Wednesday, 28 October 2015

I blame my mum...

Me & mum on a Welsh mountain circa 1977
I blame my mum for a lot of things - my mile wide stubborn streak, my incessant need to know how and why things work and my extreme lack of patience.  I can also blame her for my sense of adventure - she used to take us surfing in the pouring rain (the rain wasn't a pre-requisite but neither was it ever to be seen as a deterrent), she dragged us up countless Welsh mountains and onto pretty much every roller coaster in Blackpool and beyond.  (You can't blame her for my writing though, for that the finger points firmly at my maternal granddad and my godawful sense of humour comes from my dad.)

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, these days she's not great on her legs and really struggles to get around which is frustrating for 2 main reasons.  Firstly because when she comes to visit us there's not a lot of stuff around here that she's able to do and secondly because her sense of adventure is still firmly in tact and she's frustrated that she can't get to see waterfalls or big sweeping views from the felltops.

In the past I've glibly blogged about the challenges of finding stuff to do when she visits when what I could perhaps have been doing was shouting a bit more about how providers of services dictate what should and should not be accessible to those with mobility issues.  This all became wholly apparent to me yesterday when we were invited to the pre-launch day of a new all terrain wheelchair known as the Terrain Hopper GTR.

The invite came from Debbie North who was a keen hiker and hill walker before she became a wheelchair user.  Debbie now dedicates her time to promoting true accessibility for all by way of the Terrain Hopper.  After spotting the vehicle by chance on an edition of Look North in 2014, Debbie quickly made contact with the inventors Sam and Deborah Dantzie, put the vehicle through its paces and promptly vowed to complete the  Coast to Coast route from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay during 2015 (Honestly, if you click on no other links in this blog, click on that one)

The launch event was held at the beautiful Irton House Farm in the shadow of Skiddaw with breathtaking views along Bassenthwaite Lake - all of the accommodation is immaculate and wheelchair friendly.  (Plus after the event they pointed us to the The Craggs cafe in Bothel for fab food at really reasonable prices and plenty of wheelchair access.)

Mum kept insisting that she was nervous about the whole thing, but that didn't stop her immediately getting into one and taking off around a nearby field laid out as an obstacle course.  For someone who has never even driven a car she was soon whizzing around over mock bridges, zig-zagging through slalom poles and even taking flight over a giant see-saw.

All those years spent watching Dukes of Hazard finally pays off!

The vehicles are intuitive to use, robust, well balanced, tremendous fun and, for those whose bodies can't keep up with their adventurous spirits, absolutely life changing.  Most people who read this blog enjoy tearing up and down the fells but what if, god forbid, all that suddenly ended tomorrow due to illness or injury, what then?  Until the Terrain Hopper came along it would have been tough luck.

Made for mud.
"What about Trampers?" I hear you cry?  Well they're OK for what they're intended for - gentle woodlands and parks - but there's no chance of getting one up a fell.  As I type this a group of Terrain Hoppers is on their way to the top of Skiddaw again - they really do open up the fells for everyone.  What's frustrating is that the National Trust, Forestry Commission etc. think that Trampers are enough and won't consider investing in Terrain Hoppers to hire out to those who want something rather more adventurous.

Like mother, like daughter

Think of it like shoes - you have shoes you go to work in, shoes for gentle toddles and shoes for proper big hikes.  Mobility Scooters are your "shoes" for work and shopping, Trampers are your "shoes" for gentle outdoor toddles and Terrain Hoppers are your "shoes" for going up the fells in.  One isn't necessarily better than the other, they are all perfect for their environment.  Wouldn't it be great if all the "shoes" were available to those who wanted them rather than having an organisation tell us that the only "shoes" we can have access to don't suit what we want to do with them?

Terrain Hoopers aren't expensive executive toys, they are a fantastic opportunity to open up the fells to everyone with an adventurous spirit and a true life changer for those who need them.  Of course my biggest challenge now is keeping mum away from the Coast to Coast route...

Last seen heading for Robin Hood's Bay...

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Air horns & a rear gunner...

