Friday, 28 June 2019

Brewers Loop - the first trimester...

Yes, I know that a trimester is technically 3 months, but it feels like we've been going for a really long time...

As well as hiking with it we have already taken the cask on a horse & cart, steam train, canoe and bike and today we swam with it along Rydal Water.  So what have we learned so far?

1. The cask is heavy. 10kg may not sound a lot but try dragging it up a fell.

2. It's a cask. Not a keg and definitely NOT a barrel. (Plus, if it was a barrel we'd probably be going over Niagara Falls in it...)

3. Everyone assumes it's full. It's not because a) that would make it even heavier and b) the beer would go off, and we don't want that on our conscience.

4. It floats. To be fair, Unsworths Brewery (who loaned us the cask) always told us it would, but now we have proven it.

5.  It's blooming hard canoeing into a headwind. Our trip up Windermere with Distant Horizons was properly challenging.

6.  It doesn't roll around much. We thought we'd have to strap it down on the cycling day with Grizedale Mountain Bikes, but it was very well behaved.

7. We have bonded with it & it has a name. In fact it has several. It's been given a new name every day to match the person or the adventure. Today it was Suzanna Caskshank in honour of our swimming guide. Who knows what it will be tomorrow.

8.  Windermere YHA is NOT in Windermere. It's in Troutbeck & they need to change the name.

9.  It may be made of alluminium but it's magnetic & attracts a lot of attention wherever we are.

10. People are very generous. Lots of folks we've met on the fells have given us generous donations in our collecting pots. If you want to support our Mountain Rescue appeal you can find out more right here.

Thank you. 😀

Monday, 17 June 2019

Cumbria - More than just fells...

This week The Guardian ran a lovely article, much shared across social media, all about exploring the Cumbrian coast by train and how there's more to the county than the Lake District.  Well, I'm not knocking them, I'm just glad they finally noticed... 😉

We've been banging on for ages about the fact that the Lake District only accounts for 1/3 of the county and that there is so much else to explore.  This week we teamed up with those lovely folks at Vantage Motor Group - Toyota Morecambe Dealership who gave us a brand spanking new Toyota Rav 4 to play with so we could get out there and really have some fun - on the two days we had to play we decided to explore an amazing beach and a wonderful forest full of hidden surprises.

Day 1 Silecroft Beach

Easily one of my favourite beaches in the county - I  mean, just look at it, it's gorgeous!

View through the rear window of the Rav 4
Silecroft has SO much going for it - miles of golden sand (at low tide), a great little beach cafe serving top notch ice creams, toilets, and plenty of free parking.  Just a short walk away in the village centre is The Miners Arms, a traditional English village pub and if you fancy stretching your legs then beautiful Black Combe is right next door with a clear and easy to follow route leading up from the village.

Plenty of parking

We parked up, full of plans for adventures but I'll be brutally honest, we were both absolutely exhausted at the end of one of the most insane weeks of our lives - it wasn't just the royal visit, it was all the things we had to move around to fit it in, plus all the arrangements, recce walks and nervous energy burned up along the way.  So we decided to test out some of the other capabilities of the Rav4 - we'd popped a duvet and pillows in the back to mock up creating a bed as we thought it would make for a few fun photos.  The problem was that after we set up the bed to take the photos we both climbed in and fell fast asleep for an hour or so!  (Yes, it must be my age - I'm 52 tomorrow!!)

On the plus side, we're happy to report that should you choose to use your Rav 4 for a spot of camping, it will be absolutely perfect.  We even found a way to open the tailgate without leaving the car (so *that's* what selfie sticks are for!)

Given that it was such a beautiful sunny day, we really didn't want to go home so we nipped into nearby Millom to pick up a picnic and settled in to enjoy the sunset.

Plenty of room for a picnic

Perfect sunset
 Day 2 - Grizedale Forest

Feeling somewhat ashamed that we'd been loaned a proper "action and adventure" car and all we'd done thus far was take a kip in the back of it, we decided to up the ante on day 2 and headed for Grizedale Forest.  The guys at Vantage had fitted a bike rack to the top of the car for us so Steve popped the bikes into place and off we went (I would say that you need to be pretty tall or have a stool/ steps around to help with that part.)

 Despite the fact that we'd brought my bike with us, I honestly couldn't face a ride so while Steve jumped on his bike and zoomed off, I took a nice gentle 3 mile walk up to the visitors centre.  We both managed to spot plenty of the fabulous art scattered around the forest on our travels.


Of course as well as all the art, Grizedale forest is well known for its adventure activities and we saw plenty of those too.

So I'm happy to report that (for once!) The Guardian is correct - there *is* a lot more to Cumbria than the lakes, so it was a very good job we had a "go anywhere" vehicle allowing us explore it all.

