Friday, 11 September 2020

How the other half live

North Walney

“Will this do for a lunch spot?”  Amanda pointed towards a nice sandy spot in the middle of the dunes.

“Looks good to me!” Chris smiled and slipped off the tatty old backpack, depositing it onto the sand with a gentle thud.

“Eeewww – sweaty back!”

“I can’t help it, it’s a hot day – oooh that feels nice.” Chris’s t-shirt billowed out as a cool breeze caught it. 

Amanda was already busy unpacking the picnic – sandwiches, tea, cake – she lined them up in the sand between them.  “Where are the crisps?”

“Front pocket”

“Got them!”

They sat together eating lunch and taking in the view.  On a clear sunny day like this North Walney had a hint of the Caribbean about it, with light sandy beaches stretching off into the distance and sparkling blue sea surrounding the dunes. 

An aeroplane passed overhead, descending on its way into the local airport.

Chris squinted into the sky, staring intently at the plane.  “A Gulfstream G500 – nice.  Very nice.”

“You are such a plane nerd!” teased Amanda.

“That,” said Chris “is one of the most exclusive private jets in the world.  The whole of the interior is lined with leather and wood, with made to measure seats – it even has marble floors; and all for just £44 million or so, depending on the finish.”

“Forty four million pounds?”  Amanda watched as it flew by.  “ I think I just saw a face at the window – couldn’t see who it was, must be someone famous.  Imagine having all that money.  You’d never have to worry about paying the mortgage again, or fixing the car.”  She pulled at the sleeve of her t-shirt, studying a fresh hole that had appeared there that morning.

“I’m sure they have their own worries.”

“Yeah, but money wouldn’t be one of them!”  The plane disappeared out of sight behind the dunes and down into the airport.  “What would you do if we had that sort of money?”

“It’s almost impossible to say – I can’t really imagine it.  We could get a swimming pool for a start, although I’m not sure where we’d put it.”

Amanda snorted “Where would we put it?  With that sort of money we could get a whole new house!  I’m thinking two pools, one indoor and one out!”

Chris poured another mug of tea from their blue flask, battered and chipped with the scars of previous adventures. “We could get a bigger flask too! Or push the boat out and get two!”

“Sod the flasks – we could fly to India and buy our own tea plantation!  We’d make sure all the workers were well paid and looked after, of course.”

“Of course” Chris smiled.

“And we could buy a massive woodland somewhere and protect it – but still let people come and visit so they could see the birds.  Maybe we could have a café with the best cakes in the world – I know, we’ll get Mary Berry in to bake them all!”

“I’m not sure she’d agree…”

“Of course she would, she must be bored now she’s not on Bake Off any more.”

“And just how do you plan to get all of this money?  Got a rich relative you’ve not told me about?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  We could buy a lottery ticket on the way home.  I’m feeling lucky!”  Amanda snuggled up next to Chris who draped a protective arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close.

Chris kissed the top of her head and smiled. “I think we’re both pretty lucky as it is. Do you want the last swig of tea?” and handed Amanda the mug.


The plane taxied to a halt.  Princess Margareta uncrossed her elegant legs and slowly stood up; she smoothed down the creases in her white linen skirt and walked over to the mirror in the private bathroom suite.  Peering at her reflection she twisted her head to see if any grey hairs were showing, then stretched the skin around her eyes to hide the few wrinkles which had begun to grow there.

“You look gorgeous.”

She turned to smile at Sarah, stood in the doorway.

“You always say that.”

 “Short red power jacket or comfy green coat?” Sarah held up the two options for Margareta to choose from.

“Let’s go with the red, I need all the help I can get today.”

Sarah hung the green coat on the back of the door and handed over the red jacket.

Taking the jacket with one hand, Margareta brushed a hair from Sarah’s face with the other, allowing it to rest for a moment on her cheek as their eyes met. 

Sarah reached up and covered Margareta’s hand with her own, pressing it closer to her cheek, before removing it from her face and gently kissing her palm.

Margareta sighed. “I am so tired of this.  Why can’t I just be me?  Why can’t we be together like normal people?”

“Because we just can’t.  It is what it is. Can you imagine the headlines?  I could never do that to you or your family.”

“Times were different when we first met, I could understand it back then, but the world has moved on, surely they would accept us now?”  She squeezed Sarah’s hand, still locked tightly in her own.

“The press would have a field day.  ‘Gay Princess Never Loved Late Husband’ –  that’s just what they’re like.  Archie was a good man, we both know that.”

Margareta sighed. “You’re right; I know you are, it just feels so unfair.  Did you see those two women on the beach as we flew over just now?  Cuddled up close, enjoying a picnic in the sunshine and not a care in the world.”  She let go of Sarah’s hand and slipped on the red jacket, scooping her hair out from under the collar and allowing it to tumble around her shoulders. “What I wouldn’t give to be just like them – we could go anywhere and do anything and no one would give a damn.”

“I know, but we still have so much.”