Day 1 of Legless in the Lakes round 2 and we've played our "garden centre " card already.  Hayes Garden World in Ambleside is an easy option for the less mobile though life would be a lot simpler if their loos were nearer to the cafĂ© instead of the far side of the building - when you're slow on your feet it's all too easy to get locked into a neverending "coffee - loo - coffee" cycle as by the time you've reached one, you need the other again.  

Having resisted all the Christmas paraphernalia we piled into the car and headed for Keswick. Abandoning any hope of finding a disabled parking spot we convinced mum to use the wheelchair and headed for a secret parking spot on the edge of town... To say Keswick isn’t disabled friendly is an understatement - but it's something you just don't appreciate until you're trying to navigate the town with a wheelchair.  At one point we had to abandon the pavement altogether due to the lack of dropped kerbs and take our chances on the busy roads - hence my need for air horns & a rear gunner, though they would have come in useful in Booth's too.

The upsides of the day were the beautiful autumn colours & the tasty cakes at Booth's, the downside was definitely the traffic - something we usually manage to avoid when we're hiking.

Not sure where we're headed tomorrow but we'll be off just as soon as I've finished a couple of essential modifications...

Irony: "Remember the true meaning" angels
in the middle of a pile of "Frozen" Christmas

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Love at first sight

On the wall in our bedroom, amidst a collage of other photos, is a picture of me and Steve.  It's a pretty awful photo, grainy and a little out of focus, but I keep it there because it was taken early on in the evening at a party where we eventually shared our first kiss. (I'll pause there for you to go and get a bucket/ tissue).  Of course I'm still madly in love with the poor man, but there's nothing quite like remembering the night you met, the first time you kissed and the way your heart skipped a beat.  It's a feeling that's difficult to recapture, which is why I keep the photo there to remind me.

I've talked before about my first visit to the Lake District being in August 2010, but that's not entirely accurate as the three rather dreadful photos below prove.  Written on the back of them it says "Geology Field Trip, Shap, Lake District, July 1984"  (Forgive the quality, they were taken on a disc camera - anyone remember them?)

I really can't claim it was love at first sight that time - I do recall it was a day trip (from Walsall) so the visit would have been brief.  I also remember everything being flat and then these huge mountains rising up on the right hand side of the minibus - I'm assuming those were the Howgills - but other than that it didn't leave a lasting impression. Maybe because I had a huge teenage crush on my geology teacher at the time (NOT the one in the photo I hasten to add!) and spent most of the trip staring at him in doe eyed adulation.

I didn't properly fall for Cumbria until August 2010, when the geology teacher was safely out of the way and me and Steve began planning our new life.

Falling in love on/ with Helvellyn
These days, however often I remind myself how lucky we are to live here, we inevitably, to some extent, take our environment more for granted than when we first moved here.  In the same way that I still love Steve but my heart doesn't always skip the same beat it did the night we met.  You appreciate each other but you sort of get used to each other.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend both Saturday and Sunday seeing the area through other people's eyes for the first time again and it was fabulous!  On the Saturday I spent time with a group of lovely ladies being guided by Helen Venus (aka Wild Rambling) as they explored Arnside and Silverdale (the previous week she'd had a group getting to grips with Eskdale) and on the Sunday I dragged some lovely friends of ours up Halls Fell Ridge on Blencathra.

Rather than me try to tell you what it was like for them, I'll turn the rest of the blog over to them and let them remind you what it's like the first time you clap eyes on the fells - and maybe your heart will skip a beat again, like mine does whenever I see that old photo of me and Steve.

Arnside Knott - Caroline Blair

This view is from the summit of Arnside Knott. There is a sense of the natural beauty, the eye being drawn to the water channel and to the hills in the distance. A feeling of space and of calm. We sat here for some 15 minutes in sheer silence. The soul at one with the beauty, the mind calm.

Relishing the tranquillity, steeping away from everyday pressures. Pure enjoyment!

