Sunday, 25 November 2012

Survival tips for the bog bound.

A frozen bog. Do not be fooled...
For reasons that will become clear over the next week or so I can't actually tell you where we were yesterday, but suffice to say it was boggy.  That's not really narrowed things down much as "wet and boggy" is a term which could currently be used to describe around 90% of the national park; the other 10% are the lakes themselves.  So here's my thoughts on surviving in the boggy wilderness:

1.  Upon sight of the first bog you will instantly recall where you left your gaiters.

2.  Half way through the first bog you will also recall where your snorkel and flippers are.

3.  The deepest, wettest, soggiest bogs will generally be towards the start of the hike thus ensuring you're good and damp for the duration.

4.  All bogs are best tackled during the hours of daylight; during the hours of darkness bogs enter "stealth mode" and are not to be messed with.

5.  The path around the bog will, during the course of the season, become longer and longer until it becomes a route in its own right and merits an addendum in the Wainwright guides.

"Bog Buddy" required.
6.  Everyone has a theory for tackling bogs.  None of them actually work but arguing over them provides a welcome distraction when you're up to your knees in bog number 32.

7.  There is no safe place to put your rucksack when taking a break on a boggy walk; learn to juggle.

8.  Do not be fooled by frozen bogs - especially lower down the fells; they will lure you to their centre before cracking and engulfing you in their boggy mire.

9.  "Ninja feet" do not work.  (See point 6).  The idea that running quickly and lightly over the surface of the bog will somehow fool the forces of gravity is wrong.  It will not, however, prevent you from attempting it.

10.  You will require a "bog buddy".  A "bog buddy" is some poor sap who is conned into walking ahead of you, thus identifying the routes not to take.  NOTE: for a "bog buddy" to be truly effective they need to be taller than the deepest sections of the bog.  When Steve gallantly took the lead yesterday I thought it was because he loved me.  Turns out it was apparently because I'm "not much use in bogs deeper than 5ft 10in"  Charming.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

"Depends what the weather's like."

Paulo Coelho
That was my smart alec answer when someone asked what I'd be doing on my first day of freedom from full time permanent work and, to some extent, it's true though as with all things it's never quite that simple is it?  I may be free of the constraints of a permanent work contract but we are sadly not free of the constraints of a mortgage, or petrol, or food...  Turning into a couch potato was never on the cards because a) daytime TV is an abomination and b) well, there's no need for a b) is there?  I think a) says it all.  Jeremy Kyle holds zero appeal and I've never seen an episode of Loose Women; I really don't feel as if I'm missing anything.

I've been mulling over the mindset of those of us who launch into the world of self employment and I reckon we're 1 part confident, 1 part ambitious, 1 part bonkers and 1 part scared, but we use that fear to drive us.  For many people the fear stops them doing stuff, for us it drives us to do something different because we're scared of different things.  Speaking for myself I'm scared of routine and predictability, I'm scared of not having a go and I'm scared of getting to my old age and wondering "what if".  I also think our definition of "comfort zones" is quite different to other peoples.

At my leaving do on Friday evening I was asked about how much work I had lined up.  I replied (truthfully) that I was pleased because I had more than enough work to pay the mortgage until next June, which I thought was a good thing; in my experience freelancers trainers don't usually get to book much further ahead than that.  The 2 people I was talking to looked horrified "But what about July?" they asked.  "Well, I'll be working on that next year" I answered, though I could tell it didn't appear to do much to convince them I wasn't 4 parts bonkers.  In some ways I can see their point, you see we don't have the luxury of a second salary propping us up; true, we have a modest amount of savings but as soon as we start relying on those we're in big trouble so our goal is to keep the savings safely in the bank for now and pay the bills through hard graft, and it's looking good so far.

"If it's sunny, head for the hills"
Beth & Steve
The other thing in our favour is our desire for a modest, but happy, life.  On Friday the conversation turned to "what would you do with £1m?" to which most people replied that it wasn't enough to completely change their life because "after you've bought a new house and a couple of cars there wouldn't be an awful lot left".  For us it would be way more than enough - pay off the mortgage, buy a car that goes and stash the rest.  Also, it's not that I don't want £1m, but I'm pretty sure that lots of money could stifle creativity, at the moment the need to to keep a roof over our heads is a pretty powerful motivator - seems Maslow may have had a point afterall.

So, after all that, what did Day 1 hold in store for me?  The thinking behind my flippant answer above was that if the weather was nice we'd be able to head for the hills and if it was tipping it down we could crack on with developing the website and writing stuff.  Turns out it was tipping it down so lists were made and meetings were held, and pretty good meetings they were too as it happens; I caught up with an old friend, swapped writing and tourism tips and and made plans with those lovely folks at The Herdy Company to write some content for their website.  Suffice to say that Day 1 was a good day, even if it was raining; so here's to paying the mortgage, and eating, in July 2013.  Cheers!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

That's no way to treat an Old Man.