Margareta sighed and gently kissed Sarah’s cheek.  They stood for a moment, foreheads touching, no words needed. Then, turning, she took a deep breath, pulled back her shoulders and made her way to the plane exit.

She paused at the cabin door, looking backwards to Sarah for one last reassuring glance.  Sarah bobbed out her tongue causing Margareta to giggle, before quickly composing herself.  She then fixed her smile and stepped out of the aircraft and into the bright sunshine to greet the officials awaiting her arrival on the tarmac.

If you enjoy short stories based in Cumbria then check out my book - it has 10 shot stories, all set in the county, with photos and a location guide for each chapter.  CLICK HERE to buy yours (Currently only available via Amazon)

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Alone again, naturally

One thing that is becoming more apparent to me as lockdown restrictions ease, is that I'm a bit of a freak.  I mean, I've always known I was a bit weird, but now I feel as if I am decidedly odd, and definitely at odds with most of the rest of the country.

I adored the solitude of lockdown.  I have loved being at home.  I still do - I am not remotely bored with it.

Days gradually became a whirl of Zoom meetings and delivering online courses, punctuated with lovely leisurely lunches of freshly made sarnies and a proper cup of tea.  Every morning and evening I would wander off into nearby Eggerslack woods, following barely trodden paths to enjoy time completely alone, far away from the rest of the world and the ping of my mobile phone.  I saw deer - honest I did - though the varmints always legged it before I could get my camera out.

Then I broke my leg.  Not the worst thing in the world by a long way, but it meant my solitary walks in the woods were off the agenda - way off.

Week one wasn't so bad as I was completely housebound and we're lucky enough to have enough space to escape each other - although still close enough for Steve to hear my pleas for a cup of tea (most of the time!)

Week two onward was when I really began to feel it - the fact that I couldn't escape anywhere alone.  At a time when restrictions were easing and friends were excitedly heading off on holidays, or meeting up with other friends and family, all I wanted was to do was to go for a walk alone.  Completely alone.  Like I did in the woods.

Although I could get around a bit more, I could only tackle flat tarmac and, even then, only for short distances, as I rebuilt the strength in my leg.  The thing is, just about all nice flat walks with a view are incredibly popular.  We found quieter spots, but I craved solitude at a time when everyone else in the world seemed to be craving other people.

Morecambe - perfect place for a flat walk

I tried not to get cranky, but I may, on occasion, have failed.  I read an article about a child who had been desperately sick but "not complained once" - sadly the same would never be said of me.  If there's one thing my broken leg and lack of mobility has taught me, it's that I am going to be a hell of a handful when I'm old and less mobile.  Seriously, I will be a cantankerous old moo and possibly the scourge of any retirement home I end up in.  Remember Waiting for God?  Diana will seem angelic by comparison.

Desperate to push myself to regain some independence and solitude I persuaded Steve that Hoad Hill in Ulverston would be a great idea.  True, there would be people, but if we went late in the day and took the pretty way down we could enjoy some peace.  It worked - and my leg didn't fare too badly.  (It's week 6 - I was expecting to be throwing somersaults by now.)

Lulled into a dangerous sense of "I'm fine now, honest I am" I suggested Black Combe for Bank Holiday Monday.  I love Black Combe.  I mean *really* love it.  Steve tried suggesting it was, perhaps, a little ambitious.  I fixed him with my "Diana stare".  He relented.  Game on!

I struggled in a couple of places on the way up - a few slightly steeper sections that I simply did not have the strength in my leg to pull myself up - but I am nothing if not sheer bloody minded.  We took a long lunch break half way up in the sunshine and eventually made it to the top around 3pm, where I collapsed in the shelter with a flask of hot tea and a handful of painkillers - but I'd made it - and the best part lay ahead!

Solitude at last!
Pretty much everyone who goes up Black Combe returns down the same path.  Not me.  I head off the northern side, dropping down to Butcher's Breast then following the path along the bottom back to Silecroft. Yes, it was far too far and overly ambitious and yes, I was in a huge amount of pain by the end of it.  BUT we only saw one other person between leaving the summit around 3:15pm and limping back to the car just before 8pm.  Solitude.  Utterly blissful solitude.  

Every single ounce of pain was worth spending time alone on a beautiful hillside, on an utterly perfect day.  I totally understand that, for many folks, the exact opposite is true, and it's fantastic to see friends excited about spending time together again but, for now at least, I will relish the opportunity to get back to my precious, solitudinous, walks.  

Whoop Whoop!

Fell Cottage - every time we pass I dream of living here...

Selling books was an absolute lifeline for us through lockdown.  If you want to support us by buying our books, you can find them all right here.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Touching the Gin

A blog inspired by Joe Simpson's book, but with less blood and more gin.

As pretty much all of you will be aware, I am currently off the fells and nursing a broken foot.  I don't even have a god story to go with it - I was spring cleaning and fell downstairs when I was looking for the feather duster.  The best part is, it turns out the feather duster was upstairs all along.  Anyhoo...

