Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Same Old Cumbria

Some people are very sensitive about their age - honestly, I don't see the point because there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.  I'm at that age where bits of me are beginning to go wrong - my first pair of varifocals arrive next week and I'm unable to get up out of a chair without going "oooohhhh".  On a serious note I also think we should appreciate age more instead of constantly whining about it as growing old is a luxury denied to many.

At 50 I would like to think I'm about halfway through my innings as I have big plans to hit 100 and then some, but even that impressive old age is nothing compared to many of the oldest bits of Cumbria,  Seriously, if you think you're old, check out some of these...

The Oldest Humans

Langdale Valley & Pikes
Neolithic man (and woman) left us plenty of clues to their existence in the landscape - places like Castlerigg Stone Circle for example - but the one which fascinates me the most is the Neolithic Axe Factory on the flanks of the Langdale Pikes.  Dating back to around 4000BC the axe heads made here have been found all over the UK and give us a fascinating insight into how ancient man (and woman) traded and moved around the country to places like Lincolnshire, Peterborough and Northern Ireland.  You might think it's tricky facing the challenges of either Northern Rail or the M62 to cross the Pennines these days, but imagine what it was like back then.  There would have been no GoreTex, no fluffy down jackets and definitely no refreshment cart serving a selection of overpriced beverages and snacks.

The Oldest Rocks in Cumbria

Black Combe - doesn't look its age.
At 500 million years old The Skiddaw Group are the oldest rocks in the county - and where do you think one of the best places to see them is? That's right - Black Combe in the far SW of the county. Yes, yes, yes, alright, you can also see them around Skiddaw too - but if you're planning on visiting over a sunny bank holiday, trust me, Black Combe will be quieter.  The rocks started out as fine shales and muds on a deep sea bed and have since been squished, squeezed and baked into slates; if you've ever tried to come down Skiddaw via Carl Side, you'll know exactly the rocks I'm talking about.

The Oldest Road

Eden Valley
One of the earliest thoroughfares would most likely have been along the Eden Valley - a natural wide gap between the Pennines and the Lake District Fells formed thanks to the glaciers.  There's evidence of early stone age man making good use of the route and, of course, there is plenty of evidence of Romans in the area too with an old Roman Road running parallel to the M6 along much of the valley.  The Eden Valley still carries a number of main arterial routes - the West Coast Mainline, the M6, the A6 and the River Eden.  Not that anyone travels along the River Eden but they should because it's gorgeous. Although millions of people visit the Lake District National Park very year, only a tiny fraction of that number ever explore the Eden Valley, which is a real shame as there are plenty of beautiful walks, plus a divine chocolate factory in Orton.  Take a look a the Visit Eden webpage if you need more inspiration.

The Oldest Tree

Borrowdale Valley

The Borrowdale Yews are generally thought of as being the oldest trees in the county and it's likely they are over 800 years old - if you want to get all nerdy about it take a read of this report, full of fascinating facts and references to earlier studies.  I love trees in general and yews in particular - the trunks are usually so intricate and interesting and there is so much folklore associated with them too.  Slightly off topic but still on the subject of trees, if you're after the tallest tree in Cumbria you'll find it on the Wansfell Holme estate - it's a Grand Fir and stands at 57.8m high.  Some chap from the National Trust climbed to the top and, much as I love trees, I'm not sure I'd fancy trying that.

The Oldest Bloke 

Views from Humphrey Head
I'm not sure this really counts as they didn't find all of him, but when scientists excavated Kents Bank Cave (not a million miles from where the photo above was taken) they discovered a leg bone which was carbon dated to over 10,000 years old.  Other items and bones discovered during that excavation can be found at the Dock Museum in Barrow, which is a great place to head for an interesting family day out - there's loads on the industrial history of the region as well as lots of huge models of old boats and plenty of interactive displays and activities.

I promise our books aren't full of the "same old, same old"!  They are packed with fab photos and fun facts and we are happy to ship directly and cut out the Amazon middle man.  Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

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Saturday, 24 March 2018

Not all walks are uphill

I know that I'm lucky to live in Cumbria and I'm sure that many folks imagine that means that I am out up the fells every chance I get, but the reality is that I have to earn a crust and writing sadly doesn't pay all the bills yet.  This means that I often spend a lot of time travelling the country, staying in strange hotels and waking up in the mornings not entirely sure where I am - so how do I fit walking into a life like that and, more to the point for some folks, why should I?

You don't need me to tell you that walking is good for you but I think that too many people see it as a separate thing - something which needs to be dressed properly for with a water bottle in hand - but it doesn't have to be that way.  I was utterly horrified (strong words but true) to read this report from Public Health England which identified that 41% of adults in England aged between 40-60 fail to walk briskly for 10 minutes each MONTH.  Not week or day but MONTH.

