Sunday, 24 July 2016

Grown up is overrated

Zipworld Treetop Nets are the perfect antidote to being an adult.  A blissful escape from the world of bills, responsibilities and deadlines - an opportunity to go back to being a kid again and having a spot of pure, un-ADULT-erated fun!

We're no strangers to the Zipworld experiences and although the blurb makes this sound like a bit of a scary adventure - "more than 60 foot above the forest floor" - it's actually enormous fun.

There are no harnesses or hard hats and no shimmying up big ladders to get to the adventure.  There's a full safety briefing before you head off and the trampoline walkway begins on the forest floor leading you gently up and along to the first platforms.

We were in a mixed group with ages (based on pure guesswork) ranging from around 5 to over 60 and we all had an enormous amount of fun.  There's a separate smaller net reserved for kids under 7 but the rest of the nets are open to all.  Within 2 minutes of being up there any notion of being reserved and sensible had gone out of the window and we were bouncing up and down and shouting and laughing louder than the kids.

Obviously the kids had way more energy, but we grown ups soon had it sussed - if we sat down on the nets the bouncing kids gave us a free ride, propelling us up and down as they tore around.

Groups are identified by coloured wristbands and each groups gets 1 hour on the nets - which is more than enough for my aching adult body, though my inner child could have stayed up there a LOT longer.

Preparing to release my inner child
As this was the launch evening there was entertainment laid on in the form of Mike Peters who, as well as fronting the ever popular band The Alarm, has also been battling cancer for many years.  He co-founded the charity the Love Hope Strength Foundation which promotes innovative, music related, outreach and awareness programmes for leukemia and cancer suffers, survivors and their families.  

Reining my inner child in temporarily I chatted to a number of local B&B owners about the impact of the Zipworld attractions on their businesses and they were all 100% positive.  There are three Zipworld sites across North Wales (Bethesda, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Betws-y-Coed) each of them offering a different range of activities - some family friendly and some designed to scare the bejeebers out of you, so there's pretty much something for everyone (even if you just want to sit down with a cup of coffee and a cake while the others go off tearing around!)

Every year these attractions draw in large numbers of visitors - visitors who need somewhere to stay, something to eat and other things to do while they're there, all of which add valuable money to the local economy and living in Cumbria we completely understand how vital visitors are to our local economy.

Anyway, enough of all this grown up talk - I'll leave you with a selection of photos and videos that go some way to showing what a fantastic experience the Treetop Nets are.  Time to step away from the spreadsheet and let your inner child out for a breath of fresh air.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

It's not big, but it is clever.

Having been confined to low level hikes for a while now I've had time to "compare and contrast" them to high level hikes and there are a number of interesting differences between the two - some things are better and some are decidedly more annoying...

1.  Gates

There are a lot more gates on low level hikes and, in my experience, pretty much every single large farmers gate is an absolute nightmare.  I'm not blaming the farmers, nope, I want to understand how we can put a man on the moon but farm gate manufacturers can't create a farm gate that works properly.

The most common fault is dropping down 3 - 6 inches as soon as you unbolt them, meaning you have to hoik them back up by the same amount whilst simultaneously trying to thread the bolt back through the alarmingly tiny bolt hole.  Then there are the wooden ones where the bottom drops off as soon as you open it.  Or the ones who've given up on bolts and have an intricately knotted rope instead, or a big loop of rope that fits over the gatepost but which can only be returned back over said gatepost with the combined strength of 6 men and a large tub of KY Jelly.  

2.  Mud

Where there's gates there's mud.  Lots of mud.  Cows in particular congregate around gates plotting their escape. You could attempt jumping across, but that never really works.  Or there's the ballet/ ninja approach where you try desperately to creep along the 3 millimetres of solid ground around the edge.  Then there's the "I'll just wade straight through, how deep can it be?" approach...

3.  Navigation

All things being equal, there's a lot more navigation required for a low level walk.  High level navigation goes something like this:  "See that big hill over there with the sodding great path up the side?  Go up it."

Low level navigation on the other hand requires instructions such as "Bear right after the second kissing gate to follow the route half left across the next field." or "Keep left at the fork then turn right at the third oak tree after the second yew." or "Run quickly over the bridge or the trolls will get you."  (I may have made the last one up).