The Rav 4

So, what was the car like?  Well we have an older Rav 4 so the driving experience wasn't massively different - although the car was an awful lot cleaner than ours (sorry Vantage - but there's always something more fun to do than cleaning the car!) .  There were oodles of safety features that left us feeling reassuringly safe and we were definitely comfortable - I especially liked the two setting heat warmers as I have a dodgy back and find them a godsend even in summer.  And I know this is a tiny thing, but I was very taken by the lovely blue stitching around the interior - it all felt very luxurious.

We were both impressed with how surprisingly nippy it was and the fact that you really couldn't tell when it switched from electric to 'regular engine'.  I think we also demonstrated that there is plenty of room in the back for sleeping (and storage!) and the rack space on top means you have everything you need for a perfect adventure weekend away.

Our car was loaned to us by Vantage Motor Group- Toyota Morecambe Dealership and I'm sure they'd be delighted to book you in for a test drive (or a test snooze!) any time you fancy.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Our First Guided Walk

If you’ve followed this blog for a while then you’ll know that we’ve been toying with the idea of offering guided walks in Cumbria.  To be honest we’ve been so busy that we haven’t really had time to do much about it, so it was a bit of a surprise when we received a phone call one day to say that a lovely young couple from London wanted us to guide them on a short walk around the Lake District. I remember it well; it was May Bank holiday Monday (the second one) and we were indulging in that most British of Bank Holiday pastimes, painting and decorating. 

Full image credit Owen Humphreys@OwenHumphreys1
I’m a messy painter and was covered head to toe in a fetching shade of ‘Rustic Sage’ which, despite what it says on the tin, looks more like ‘Chip Shop Mushy Pea’, but I digress.  Stephen Trotter, Chief Exec of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, was busy telling me that Kensington Palace had asked for us by name, as representatives of Cumbria Wildlife Trust,  to guide the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a short walk around Cumbria.  It had never crossed my mind that we’d have to address our first ever customers as “Your Royal Highness”, but that’s what I love about life; you really do never know what’s about to come around the corner.
Full image credit Kensington Palace

We were sworn to secrecy – although the majority of the day was publicised well in advance this walk to was to be a low key and relaxed affair, plus the remote location really wasn’t geared up for thousands of visitors to descend en masse, so we didn’t tell a soul.  I’m not good with secrets; if you’ve ever watched Big Bang Theory, I’m a little like Sheldon when it comes to keeping things a secret and during the final few days avoided replying to my friends or posting things on social media for fear that something would slip out.

Full image credit Kensington Palace

As we made plans with the palace I was keen to reassure them that I’d recently attended my outdoor first aid course and, should the need arise, would be able to whittle up a splint, create a sling from a fleecy jumper and apply sphagnum moss to any and all wounds.  At this point they may have been questioning my guiding abilities. 

Ullswater (Steve Pipe)
The run up to the day passed in a rather surreal haze and before we knew it we were lining up on a farm track ready to meet the Duke and Duchess.  Of course we were nervous, we were about to spend 30 minutes as alone as mere mortals get with two of the most recognisable people on the planet.  From the moment they stepped out of the car it was clear we had nothing at all to worry about; they were both every bit as friendly and down to earth as they appear on TV and within a few minutes I found myself chatting to the Duke of Cambridge as we led them up the first section of the walk.

Full image credit Kensington Palace
Well, when I say I was chatting, what I mean is that I was doing my level best not to hyperventilate while trying to say something of interest about the landscape.  In an effort to make the most of the short amount of time we had available we’d opted for a short but very sharp climb to our first viewpoint; a brilliant plan in many respects but it ruled out coherent sentences on my part for a minute or two.
Patterdale (Steve Pipe)
From there it was another short but more gentle climb to an incredibly picturesque bench, thankfully with plenty of pauses along the way to admire the view.  The Duke and Duchess were incredibly knowledgeable and clearly very fond of the landscape but they also showed a keen interest and asked plenty of questions and I was very glad that we had David Harpley with us – David is the Conservation Manager for Cumbria Wildlife Trust and he was able to tell them about the fantastic work that the trust do to maintain, preserve and improve the landscape.

Full image credit Owen Humphreys @OwenHumphreys1
I’m not going to spill the beans on exactly where the bench is – if you know the area then you know the bench – I’ve never been involved in a Royal visit before and I wouldn’t want to encourage hundreds of people to descend on a small, remote, area to follow in Royal footsteps. I’m also not going to go into detail about what we discussed; there were some lovely moments and some comments which really made me smile.

Full image credit Kensington Palace

That said, they were both absolutely lovely – very natural and very ‘real’, with no airs and graces.  It was especially lovely to see them with the group of children from a local school who we met half way around our route.  Both the Duke and the Duchess got down to their level to chat about nature and wildlife and they readily joined in the short session delivered by Jamie Normington, Education Officer for CumbriaWildlife Trust.

