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! 😲😀

Thursday, 10 November 2016

An interview with Gwen Moffat

It's not often you get the chance to sit down and spend the afternoon with one of your heroes but, thanks to the lovely folks at The Rheged CentreI was able to do exactly that.

We recently spent a day at their mountain film festival - part of a superb weekend of breathtaking mountaineering movies and a dazzling array of guest speakers.  The event was  raising money for CAN - Community Action Nepal - a charity founded by Doug Scott and supported by mountaineers from around the globe.  It works in partnership with  remote mountain villages to provide health, education and income generation opportunities for local communities.  The charity has been particularly busy since the devastating earthquake in April 2015.

One of the guest speakers was the awe inspiring Gwen Moffat, whose autobiography Space Below My Feet is an absolute must read for those seeking inspiration to head outdoors.  She's also the subject of the wonderful film Operation Moffat (see clip later).

To say Gwen has led an adventurous and eventful life is an understatement - now in her 90s she lives relatively quietly in Cumbria with her mischievous cat Nog, so it was an absolute treat to hear her speak at the event and then have the chance to interview her later on.

Q. Lots of people see you as a trail blazer – is that something you set out to do?
No, not at all.  I joined the Pinnacle Club in 1948 and I looked up to my seniors, they were my role models.  Evelyn Lowe, Nea Morin & Pat Kelly.  These were marvellous climbers who all climbed better than I ever did.

It was just the way I lived my life – I met a climber, learned to climb, then I think the Pinnacle Club got hold of me and said “come and join us” so I joined them – pregnant.

But you weren’t going to let anything like that get in the way?
Hahahaha – no.

Gwen at Rheged
When you were in the Pinnacle Club was it competitive at all – trying to compare yourselves to each other?
No, not at all in my generation.  I don’t know if it is now but I don’t think so.  It was very supportive.  I think in some areas now it’s very competitive but it wasn’t like that for us at all.

You were a bit of a rule breaker – is that something you’d recommend?
Depends on the rule doesn’t it?  Are you thinking about the deserting?

Well that, yes, and the unwritten rules back then that “a lady shouldn’t do that”.
Well, I never thought those rules were there.   I didn’t consciously break rules, except for the desertion bit.  Except that I didn’t make the decision – I just started walking away and it wasn’t until I was walking away from the camp that I realised what I’d done, and I just went on walking.  But I really was quite in a curious state when I walked out of the Nissen hut – that was not a conscious decision.  I just couldn’t stick it – it was after 2 weeks climbing in filthy weather and it was the life that these ½ dozen people had shown me – they were all conscientious objectors you see, so they had no time for military authority and so on.  I had done my stint – I’d done 6 years in the services, I wouldn’t have deserted in war time.

Gwen Moffat
Lots of people see you as an inspiration – do you see yourself as one, or perhaps more of a mischievous bad influence?
Well, only in the way that people might try to emulate something I did when they’re not ready for it.  

For instance long walks – I walked around the North West corner of Scotland.  Up to Cape Wrath, around and across the Kyle of Durness, this took me 3 or 4 days, sleeping out.  All I took with me was a sleeping bag, no stove, and a huge cake made of lots of calories, molasses and eggs and all that sort of thing, plus a slab of cheese and I drank from the streams.  Oh I did have a waterproof cover for the sleeping bag which unfortunately was an old plastic survival bag so the only night I used it, when it was drizzling was at the Kyle of Durness, I slept in the heather and when I woke I was soaking wet inside the bag from the condensation and I had to dry the sleeping bag out!

Of course that took me 3 or 4 days and I didn’t take very much with me, but I knew what I was doing and also I know how to deal with panic – not that there was much to panic about there – but it was terribly windy.  The wind was quite energy sapping and I was lucky to find a cove with one of John Ridgeways little huts down there – he used to run sailing courses from up there – and he’d built a funny little round hut with a turf roof which I used for shelter one night.

A couple of times in the book you could have been described as being “under prepared” – is there something to be said for not over doing things when it comes to taking gear and food on a hike?
The sort of security they have now, it just didn’t exist in my day.  I mean we just didn’t have all the ironmongery that climbers carry. When I started all I had was two carabiners on rope slings – and
they were ex-Army carabiners that were liable to open if you fell. When we made the first climbing film in the 1950s with Joe Brown – (he climbed hard, I did the easy routes) – we went to Clogwyn du’r Arddu and Joe did a hard climb on the pinnacle using these useless  carabiners that would have failed with a long fall. But Joe never fell. That’s the kind of equipment people used in those days and if they were good they survived. (You can see some of Gwen’s remarkable photographs from back then right here.)

Was there an element of the skill having to develop because you couldn’t rely on the kit in the same way then as you can now?

Oh no, you couldn’t rely on it – and ropes broke.  They were still climbing on hemp when I started climbing, but we changed over quite soon to nylon because nylon came with the commandos in the war – but when I started we climbed on hemp ropes which broke because they didn’t stretch.  If anyone fell off they just came to a sudden jerked stop.  There was a maxim when I was climbing:  The Leader Must Not Fall – because if the leader fell they were at least injured if not killed – there was no security all the way up,

Trailer for Operation Moffat

Everyone said that pitons were cheating when they first came in. There was a Very Severe line on Tryfan which hadn’t been climbed and some German chaps came over in the thirties and climbed it using three pitons for security. “Troops were mobilised” according to the guide book, and the Climbers Club went up and did the second ascent but they took the pitons out.

And the clothing!  I’m thinking now of snow & ice climbing, that’s entirely different now.  I mean the men in 1933, on the last Everest trip before the war, they climbed in Tweed jackets.  Nowadays we use down and down is lovely – I use down all the time now, even at sea level – it’s so warm and light.