Being incapacitated for a couple of weeks and now being mobile but slow and wobbly has given me time to reflect on all the teeny tiny things about hiking that I have been taking for granted but can now no longer do.  I like to think of myself as someone who has always pondered the smaller details, but there's a lot I have missed.

Also, although this is a light and cheery blog, these events have totally driven home to me issues around access to the outdoors that I had not previously considered.  That's a topic I am not even remotely qualified to tackle, but if you're interested in learning more about that then follow Debbie North, she's the accessibility champion for Julia Bradbury's The Outdoor Guide.

Right, back to the list of things I have missed...

1. Carrying things - for the first two weeks I was totally reliant on my crutches and couldn't even carry a cup of tea.  I repurposed my rucksack for a lot of the carrying and using flasks for hot drinks, but a G&T simply does not taste the same out of a flask.

2.  Pulling on a fresh pair of walking socks - who knew socks were so complicated?  I can just about do them on my own now - on the plus side I had to invest in some very snazzy long socks to go under my aircast.  Whaddya think?

3. The comforting feeling of a good pair of walking boots - I *love* my boots but it's going to be a good 6 weeks or so before I can wear them again.  Or at least wear both of them.  I love the safe and secure feeling of lacing them up and knowing I'm good to go!

4.  Walking without pain - a small thing but worth mentioning.  Walking has always been my 'thing' - not just on the fells but everywhere.  I have walked through towns and cities whenever I can - you always learn so much more about a place that way.  Now that every single step is at best uncomfortable (when I walk in the house) and at worst really painful (after 100 yards or so) I truly miss the ease with which I walked everywhere without giving it a second thought.

5. The sound of grass on my boots.  I *love* this sound.  I posted this short video on my FB page a month or so ago but hardly anyone paid it any attention so I assume it's just me.  There's a very specific sound long grass makes when it bounces off my boots and I love it!

(I *always* get my boots from the fab folks at Keswick Boot Company)

6.  Stiles.  Oh how I have bitched and moaned about stiles at the end of a long hike when all I want is a gate, but no more!  I realise a) how lucky I am to be able to hop over a stile and b) how utterly prohibitive they are if you are less mobile.

7.  Going out alone.  This whole 'new normal' has taken a bit of getting used to for me.  In the past my job saw me travelling the length and breadth of the country and now I never need to leave the house for work.  To restore some sanity I had created a 'fake commute' where each morning and evening I would go for a walk to top and tail my working day - it truly was a sanity saver.  Thing is, for now, I am not allowed out on my own.  I voluntarily handed in my crutches at the earliest opportunity so as not to get overly reliant on them and to get my foot moving again as soon as possible (Doc said he was OK with it if I was), but it's still early days and I need a walking pole on one arm and a bloke on the other.  Don't get me wrong, Steve is indeed a wonderful man, but I do miss going out on my own.

8.  The people I meet - during my fake commute I've chatted to plenty of people and really enjoyed getting to know a few 'regulars' that I'd bump into most mornings. Obviously I've no way of letting them know I'm out of action, and I wonder if they have even noticed I've vanished, but I do miss the quick chats and making friends with assorted dogs.

9.  Being invisible - this one was a big shock to me.  I've often heard people say that they feel invisible in wheelchairs but, for me, it has been the exact opposite.  In order to cover a reasonable distance at a reasonable speed, we gratefully accepted the loan of a wheelchair from a lovely friend.  This enabled us to get all the way from Hest Bank to Morecambe Jetty and back over the weekend.  Never have I been so stared at!  We made the journey with a combo of me walking a little then Steve pushing me in the chair.  When I was in the chair I was constantly stared at and was quite taken aback that no-one thought it a particularly rude thing to do.  Mind you, Steve wasn't to be entirely trusted with wheelchair duty...

10.  Chocolate biscuits!  Honestly - you thought lockdown was bad! I'm barely burning any calories at the moment so am on a strict 'no snacks' diet.  Oh how I miss a long day yomping over the fells with a rucksack full of sarnies and chocolate, and coming home to a huge pizza or plate of pasta, knowing that I have burned it all off during the day.  I've replaced my favourite chocolate digestive with raw carrots, which I quite enjoy, but it's not the same.  Thanks to the lovely folks at Shed 1, who sent me this as a get well pressie, I can still enjoy my gin ration in the evenings!  Cheers!

And if gin is your thing - check out our Gin, Cake and Rucksacks book where I explore the gin distilleries of Cumbria with a complete stranger.  I'm amazed we didn't break anything then, to be honest!
Click here to order

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Please help Mountain Rescue

If you follow this blog you will know that I very rarely host a guest piece or include news items, but this is crucial.  Mountain Rescue are buckling under the strain of dealing with calls from ill prepared hikers.  Ranting and raging does nothing to help but education does.

Please have a read of the press release below and share it far and wide - to help Mountain Rescue we need to help people understand the risks they take in the fells and how to be better prepared for them.  

Thank you.

