Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Busy doing nothing?

These days it seems that every waking moment must be filled with something.  Train carriages are crammed with people tapping furiously on laptops, checking out the latest app on their smart phone or gazing lovingly at their ebook.  Not that I have a problem with folk reading, it's just that sometimes it's good to simply gaze out of the window and watch the world go by.
Happy to credit this if someone can tell
me who took it.

It's the same on the fells.  In the past I've written about high speed hikers steaming through and bagging the summits but, for me, missing the point.  Racing to the top and shooting off the obligatory photos next to the trig point before racing back down again, or on to the next summit.  And then there are those so deeply engrossed in conversation that they miss the scenery, the wildlife and peace of the place.

The photo to the right appeared in my timeline today and it really struck a chord.  So much so that I shared it on my Facebook page where it is by far the most "liked" and viewed item I've posted on there in a long time, proving that it struck a chord with many others too.  I believe it was taken at the Grand Canyon but the sentiment is true wherever you are.

I guess it's "each to their own" and it "wouldn't do if we all liked the same things" but there is an enormous healing quality in time spent doing nothing.  I think the fells should be available on the NHS for anyone suffering from the fall out of modern life.  "Take 1 trip to the Lake District and spend at least 1 hour each day sitting still and enjoying the scenery."  Nature's answer to Prozac; the drugs companies would hate it.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

"Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all"

Luckily Steve knew that Helen Keller quote was one of my mantras before he married me, so it came as no surprise to him when I suggested we round off celebrations for our 10th wedding anniversary by dangling from ropes high above the ground courtesy of the Calvert Trust in Kielder.

The Calvert Trust are well known for the fantastic work they do with people with a whole range of disabilities, though I think "disability" is the wrong word to use in this context.  At the Calvert Trust they are far more focused on what people can do, rather than what they can't and their superb facilities at Kielder Forest are open to absolutely everyone.

I was particularly impressed by their inventiveness.  Whilst they have an extensive range of equipment, some of their guests require kit that simply isn't available from main stream suppliers so they get their guests and their suppliers together to devise a solution; whether that be a bespoke seat for those who require a little more support on the King Swing or an entire section of purpose built climbing wall.  In short the Calvert Trust remove all of your physical excuses for not having a go leaving you with just your mind to battle.

We had one mission on our visit: whatever they suggest, say "yes".  So during the course of our day we said "yes" to a climbing wall, a zip wire, laser clay shooting, high ropes, a leap of faith, balancing on a high pole and the exhilarating if slightly stomach churning King Swing.  We also said "yes" to superb sausage and mash and a second helping of finest rice pudding known to man.  All of their food is sourced locally and cooked fresh on site so if you stay with them for an adventure week pack something with an elasticated waist.

Pete Coulson was our guide for the day and we were in very capable hands.  First stop was the climbing wall where he started us off gently enough but then soon had us tackling the trickier stuff.  They don't let anyone off lightly here and are determined to push you to challenge all of your limits, as I discovered when I faltered near the top of one of the trickier climbs.  "I'm done" I shouted down. "Oh no you're not" said Pete "Take a rest and then have another go."  I'm very glad I did; the sense of achievement is so much greater when you've really had to push yourself.

With aching arms and huge grins we left the climbing wall for a quick zip along the zip wire before trying our hands at laser clay shooting.

The guns are the real deal but have been modified to fire only infra red beams so no clay pigeons were harmed in the making of this blog.  To be fair my aim was so bad that even if they'd been fully loaded with live ammo the "pigeons" would still have gotten off very lightly, though the passing cyclists may have had to duck for cover.  Thankfully Steve managed a decent enough score, his years of practice on Halo obviously paying off.

Following a sumptuous lunch of home made soup and chicken pie it was out on the high ropes course.  We'd seen it as we arrived the previous evening but I swear the poles had grown another few metres overnight.  This is a fantastic activity to push you to your physical and mental limits; you are so well strapped in that no possible harm can come to you, but 40feet up in the air it really doesn't feel that way.  We scrambled across cargo nets, balanced on high wires, swung across the swings and wobbled along poles before dropping to the ground via the free fall parachute descender.

But was that enough for us?  Oh no!  We then decided the "Leap of Faith" was the thing to try.  The "Leap of Faith" involves climbing to the top of a very tall, very wobbly pole and then leaping off to catch a trapeze bar.  Obviously we looked a little too smug with the success of our first attempt so Pete moved the bar further away.  In full view of a car load of spectators I missed but thanks to all the safety ropes I suffered nothing more than a bruised ego - fueling my determination to go back and have another go.

To round the day off we were taken to the King Swing.  Whilst we'd been on the high ropes we'd watched a group of people in wheelchairs get strapped into a special harness and winched to a height of around 30ft where they then dropped like a stone as they pulled the release cord before swinging to a halt.  The whole thing looks harmless enough as you watch from the sidelines but is a lot more terrifying once you've been winched high in the air and the only way out is down.  Well, that's my excuse for screaming in the video anyway...

