Sunday, 26 March 2017

10 Curious Cumbrian Keepsakes

From crystal used by James Bond to mattresses filled with Herdy wool and some of the finest gin in the land - I have nothing at all against Cumberland Sausage and Sticky Toffee Pudding, but there are a whole range of gifts you could buy to remind you of your Cumbrian hols.  Here's my pick of the best!

1.  It's Crystal, Cumbria Crystal

Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a James Bond?  Well, here's your chance to own a glass that was used by Bond himself in Casino Royale.  Each beautiful crystal glass, bowl or goblet is crafted by hand and takes around 14 days to produce - you can even visit them and see the whole process for yourself. They're based in Ulverson, down on the south coast of Cumbira and it's free to go and take a look around the factory - plus there's plenty of free parking for your Aston Martin. (Or you can shop online here.)

2, Gin - the perfect tonic

Those who know me know I like gin.  There are a number of gin distilleries in the Lake District (on account of all the lovely water we have for them to work with) but my favourite is the One Gin. Brewed by the Lakes Distillery - it even managed to replace Plymouth Gin in my affections (trust me, that's no mean feat!). The tour of the distillery includes a free tasting of their gins (so make sure you've ducked out of driving duties).  (You can also find a number of gin parlours across the county - such as the excellent Virginia House in Ulverston.)

3. Perfect reminder of a dirty weekend...

After you've got good and dirty on the fells (what other sort of dirty weekend did you have in mind?!) - what you'll need is a good long soak in the bath and some lovely hand made soaps.  The Soap Company Keswick is a social enterprise offering a fabulous range of soaps and soap related products all made by a local team of disabled and/ or disadvantaged people.  The shop smells divine and whichever part of you is dirty, they're bound to have something to clean it (except perhaps for your dirty mind...)

4. Candle in the wind

We all know that no county can hold a candle to Cumbria (you see what I did there?) so picture the scene: you're lying in your bath full of Soap Company bubbles, holding a Cumbria Crystal glass full of One Gin (with a dash of tonic) - all that's missing are the scented candles.  Well, here they are!  These candles don't contain any paraffin or palm oil - they're 100% Eco Soy Wax, which means you won't get any of that nasty black smoke.  They're made by a tiny family business up on the Solway coast and there's no better way of bringing a piece of Cumbria home with you.

5.  Aaaannnnnddd relax...

OK, this one isn't exactly a pocket sized keepsake, but it is utterly awesome! Those fabulous folks at Herdy have recently collaborated in the launch of herdy®sleep, to make luxury wool mattresses with all the wool responsibly sourced from local Herdwick farmers for a proper price.  The mattresses are so snuggly and comfy that you'll be able to skip sheep counting and head straight to dreaming of Cumbria.

6.  Back on the bottle...

Whitehaven is just a short drive from Keswick and if you haven't been then you're really missing out.  There are LOADS of interesting things to do and some spectacular walks along the sea cliffs with stunning views out to sea.  The town has a fascinating history involving the deepest darkest mines, the slave trade, George Washington's granny and rum.  The Rum Story, in the middle of the town will tell you everything you need to know about to town's deep connections with rum - plus you can buy a bottle (or two) to remind you of your trip.

7.  Not a Cumberland sausage

If you don't want a Cumberland sausage but you're still craving meat products, then how about Cumbrian Biltong?  Originating in South Africa, biltong can now be found in most supermarkets, but the stuff you buy in little plastic packets doesn't compare with the real thing, properly made.  James Alexander Fine Foods is owned and run in Cumbria by Cumbrians who are passionate about showing the world that there's more to the county than sausages (although the sausages are really, really, good!)

8.  New Balance trainers, ainers, ainers, ainers...

A global brand, loved by Rihanna, and made in the heart of Cumbria - a pair of New Balance trainers are the perfect keepsake for slightly sulky, super trendy teenagers.  Their "quaint village" roots fascinate our American cousins who can't quite believe that something so cool could come from Flimby (right on the coast between Whitehaven and Maryport) - a tiny town with a population of around 1700 (though that's according to Wikipedia - it could be closer to 2.5 million in reality).

9.  Pick a peck of pickled peppers...

Hawkshead is right in the heart of the Lake District and Hawkshead Relish are right in the heart of the village.  Everyone loves their perfectly made pickles - even the Queen has had a taste - and whatever your piquant preference, there'll be something to suit your palate.  All of the positively perfect pickles and spreads are hand made in small batches in a converted 16th century barn on the edge of Esthwaite Water and taking home a jar or two is the perfect way to preserve your happy holiday memories.