Rescuers Plea for Help 

Cumbria Police and the Lake District’s Mountain Rescue Team’s have seen a tidal wave of avoidable rescues that is putting a real strain on our volunteer team members and is unsustainable. Since last Friday evening we have had 19 callouts in the Lake District with a focus on the Wasdale team with 9 of these incidents. Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team cover Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England and a magnet for walkers and climbers. Many of our walkers and climbers are very experienced and know exactly what they are doing. However, 11 of the callouts were truly avoidable with inexperienced and ill prepared walkers finding themselves in serious, life threatening trouble being either missing or lost. 

The Cumbria weather which was accurately forecasted this weekend has caught out many but Cumbria Police have also commented that many are dialling in ‘999’ calls with as little as 1% battery remaining on their mobile phones. This means that after the initial call their battery dies and the mountain rescue team cannot get back to them which makes finding them a bigger challenge requiring more numbers of the volunteers. Many are relying on smart phone mapping apps which drain batteries and no back up. 

The rescue on Scafell Pike late on Saturday night in forecasted atrocious conditions for a family group of three lasted 12 hours and involved five rescue teams. 

Stay vacation holidays are introducing a new type of visitor to the National Parks and the current quarantine rules has the potential to make the matter worse. North Wales is experiencing a similar problem and we are sure that the same is being felt across many of the UK’s outdoor holiday destinations, great for the economy but a real issue for the volunteer rescue teams. 

What can you personally do as a new or even regular visitor to help our volunteer teams? 

Exercise within your limits and avoid taking risks. Know your level of skill, competence and experience and those of your group. Make sure you have the right equipment for your trip to the hills and valleys noting that many of our callouts are low down in the valley bottoms. Learn how to navigate, take a water proof map and a compass, don’t rely on smart phone technology it can let you down. Take a torch, even on the longest days, you never know when your activity will catch you out or you go to the help of a fallen, cragfast or lost walker. Take a power bank battery charger it will save you a lot of grief plus allow you to take even more of the memory photos. 

Be kind to our volunteers and respectful to our emergency service, our rural communities and to our farmers. 

There is good and essential advice on the website Adventure Smart UK 

So Stay Safe: #BeAdventureSmart make your good day better.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Five things that made me smile in lockdown

Following on from the previous blog where I was possibly a little less perky than usual - at least that's the way I was feeling when I wrote it - I thought I'd follow it up with something rather more chirpy.  As restrictions ease (I was going to add 'at least for now' but let's be optimistic!) many of us are emerging from the experience rather differently to the way we went in.

The headlines may have focused on the folks who seem to have little respect for the landscape but for many of us it's been about learning new skills, making new friends and appreciating the smaller things in life.

Here are 5 things which have really made me smile over the past few months.

1.  Walks in the sunshine

As I type this it is *pouring* down outside but, let's face it, the weather during lockdown has been amazing!  I still haven't ventured more than 5 miles from our home and during the main lockdown I barely went out at all.  But when we did get out we truly appreciated the fresh air, open spaces and wonderful warm sunshine.  The day the photo above was taken we'd been out for 6 hours and only saw 4 other people - 2 near the start and 2 near the end.  Perfect!

2.  Our Saturday nights in the virtual pub with friends

During the first weekend one of our very good friends, who happens to be an events organiser, created a virtual pub.  There have been talks, charades which have to be mimed using stuffed toys and, of course, a pub quiz.  Everyone has been really inventive with their rounds so me & Steve pitched in.  We started by creating really bad drawings of famous events from history (Mo Farrah winning the 5000m at the London Olympics - obviously 😂) and progressed to making models of cartoon characters (Marvin the Martian - how could you not get that one from our superb recreation? 😁).  We laughed as much putting the rounds together as we did watching the looks on everyone's face as they tried to figure out what it was...

3.  Posh Sunday lunch

One of the highlights was definitely being offered the chance to try out Simon Rogan at Home.  We are lucky enough to live within shouting distance of L'enclume but have never had the cash to visit.  I'll be honest (and Steve will cringe when he reads this, but knows what I'm like!) I was worried it would be 'poncy piles of food' and we'd need a bag of oven chips on standby!  I couldn't have been more wrong!  There was TONS of food - so much that we had mains at lunch time and pud for tea,  All the food is freshly made that morning and comes with full and very easy to follow re-heating instructions.  I was delighted as I've always loved how hard Simon Rogan and his team work to support our local community.  The Simon Rogan at Home 3 course dinner is just £30 or the 2 course Sunday Roast with all the trimmings is just £25. The only downside is that, for now, it's only available in South Cumbria (but they will be expanding their delivery areas) - so check it out next time you're here!

