Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Two Falls and a Submission

A wrestling analogy seems appropriate to describe how many of us have battled our way through 2016 - but for us "two falls and a submission" is particularly apt.  As a kid I remember watching Dickie Davies on World of Sport on Saturday afternoons at my grandparents, with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks going several rounds with each other. They'd take it in turns to leap off the ropes in what I am sure were carefully choreographed manoevers, to pin each other to the floor -banging out the count with their hands.  2016 has been a lot like, but without all the rehearsals and giant spandex wrestling suits.

The two falls were mine - in May I knocked myself senseless when I tripped running through Bowness for a ferry.  The docs told me it would take 12 - 18 months to recover, but I persevered and was making good progress, so celebrated by hurling myself off a footpath along the Eden Valley in October - a smaller concussion this time, but with 3 staples added to the mix.

Steve, on the other hand, is resisting being beaten into submission by a persistent, but as yet un-diagnosed, knee condition, which has resulted in him being on crutches since late August.  Not that this has stopped him completing all the photography for two books, planning the pics for a third and hiking up Loughrigg on a frozen November morning.  Or break-dancing on Grange prom...

You may think that grounding the two people behind a hiking a travel blog would slow things down somewhat, but it's going to take more than that to stop us - plus we still managed to do a whole bunch of cool stuff in 2016.  We've both chosen out top 5 stand out moments of the year to revisit and inspire us to keep battling on - you know, just in case 2017 is getting any ideas or anything...

Beth's Top 5 for 2016

1.  High Cup Nick

We'd been meaning to do this walk for a couple of years but I finally got around to it in September and it easily went straight into my top 10 fabulous walks list.  Mainly because it's a cracking hike, but also because my background is in geology and the rocks are superb.  Of course it didn't hurt that I also discovered some of the finest sloes in Cumbria on the walk which  were swiftly turned into several litres of sloe gin to keep us warm during the long cold winter months.  Where is this amazing crop?  It''s...sorry - could you repeat the question?

2.  Cream tea on Harter Fell

We had SUCH a lot of fun with this one!  I absolutely love Harter Fell and the views along Haweswater so the idea of having a full cream tea on the top of a fell really appealed.  It's not something I'd try on a trickier fell in unpredictable weather but it was a perfect spring day and we had a ball.  We got a few odd/ envious looks, but I wasn't sharing my clotted cream with anyone!

3.  Craigievar Castle

This was love at first sight. No - this was love before first sight.  I'd seen the photos in the National Trust for Scotland booklet and knew I had to see it for real.  It's not easy to get to, even if you happen to be lurking around the Aberdeen area, but it's well worth the effort.  The only access to the inside is by guided tour, but this was utterly fascinating and the views of the castle, and from the castle, were absolutely breathtaking.

4.  Cheltenham Literary Festival

I'm addicted to both the outdoors and reading so a book festival with an outdoors theme was always going to be a winner.  I saw some great speakers but none of them more "outdoors" than Major Tom himself, Commander Chris Hadfield.  The way he speaks about seeing the planet from space and the need to care for it is truly inspirational and I was absolutely honoured to have the chance to meet him afterwards.  He also inspired my favourite blog of the year, all about why we need to send poets into space...

5.  Bum Cloud over Walney Island

Yes it's silly, but memories should make you smile - and this photo always does that.  We spent the first 6 months of the year producing a series of walks for Cumbria Wildlife Trust and, on this particular day, had had a wonderful time exploring Walney Island.  This photo was taken towards the end of the day when a giant bum shaped cloud appeared perfectly reflected in a small lake, causing us both to dissolve into a fit of giggles.  As the title of the Good Life Christmas Special says (essential viewing this time of year) "Silly, but it's fun"

Steve's Top 5 for 2016

1.  Wetherlam in the snow

One of the best things about being 6ft 4ins is that I don't sink quite as deep into the snow as Beth does - plus she generally tries to tear off ahead so she makes a useful depth gauge. This was a long and challenging walk and the snow was pretty deep in places, but Wetherlam isn't too tricky a fell and we both got home in one piece - Beth's bum was colder than mine though...

