Monday, 23 September 2013

Take the Time to Love Cumbria

There is no more precious commodity in this world than time. “Time is money” so business experts tell us, but they’re wrong; time is far more important than that. During our hectic day to day lives time slips through our fingers unnoticed and, when we go on holiday, we try to cram in as much as we can to “make up for lost time.” A visit to Cumbria is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of modern living; here are just a few suggestions for places to visit and unwind.
Buttermere: Right in the heart of the Lake District National Park, an easy drive from Keswick and perfect for a family lakeside walk. Buttermere is surrounded by high fells on three sides and has a clearly marked footpath the whole way around. There’s parking in the village and a complete lap of the lake is about 4 miles; perfect for those with younger children.
You could pack a picnic to pause and enjoy on the shore of the lake, or treat yourself to a meal at one of the excellent local hotels? But don’t race around, make a day of it; there are streams to explore, waterfalls to admire and beautiful views to drink in.
Caldbeck: If you want to get away from the main tourist route in Cumbria then Caldbeck is the perfect spot. Just a few miles north of Keswick the route to Calbeck winds through a very different landscape to the rest of the Lake District, with gentle rolling hills and open moorland. As you make your way through the farmland and tiny hamlets keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels; we’ve seen several along this route.
The Howk
From the centre of the Caldbeck there’s a short (2 mile) walk to the Howk; a limestone gorge and series of waterfalls. Along the way is an old bobbin mill which provides an interesting snapshot of local history; Cumbria supplied many of the bobbins to the cotton mills in Lancashire and, as 2 of the main requirements for bobbin making are woodland and water, the old mills are usually found in interesting hidden away places. Pause as you make your way around to listen and watch for birds, the natural woodland attracts a wide variety of native species and interesting visitors.
Ullswater: Often voted as one of the most beautiful of the Lake District lakes and certainly one of the most popular, there are many ways to take the time to enjoy everything Ullswater has to offer. Glenridding is a 15 minute drive from Keswick and from here the famous Ullswater Steamers give you the chance to sit back, relax and take in the views of the surrounding fells, including the dramatic Helvellyn looming large behind the village. If you fancy a bit of a walk then you can hop off the steamer either at Pooley Bridge (if you’re feeling adventurous) or Howtown and wind your way back along the lake shore.
Ullswater from Hallin Fell

As you make your way along the lake take a closer look at the hills around you and they’ll tell you a little about how the lake got there. The bowl like shapes high above Glenridding were the birthplace for the glaciers which first carved the scenery and, since then, wind and water have applied the finishing touches.
Cumbria has something to offer everyone but there’s no need to rush. The landscape of the Lake District took several million years to create; it would be a shame if we didn’t slow down a bit and give it our full attention.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Hiking kit - functional or fun?

Maybe I have an unhealthy relationship with some of my hiking gear, but while we were out today I was pondering how some of the kit serves a purely functional purpose whereas I have formed a close personal attachment to other bits.  I appreciate that you may want to give me a wide berth on the fells after reading this...

For example my Sigg water bottle full of juice is very lovely, but is purely functional.  When I am thirsty it is there to quench my thirst.  My flask of tea on the other hand goes way beyond that.  There is an almost unspeakable joy in sitting atop a mountain in the warm sunshine with a hot flask of tea.  Something a flask of juice does not even come close to.

Then there's my cardigan.  It's nothing fancy, it didn't come from any outdoor clothing store and it most certainly is not about to win me any style awards, but it's absolutely perfect for stuffing into a small corner of the rucksack and, being made of an odd combination of bamboo and cashmere, offers that extra bit of warmth on spring and autumn hikes.  It's not that I don't like my waterproofs, it's just that they're, well, different.

And tell me, is there anything finer than a well worn in pair of old leather walking boots?  Walking socks may come and go and very nice they are too, but with a pair of trusted boots you have a history together; muddy bogs traversed, tricky summits scaled and stinky summer hikes endured.  They're a part of you, moulded perfectly to your feet with never a blister or a cross word.  When they die it's almost impossible to throw them away and they take up residence at the back of your cupboard; you know you should do something with them but you just can't bear to part with them.

And last but not least, my map and compass.  Now my trusty Silva compass has had its moments and, since I learned to keep it away from my mobile phone, has rarely missed a beat but, lovely as it is, I have no wish to sit and gaze lovingly at it for any period of time.  My OS Maps on the other hand I could sit and pour over with either a cup of tea or something a little more lively for hours on end.  I love maps; new maps or old maps, I am just happy to sit reading them, picking out new routes and footpaths to enjoy in the future or discovering forgotten routes and buildings from the past. If like me you love a good old map, then pour yourself a brew and lose yourself on this site: Old Maps Online.  I can waste days on that site (don't say I didn't warn you!)

Steve thinks I'm slightly bonkers (though to be fair he does have evidence aside from this) so please, tell me I'm not alone.  Does anyone else love their hiking gear too?

Friday, 6 September 2013

"If you want my opinion..."

I have to say I'm very impressed with the Ramblers, when we met with them on Wednesday for the launch of their Go All Out campaign they promptly took us on a 1 mile hike which included 2 pubs.  Turns out the aim of the venture wasn't to get us drunk but was to get us talking about what our concerns are when it comes to the great outdoors and what we want them to campaign about in the future.
Benedict Southworth (No idea what the sheep's called)

To be honest I'm surprised they're still speaking to us at all.  Ever since the Kinder Scout Trespass in 1932 the Ramblers have been at the forefront of campaigning to protect our rights of access to the countryside and coastline of Great Britain; the thing is we've pretty much taken them for granted for all that time, but not only are they still speaking to us they are now actively asking us for our views about what we want them to do next.

What Kate Ashbrook loves about the outdoors.
During the course of the day I spent time chatting to Chief Exec Benedict Southworth and President Kate Ashbrook and there's no doubting their passion and commitment to this project.  Like every other hiker they love the outdoors and like every other hiker they have their own concerns and frustrations, but what sets them apart is the fact that they are in a position to take action and make changes.

The whole point of the Go All Out campaign is to talk to everyone who enjoys the outdoors and understand where their concerns are and what they would like to see Ramblers doing about it.  As I've not yet met a hiker who doesn't have an opinion on some aspect of the outdoors I'm betting they're going to have a lot of data to wade through when they're done.

There are various ways you can have your say; you can either complete the online survey or get a group together and have a good old ding dong based around the discussion kit they provide.

"What's stopping people getting outdoors?"
According to their guidelines the discussion should take about half an hour, but if it's anything like the discussion our group got into it will most likely go on longer, especially if your discussions are taking place over a post hike pint or two.  Just so long as someone takes charge to keep you vaguely on track and collate the information.

Key themes for our group centered around the use of technology in the outdoors, engaging with families and an interesting debate about what exactly constituted a "walk" in the first place.  Whatever your view on these, or any other outdoors topics, now is the time to have your say.

You haven't got to be a crusty old hiker like me to get involved, they want to hear from absolutely anyone who loves the outdoors so instead of shouting at the TV or muttering rude words next time you find a blocked path, tell the Ramblers what you honestly think and you could help to shape the outdoors of the future.

Here's my two penn'orth