4.  A fizz fuelled lockdown birthday

Yes, I'm one of the folks who has had a birthday in lockdown.  Luckily, these days, I'm not much of a party animal so it wasn't much different to other years.  A few years ago we ran off to Scotland in our camper van to celebrate my 50th with only otters for company.  This year we were obviously at home and managed a soggy toddle in the morning before I hit the airwaves in the evening.  I had full permission from the studio boss to start on the bubbly on song 9 (if you're a Eurovision fan, you'll understand the significance, especially as song 9 was an obscure but lovely Eurovision entry from Malta many years ago!), and he also allowed me an extra 30 mins so I could cram in all my very favourite tunes.  I had an absolute blast!  (You can catch my show Wed/ Thur/ Fri 5-7pm and Sat 9am - 12noon right here.)

5.  Spending more time at home, with him.

Pre lockdown my life was a whirlwind of trains, hotel rooms and random offices.  While the financial downside is indeed huge, I have massively enjoyed spending more time at home and larking around with Steve.  I really feel for all those who have been isolated during lockdown.  Three months on and I am not even close to being bored of spending so much time at home.  In fact I really hope that the way we're being forced to reinvent our business will enable me to spend more time at home in future and a lot less time in lonely hotel rooms.  I think the cats are getting fed up of me now, but Steve seems to be coping ok...

Don't forget you can support us in two ways.  You can find all of our books right here - and we are happy to sign them for gifts etc. if you'd like.  You can also support the blog by buying us a 'virtual coffee' right here.  Thank you.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Lockdown Blog - Work and Panic

I've been racking my brains about what to write.  I am never usually short on ideas but, right now, I am.  At least when it comes to this blog.

Lots of folks have been writing about their experiences of lockdown, well, I can summarise my experience in two words:  Panic and Work.  With my income wiped and us not qualifying for any government grants we have both worked incredibly hard to reinvent my business skills training online.   

Luckily I already ran around 20% of my courses online but even so, this has been a MASSIVE shift for us and has required us learning seemingly endless pieces of new software.  See - not very interesting is it?  (For the record, yes we could apply for a loan, but really do not want to put pressure on the future business or we could furlough ourselves but would then be unable to work on the business and, consequently, not have a business to come back to.)  You can find all of my courses here - and I promise they're fun and excellent value for money!

Other than work we also managed to create a radio studio in our spare room, allowing me to continue my shows on Lake District Radio.  At one point I was presenting 7 shows a week and it provided a much needed break from the work worries.  I'm still on air Weds/ Thurs/ Fri 5 - 7pm and Saturdays 9am - 12 noon and you can listen in here.

We walked along the prom a LOT - even venturing as far as Kents Bank a couple of times.  Never once have we taken where we live for granted and every single time we go out we are thankful for where we live.

For a bit of variety we also wandered up into the woods, which were really pretty when the bluebells and garlic were out.  Now long gone.  We discovered new paths and got lost a few times too.

It's also been incredibly hard to know what to write about the lockdown.  One small word can be taken and twisted out of context.  Usually I do everything I can to encourage people to come up here and discover this amazing county for themselves, but that is wildly inappropriate just now.  I also didn't want to post too many photos from our walks in case it came over as gloating - "oooohhh look how lovely our views are" if folks were stuck in lockdown somewhere less green and lovely.

Over the last week or so, as things have eased, we ventured a little further afield - all the way to Lindale - where we enjoyed a blissful walk and didn't see a soul all day.

As I write this I still plan on staying home, or close to home, as much as possible.  Visitors have descended and, despite government rulings, there are plenty of people staying overnight in holiday homes, second homes, camper vans, tents etc.  Sadly, many are not observing the 2m distance guide so, to be safe, I'm staying away and only heading out very early, or very late.  The road near our house has been busy all day long, so I'll stay in the garden for now - even though I'm as desperate to get back into the fells as everyone else - I can, and will, wait.

So there you have it.  Not particularly exciting.  To be honest I wrote this as much for me as anyone else to remember what it was like.  Work and Panic still dominate as we try to figure out what happens next.  

One thing lockdown has taught me is how utterly amazing our friends are - they have sent food, gin (yay!), hard cash, art and even stained glass (see @GlassBasics on Twitter - he's ACE!) to cheer us up and help us along.  Some have also offered serious financial support for which I am deeply grateful - I have politely declined, at least for now, because I know that what we really need is a long term plan.  I am also indebted to the folks who signed up for our courses and bought our books.  Every single sale means an extraordinary amount to us at the moment.

See @GlassBasics on Twitter - he is ACE!

It's easy to say "go out and find a job" but, in a region that is dominated by the decimated hospitality sector, jobs are pretty thin on the ground.  Plus we started our business 14 years ago and have battled long and hard to get to where we are now - I am not walking away without and almighty fight!

Maybe normal service will be resumed soon, or perhaps it will be months, or even years before things return to 'normal' - or maybe they never will be quite the way they were before.  Whatever happens the blog stays and so do we - my favourite line is "I'll think of something" and I will.  I know I will.  It may just take me a little longer than usual...