2. Zipworld Caverns Blaenau Ffestiniog

We'd done plenty of zipwires and high ropes courses in the past but nothing had quite prepared us for this - clambering around in a cavern deep underground.  Although we knew everything *must* be pretty tightly screwed into the walls, when you're dangling 100ft or so above the cave floor you do feel the need to double check.  Of course, I wasn't scared at all and didn't scream like a girl at any point.  Not even once. Honest...

3.  Snowdon

Technically this was my second time on the top of Snowdon but, as my first ascent was at the age of 4 months in a pram on the train, I'm not going to count it.  This time I went up on foot via the Rhyd Ddu route and despite it being early May, it was another snowy extravaganza.  Along the summit ridge the paths were solid ice, but that didn't stop several hundred other people also attempting the route.  Has to be the busiest summit we've ever been on, but a really interesting mountain.

4.  Kendal Mountain Festival - Ullswater Screening

Throughout the year there are Kendal Mountain Festival events and this summer we spent a lovely afternoon and evening on the banks of Ullswater watching a series of excellent films.  The whole evening was very civilised with picnic hampers and Prosecco as far as the eye could see.  As well as the great films we were also introduced to the songs that became the soundtack to the rest of the year, especially during our extended tour of Scotland - Christine & the Queens and First Aid Kit.  Just humming a few bars and I'm back there again now...

5.  High jinks in a Hilux

I really didn't expect this to be quite as much fun as it was.  I also planned to share more of the driving with Beth but that didn't really happen either.  When Vantage Motors asked us if we'd like to play with it for the weekend I'm not sure they expected it to come back with quite as many miles on the clock as it did - we even managed another cream tea, this time in the back of the Hilux on Walna Scar car park.  It persuaded  us to trade our battered old Freelander in for a rather nice (used) Toyota Rav 4 which will no doubt be popping up in blogs throughout 2017...

We're both now hoping that 2017 will turn out to be a little less painful than 2016 but, whatever happens, we'll still be out there finding fun things to do.

We sincerely hope you all have a very Merry Christmas full of family fun an adventurous New Year full of exciting new challenges!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Thermoballs are GO!

Northface Thermoballs Insulated Jacket

As a regular hiker but someone that feels the wind chill I need a jacket to cover all environments and this has sometimes resulted in me looking like a 6ft 4 version of the Michelin Man. Not so with the Northface Thermoball insulated hoodie which, with a waterproof shell, makes a perfect combo to combat those nasty heavy rain and strong wind combos.

I was after a jacket that was light yet thermal and suitable for #EverydayLifeOutdoors from shopping in the high street to walking the fells, mountain biking or sitting still while taking landscape photography – oh and even canoeing on the lakes when I’ve finally decided on the right canoe.  (or keeping the wife warm when she wants the heating turned up at home – yes, I’m that mean!)

The next decision was whether to go for a down or synthetic jacket. Traditional goose down is very warm though not so good at maintaining warmth when wet. Synthetic down, the scientists tell us, is just as warm as goose down but is also water resistant meaning when the down gets wet it is able to dry quicker without clumping and so maintains your body warmth better.

Thin thermal layers are important and really do work. Having many thinner layers traps more air than a couple of thick layers, but make sure each layer is breathable (or wicks). Trapped in perspiration will only become cold and make you even colder. But hey, you already knew that didn’t you?

For all those times I’m out on the fells taking photos and waiting for the right light, only to get rained on, I decided to try a synthetic down jacket. The latest tech in synthetic down is Primaloft Thermoball. It’s really light and packs down to a very small size, ideal when I’m already weighed down by lots of camera equipment, and doubly important  as I’m on crutches at the moment.

So far I’m loving it, I’ve been able to reduce the bulkiness while still keeping toasty warm, plus I don’t have to worry about the rain quite so much.  All of which means that those long sitting still moments, waiting to capture that perfect shot, are a lot more comfortable.

Techno stuff:

15D nylon ripstop with ThermoBall™ insulation
Attached fully adjustable hood
Exposed molded tooth, center front zip
Hem cinch cord
Internal elastic cuff
Secure-zip, covered hand pockets

Water Resistant: Yes
Windproof: Yes
Insulating: Yes
Hooded: Yes
Stuffable / Packable: Yes
Keeping the wife warm: Yes

600 Fill Goose Down - provides warmth equal to 600 Fill Goose Down
Packs up into it's own pocket for easy storage
Stays warm, even when wet

*apologies for the dodgy selfies!

