Wednesday, 27 May 2015

I wandered lonely as a crowd...

Many years ago I worked at Christie's, the fine art auctioneers in London.  One of the things I most enjoyed about working there was the fact that I got to see some fantastic works of art as they passed through the sale rooms - many of them on their way to private collections.

Some pieces were bought as an investment and were destined to spend their days in safety deposit boxes.  Paintings would often be left with Christie's for safe keeping, or until a house was redecorated, though it was often the case that pieces stayed hidden in the vaults for many, many years.

I always used to think that was so sad - all of those amazing pieces of art hidden away where no-one could see them.

I was mulling all this over the other day when our nephews came to visit and we took them out to explore the Langdale Valley on a beautiful but busy bank holiday Sunday.  The car crawled along the northern shores of Windermere (more time to admire the views) as we made our way to Ambleside and we were accompanied on our journey up to Stickle Tarn by several hundred other people out enjoying the sunshine.

It would have been incredibly easy to curse every other person who ventured out that day, denying us the chance to enjoy the fells in peace, but then that would have been no better than wishing for magnificent pieces of art to remain hidden away in bank vaults and dusty basements.

Aside from the fact that we rely on the tourist industry here and that crowds of people mean good business for hotels, B&Bs, pubs, cafes, gift shops etc., surely the sight of so many people out enjoying the sunshine is a good thing?

We saw families laughing and chattering as they made their way upwards; kids chastised (as were our nephews a few times) for getting overly enthusiastic or for getting too near to the waterfalls or cliff edges and exhausted groups pausing for welcome gulps of juice and chocolate.

We chatted to many of them, discussing the stunning views, my silly hat or how much beer we planned to have when we got back to the pub at the bottom.  And we all paused to admire a gorgeous little 3 year old girl making her determined way to the top in her pretty princess wellington boots.

Surely it's a fantastic thing to see so many people out having fun in the sunshine?  And how dull would the pub have been without plenty of people laughing, chattering, telling exaggerated stories and playing board games while they enjoyed a beer and a well earned plate of food?  Yes the food took a bit of a while to arrive, but that's because it was all freshly made, not some burger bar production line - and anyway, it gave us more time to natter.

You only need a map and a tiny sense of adventure if you really do want to avoid the crowds (instead of returning down the way we came we cut across to Dungeon Ghyll and only saw 3 other people on our entire route back to the pub).  So long as folks are respectful (and let's face it, most of them are) there really is plenty of room on the fells for everyone.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

14 Signs you've been away from the hills too long.

Irritating though it is I have to work for a living - I'm very lucky in that I enjoy what I do when I'm away from the fells - but it's been more than hectic lately and seems far too long since I was out there having fun.

As I was pondering my mild misfortune I realised there are a few tell tale signs that let you know when you've been away from the hills too long...

1.  Your pathetic face when you know your friends are out on the fells but you have to work.

But you can't just leave me here...

2.  You convince myself that hiking shoes are appropriate for the office, just so you can wear them.

Yup - no one will notice!

3.  Your walking trousers mysteriously shrink.  They've just been sitting in the wardrobe while you've been sitting in the office, but for some strange and inexplicable reason they've shrunk, though only around the waist.

4.  Despite the fact you've not been hiking for a while, the hiking snack basket is empty.  This may, or may not, be linked to point 3.


5. You've spent so long cooped up indoors that the window next to your desk looks like an excited spaniel has been sitting there...

Lucky or "not so lucky cos you're stuck indoors"
(Thanks to Alicia for the pic)

6.  You'll seize any chance for a sniff of fresh air.

Coco clearly feels the same way
(Thanks to Jo for the pic!)

7.  You spend increasing amounts of time on social media hiking vicariously through the posts of others, but all the while hating everyone who posts them just a little bit...

8.  Ssshhhhh - don't tell anyone, but you're secretly happy when the weather forecast is bad.


9.  On a positive note, nothing aches and you've fewer bruises, though you may have taken to sniffing Deep Heat in order to "get your fix".

Scratch n sniff

10.  Your hiking boots have been ignominiously buried behind the hoover and a 5 litres of screen wash.

"Lemme out!"

11.  You begin to dream up crazier and crazier plans for hikes - you start with a few errant fells you've not tried before, but soon you're crossing the Himalaya or hiking the coast of South America.

Amazing hiking but in need of support right now
Click here to support #ClimbforCan

12.  You will find any excuse to walk anywhere - you'll pace up and down while waiting for your train and you'll explore the furthest reaches of the platform under the watchful yet slightly confused gaze of your fellow travellers. 

13.  You're just plain grumpy.

Put the camera down, walk away slowly and
no-one gets hurt...

14.  And when you get the chance to finally go out for a hike - this happens.

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

15 Questions every shoe review should be asking (and answering).

I don't usually do product reviews - it's not that I don't get asked, it's just that I'm not comfortable taking stuff for free in exchange for saying something nice about it, I mean, what if I don't like it?  And then there's the fact that I get asked to do reviews for quite a random selection of stuff that I wouldn't normally use - glow in the dark phone case anyone?

Anyway, you know what's coming don't you - I got asked to do a product review, but this time by a local company I really like and for a product I can genuinely use.  Hotter are a Lancashire based shoe manufacturer with a reputation for producing shoes for old people which is not only harsh and unfair, it's also wildly inaccurate. I am a HUGE fan of their shoes and wear them in my "other life" as a business skills trainer where I have to be on my feet all day so need something comfy to walk around in.  (Call me old, go on, I dare you!)