One last cheeky request - we are still selling our books right here and are happy to sign them for you. We have also signed up to Ko-Fi so you can support us by buying us a virtual coffee right here.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Sink or swim

Ever since I was tiny, I've had a fondness for hurling myself in at the deep end.  Literally.  When I was born my mum was a swimming pool attendant which meant that my formative years were spent around the local pool (or 'baths' as they were then known!).  Not that I remember much about that now, obviously, but I could apparently float before I could walk and had little fear of water. 

One story that is often told is about a trip to the pool when I was aged about 4 - we had been merrily splashing away in the water and I was floating around in my armbands.  We got out onto the poolside and my mum made the fatal error of turning her back on me for a couple of seconds.  Within those seconds I had hared along the side of the pool and, when my mum turned back around, she saw me (still thankfully in armbands) stood on the top diving board.  I can only imagine what was going through her mind as I proceeded to hurl myself off the top board into the deep water below, and emerge, thankfully, unscathed from my adventure.

Although I remember nothing of that incident, it's absolutely typical of how I generally approach life.  If you've followed this blog from the start you'll know that we launched into our life in Cumbria full pelt, living in a campervan for 3 months because we didn't have a house.  You get my drift.

Calming pictue of Ullswater
All of which brings me to the current situation, where we are pretty much all in at the deepend together.  I'm not going to lie, even for someone like me, who has a fondness for deepends, this is scary.  I am a small business and, as things stand at the moment, I have fallen through all the cracks in government support - our only options are a loan (which I'm avoiding becuase I don't want to place any future strain on my business if I can possibly help it) and a mortgage holiday, which isn't a holiday so much as a deferrment.

Rather than sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I've pulled on my armbands and raced to the top diving board again.  My work away from here is delivering face to face training courses, which are clearly all cancelled for the foreseeable future so, within the space of 10 days, we have completely reinvented our business and moved absolutely everying online (when I say 'we', I deliver all the coures, but I couldn't do it without Steve setting up all the IT behind the scenes for me - if you've ever seen the IT Crowd he's Noel Fielding in the basement...!)  You can find full details of what we're up to at the end of this blog, and your support would be deeply appreciated.

To give you an idea of the sorts of things I do, and to hopefully be of some practical use, I thought I'd share with you some tips that help me navigate the deep waters I so regularly find myself in.

  1. Don't focus on the big picture - big pictures are scary.  I find it helps to have a rough idea of the big picture and then focus on what I can do today.  As a kid it's highly unlikely that I thought through the whole 'diving board' thing, I just ran up the steps, one at a time.
  2. Beware of information overload.  In the current situation it is so easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information out there.  We absolutely need information, but hone down where you get it from and how often you look. I find the BBC has good updates, but I don't need to keep refreshing the page every 5 minutes.
  3. Seek out support.  Even on my diving board adventure I still needed armbands. You may be in isolation, but you don't need to be alone. There are, literally, dozens of apps that will help you connect to people and, once you've connected, don't feel the urge to put on a brave face the entire time.  We're all struggling.  We all understand.  We're all happy to help.
  4. Celebrate the small stuff.  Yes, there will be a big celebration when all of this is over, but celebrate small things along the way too.  We were setting up a laptop yesterday and every time something worked we high fived.  It was silly, but we need silly right now.
  5. Go easy on yourself.  I may look like I have this all under control, but I don't.  I'm terrified and have broken down in tears many times. If this new business fails we have no money, it's as simple as that, so yes, I am scared - and that's OK.  There have been a couple of days when I've not got much done at all.  That is also OK.  Just keeping taking one step at a time, even if those steps are sometimes wobbly and a bit soggy.
Hopefully some of that has helped in a small way - and I am always here if anyone wants a natter - just leave me a comment, or find me on social media for a chat because, let's face it, we could all use more friends right now.  Stay safe and keep smiling.

For those who are interested in supporting our new business, it's called OnLive Learning and we currently offer over 30 interactive, online, learning events.  The Personal Development modules are just £10 for 30 minutes and the Management Skills modules are £20 for 1 hour.  Discounted season tickets are available - full details right here.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Virtually Cumbria

Wow.  It's hard to find the right words just now, but wow seems to cover most things.  It feels odd to be writing this as my blog has always been dedicated to shouting about Cumbria and encouraging folks to visit and discover tucked away corners, but not now.  At this particular moment we need everyone to stay home and stay safe.  The local hospitals and Mountain Rescue do not need to be dealing with Bank Holiday levels of visitors having slips and accidents as well as passing on the virus.

I'm not about to start ranting - I'm not a ranter (well, apart from when Steve stacks the dishwasher all wrong *again*!) - instead I want to spread a little joy if I can and help everyone enjoy Cumbria virtually. I'm going to start by sharing some of my favourite views and telling you how long they've existed, to reassure you that they will till be there when you're chomping at the bit to return.  And, if nothing else, I always find that a geological timescale helps put 12 weeks of social distancing/ isolation into perspective.

I've also selected 5 locations with webcams so you can enjoy them from home - no need to visit.  Keep us, and everyone else, safe and please stay home.  Thank you.