4.  Bracken

Of course there's bracken on high level hikes, but there's a sort of a "bracken line" and you soon push through it, not so on low level hikes, where you can be wandering around in bracken for hours at a time.  If you're tall and gazelle like, like Steve for instance, you can peer regally over the top of it.  If, on the other hand, you're more earth like in your dimensions, you begin to understand what life must have been like for the Borrowers as you crash around getting slapped in the face by large fern like fronds.  Particular fun after heavy rain.

5.  Hills


Just because it's low level doesn't mean it's flat.  There are still hills and 3 "small" 150m hills = half a Scafell Pike.  It's like eating Haribo - the first couple of handfuls are fine but once you've eaten the entire bag you need a bit of a lie down.


Kent Estuary from Arnside Knott

Choose your low level hike wisely and you will be rewarded with amazing views.

View from Warton Crag
7.  Animals

I've said "animals" but basically I mean cows.  You get sheep on the high fells, but they generally take flight as soon as they see you, not so a herd of cows.  The phrase "nosy cow" was coined for a reason because they *always*want to know what you're up to.

Most of the time you can shoo them away but, joking apart, they can be dangerous and I do my best to avoid a field of cows if they have their young with them.  If you need to cross a field of cows: make sure you know your route and exit point, check for other escape routes along the way, if they approach walk confidently and if they're in your path, walk around if it's safe to do so - and always be sure never to get between a heifer and her calf..  

There are often horses too, but they're usually a lot less trouble.

8.  Overgrown paths

The high fells in the Lake District are so well walked that overgrowth isn't an issue, in fact they usually have the opposite problem with too many feet eroding the hillsides.  If you want to escape the crowds find yourself a nice low level walk, and pack a machete.  We encountered the above stile on a walk earlier this week - it had been fine when we crossed in back in April but clearly no-one else had been near it since.  It's definitely more of a challenge, but it's also more of an adventure and I really love finding paths that no-one else seems to walk - just so long as I can send Steve on a ahead to clear me a route.

9.  Flowers & Forests

Bee Orchid

Buttercups, daisies and rare orchids - the lowland meadows are filled with them - and each time you visit there's something different to see, just don't pick them!  We found a spot where there were rare Lady Slipper Orchids growing and the second time we went back to take a look someone had picked a bunch of them.  Really?  REALLY?  You care enough to go and find them, then yank them out of the ground?  Don't start me.

And what about forests and woodlands?  You can't beat a woodland full of bluebells and garlic in the spring and in the summer you can keep cool and you wander along their shady paths (or, more accurately, shelter in them when it pees down.)

10.  Pubs and cafes

One of the very best things about low level hikes is that you can pause along the way for a bit of this...


 ...and one of these

Don't get me wrong, I do miss the high fells and can't wait to get back up there, but there are no pubs and cafe's on top of Skiddaw as these two TripAdvisor reviewers found out to their dismay.

Not that we haven't tried recreating the experience - I just don't think beer and high fells are a great combination.  Mind you, it's not advisable to try walking anywhere after more than a pint of Old Peculiar...

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

You had me at "Free beer"...

As I've mentioned before, one of the perks of blogging is the occasional invite to interesting local events to help to promote local businesses and activities.  My rule of thumb is that so long as it ties in with the general nature of the blog then why not?  Always happy to do our bit and all that.

Anyway, one such offer came through recently from those lovely people at Booths and the conversation went something like this...

Booths:  Beth, would you and Steve like to come along to a free beer tasting event, there'll be...
Me: (interrupting) Yes
Booths:  Erm...there'll be local brewers and food prov...
Me:  Definitely yes.
Booths: ?
Me:  You had me at "free beer"

C'mon - you would have said the same thing too, wouldn't you?

The event was in Keswick so off we toddled, in Delores so neither of us had to drive home.  We arrived promptly at 7pm (I do so like to be on time, especially when free beer is involved) and I must admit I was surprised by what I found - not just beer tasting, but many of the brewers matching beers to particular foods and others very keen to put on an impromptu presentation telling you all about their particular brew.

Did you know, for example, that Hawkshead's Windermere Pale Ale is the perfect accompaniment to a big chunk of Anthony Rawcliffe Delice de Bourgogne cheese on a nice thin cracker?  Me neither, but it is, and I left with a big hunk of cheese and a couple of bottles just to recreate the moment at home.  We were also tipped off as to which beers went best with curry and a variety of other foodstuffs.