Walking can be something we all slot in to our daily activities, however busy we are.  To give you an idea of what my last two weeks have been like, here are the places I've visited...

My days are crammed with travelling, working and trying to find my hotel so how do I fit in walking?

  • I never take a cab - that's a lie - I think I did, once, about 4 years ago when I left my phone in a training room and had to get back there before they closed.
  • Google Maps is my best friend - it always gets me from A to B.
  • If I do take a tube/ bus/ train or tram, where I can I get off one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
  • If I'm waiting on a train station (this happens a LOT usually thanks to Northern Rail) I walk around the station rather than sit in the waiting room jabbing at my phone.
View along Grange station

View from platform 14 at Manchester Piccadilly
  • I take the stairs where there's an option or walk up and down escalators at stations.
  • At hotels or client sites I avoid lifts and take the stairs - sometimes, at hotels, the stairs can be very well hidden and I enjoy the challenge of figuring out where they are...
  • I pack everything into my trusty little rucksack so walking and taking the stairs is easier.
And here's a big confession - I don't always feel like doing it.  I deliver training courses and I am on my feet all day so when I get to the station only to find there's yet another 20 minute delay because yet another member of the train crew has gone missing (seriously Northern Rail, what are you doing with them all?) I have to fight the urge to slump disconsolately into a seat in the waiting room and crack on with another level of Candy Crush.  So why do I do it?  I could list below all the health benefits of walking but here are the very personal and specific reasons that I do it:

  • It helps me to unwind
  • It takes me away from crowds of people - I've never been good in crowds
  • I see things I wouldn't normally spot
  • I enjoy a little peace and quiet
  • I get some fresh(ish!) air - definitely fresh on Grange station but notsomuch in central London
  • It gives me ideas and inspiration
  • It takes my mind off the delay
  • It's a little spot of "me time" after a day spent talking to people
I feel so passionately that everyone who can should walk more that I started a campaign called #WalkOneStop - you can find out more about it HERE.  All I want to do is encourage everyone to walk a little bit more whenever and wherever they can.  

Each week there is a new story in the news about obesity, cancer risks and the general non-movement of huge chunks of the population - and yet just a few short walks could really help to turn things around - did you know for example that an 11 coach Virgin Pendolino Train is roughly 250m long?  All you'd need to do is walk the entire length 6 times (avoiding picking up a bag of crisps at the onboard shop as you pass) and that's a mile sorted.  

I know I keep banging on about walking but honestly, #WalkOneStop - it could save your life.  😀

PPS.  Here are some of the fab things I spotted while walking around just in the past 2 weeks...












Manchester - KIDDING - Leeds. 😁



Sunday, 18 March 2018

Samuel Johnson was wrong

I've been travelling a lot for work lately and, last week, I was in London for a couple of days working in a trendy hotel which had lots of quotes around the wall and no visible reception desk (I appreciate it makes the foyer look larger but why on earth do away with a reception desk?  A couple of folks in suits perched at a table tapping away on their laptop could be anyone. Would you like me to go around pestering all of your guests until I find the one who happens to be on reception duties or simply hang around looking lost until someone takes pity on me?  But I digress...)

The quote which dominated the wall in the dining area was this "Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford" - well known words from Samuel Johnson.  He was speaking to his biographer James Boswell, trying to convince him that he wouldn't miss his native Scotland if he moved to the big smoke, but I couldn't help thinking that however leaned the man may have been, he definitely got it wrong with this one.  London is lovely in so many ways but it definitely doesn't have dibs on "all that life can afford" - for starters here are just a few of the things which Cumbria has that London doesn't.


London has plenty of places named hill but no real, proper, hills.  Primrose Hill is 65m high, Notting Hill isn't even a hill (it's only 36m above sea level) and the highest point in London, Betsom's Hill, is only 215m high and surely only counts as being "in London" on a technicality.  And, have you noticed how so many place names in London (and other cities for that matter), have retained the name of the thing which was flattened in order to make way for whatever is now built on top of them?  Places like Waltham Forest (although there are still a few small parks left), St Martin-in-the-Fields (which is on a busy junction right next to Trafalgar Square and miles from the nearest fields) and Wood Green which, despite having been both woodland and a large green space in the past, is now a "...busy urban activity centre with sizeable shopping area..."  I'm guessing updating those names would be bad for business; "St Martin-in-the-middle-of-a-crossroads" doesn't have the same ring to it.

So, Mr Johnson, London definitely appears to be lacking hills; the soaring peaks of the central Lake District, the comfortable familiarity of the Langdale Pikes and the gorgeous rolling hills around the Duddon Valley for starters...