Monday, 5 December 2016

5 Wonderful Winter Walks in Cumbria

Tis the season to go on cold wintery hikes then get warm again in snug cozy pubs and tea rooms.  Here are 5 of our favourite wintery walks, all offering spectacular views and many of them with good food at the end.

1.  Arnside Knott

Arnside is tucked away right in the south of the county but Arnside Knott offers some of the best views of the fells.  There are plenty of routes up either from Arnside village or from the campsites in Silverdale - you can also drive half way up if you're not feeling too energetic.  From the top you can enjoy glorious panoramic views of the Kent Estuary, Morecambe Bay and the snowy Lake District fells away in the distance.  Once you're done there are a number of excellent pubs in the village or the superb village chippy - honestly, what more do you want from a walk?


2. Wetherlam

Granted this one is more of a hike, but there are some sensible paths up here in snowy weather though do please always ensure you're properly kitted out before you head up there in winter.  The thing with snow is that the paths vanish and the snow drifts so you have to rely more on your wits and map reading skills.  That said it's fantastic fun if somewhat exhausting to wade through the snow - plus a snow slope seems to bring out the inner child in most of us.

3. Grasmere & Loughrigg

OK, back to something more gentle, but with the option to be more ambitious if the mood takes you.  From Grasmere village there's a lovely route around the lake, though some of it does run along a pavement beside the road.  Once you're on the far side you can either follow the lakeside path back around to the village or venture up the paths onto Loughrigg.  The paths up onto Loughrigg Terrace are well trodden and easy to follow and the views are definitely worth the effort.

4.  Smardale Gill

I know this is an old favourite of ours and, if you're a regular reader of the blog you're probably tutting at me mentioning it again, but it is a perfect winter walk - lots of broad level paths and stunning views.  If you walk in from Newbiggin-on-Lune it adds a bit more to the hike but means there's a lovely pub waiting for you when you're finished.  There's tons of history there too - but if you want to know more about that you'll need to buy our book.  (Shameless plug, I know!)

5.  Duddon Valley

Oh I am going to be in BIG trouble with some folks for mentioning this one - it's one of the best kept secrets in Cumbria and is a SUPERB place for a hike any time of year, but, for me, the colours in the winter make it just perfect.  You can reach it from just south of Torver and it's a valley full of secrets.  My only complaint is that the excellent pub en route is just a bit too cosy making it hard work to tear ourselves away for the second half of the hike.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Once you're done with all the walking, what better than to curl up with a good book - or 3!  Click on the photo below to find out more about our books & how to order them.

Click HERE to learn more

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Mountain Rescue Needs YOU!

One of the highlights of this year's Kendal Mountain Festival was the chance to learn more about the fabulous work that Mountain Rescue do and actually hear some of the stories from their "rescuees" first hand.

Blacks had reunited a number of folks helped by Mountain Rescue with some of the team involved in bringing them to safety - and there were some impressive tales to be heard - people that had gone out really well prepared and had simply met with an accident.  It was a sobering reminder that it could happen to any one of us.  (And who am I to judge after my most recent escapade?  Head and ribs mostly healed now thanks and hand still giving me gip but improving by the day)  Anyway, back to Mountain Rescue...

As you may remember I spent the whole of 2015 mapping every single call out they were involved with so many of the stories were already familiar to me - if you want to see the interactive map, and why wouldn't you, it's right here.