I wonder if Wainwright drank much beer?

Eden Brwery

Many of the local brewers were there, along with some from further afield, but all of them small independents and most with an interesting story to tell.  I felt particularly sorry for the guy from Sheppys Cider who'd set out at 11am and, due to an enormous amount of motorway delays, only arrived in Keswick at 7:30pm.  So we bought a couple of bottles of that too - you know, just being polite and all that...

We paused briefly to enjoy the lovely barbecue that had been laid on and then it was off to the Brew Dog stand where we were treated to a proper presentation and an assortment of tastings.  It was here we learned about different flavoured hops and why real ale needs to be kept in cans (to keep the light out).  He put such a lot of effort into the presentation that we thought it best to get a couple of cans of that too, just to see if the whole "tastes better when there's no light on it" theory worked.

I'm not privy to Booth's sales figures but judging by the fact that their beer shelves looked as if a plague of locusts with a severe alcohol problem had recently swarmed through, I'd say the evening was a great success.  We certainly had fun anyway, and we weren't the only ones heading merrily home with a heavy and suspiciously clinky bag...

Our haul...
Oh, yeah, and we may have nipped into the Wainwright Pub for a cheeky nightcap on the way back.  Cheers!.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Boats, Beer and Bag End

I love birthdays and I love planning things, so I had a fine old time sorting out a whole itinerary of things to do for Steve's birthday this year.  It's so easy to overlook what's right on your doorstep so, with that in mind, we headed off to Lancaster for a day of shenanigans!

First up was a cruise along the canal - admittedly not a high octane start, but a great way to get a completely different view of the city.  The cruises are run by Lancaster Canal Boats and it's all terribly civilised - sipping a cup of tea as you waft high over Caton Road (you can sip something stronger if you like, they're fully licensed, but it was only 11am and we had a long day ahead).

There's a basic commentary filling you in on the history of the area and a trip across the Lune Aqueduct - including a quick photo stop on the side you can't get to without a boat.  And if you fancy something a little livelier they have a selection of themed evening cruises available so you can belt out your favourite Abba classics as you slip along the waterways.

The cruise finished at 12:15pm and it was off to our lunch appointment - when I make a schedule I do like to stick to it!  I'd had a rummage around t'internet for somewhere we'd not been to before and discovered The Three Mariners down near the river.

It's one of the oldest pubs in Lancaster, has a fantastic and very reasonably priced menu and a cellar that's upstairs, behind the bar.  An unusual place for a cellar granted, but it's there because the place is built on solid rock, so going down wasn't an option.

It's a place that's more popular with locals than visitors and we had fun chatting to the guys behind the bar and one of the regulars, who told us all about hidden tunnels, rogue cotton plants and the origins of lino.  They also have an excellent line in background music, espcially if you're up for a bit of 80s rock.

Two hours had flown past and I was starting to get twitchy about my schedule again, so off we pottered to Lancaster Maritime Museum.  It was badly flooded during Storm Desmond and has only been open again for a few weeks and even now it's not completely open - but it's free for the moment and well worth a look.

There are plenty of imaginative exhibits that you can climb onto, into and write to.  This was my personal favourite - an exhibit asking kids to imagine they were stuck on a desert island and write a message to go in a bottle...

Another 2 hours quickly gone and now it was time to nip to M&S to grab a picnic for the main event of the day - a performance of The Hobbit in Williamson Park.

When you book for open air theatre you take a bit of a gamble with the weather, but we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine.  The views from the Ashton Memorial are superb and the park could not have been a more perfect setting.  There are 5 scenes and an interval and each scene takes place in a different part of the park, with the natural scenery taking the place of big sets.

The acting was fantastic, the staging imaginative and the costumes superb - we'd never been to anything like it before and can't recommend it highly enough.  The recent films may have been somewhat violent, but this was brilliantly done and all the kids were clearly enthralled - as were we.  Seriously, if you're in the area you really should go along - you can book via The Dukes website, but don't hang around as I know tickets are selling fast.

As we wandered back through Lancaster to catch the last train there was live music belting out of at least 4 different pubs and I must admit, if there had been a later train we may have lingered a little longer, but our Hobbit hole beckoned and anyway, my hairy feet were getting tired...