Full image credit Kensington Palace
All too soon the walk was over and we were back to their waiting cars.  Just time for a few gifts – we gave them a bag containing three of our books (Gin, Cake and Rucksacks, Cumbria in Photographs and The Old Ways of Cumbria), together with a bottle of locally made Shed 1 Gin and a personally carved Twigpen (by The Twigpen People) for them and their children, plus a beautiful card by Sam Martin Art. Jamie gave them a copy of The Lost Words (click here to see how he’s raising money to provide 200 schools in Cumbria with a copy of the book) and David gave them a family membership to Cumbria Wildlife Trust . (If you want to download the free wildlife walks we wrote for Cumbria Wildlife Trust then you can find them all here.)

After a final round of goodbyes they were whisked away, ending their day visiting Cumbria, and we were left with many happy memories of the afternoon.  Of course we’re being realistic about our future plans for guided walks and we know that not everyone we guide will be a future heir to the throne.  With that in mind I want to make it quite clear that you do not have to be a Duke or a Duchess to engage our guiding services, other royal titles will also be considered...

The Bench (Steve Pipe)
(And I don’t think I put my foot in it on the walk, but I’ve not ruled out “Life inside the Tower of London” as the title for my next blog!)

PS As we're HUGE supporters of Cumbrian businesses here are a few of the other folks involved in the day.  Mine & Steve's boots came from the lovely folks at Keswick Boot Company, my bright orange scarf was from the Herdy Co (who do a LOT to support the local farming community) and my necklace (which sadly didn't make it into any photos) was from Go Your Own Way .

BEFORE YOU GO:  You can buy all of the books, including the ones we gifted to the Duke and Duchess, right here.  COVID has hit us pretty hard so any and all sales are deeply appreciated.

You can also support this blog by chipping in to buy us a virtual coffee, or leave us a tip, using Ko-Fi - it's really easy and every penny is helping us to buy the software we need to reinvent our business and move forwards.  Thank you. 

Saturday, 8 June 2019


We all remember playing conkers as a kid.  How many of us tried all the "special tactics" of soaking them in vinegar or baking them in the oven?  For us there was the added adventure of throwing things into the "conker tree" to dislodge a particularly juicy specimen, or trying to climb up to reach the one tantalisingly just beyond our grasp...and then there was the perilous task of trying to thread a cord through them.  We all remember it.  You probably just smiled at some long forgotten memory as you read that, conkers were just part of being a kid, but not any more it seems...
Jamie Normington (Education and Community Officer for Cumbria Wildlife Trust) is walking the entire Coast to Coast route to raise money for both Autism Awareness and to supply 200 schools in Cumbria with the superb The Lost Words book by Robert MacFarlance and Jackie Morris.  The book was inspired by the words vanishing from the Oxford Junior Dictionary - words like adder, dandelion, kingfisher and conker.  The book is filled with poignant short poems by Robert and gloriously illustrated by Jackie and is truly a thing of great beauty.

But why should we care if these words are vanishing?  Surely the world moves on and that's just the way of things?  The problem is that if people lose a connection with nature, even at the most basic level, they will stop caring about it and caring about nature, and protecting the environment is key to our survival.

As part of his walk Jamie is delivering assemblies to all the schools along his route (well, as many as he can reasonably cram in!) and, on top of that, he's also giving the occasional evening talk.  As we walked with him along a short section of his route around Patterdale yesterday we were chatting about the project and one story he told me really hit home.  He was delivering a talk to a group of 40 people, 38 adults and 2 children and, as part of the talk, he showed a picture of a couple of kids playing conkers and asked if the 2 children in the audience knew what was going on.  They didn't.  One of them asked if they were playing with acorns (on the bright side, at least they knew what an acorn was!)  How sad is that?

I was an urban kid.  I grew up on a council estate with a park at the end of the road and a strip of rough ground behind the house.  There were also 4 or 5 big "conker trees" in the middle of some large gravel patches which became the focus of our attention every autumn.  We didn't have any money and "playing out" was free, but from "playing out" I learned about seasons (conker season in particular), we made dens in hawthorn and learned how to avoid the prickly bushes and we also scoffed blackberries in the autumn and knew how to deal with nettle stings.  I learned all this first hand, some of it the hard way, and it had a lot more impact than learning it from Google.

Jamie is hugely passionate about his mission and, although I've not seen him in action, I should imagine he's enormously entertaining in school assemblies and great at driving his message home.  You can follow his epic trek on Twitter here or go directly to his Virgin Money Giving page to learn more about his mission and make a donation.

Jamie with Lost Words at Angle Tarn

The danger is that if we lose the words we could lose the species and if we lose too many species then "human" may also become a lost word.