View from Great Gable

Langdale Pikes

Orrest Head

Duddon Valley


There may be a few small lakes in London but anything you can walk around in under an hour without getting your boots muddy doesn't really count in my book.  Up here we have so many lakes they named an entire national park after them "The LAKE District" - in fact they are SO fab that we even got UNESCO World Heritage Status - tell that to Mr Boswell next time you see him.  As a comparison the Serpentine in London covers an area of 16 hectrares while Elterwater, the smallest "lake" in the Lake District, covers 17 hectares.  We are also home to the largest and the deepest lakes in England - Windermere and Wastwater respectively.



When I'm away in London on my travels, this is the thing I miss the most.  There is nowhere in London where I can find true peace and quiet - granted there are some lovely parks and quiet back streets, but at no point can I escape the distant hum of cars or take a deep breath knowing that there is no-one else for miles around.  To be fair, back in 1777, when Samuel Johnson muttered his now infamous words to his friend and biographer James Boswell, London probably did have a lot of really quiet corners (Wood Green was probably still woody and greeny for a start) - but these days it's hard to find true peace there.

Of course on a busy bank holiday it can be hard to find true peace in Cumbria too, but there are still plenty of quiet nooks where you can escape the crowds and the drone of the motor engine and enjoy the tranquillity and solitude that is so hard to find in London.

The Eden Valley

Smardale Gill

Black Combe

Unlike Samuel Johnson, people are not going to be quoting our books in 250 years time but, then again, you never know!  They are full of fab photos and fun facts and we are happy to ship directly and cut out the Amazon middle man.  Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

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Saturday, 10 March 2018

What's in a name?

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle around here over the past week or so on account of the fact that two of our local radio stations have been swallowed up by a big corporation and have consequently changed their names.  The Bay is now Heart and Lakeland Radio is now Smooth.  I'm pretty sad about it to be honest as they just don't feel local anymore.  When I was driving home up the M6 I used to get excited around about Preston as I jabbed at the radio dial trying to find The Bay to welcome me home - I can listen to Heart anywhere these days but I could only listen to The Bay at home.  It got me thinking about names and how important they are to us, so here are a few stories behind the names of local landmarks which we've discovered as we've researched our books.

Scafell Pike

Heading out to Scafell Pike
It's more the pronunciation of this which causes the problem with most folks either in the Scawfell or Scarfell camps, though there are plenty of Scaffel fans too.  The original name comes from ancient Norse and translates as "Bald Summit" and for our 50 Gems of Cumbria book we tracked down a couple of experts in ancient Norse to hear how it should be pronounced - but if you want to know what
they had to say then you'll have to read the book!  What I can tell you is that up until the 1800's the term "Scawfell" (as it was then written) referred to a collection of 4 peaks in the general area, including what is now known as Scafell Pike - although that name didn't really begin to catch on until the early 1900's.

Jenny Brown's Point

This is a popular spot near Silverdale with an equally popular story surrounding its name.  Local folklore tells us that it is named after a nanny who rescued the children in her charge from drowning at that spot.  Chances are this isn't the case and there's no evidence to back up the story,  What we do know is that in the 1600's a woman named Jenny Brown was named as a beneficiary in a will and lived in a house in the area, but it's still not clear why the point is named after her.  There's also a lot of debate as to what purpose the chimney served; Morecambe Bay Partnership are doing a lot of archaeological work to get to the bottom of that one and you can follow their updates here.


Bat Cave?
There are at least three Borrowdale's in Cumbria and probably more - the name means "valley with fort" so if you find a Borrowdale you'll most likely find the remains of a fort somewhere nearby.  We've written many times about "the other Borrowdale" just north of Kendal (Kendal = Kent Dale) which has the remains of a Roman fort buried under a field at the far end of the valley.  It is a beautifully deserted place to walk just about any time of the year although I have my suspicions that the Bat Cave may be nearby...

Haggs Wood

The "Kirk" in Kirkby Lonsdale
There are a lot of Haggs in Cumbria, and I'm not being rude.  A "hagg" or "hag" was the name given to a bunch of fodder, typically holly, which was fed to sheep over the winter.  Apparently if you take the branches higher up they're not so prickly and the sheep don't mind them.  The word "holly" often evolved into "Hollins" and explains the number of "Hollins Farms" in the region.


Not surprising that there's loads of these too as it means "village with a church" - Kirkby Lonsdale, Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby-in-Furness (Furness means "rump shaped headland" so now you know!)  Kirk is the "church" part and Kirkstone Pass got its name from a large stone towards the top which looks like a church steeple are you approach - you'll probably need to drive over 2 or 3 times before you spot the stone but once you spot it, it's easy to see how it got its name.

There are TONS of interesting and unusual facts crammed into our books - buy them, read them, and impress your friends with all the things you know. Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

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