I was fascinated with learning more about the team and what goes on behind the scenes so here are a few titbits:

  • They pay cost price for their kit but don't get any of it for free, hence the need for constant fundraising.  The reduction in costs also extends to vehicles with Mercedes Benz offering them £6,000 off their next 4x4 - but they still need to raise the other £20k +
  • Ideally they need 16 people to stretcher someone off a fell, working in teams of 8 on and 8 off, rotating when one team tires.  If there aren't 16 people available they just have to make do with what they have or call on neighbouring teams for support.
  • All of them have "proper" jobs and, I should imagine, pretty understanding employers.  When the pagers go off those who can head off immediately while others may not be able to make it for another hour or more, but that's not a bad thing.  As they pointed out it's often good to know there's fresh legs coming along later, especially on a long rescue.
  • While technology may get the blame for more folks getting lost these days, they were quick to point out that the same technology has helped them to locate people more quickly.  SARLOC enables victims to be found with the ping of a text message.
  • They NEVER rant and rage at folks who require rescuing after going out under-prepared.  As they said to me "We've all done something stupid at some point in our lives so who are we to judge?"  They do try to educate them about navigation and appropriate clothing once they've reached safety.
"What you need is..."  There were many suggestions from the audience about things they could do to raise funds - Mountain Rescue branded kit, charity shops etc.  but what they really need are more volunteers - folks like me and you, who can help them do those sorts of things.The only thing stopping them right now is manpower.

You don't have to be a gnarly outdoors type with an intricate knowledge of the fells and an understanding boss to join Mountain Rescue - they are in desperate need a whole variety of "back office" volunteers who can undertake things like marketing, publicity, fundraising etc. etc. so if you think YOU have some skills which could help them contact them via their website HERE - I know they'd be delighted to hear from you.

And if you want to help but are unable to spare any time, or perhaps live at the other end of the country, you can make a donation via their Just Giving page here - every penny will be gratefully received  and very well spent.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Top 10 Pressie ideas for outdoors/ Cumbria lovers

I'm the sort of person that swears at Christmas ads on TV in November, but then I do have a number of friends who have already done most of their pressie shopping *and* have it wrapped, so maybe now is the time to share some of the best pressie ideas I've come across during 2016.

I've got everything here from stocking fillers to indulgent "if you really loved me you'd buy them" gifts - and, if you're a Cumbrian business and/ or have other pressie ideas to add then please just leave a link in the comments section below.


1. Contoured Coasters

First up are a set of laser cut coasters from Alp and Ash - they come beautifully packaged and you can select whichever coasters take your fancy.  They don't just have the Lake District either - you can select from a huge range of options covering most of the UK - plus they can personalise them for you too.

The coasters are 1:25000 scale though, as they say on their site - perhaps best not to rely on them when hiking.  They are also far too lovely to take outdoors - they're made from oak veneered plywood and finished with Danish oil.

Cost:  A full set of six coasters start at £32 

Why I love them: They're the perfect gift for any keen hiker and a brilliant way to remember a special place or favourite walk.

2. Quirky Workshops
Next are the superb range of quirky workshops at Greystoke Cycle Cafe - don't be put off, you don't have to be a cyclist to attend. 

Throughout the year they run a series of fabulous craft workshops with something to there for everyone - from willow weaving and stone carving to pizza oven building and cheese making.  

We've both attended a few workshops and had a thoroughly brilliant time.  You can book specific workshops as gifts - Wildlife Whittling and Making a Herdwick Doorstop sound particularly fun!  If you can't afford an entire course then gift vouchers are available here.

Cost:  Gift vouchers start from £15 - full day courses are around £75
Why I love them:  Because they're different and because they are preserving traditional crafts, some of which are fast dying out.

3. Fabulous funky socks!

Corrymoor Socks

It's just not Christmas without socks - this year I discovered Corrymoor Socks who make superb hiking socks in a range of fab and funky colours!  I love a bit of colour on the fells and am thoroughly bored with grey and blue socks.

I've had my pair of Corrymoors for a few months now and (this bit sounds really sad) look forward to them coming around in the "sock cycle" - you know, when you need fresh socks and your favourite pair is ready & waiting for you.  They're soft, comfortable, durable and keep your feet warm in the winter and non-stinky in the summer - absolutely love them to bits.

Cost: Hiking socks start at around £13.60 but they do loads of other stuff too.
Why I love them: Because they're colourful, comfy and fab!

4.  Super comfy outdoor shoes
While we're on the subject of feet...  If you're after something a little more "outdoorsy" then you could do worse than this rather lovely pair of outdoor shoes from Columbia.  I was very cynical when they first arrived and claimed to be waterproof but I've dunked them in puddles and waded through fields of soggy grass and they've kept my feet dry as a bone.