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Green Green Grass of Home

You really can't beat a bit of Tom Jones now can you?  A trip to South Wales seemed the perfect excuse for me to blast Steve with a few of his classics - especially as we drove through Pontypridd (Sir Tom's birthplace).

We were en route from Exeter (where I'd been working) to the lovely Camping and Caravan Club site near Llandovery (Rhandirmwyn to be exact).  The site was perfect - I'm such a huge fan of the C&CC - great locations. a friendly welcome and excellent facilities on site,  It was a bit of a windy road to get there, but worth it for the peace, quiet and secluded views.

We arrived in glorious sunshine so made the most of it with a nice cold beer on the grass next to Delores with nothing but the gentle sound of the River Towy running alongside to disturb us.  The lack of mobile phone signal anywhere around the site is either an absolute blessing or a dreadful curse depending on your viewpoint, but it does make for a wonderfully peaceful stay.

Campsite Entrance

Perfect Pitch
Thanks to the crack on the bonce big hikes continue to remain off limits.  Who knew one tumble could cause so much trouble?  Turns out severe concussion is not to be sniffed at.  I still tire easily and my short term memory remains on the fritz (I just got annoyed with Steve because he didn't understand where we needed to go tomorrow and apparently "at the end of the coast - begins with B but it's not Bognor" failed to convey that I obviously meant Barrow).  The sweet tooth is the part that's foxing me the most - I've always been more of a cheese and crisps kinda gal, but now I've gone all girlie and swoon over large bars of chocolate.  Most odd.  Anyway, back to Wales...

More green

So far as my research can tell me, Green Green Grass of Home wasn't actually written about Wales, but from the short walk we took on our first day you could see why Sir Tom "from the valleys" Jones has made the tune his own.  We only walked about 5 miles in total - from the campsite to the nearby Cwm Rhaeadr Forest but if there was a Buzzword Bingo game of superlatives for "lush green walks" then we'd have checked the lot.

There are a number of clearly signed footpaths through the forest, though the Waterfall Walk does warn you that you will only be able to glimpse the falls at the top.  If that sounds a little harsh then don't be put off - they mean the big falls, there are plenty of lovely views of the smaller falls to enjoy as you make your way through the spectacularly green woodland.  If you want to take your chances shimmying over slippery rocks then there is a rough route to the higher, larger falls. I decided to play it safe and enjoyed a picnic on a big boulder while Steve slipped and slithered his way upwards, treating me to an impromptu Tarzan impression when he lost his footing.

I know I'm going on about it, but it really was all magnificently green.  If I was a proper writer I a) would have used "were" instead of "was" just then and b) would be able to write something beautifully poetic involving words like "verdant" "lush" and "velvety emerald".  As it is you'll just have to make to with my version:  it was green.  Seriously flipping green.

Excellent ancient oak tree along the way that you could crawl inside
Inside the oak tree
River Towy

If there's one thing that greenery needs it's water - though the rain thoughtfully held off until we were back on Delores and planning day 2.  We decided to try a bit of a bike ride to Lynn Brianne- not too far and not too hilly but, it turns out, it was rather too much for me and I panted and wheezed like I'd smoked 40 a day for the past 20 years - still the views were definitely worth it.  (Assuming you're fit and well it's a nice bike ride along fairly quiet roads and it honestly isn't all that hilly).

If you do head off there, watch for the small car park on your left before the main reservoir, it offers superb views of the spillway.

View of the spillway from the lower car park

At the top car park you can access a bridge and walk out over the top of the spillway - and if you're thinking how much fun you could have on there with a giant inner tube or kayak, then these guys are WAY ahead of you...

Suitably exhausted we headed back to the campsite and cosied in for the evening.  The rains returned and, call me weird, but I actually find the drumming of the rain on the roof of the van strangely soporific and I went to bed a happy woman.

When we were away in Gozo, the thing I missed the most was green.  I remember as we came in to land when we arrived I peered out of the window and remarked how brown everything was.  Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful time over there, but I really did miss the Green Green Grass of Home (you see what I did there, don't you?), so thank you Wales, thank you Rhandirmwyn and thank you Sir Tom.

(And if you're now inspired to visit Wales, take a look at our North Wales blogs that start here.)