Utterly exhausted, both physically & mentally we headed back to the car.  The day had been spectacular beyond our expectations and truly epic in every sense of the word.  If you're looking for high adventure then I would strongly recommend paying them a visit.  They have a range of drop in days coming up where you can just stop by and have a go for only £10 per person per activity.  Check out this link for more information.

Finally I would just like to thank Pete for being our guide for the day and everyone else at the Calvert Trust for the magnificent work they do and for giving us a day we will never forget.

Friday, 9 August 2013

When a "new life" simply becomes a "life"

I've been nagged by a few folks who have noticed that there has been very little in the way of updates about progress on our new life for a while.  I guess that’s partly because after a couple of years a “new life” has simply become a “life” albeit a very different one to the one we were living before we moved up here.

As things are now taking off for me professionally I need to walk a fine line between giving a “warts & all” account of starting over and painting a saccharine vision of living in one of the most beautiful parts of England and earning a living doing what I love.  There have been some tremendous highs and some extraordinary lows, so let’s start with the bad stuff first so we can end on a high.

One of the biggest challenges over the past couple of years has been building a network of friends and business contacts.  During the first year in particular I felt incredibly isolated and lonely on occasion and during those periods I relied on my wonderful network of virtual friends to get me through.  I also got off my backside and joined clubs, groups and social gatherings; basically anyone who would have me! 

There were some false starts and some groups were definitely more welcoming than others, but I now have a lovely group of new friends up here which is growing all the time.  What I learned from the experience is that most folks are just as worried about new encounters as you are and a smile goes a long way to breaking the ice.  I also learned not to stress over the less welcoming groups, if I don’t happen to be someone’s cup of tea for whatever reason then so be it; smile and move on.

Financially things remain frugal but work is now picking up at such a rate that I can’t see it remaining that way for long now – there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m pretty sure it’s not the headlights of an approaching train.  Luckily I’m not someone with expensive tastes and a glass of wine and a good book are still my idea of a great night in, though a few more nights out would be rather nice.

The plans for work on the house are currently on hold on account of the fact the builder’s quote is double what the architect said it would be, but we still have some cash set aside so maybe we’ll do it a bit at a time and learn how to do some of it ourselves; getting my hands on a large lump hammer and knocking chunks out of a wall does hold a certain appeal…

On the positive side the writing work is now starting to come in nicely with several really interesting (and more importantly profitable) writing commissions in place over the next couple of months.  We’re also in the exciting but very early stages of launching our own outdoors product, I don’t want to say too much just yet but obviously, as it’s me, we’re trying to do something a little bit different.  The test runs have surpassed our expectations and the feedback from everyone involved is glowing.  We are lucky enough to be receiving the most amazing support from a wide variety of professionals and hope to be in a position to launch something around mid October so, as they say, “watch this space”. (Seriously, watch this exact space; we’ll be making all our launch announcements on this blog.)

And that’s about it really, no major dramas, well there was the incident involving a pair of children’s undies finding their way down the toilet and blocking our drains to the extent that the basement walls began to ooze raw sewage, but other than that it’s been a pretty quiet week.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Walking Guides Demystified

I'm pretty sure that anyone who has ever used a walking guide has shouted at it at some point or another, so I've decided to try and dig behind the words a little to see what they really mean...

"May be boggy after rain" = The last time this piece of earth was dry was during the long hot summer of '76.

"Path indistinct in places" = To locate the path you will require an aerial photograph and geophysics survey.

"Wildlife" = Sheep.

"Variety of wildlife" = Sheep & rabbits.

"An interesting assortment of insect life" = A barrage of flying creatures will be queuing up to bite chunks out of any exposed flesh.

"Path may be overgrown in places" = Be prepared to hack a route Indiana Jones style through the dense vegetation.

"Interesting old pub" = I stopped for a pint of local ale.

"Very interesting old pub" = I stopped for 2 pints of local ale.

"Loveliest pub in the whole world ever" = I've had considerably more than 3 pints of ale and it's now inadvisable for me to drive home.

"Steep in places" = Vertical in places.

"Spectacular Views"
"A bit of a scramble required" = Pack climbing ropes & call Chris Bonnington for advice.

"A popular route" = Packed.

"A popular route for tourists" = Starts and ends at a pub.

"Popular with locals" = Everyone will fall silent & stare at you as you enter the pub.

"Plenty of parking" = In the middle of nowhere.

"Spectacular views" = On the few days of the year when the rain, mist and midges aren't getting in the way.

"Follow the way marked route" = Spend 10 minutes hunting for the footpath sign before finding it buried in a hedge and covered with brambles.

If there are any others I missed, do let me know...