Today was gorgeous, glorious, amazing and lots more besides.  We took a wonderful walk up the Old Man starting from Torver.  (I was going to put "starting and ending in Torver" but realised that if it started there then there was a pretty good chance it would finish there too.  No guarantees mind...)  Anyway, we made our way up via the quarry and then opted for the Goat's Water route rather than the Walna Scar route and very glad we did too, it was a little bit quieter and way more dramatic.

Dow Crags

Dow Crags in colour!
Hiking in the snow is challenging and should only be tackled when wearing the appropriate gear, however today we passed several groups of people who, between them were not in possession of the following items:

  • Back packs
  • Maps
  • Waterproofs
  • Appropriate walking boots (we saw trainers, wellies and loafers)
  • Compasses
  • Torches
  • Food
  • Drink
  • Appropriate walking clothes (denim jeans and a denim mini skirt coupled with leggings)

They did however appear to be in full possession of an overly optimistic sense of their own mortality.  Seriously, show the Old Man some respect!  The thing is, should we have said anything?  Chances are we'd have gotten a mouthful and we know that at least one of those groups got down uninjured (see later).  Kind of like smokers - we know it's dangerous but everyone thinks it won't happen to them because their "Great Aunt Mildred smoked for 50 years and died aged 99".  I just sincerely hope MR read them the riot act when they require rescuing.

Steve over Goat's Water

Old Man Ridge

Old Man Summit

We weren't alone. This was our first clue...
So, time to descend via Low Water and that's when the trouble started.  Am I the only person who prefers going up to going down?  Give me a hard ascent any day over a slippy slidey route down off a fell.  Wetherlam, Fleetwith Pike, Skiddaw, Loughrigg; I've slid down them all, and today I added the Old Man to my list.  I have a *very* poor sense of balance at the best of times and the snow and ice really wasn't helping.  Anyway, I tried to make the best of it and have some fun...

The most embarrassing/ annoying moment of our descent was when we were overtaken by one of the ill prepared walkers we'd seen earlier wearing jeans and white trainers.  Oh the ignomy.  Still we slithered onwards and, pausing only to argue fiercely about the route when either a farmer or the OS were at fault for leading us to a dead end, we found our way back to the car just as darkness was falling.  The first proper winter day in the fells this year - bring on the rest!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

This is what happens when kids watch to much TV.

Part of our woodpile...
It wasn't like I was plonked in front of the box at every available opportunity, but when I did watch TV it's clear I was very easily influenced.  Lucky for me the main TV influence on my life wasn't Blake's 7, it was The Good Life so instead of being overwhelmed with a desire to head off into space on a shaky spaceship made of old egg cartons I have, instead, spent my life dreaming of the life Barbara & Tom lived. (And for those of you too young to remember, shame on our education system, this should be part of every history class!)

I was never under any illusion that the "good life" portrayed in the TV series would be bloomin' hard work, but Barbara and Tom always seemed so happy; broke, but happy.  That's something that's always stayed with me and it came home to me today that I'm pretty darned close to living my dream (modest as it is).  Me & Steve were out in the garden up to our necks in wood and mud in the middle of a downpour but still giggling & mucking around; there's something quite special about hard manual labour, especially when you're both pulling towards the same goal.

More wood...
So what have we been doing that's so self sufficient then?  Well we had some massively overgrown trees in our garden which hadn't been touched for years and we finally had the money to get them sorted.  This has resulted in a LOT of wood which we now need to process and dry out as we'll be getting a wood burning stove installed during the next six months.  When we nipped into Homebase for a couple of implements yesterday we noticed bags of logs were selling for £8.99.  £8.99?  Check out our pictures, based on that RRP we're sitting on a small goldmine.  "Processing" the wood involves stacking it all somewhere dry and chopping it into usable chunks.  The chopping part won't start until the weaponry arrives next week, so we've spent a couple of afternoon/evenings dragging vast piles of huge logs into appropriate places in readyness.  But that's not all...

Log shifting.  That top won't stay white for long...
While we've been out in the garden lugging stuff around we've taken the opportunity to create a small vegetable plot.  The sides are made of a few of our logs and the soil is a mix of our compost bin and soil from the front garden which is being moved by Steve to create a better driveway for when we have visitors. Recycling all round.  We were lucky enough to inherit plenty of fruit trees and bushes when we moved here: apple, gooseberry, blackcurrant, quince, redcurrant and the occasional raspberry and ubiquitous blackberry in the lane outside.  We also inherited a fabulous rhubarb clump so we're all sorted as far as dessert goes; what we need are vegetables, hence the new plot.  I'll be honest, I've no idea about growing veg so if you've got any suggestions for easy things to start with then please let me know.  I'm thinking peas (and perhaps a little pea pod Burgundy?), carrots, parsnips and spuds for starters.  There's a possibility of a second plot if I'm feeling adventurous. (Previous attempts at taming our garden can be found here.  What we lack in skill we compensate for in persistence and enthusiasm...)