Amongst the oldest rocks in the county the Skiddaw Group is around 480 million years old, although obviously they didn't look like this when they were laid down, but they have looked roughly like this since the last ice sheets vanished around 11,000 years ago.

You can find Skiddaw Webcam right here.  Now tell me that's not a magnificent view!


Yeah, I know it's right next to Skiddaw but c'mon, it's awesome!  Easily one of my favourite fells to look at, and Halls Fell Ridge is one of the finest routes in the county, in my very humble opinion.  Rocks wise, it's much the same age as Skiddaw but twice as sexy.  Rarrr!

You can see the Blencathra webcam here.  (Please note - not a lot to see when it's dark...)

Coniston Water

There is SOOOOO much history attached to Coniston Water from Donald Campbell to Ruskin.  Or should that be the other way around?  Either way it's a magnificent lake.  No launches or boats on there at the moment, but you can watch the webcam here and get your Coniston fix whenever you need it!


What a chuffing gorgeous lake!  Fabulous dogleg in the middle and stunning fells all around.  Often gets voted as the best looking lake and the others are properly jealous.  Ullswater Steamers aren't running, but you can still watch their webcam and dream of your next visit.

Osprey Cam

OK, this one isn't quite live yet - but it will be, and when it is you will be hooked, I promise!  Cumbria Wildlife Trust have a live camera on their osprey nest which will kick in as soon as the osprey return from their winter hols in Africa - no pesky border controls for them!  Once Osprey Cam is up and running you can watch them as they lay eggs, hatch, and rear their young.  Entertainment from late March until the end of the summer.  perfect!

No click bait adverts

Like many folks we've seen our income wiped by the lockdown and, unfortunatley, we slip through the cracks of the government support on offer.  We have also chosen not to run 'click bait' advertising on the blog as we don't agree with the content and the damage it does to fellow human beings.  If you would like to support us then you can either buy our books or leave us a tip in our virtual tip jar below.  Thank you.  😊

Saturday, 22 February 2020

The Laws of Physics and Hiking

As will become apparent very quickly, I am no expert in the word of physics, but it has occurred to me that hiking bends the laws of physics and no-one seems to have noticed.  For example, on a circular walk the laws of physics will tell us that if we start and end at the same point then there must be an equal amount of uphill and downhill, but hikers know for a FACT that there is always more up than down in any walk.

In hiking we can also prove that two wrongs do, in fact, make a right.  Very boggy ground - wrong.  Temperatures well below freezing with significant wind chill - wrong.  But combine the two and the freezing weather makes the bog solid so we can walk over it - right.  (OK, that one may not be an actual law of physics, but I'm pretty sure it's a law of something!)

I have dug further into the laws of physics and present, below, my findings on what happens when physics meets hiking.  I'm expecting my doctorate in the post from a prestigious university any day now.  (All laws have been taken from this website, so, if you don't like them, it's him you need to tell, not me.)

1.Archimedes Principle
"The principle was discovered in 3rd century B.C. by the Greek mathematician. Archimedes. It states that when a body is partially or totally immersed in a fluid, it experiences an upward thrust equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by it that i.e. its apparent loss of weight is equal to the weight of liquid displaced."

Well Archimedes was clearly not a hiker.  He also lived in Greece which, I'm guessing, is pretty thin on the ground so far as bogs are concerned.  When my foot is 'partly or totally immersed in (boggy) fluid', there is no upward thrust and I experience no weight loss.  In fact my mass increases as my boots are sucked into the mire and said bog cakes itself around my boots.  If Archimedes had ever tried to walk from High Tove to Castleigg after heavy rain he may have had a rethink.

2. Law of conservation of energy
"It states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but it can be transformed from one form to another. Since energy cannot be created or destroyed, the amount of energy present in the universe is always remain constant."

It looks so near...

Picture the scene.  You park at Stickle Barn and take the Cumbria Way/ Angle Tarn route up to the bottom of Great End.  You eat and drink well all the way along the route and are feeling good, if a little tired.  You wander along the track to the top of Broad Crag with your sights set firmly on Scafell Pike, still feeling nice and perky.  You reach the end of Broad Crag and see the drop down, and the climb back up, to Scafell Pike summit.  All energy instantly drains from your body.  Energy destroyed. My case rests.

3. Newton’s First law of Motion
"A body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, except in so far as it is compelled by external impressed forces to change that state. It is also called Law of Inertia."

I'm gong to agree with Newton on this one.  When I'm 3/4 of the way through a long hike and pause for a sit down and a gulp of tea and cake, my body is in a 'state of rest' and I am generally quite happy to remain in this state of rest.  The 'external forces' 'compelling me to move' would be a cold wind, Steve nagging that it's getting late, or an overwhelming desire for a wee.