My "real" job requires me to be on my feet all day and I really look forward to popping these on for my journey home - like putting on a pair of slippers (and especially good when they coincide with the Corrymoor socks in my "sock cycle"! )

Why I love them:  Because they're comfy, colourful and they really do keep my feet properly dry!

5.  Inspiring works of art
Nicholas Leigh

How about a bit of art?  If you've ever visited Cumbria then you've probably got several dozen photos to remember your trip, but a piece of art is a wee bit different and isn't at all expensive.  I met Nicholas Leigh at a Christmas fair last year and loved his bright and colourful pictures immediately.

He does ready framed prints, greetings cards, place mats, mugs, the lot!  We bought a couple of sets of greetings cards to use throughout the year and framed up a few to give as gifts - and they went down an absolute storm.

Cost:  Gift cards start at just £2.20 each
Why I love them:  Because they are bright, colourful and original

6. Twigtastic Pens!

Personalised Twigpens
These Twigpens from The Twig Pen People were the surprise hit of last year with our nephews - I spotted them at a market in Kendal and they were quickly engraved with my nephew's names.  They'll engrave whatever you want on them and they're just such fun - the pens lasted really well  and, when they run out, they're fully refillable.

They're perfect for Christmas and also for birthday's, weddings, promoting your business etc. etc. etc.

Cost:  Prices start at £3.50 per personalised pen
Why I love them:  Because they're a brilliant idea from a lovely little Cumbrian business.

7.  Herdy
Love Herdy!

It's no secret that I've had a big soft spot for Herdy for many years now - they have a superb range of bright, fun and imaginative designs, they work hard to ensure everything is produced as ethically as possible and they are utterly committed to the HerdyFund whereby they support sustainable local developments.

Each year there are several new additions to their flock but be warned - once you start collecting it can be very hard to stop...

Cost: Varies but keyrings start at £3.50
Why I love them:  Because of their great products, sense of humour and ethical values

8.  Big boy boots

Aku boots from Keswick Boot Company
Proper fells require proper boots and the only place to get them from in my book is the Keswick Boot Company - a proper independent shop, owned and run by local hiking enthusiast and boot expert Alex Charlton (and winners of Best Independent Retailer - TGO Awards 2016).  Of course a cracking pair of boots like these (Aku SuperalpNNK GTX) don't come cheap, but they do come with guarantees of waterproofness and durability. 

If you're buying boots it's best to go to the shop - but they do mail order so you can order your boots to wrap and stash under the tree or simply give them a call and they'll sort you out with some gift vouchers to use if you're not sure what your beloved would prefer.

Cost:  The boots in the photo are £199.95 but they have lots of others to choose from
Why I love them:  I love the boots because they're super light and super grippy and I love Keswick Boot Company because they give brilliant advice.

9.  Booze glorious booze

Keswick Bewery

In Cumbria we are blessed with a large number of micro breweries and there are none finer than the Keswick Brewing Co.  If you're in town you can join in one of their brewery tours - but if you're further away you can recapture your holiday magic with a case a beer - who wouldn't appreciate a case of beer waiting under the Christmas tree?

There is are a HUGE range of gift ideas in their online shop - or you could go the whole hog and buy a gift membership of the beer club, for year round aley goodness!

Cost:  From £28 upwards for a case
Why I love them:  Because it's beer.  (Sorry - do I need another reason? OK then - because it's gorgeous tasting local beer - how's that?)

10.  The finest literary work in Cumbria

Off the Beaten Track
OK - I definitely over-egged that one, but it got your attention didn't it?  Believe it or not there are still some folks who haven't got a copy of our book and I'm sure they'd absolutely love it.

Don't let the "history" part put you off - it's chatty and friendly with lots of interesting and unusual facts and tons of gorgeous photos taken by my equally gorgeous husband (he's going to kill me when he reads that part!)

We've got plenty in stock to send straight away and will be happy to sign them too if you'd like.

Why I love them:  Because we're locals, we love Cumbria and we worked really hard to make this as lovely as we could.

2017 UPDATE:  We now have 3 books for you to choose from.

2019 Update - We now have 8 books - click the "bookstore" tab above. Next year there'll be 10! 😲😀