Eskdale - Bertie

I couldn't believe that these contrasting  views could be seen on the same day & not a road in sight!  From Midlands a girl (we DO have wonderful countryside here but nothing to compare with this)

Morecambe Bay - Helen Venus

The first time I saw Morecambe Bay from Jack Scout, the sun was shining and it looked like a Mediterranean beach. On closer inspection it was muddy, not sandy but that really sums it up – it’s just not like anywhere else.

Whinn Rigg - Ruth

Breathtaking view of Wastwater. We seemed to be right above it. But to my surprise it was BLUE because of the fabulous weather, not the bottomless black I remember from the past. Won't forget this view in a hurry.

Caz & Ian Stewart - Blencathra

Going up Blencathra with friends was amazing – a totally new perspective from going up and coming down.  Both were stunning in different ways - the danger of going up on all fours and the beauty of walking down through fields and recreating the scene from Gladiator in the meadow.  Very hard to put into words because it just doesn't do it justice, to be honest the pictures don't do it justice either - I encourage everyone to go and you won't regret it.

Halls Fell Ridge


Not Blencathra

Sunday, 11 October 2015

It's the little things...

On Sat 10th October we took part in the Real 3 Peaks Challenge - an idea initiated by Mountain Training Association (MTA) members  Rich Pyne, Kate Worthington and Kelvyn James.  Each year around October time (when most challenges are over and done with) the three of them rally other like minded MTA members and co-ordinate litter cleaning crews on each of the peaks on the "3 Peaks Challenge" route - Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon - to clear up all the rubbish left behind.  Clearly these aren't the only 3 mountains that suffer with a litter problem, but because they attract more visitors, they attract more litter.

It would be very easy at this point to slam the 3 Peaks Challenges but the reality is they raise a huge amount of money for charity and encourage folks, who wouldn't normally venture to the tops of the high fells, to push their limits and discover some fantastic scenery along the way.  The problem is that some of the events aren't as well put together as they could be and a huge amount of litter gets left behind.

On Scafell Pike, because it's the night route for most challengers, the route up from Wasdale is littered with abandoned glow sticks and marker tape - the guidance for using these items is simple: if you take it up with you, bring it back down again.

Our group headed up from the Langdale Valley, meeting with the other 2 groups (1 from Seathwaite and 1 from Wasdale) on the top for lunch.  One of the other groups found an enormous abandoned tent and we all had depressingly similar stories to tell about the things we'd found along the way.

In previous years the big and obscure finds have made the news - the octopus on the top of Scafell Pike last year for example - but having been part of this years litter pick we found that not that many people carry an octopus and it's all the little stuff that really causes the problems, things like...

  • Fag ends
  • White tissues
  • Clear plastic tops from water bottles
  • 1 cm long plastic seals from water bottles
  • The corner from a pack of sweets
  • Orange peel
  • Banana peel
  • Chewing gum (which according to Keep Britain Tidy can take 1 million years to decompose!)
  • Boiled sweet wrappers
There's a great time lapse video here from Mike Raine (@Mikerraine) showing what happens to banana skins an orange peel when left to decompose.  When you watch it bear in mind that this was taken at a low altitude - the higher you go up, the longer it takes.

Looking to Scafell Pike
We also found a range of less savoury items such as poo, used tampons and a used condom (possibly from someone who confused mountain safety with mounting safely).  Moving a few stones on the cairns usually revealed items tucked away in an "out of sight, out of mind" way - plastic bottles, glass bottles, sardine tins, more poo bags etc. - but hiding it doesn't mean it isn't there and by the end of the day our team, on the quietest of the 3 routes, had gathered around 30Kg of rubbish.

One of the nicer sides to the day was the number of people who paused to say thank you to us for our efforts - especially the fell runner who passes us at Esk Hause having run all the way up from the Langdale Valley.

If you want to join in next year's Real 3 Peaks Challenge you can follow their Facebook page here and, in the meantime, if you see any litter on your hikes pick up what you can even if it's just 1 piece of plastic; as one famous supermarket would say "every little helps".

There really is no big or complicated message here - just take your litter home with you - it's not difficult.

If you want to get involved in this year's Real 3 Peaks event click HERE.

The 3 litter crews n the summit
Great Gable - one of my favourite fells.

Lovely flock of Herdies on the way down