A two hundred year old family business, still based in a tiny village in the Lake District and run by the great, great, grandson of the founder - that's something you don't find very often.  They closed their retail shops a few years ago, but you can still buy beautiful stationery from them here - absolutely perfect for sending wedding invites for Lake District weddings and just wonderful  to work with for those who, like me, enjoy a spot of good old fashioned letter writing.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hiking Room 101

I'm a huge fan of Room 101 - the TV show, not the Orwellian torture chamber - and I often ponder what I'd put in there.  There are plenty of non hiking things which would go in without a second thought - coat-hangers, umbrellas and anyone who tries to use their mobile phone on the train between Arnside and Carnforth (trust me, I don't care what network you are on, there is NO signal).

But what outdoors/ hiking things deserve to go in there?  Well here are my top five for starters, but do please add your own.

1.  Lying tourist information leaflets

I see no sea eagles
We've been lucky enough to spend the past couple of summers exploring the Scottish coastline and we have loved every second - it is a truly breathtaking part of the world.  We saw stunning lochs, spectacular mountains and long forgotten caves in remote hillsides.  What we didn't see were sea eagles, despite pretty much every scrap of tourist information telling us that the west coast was awash with them.  We paused, we pondered, we scanned the horizon for hours but not one.  If there is a realistic chance of seeing something then tell me what the odds are - don't adorn your leaflets with swooping golden eagles if there's more chance of me seeing Russell Brand joining the priesthood.

2.  Velcro on hoods

No, no, no, no, NO!  It's nice to have a hood that packs away but it's not nice if the collar is covered with velcro.  Look at me - I have a lot of hair.  Admittedly I don't always wear a tiara when I hike (though it was for a good cause!) but that hair gets caught in velcro and throughout the hike the hairs on the back of my neck are removed one by one. It's like slow motion waxing.  We often get offered jackets to try out and review and I always ask the same first question: "Did some sadistic so and so at the factory put velcro on the hood?"  If the answer is yes then I either politely decline or offer to visit the designer armed with a pair of tweezers to help them understand how it feels.

3.  Hot weather

The only good thing about hot weather
How could I possibly put hot weather into Room 101?  Because it is a complete pain in the backside for hiking.  I like clear sunny weather but not hot weather - I did not move to the north of England to endure 30C on the fells.  Last summer, when we were doing the final checks on a couple of walks for our book, it was face meltingly hot.  I clearly remember staggering around the coast from Arnside to Silverdale with only the thought of a cool pint of Wainwright at The Albion keeping me going...

4.  Boring brown hiking boots

Beth & her boots of many colours
Why are hiking boots brown?  Or grey?  Why are they all such boring colours?  Is it so the mud doesn't show up?  Most hikers I meet aren't boring so why is the kit always made in such drab colours?  I like bright colours and it's taken me years to find a nice, colourful, selection of outdoor kit - a bright orange jacket, funky purple socks and, finally, a pair of fabulous funky Aku boots (which you can only get in the UK via Keswick Boot Company)

 5. Kendal Mint Cake

I can hear you shouting at your screen and telling me what a disloyal Cumbrian I am, but I can't help it, I hate the stuff.  As a kid people spoke in hushed tones of the energy giving powers of Kendal Mint Cake and it was always in our emergency ration packs on our Duke of Edinburgh's expeditions.  I can clearly recall the day when, safely home, I tucked into my emergency rations and first encountered the sickly, grainy, sugary overdose.  I can just about cope with it in tiny quantities if it's covered in dark chocolate but, other than that, not a chance.  For the record, my hiking snacks of choice are maltloaf, eccles cakes and Solpadeine Max.

Disagree with my choices?  Or have other things you'd put into Room 101? Tell me all about it!  😀

DON'T FORGET OUR THREE BOOKS - perfect as a pressie or just to treat yourself!  Click HERE to learn more!

Click on the pic to learn more!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

I would really love to, but...

You see that photo - the one of the footpath sign with the sun behind it? It's not the greatest photo but for me it means so much.

Six years ago on March 7th 2011 we'd been living in a campervan for 2 1/2 months. We were desperately trying to find a house but, as often happens with these things, it was turning into a catalogue of disasters.

The day before that photo was taken so much had gone wrong that we honestly thought we'd have to give up on our dream and go home. It had been a rough & sleepless night with many tears of frustration. In the morning I was walking to Silverdale station to catch my train to work - the weather was perfect & the views sublime. I was so moved that I took this picture & vowed to fight on, determined that nothing would stop us achieving the things we wanted.

Spool forward 6 years and here we are; one book already published, two more out next month with two different publishers - both of whom have indicated they want to work with us again in the future - and, most importantly, we have a roof over our heads.

Each year this photo pops up and reminds me how desperate we were and how deep we had to dig and each year, wherever my head is, it inspires me to keep fighting.  Especially whenever I catch myself saying "I would really love to, but..."  Dreams don't come true all by themselves, and they certainly don't come true without a little blood, sweat & tears.