New floor mats - with duct tape!
But it's not just the garden that's benefiting from our DIY attentions, over the past few months Steve has, with the help of the internet, fitted new taps in the kitchen and is now about to embark on installing a new shower cubicle (seeing the state of me after a few hours in the garden this is clearly an essential item).  And before I launched into the garden this morning I made a full set of floor mats for our new vehicle using some old carpet and my newly discovered best friend: duct tape.  How I have survived without this amazing product until now is completely beyond me.  Is there anything it can't be used for?  Come to think of it, yes, it couldn't be used to fix our old car which sadly expired this week and thus had to be traded in for something a little more reliable and Cumbria proof.  We've gone for an old Landy; it's an embarrassing gold colour but that's probably why it was so cheap.  At least I hope that's why it was so cheap...

Having spent an entire day lugging logs and shifting soil I'm now planning to put my feet up with a cold beer and a good movie.  Although it's not all that long until Christmas, so maybe I should be spending my time making crackers that don't "crack" and writing jokes about "ooh aah" birds...

Embryonic veg plot.

Taking shape...

Done! Though very confused about the pattern
of the dirt on my top...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

But am I Cumbrian?

Am I using the name under false pretenses?
I've never made any secret of the fact that I'm a very rooted person; I've no desire to leave soggy old England, or have vast wealth, fast cars and assorted homes dotted around the place, but I do have a need to feel "at home".  (Plus I've often wondered how those rich folks with several homes keep track of what's where, I struggle trying to remember what's packed onto Delores at any given time.)  It all sounds simple enough but it's not altogether straightforward.  When someone asks me where I'm from I'm not quite sure what to answer.  Sure, I live in Cumbria now, but am I Cumbrian?  Margaret, who lives down the road, and whose family have lived in the area for generations, has made it quite clear in the past that you're not considered a local in her books unless you can count back 3 generations or so.  Hmmm...

Beautiful Fleet Pond
I grew up in the West Midlands, not far from Walsall but left there aged 18 and never return except to visit family so, having not lived there longer than I did live there, I don't really feel as if I'm from there any more.  (If that makes any sense!).  After Walsall there was an all too brief 3 year stint in Aberystwyth where I got to grips with all things Geological before the need to find work lured me south.  I then spent 22 years living in and around the home counties: Berkshire, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and finally Hampshire but I never really settled, not properly.  The houses & flats were nice, the neighbours delightful and the local amenities bountiful but I was never quite 100% at home, though I don't think I really realised it at the time.

Gorgeous Grange-over-Sands
The work upheavals which precipitated our move north may not have been at all pleasant, but I shall be forever grateful to them, for without them we wouldn't be where we are now, but I've often felt somewhat apologetic about living here.  "Offcomers" was the word used to describe people like us, and it wasn't always used politely either, though I think attitudes have softened these days.  When meeting new people I find myself playing the "Steve grew up around here" card to try and make us sound more local but my non-Cumbrian accent stands out a mile, even though I've tried hard to learn the lingo.  But the reality of the whole thing is that I have truly never felt more at home anywhere than I do up here, and since we finally sold the house down south and cut the last of the non family ties, I've sunk even deeper into Cumbrian bliss.

Thirlmere - one of the most beautiful but overlooked of
the lakes (even though it's technically a reservoir!)
When we were house hunting several people enquired if we were looking for a second, or holiday, home and seemed quite relieved when we explained we had work up here and were planning to settle permanently.  Much as tourism is valued and welcomed in the region there's no doubting that the huge number of second homes and holiday lets cause a wide range of problems.  Firstly locals struggle to get onto the property ladder because places which elsewhere would be "ideal for first time buyers" up here become "ideal as second home/ holiday let".  The knock on effect of not having year round permanent residents is felt in the local shops, schools and other amenities.  Our house hunting was done in January and we viewed several homes in beautiful villages which in summer are vibrant places full of life but through the winter months are soulless and pretty much deserted.  The number of second homes in some parishes runs to nearly 40% of the local housing stock; small wonder that some villages have rather more of an air of Butlins about them than "traditional Cumbrian village".
Seems I'm not the only one who feels
at home here...

Anyway, I digress, this whole blog began with me pondering where I was from, and I still don't have an answer, but maybe it doesn't really matter  These days people travel around the globe setting up home in new and exotic places far from where they were born and, so long as the local culture isn't adversely affected, maybe that's no bad thing.  We've certainly done our best to blend in up here; getting to know the neighbours, joining in local events and supporting the local shops and businesses as much as we can and, as I sit here just over 2 weeks away from launching into life as a full time freelance trainer & writer, perhaps there are other things I should be worrying about right now.  Maybe I will start telling people I'm Cumbrian, just promise me you won't tell Margaret.