Going back to the pitons – these days people climb with a lot of tech – if you were climbing now, do you think you’d be using it?
No!  I was climbing about 20 years ago when all that stuff was in and I didn’t use it.  I started doing easy, solo, stuff, until finally I gave up because I realised that if I came off the rescue team would have to come and take me down – how humiliating!  So I stopped soloing even easy stuff.  But no, I would never have used all of that – no fun!

When I was living in Snowdon last I’d test myself.  I’d go out without a compass and without a map in thick weather and still find my way around, but then I knew the area very very well you see.  And I’d know from which way the wind was blowing, that sort of thing.

Was it easier to connect with the outdoors then, are we more cocooned now do you think?
It wasn’t a case of connecting then, although I’d been born in a town (Brighton) we’d moved to a new housing development on the edge of town when I was only 9 and we were the last house in the development.  I had the South Downs behind me, and I started walking and exploring then.  And as soon as I got a bike of course, I was going further afield into The Weald.

Children don’t enjoy those sorts of freedoms any more do they?
Well, people are frightened you see.  And of course with the media you hear so much of what is happening – you didn’t hear it then, presumably it was happening occasionally but we didn’t hear about it.  We only had the wireless and not everybody had one of those.

Being out in the wilds so much, climbing here and abroad, do you think it helped you to care more about it – I know you now have an interest in spotting wildlife such as dragonflies and adders – does it stem from there?
It started with guiding I think, I didn’t start to take an interest in flora and fauna until I realised that my clients were taking an interest and then I realised that in order to keep them interested I had to learn more about it myself.   The only thing I didn’t go for was Geology – now most people would go for the rocks as well, they’re climbing on rocks and they become amateur geologists but I didn’t, I went for the flowers mostly and then the animals.  Of course there were more animals to be seen in the 40s and 50s.

Are people caring less about it all these days because they’re not out there so much?
And yet there are more nature programmes aren’t there, on the TV – but I suppose that’s it, people don’t get out so much now, they watch, they read, but they don’t get out.

Would you have any advice to non climbers or others that are perhaps daunted by what you have achieved?
Start easy.  Go out with somebody who knows it, or join a club, and then you start low, on easy stuff and work up.

What about climbing walls?
Climbing walls can be very, very hard, they’re all graded,  so when you see something very hard on a climbing wall, don’t think you’ve got to go up and do that immediately, start with the easy stuff.

Is it ever too late to start?
I don’t know...I’ve had people aged 60.  I don’t think I’ve had people aged much older than that – for climbing.  Walking of course you can start any age.  I can still get up the tiny hills at 90 – just after my 90th birthday I got up Great Dodd (over 2800 ft/ 857 m).

Lots of people say that they don’t feel their age – I know you’re in your 90s but how old do you feel in your head?
I’m about 20 or so in my head – but I only have to do one little thing, like stand up and fall over – or comb my hair in the mirror to remember my real age.
Queue to speak to Gwen at Rheged

You’ve often said you have no regrets, but if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice when you were younger – would you?
I think I’d say “ignore me, just go for it” because I’m quite content with where I’ve been and what I’ve done and the things that have happened to me, even the bad things, have made me who I am today.  The bad things, and the sadness, are the things that make you stronger.

Do you get irritated by the “woman” angle?
Yes. One question I was asked recently was about the media pressure on women climbers these days to be sex symbols and how did I cope with it, well it didn’t happen with me – it was just different then.  There was no social media – just news papers and a bit of Woman’s Hour – and the press back then were terribly respectful, there was no “sex” angle.  They just concentrated on what you did and your skill, risk and danger – and now, well they’re not going to make a sex symbol out of a 90 year old now are they?

Lots of people in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond are quite cynical and depressed about the state of the world and the future because it’s different to how it was when they were younger– do you share that view?
No – you should live in the present.  In any case, in a few million years or so we won’t be here anyway, we’re just going to burn up.  Time is immaterial; you’re here so live today.  Of course you have to think a bit about tomorrow but you’re here, so enjoy what you’ve got.  And if you can’t enjoy it, just live it, do the best you can.  Happiness is like love, everyone has their own idea don’t they?  To me, happiness is fulfilment – you are what you are.

Do you have any advice for any protective parents who have a strong minded “little Gwen” on their hands who just wants to be a daredevil and climb things?
Yes – find somebody you trust who can teach them – either a friend or someone you can engage.  Quite a few parents came to me with their children, who’d never climbed – some wanted to learn with their children, others handed their older children over for me to teach.   Put it to the child as an ultimatum – yes you can do it but you go with that person.

I had this with my own daughter who I found walking along the roof of our home in Snowdon when she was only 4 or 5.  The roof at the back of the house came right down to the ground and she’d followed the cat up there.  I was out the front of the house and I turned around and there’s my child, two storeys high walking along the roof!

I can’t remember if I talked her down or went and got her down, but anyway, when she was down I put it to her – look, we’ll go climbing but we’ll do it properly with a rope.  After that I took her climbing on easy climbs and scrambles but she was always on the rope and she thought that was wonderful – like being an expert or a proper adventurer.

So yes, you can go but word it so that it’s one step up from climbing solo and then it sounds even more exciting.

With enormous thanks to The Rheged Centre for offering me this opportunity and, of course, to Gwen who is utterly charming, thoughtful and was endlessly patient with my questions.

The Rheged Centre is a brilliant place to visit any time of the year and always has an array of interesting films and exhibitions.  There are also a good variety of local shops selling the best that Cumbria has to offer and some fantastic cafes where you can put your feet up and enjoy a well earned coffee and a cake.