked for a brown roll the lady behind the counter looked at me and said "barm"? Having thought my request was fairly straightforward I wasn't expecting to be questioned about it so hadn't really listened to her reply and assumed she was suggesting that either a) I was barmy or b) I needed embalming.  Realising that b) was somewhat unlikely and that a) wasn't that wide of the mark I  stood there looking open mouthed and confused.  "A barm" she repeated.  Still nothing.  "A barm, do you want a barm?" she tried for the third time, on this occasion helpfully brandishing a brown roll.  The penny finally dropped.  "Yes" I beamed "I would like a brown barm" as I stood there grinning, oddly proud that I'd learned my first new words in this strange alien tongue.

The whole world of bread rolls is a linguistic nightmare.  Wikipedia, that bastian of all that is accurate, lists 24 different words for "bread roll" (including 'barm' and 'bin lid') and was most helpful when I came across "muffins", "breadcakes" and "oven bottom rolls" at different points on my travels around the region.  I accept the fact that the dialect in the North West differs from that in the South East, but I've been rather thrown by the fact that it differs from town to town.  Just as I'd got the hang of 'barms' I went to Bolton and got hit by a 'flour cake' - figuratively speaking.
See - even he's struggling with it.

And it doesn't stop with bread products.  Within seconds of arriving anywhere you'll be offered a "brew" which is generally used to refer to a cup of tea but could, in fact, relate to any hot beverage.  An American friend couldn't quite get to grips with that and was convinced it had something to do with the Pendle Witches.  Maybe it did, and perhaps the witches were harshley treated, though one can't help thinking that had they had the same legal team as Amanda Knox they might have been saved from the noose.

So where does that leave me?  Well I've found myself a Cumbrian Dictionary and will busy myself learning the finer points of pronunciation in order to better blend in to my surroundings.  I've so far got to grips with conjugating the verb "to deek" which means to take a look (I deek, you deek, he deeks, she deeks); "fettle" which is used to describe how you're feeling as in "not in grand fettle" meaning "not feeling too well" and "stotting" which translates as "falling so hard it bounces back" and is often used to describe the rain as in "It's stotting down (again)".* (Please see the entry titled "Some Precipitation" for more information pertaining to the local weather.)

Anyway, right now I'm gasping for a "brew" and I need to get my "barms" filled for tomorrow as I'm out of "ackers" and can't afford to go to M&S for "me bait".  So I shall bid you goodnight and remind you that if you're feeling a little "gattered" this evening then the thing you'll be needing in the morning is a breakfast bin lid.

(With thanks to for the translations.)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Blencathra and the art of patience.

Before I get to the many virtues of patience, let me tell you about my new favourite fell - Blencathra.  It's only an hour away (according to Google Maps) so we set off bright and early(ish) and arrived 90 minutes later owing to a white Toyota RAV4 deciding that 25mph was the correct speed to drive along the entire length of Windermere.

Blencathra from the A66
Part of the beauty of Blencathra is that it's not lost in a sea of other peaks and can be seen away in the distance as you head north along Thirlmere Reservoir.  We completed a circular route starting at Threlkeld, heading over towards Scales Farm and up onto the summit via Sharp Edge; we then walked the ridge route and dropped back down to Blencathra Centre before staggering back into Threlkeld.  Part of the challenge was that we tackled it on one of the hottest days of the year, so we made the most of the many gills to top up the water bottles, alternating between pouring water down our throats and down our backs.

It's a wonderfully interesting fell to walk up with constantly changing views and a massive variety of routes.  Our route was fairly straightforward with the various steep sections thankfully interspersed with longer more level sections where we could get our breath back.  I was particularly looking forward to Sharp Edge and it didn't disappoint.  We ate lunch at Scales Tarn and watched various people heading up and along the ridge and figured that if they could do it, then so could we.  Replete, we headed upwards.  Sharp Edge is narrower but shorter than Striding Edge and is perfectly achievable so long as you take your time.  The rock climb at the end is a bit more of a challenge but with decent boots and a sensible head it shouldn't prove too much of a problem for most folks.  Not sure I'd tackle it in the ice and snow but the many scratch marks on the rocks showed where people had, hopefully successfully.

Scales Tarn
Blencathra is rumoured to be one of Wainright's favourtie fells as it's the fell he wrote the most about.  Not sure about that as he cited Haystacks as his favourite fell, but I can understand why he wrote so much about Blencathra, it's a wonderful place to be and has so many interesting routes that it will certainly require many future visits.

And so to the issue of patience.  There are a lot fewer roads up here than there are down south, mainly due to the fells getting in the way, and what roads there are tend to be single carriageway and rather twisty.  They take a bit of getting used to and clearly are a little daunting to those unfamiliar with the area.  The upshot of this is that main routes through the county can take rather longer than anticipated as demonstrated by our experiences earlier.  Winderemere is 10.5 miles in length and that's about as long as the convoy of traffic was by the time we reached Ambleside at the top. 

It's dead easy to get wildly impatient in these situations, as I amply demonstrated yesterday, but, at the end of the day, what's the rush?  The lake was stunning, the weather was stunning and the fells were stunning so, even if it does actually take you until the end of the day to reach your destination, at least you'll have had a chance to enjoy the view along the route.