They have a new range of GORETEX shoes and we were invited to their shop in Kendal to enjoy a few nibbles and give the shoes a whirl.  I agreed but did mention that a) it wouldn't be a straightforward review and b) it would be a review in 2 parts - I expect new stuff to work, but when I'm shelling out £100+ for a pair of walking boots, I expect them to still be working in 12 months time, so part 2 will be this time next year. (Edit: 6th May 2016 - Scroll to the bottom for the update!)

And so to the review - I've devised a series of questions that may, or may not, be important to you when buying new boots; questions which normal reviews don't seem to cover for some unknown reason...

1.  How quickly can I get them off when I arrive home desperate for the loo and don't want to tread mud through the house?

Pretty darned quickly it turns out.  I'm sure I'm not the only person who's need to for the loo increases exponentially as soon as I put my key in the door - I need a boot which will fly from my feet and land on the pile in the hallway with speed and precision.  The shoes are a very comfy fit, but aren't overly tight and the sides are super soft meaning I can prise them from me feet in seconds and leg it to the bathroom ahead of Steve.

2.  Can I dunk my feet in the local spring without them getting wet?

Yes, but you can't do it and take photos of it without getting some very odd looks from passers by.  The shoes have been produced in collaboration with GORETEX and so are 100% waterproof.  AND did you know that apart from waterproof boots and stuff, GORETEX also make an enormous range of other products including guitar strings, bleach bottle caps and artificial veins?

Unfortunately my jeans aren't waterproof so when my hand slipped as I was trying to get up after taking this photo and I dunked my boot right in, my leg got soggy but my foot stayed dry.

3.  Will they work on the commute on the train?

Absolutely - although they're designed for the outdoors, they're light enough to wear when you need to commute during the snowy winter months.  Or snowy spring, summer and autumn months if you live in Cumbria.

4.  And once I've got to work, will I be able to stuff them into my bag?

Yes, they're light, flexible and stuffable - though they're nice shoes so don't do anything horrid to them.

5.  Do they come in different styles?

Boots for folks with 2 left feet..?

Boots on the left - Ladies Summit boots, boots on the right gents Thor shoes

Yes - different colours, boys style, girls style, hiking boots and walking boots.  And they go up to a size 12 for gents which is handy, if like Steve, you come from a family of giants. 

6.  Can I creep up on sleeping geese without disturbing them?

Yes, the soles are super soft and supple meaning you can creep along like a member of the Famous Five on the trail of a dastardly villain.

7.  But what about the outdoors - can they handle it?

When we first looked at the boots the chaps at Hotter were very clear about what they could and couldn't do - they're perfect for low level hiking but if you're after a full on 16 hour Scafell level hiking boot, you might want something rather more sturdy.  And you have NO idea how hard it was taking that photo on my own, stood on one leg in a howling gale.

8.  Will they match my rucksack?

As it happens, yes, though I really don't care about stuff like that. So long as they are comfy and waterproof I'm happy.

9.  Can I wear them to the gym?

Well, now you're just being silly- unless you happen to live in Grange-over-Sands where we have a gym on the prom, obviously.

10.  Do Hotter only make walking shoes?

I am happy to confirm that you can walk in any pair of shoes Hotter make.  They started off making house slippers and now make a whole range of shoes that they promise will be just as comfy.  (I promised Steve I wouldn't use the photo of him looking at women's shoes - oooppps!)

11.  Are they properly British?

Yes - the Hotter factory is based in Skelmersdale and turns out one pair of shoes every 20 seconds.

12.  But the daisies, what about the daisies?

Although all Hotter shoes are filled with millions of air bubbles, they don't allow you to float, so stay off the grass if you don't want to crush the daisies.

13.  Will my cat like them?

Cats, being cats, are ambivalent to most things - but they will probably like the box the shoes come in.

14.  Are they Spoon Club proof?

In an effort to fully test them in all conditions, the shoes stayed glued to my feet all week - and that included a trip to spoon club where, I'm happy to report, they suffered no ill effects and my bowl is coming along nicely.

15.  So where can I buy them then?

Hotter have an ever increasing number of shops across the country - they had 5 shops in Feb 2010 and now they have 75 - best bet is to check out their website to order online or find your nearest outlet.

Tune in next week for glow in the dark phone covers and headphones that change colour in time to your music...  (OK so that isn't going to happen, but watch this space in 12 months time for my Hotter review part 2).

6th May 2016 - ONE YEAR ON:

Well here they are - after a full 12 months of use and abuse they have come out the other end with mostly flying colours.  They have remained waterproof, despite me being somewhat lax with the cleaning/ waterproofing regime and they still look OK despite me wading through bogs, across fields  and completing several laps of London.

The boots today. Right now. Well, about 10 mins ago actually....

The only minor niggle is that the lining on top of the insoles fell apart after a few months but that didn't seem to affect anything much - they were still comfortable and still kept the water out - and trust me, I have done a LOT of miles in them.

As mentioned in the main review they really are low level hiking boots - perfect for dog walks, ambling along lakes, lochs and river banks and they're perfect as something a little more sturdy and waterproof than trainers for office commutes in bad weather when you don't want to get your nice shoes soggy.

So it's taken me a year to properly finish my first product review - but rather like the folks at Hotter - I believe that if you're going to do something then you should do it properly.  Right, I'm off to slip them on for a quick trip to the village - does anyone want anything from the Co-Op while I'm there?