4. Newton’s Third Law of Motion
"To every action there is equal and opposite reaction."

Kielder Water
Wrong.  At least so far as midges are concerned. Surely this law is stating that if I swish my hands around in front of my face and swear very loudly at a gathering swarm of midges (my 'action'), then they should disperse (their 'reaction'), but we all know that this does not happen, in fact it only encourages them.  And don't get me started on their bites!  It is simply not 'equal' for minute specs of airborne evil (aka the midge) to create a series of golf ball sized lumps on my hands and face that leave me crying for my mummy at 3am.  And then there are the clegs - inch long velociraptors with wings - when they sink their minute diamond tipped fangs into your arm the 'equal' reaction would be to feel a pinprick of pain, not the searing-hot-poker-in-the-arm reality.  Send Newton for a stroll around Kielder Water on a warm, muggy, summer evening, wearing nothing more than tshirt & shorts, and then see what he has to say about "equal and opposite reactions".

5. Newton’s Law of cooling
"The rate at which a body cools or loses its heat to its surroundings is proportional to the excess of mean temperature of the body over that of the surroundings, provided this temperature excess is not too large."

Any laws pertaining to temperature are null and void when hiking - the rate at which my body cools when I pause for a swig of tea on a cold winter hike defies any law of physics.  I can go from baking hot to colder than Katie Hopkins heart in under 5 seconds.  Tea also obeys the same rule when released from its flask and poured into a cup - nice and hot when you pour it, but by the time you've rescrewed the top back on to save the rest of your brew and quickly slipped on a glove because you can no longer feel your fingers, then raised the cup to your lips, it's stone cold.

I'm pretty sure experts in the world of physics will be lining up to tear me to shreds and to all of you I say this:  you are welcome to join me on a hike any time and we'll put your laws to the test - infact, bring Archimedes and Newton along and we'll make a day of it.  😁

Please don't leave just yet.  We have written nine books choc full of fun, fab and interesting things with lots of stunning photos. You can buy them all right HERE.  We will be happy to sign them and they make the perfect gift for lovers of Cumbria, or you could just treat yourself.  Go on, you know you're worth it.

Click here to browse our bookshelf.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Does size really matter?

If you Google '10 Things about Cumbria' you'll find a host of websites clammouring to tell you that we have the highest mountain, the longest (and deepest) lakes and the steepest road in England (I'm not convinced that last one is even accurate!)  

It's true that our towering fells and shimmering lakes are utterly spectacular, and it's also true that you can have some pretty big adventures here, from zipwires to mountain biking, but what often gets missed is that Cumbria is full of small wonders too, things that folks can (and do!) walk right past without noticing.  

This year we have decided to explore nooks, crannies, and paths less travelled - and certainly paths we've never wandered along before.  To kick off our 'Small Year', here are my 10 favourite small things that we've spotted on our walks so far.

1. An enclosed footpath

I love wandering along old enclosed footpaths - you know that 'back in the day' they were probably bustling routes between farms and villages, but today they're just for hikers and wildlife.

 2. The Old Concrete Road

While cyclists and drivers in their thousands stream over the high passes, I'll settle for the old concrete road near Shap.  It's not the biggest, steepest or most dramatic, but I absolutely love a toddle along it.

3.  Frozen bubbles

To be fair, I've shared this picture before - but we only spotted these because we were dawdling (as usual!) and paused to look more closely at a tarn.  I've never seen frozen bubbles before or since and absolutely love this photo.

4.  Bluebell Woods

Rannerdale Bluebells are the stars of the show every year, but there are dozens of stunning bluebell woods all over Cumbria, and none more spectacular than Dorothy Farrer's Spring Woods near Stavely.

5.  Packhorse bridges

Yes, Ashness Bridge is super stunning, but it's alo super busy.  We discovered this absolute gem by complete accident during our Brewers Loop hike last year.  It's not far from Ravenglass, but for full location details you'll have to wait for the book.

6.  The flowers on Grange Prom

We live in Grange-over-Sands and there are flowers in bloom pretty much all year round.  I usually take a detour along the prom on my way to the shops, and I'm never disappointed.

7.  Skylarks

Well, birds in general to be honest, but is there anything lovelier than the background music of a skylark during a gentle summer walk?  And we were SO excited to see one this close!

8.  Moss on a wall

I know you'll think I've lost my marbles with this one, but I love moss on walls - especially when the sun catches it like this.  We were meant to be eating lunch but I just kept staring at the wall...

9.  Wells and water troughs

As well as moss, I also love stumbling on old wells and water troughs, for me they are a great reminder to appreciate the taps in our house.  Imagine having to head off with your bucket every time you wanted a drink, or to do the washing, or anything really.  So many of them are incredibly ornate too, and often have fascinating snippets of history and folklore behind them.

10.  Sharing the experience

Yeah, I know this one is cheesy, but surely one of the finest pleasures is sharing wonderful new discoveries with someone else?  I love that we get to work and play outside together so often - it just makes it so much more fun!

Want more info on Cumbria's tucked away treasures?  Then may I recommend one of our books?   They are crammed full of wonderful nuggets of history as well as Steve's fabulous photos, and I promise I do a happy dance whenever we sell one!  Click the pic to browse our bookshelf!

Click here to browse