Published 3rd April 2017

Published 15th April 2017

Published October 2015

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Blencathra the easy way

There's only one problem with hiking up Blencathra - you can't see Blencathra.  We've been up there many times including across Sharp Edge and, one of our absolute favourite hikes in the world, up over Halls Fell Ridge (Blencathra the Hard Way) - but today we needed something a little less brutal, so opted for a gentle  stroll along the River Glenderamackin at the foot of Clough Head.

Well, I say a little less brutal, the second half turned out to be a world class boggy yomp - my GriSports boots leaked like a sieve and I was lucky to escape without a severe case of Trench Foot (the boots are super comfortable but rubbish in the wet).

Anyway, back to the start, and the glorious drive in along St John's in the Vale.

The easy part...
River Glenderamackin


Nosy local

Odd locals

And how often do you find the perfect picnic spot, precisely at dinner time?

The difficult bit...

"Yeah, it looks a bit boggy but I think we'll be fine..."

Recreating scenes from Gladiator

Odd, and slightly soggy, locals...

"Get my good side!"

This was one of the drier sections...

Definitely new boots time!
In summary, an excellent walk for views of Blencathra, testing out waterproof capabilities of walking boots and meeting horses...

Saturday, 4 March 2017


I have had a genius idea.  I mean properly genius.  OK, it maybe has one minor drawback but nothing's perfect is it?

Don't you ever wonder where people were when they had their genius ideas?  Where was Frank Whittle when he came up with the idea for the jet engine?  Or Laszlo Biro when he decided to create the ballpoint pen?  Or whoever it was at Primula who first thought about putting cream cheese into toothpaste tubes?  (Mock all you want, but that stuff rocks on camping trips!)

Well, for the record, my lightbulb moment came at around 6am one morning as I was lying in bed in my rather fetching big fluffy teddybear PJs.  ( a) be glad I didn't run naked down the road Archimedes style and b) what were lightbulb moments called before Thomas Edison came along?)

Anyway, back to my genius idea - or more specifically the flaw in it - the Dragon's Den "I'm out" moment, if you will.  The flaw is this - I can see absolutely no way whatsoever of ever making any money out of it.  A minor detail in an otherwise perfect plan.

So what is my idea?  It is this - if you come to Cumbria for a holiday and the weather doesn't meet your expectations, simply send me your holiday pictures and I'll "replace" them with photos taken from the same spot when the weather was perfect.  See?  Genius - even if I do say so myself (which I just did, so it's too late to stop me now!) - though clearly, no-one is ever likely to pay me for such a a service.

Shiny Car - less than shiny weather...
The idea came to me after we'd borrowed a lovely shiny, brand spanking new, top of the range Toyota C-HR for the weekend from Vantage Motors in Morecambe - it's one of the perks of the blog and social media that they'll trust us with such a beauty, in exchange for us taking some nice photos of it in stunning Cumbrian locations.  (An idea which worked perfectly well in the past when they let us loose with a Hilux and a Citoren Cactus Ripcurl)

The only problem was that for the entire 48 hours that we had the C-HR, it steamed down with rain - which was when the genius idea came to me - how about I post the pictures we took, next to a picture of the view on a nice sunny day, and you can put the two together in your mind?  (Or photoshop them if you're properly clever!)

The other problem was that although the car was indeed very lovely, I got the distinct feeling that we weren't the target demographic the marketing department had in mind and that our adjectives and adverbs may not connect with their desired audience.  With that in mind, here are our "Exchange-a-pic(TM)" photos of the car with all adverbs and adjectives translated for their target market...

Kirkstone Pass

A Slightly soggy Kirkstone Pass

"Here's what you could've seen" #Bullseye

The spry (dope) C-HR was quite at home nipping around the windy lanes of the Lake District and its snazzy (lush) appearance certainly drew a few admiring glances.

Derwent Water

Although the weather conditions were somewhat inclement (totally sucked) the demisters were splendid (bae) when it came to clearing the windscreen.


One of our favourite views and a top spot with local fishermen (and ospreys during the summer).  Although we didn't venture far outside the car, the swish (on fleek) interior was the perfect place for a flask of tea and an eccles cake (netflix and chill - I'm not convinced that one's entirely accurate...)

Coast Road to Barrow

The C-HR was definitely a zippy (certy) little motor and was perfect for darting up and over Birkrigg Common.

Leighton Moss

Of course we took it to Leighton Moss - we LOVE Leighton Moss - our next book is about Leighton Moss.  In fact I'd go so far as to say that Leighton Moss is fandabidozi (snatched), the birds are fandabi-double-dozi (sick) and the cakes are fandabi-triple-dozi (absolutely mint).

Out in April 2017!
We were also really rather taken with the absolutely spiffing  (peak) attention to detail and quirky features such as...

It's a hybrid - cosmic! (reem)

The rather dapper (legit) interior

At night this illuminates the pavement as you approach the car - how
delightful! (fresh)

If you're now inspired to head down to Vantage in Morecambe to try out your new urban slang and take the car out for a test drive - don't forget to tell them it's totally boss and that Beth sent you. 😉