Friday, 23 September 2016

High up High Cup

You know how they say that the book is always better than the film?  Well, in my experience, real life is usually better than the book, even a very good book. Many years ago I read Walking Home by Simon Armitage which charts his journey along The Pennine Way (an excellent book and well worth a read if you haven't already) - since then High Cup Nick was firmly on my "to do" list and it's only taken 4 years and a Julia Bradbury special to eventually get me there.

We're deep into research for our third book (you haven't missed book two, it's done and dusted and out next Easter) so a day of sunny blue skies was the perfect excuse to head up there and got some photos sorted.  The scary thing is it was also my first proper hike since the crack on the bonce back in May - Post Concussion Syndrome has been a pain in the rear end but thankfully now seems to be abating.


High Cup Nick was the perfect hike to "break me back in" - it's not too long, there are plenty of places to stop along the way, the views are superb and there are no scary bits.  Or at least there weren't meant to be.  Obviously me, being me, managed to up the ante a little - but more of that later...


There's a small car park with toilets in Dufton (10/10 to Eden council, lovely loos!) and the walk is clearly signposted from the village.  It starts along a farm road that passes a beautiful house currently for sale which generated plenty of daydreams to keep me going along the gradual climb upwards.  The views were immense even if some of the signs were a wee bit confusing.


It's a walk that keeps its best views a secret right until you pop out on the top of valley, at which point it's best to have your camera ready, your memory card empty and your battery well charged.





I'd packed extra food and drink and used the "first hike back" excuse to allow for several very generous breaks, sitting in the sunshine and enjoying the views.  I continued on round to the head of the valley where, although it looks glorious, it was actually blowing a hooley!



It was at this point that an idea entered my head and it went something like this - if I walk back the way I planned (following a path along the opposite side of the valley) I'll get pretty much the same views as I've had on my way in, except from the other side.  If, however, I plunge down the scree slope in front of me which leads to a path along the valley floor, I might get some more interesting views.  I should probably really be taking it a bit easier on my first proper hike back.  Screw it, it looks fun.

All of which explains these next few shots...







C'mon - you have to admit that was worth it.  The screes weren't all that bad (if you've tackled the Wastwater screes then these are a doddle!) - though I did nearly lose my flask of tea (would it have been wrong to call out Mountain Rescue to retrieve a flask of tea?  I'm sure they would have understood!).

The walk back along the valley floor was straightforward if a little boggy in places and the company along the way was charming.



From that point it was meant to be a simple walk back along the road into Dufton - but the problem was that the bushes along the verges were laden down with the biggest, juiciest sloes you ever did see.  Despite the fact I have several litres on the go already I just couldn't leave them there to rot and in the space of an hour had accumulated this little lot.



With my sarnie tub full and the light fading fast it was time to head home.  Tomorrow I need to pick up a couple of litres of gin and clarify whether Sloe Gin counts as one of my "five a day" - I think it's only fair, don't you?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

A Great Escape

We've had a busy year - so far we've zoomed around WalesScotland, Wales again and even Gozo - what we haven't done is zoom around Cumbria quite as much as we usually do so we leapt at the chance when the lovely folks at Whitbarrow Village offered us a couple of nights to stay and explore the north of the county.

We've never stayed in a holiday village before and, to be honest, have done pretty much no self catering, but little things they said persuaded us it might be a good idea - you know things like "hot tub", "luxury accommodation" and "crazy golf".  (We have an absolute crazy golf addiction - the best course we've ever played was in Mablethorpe and included a scale replica of the Humber Bridge but it has sadly now been "improved" - in much the same way that I'm sure Channel 4 are planning to "improve" GBBO - but I digress...)

The village is incredibly easy to find - it's about halfway along the A66 between Penrith and Keswick - up behind The Sportsman for those that know the area - and is very clearly signposted.  We arrived on a busy Saturday afternoon but were greeted with broad friendly smiles and swiftly checked in and installed in our apartment.  My bag may have chinked suspiciously as I carried it into the room but we knew there was a hot tub and it would have been rude to get in there without a glass of something nice... (I did pack a bit of food too, you know, just in case.)

The apartment was huge and beautifully decorated - with a pair of fabulous friendly Herdies to welcome us on the counter.






As it's just a short hop, skip and a jump into Keswick we headed off into town to meet up with friends and enjoy an evening out.  Keswick is probably where we'd move to if we didn't have to worry about being on the train network - it's such a fantastic little town with loads to see and do.

It's also the start/ finish point for the Bob Graham round and while we were there Lee Newton arrived back in town having completed the 66 mile course (including 42 of the Lake District's highest peaks) in a staggering 18 hours and 57 minutes.  Among those welcoming him home was the legendary Billy Bland - BG record holder with an unbelievable time of 13 hours and 53 minutes.



I'm not a great runner but I'm superb at carbo loading and there are many excellent places to eat and drink in Keswick. We opted for tapas at ESBar followed by a nightcap at The Wainwright - is there anything better than a great night out with friends?  Lot's of food and laughter and perhaps the occasional beer.



On Sunday we had a swim before breakfast - which sounds impressive until I confess that the swim was at 10am and breakfast was at 11am.  Still, the pool was very lovely



We followed all that exertion with a stroll around Glenridding - another very short drive away.  It was a gloriously sunny day and loads of people were out exploring the new Ullswater Way - a brilliant low level footpath that stretches all the way around the lake. 

Glenridding is also the perfect starting point for a hike up Helvellyn, or St Sunday Crag, or Place Fell or several dozen others and we would have gone up them, honest we would, but there was a hot tub and crazy golf course waiting for us back at the village so, pausing only to devour a rather lovely lunch, we armed ourselves with putters and headed out to do battle!





It's a brilliant course - home made and not one of those nasty identikit "adventure" courses you see so often.  Magnanimously I let Steve win at the crazy golf AND the pitch and putt.  How good a wife am I?

Frankly, losing really takes it out of a person so there was only one thing for it - HOT TUB!  I'm not saying we stayed in there a long time but a) I was all pruney by the end of it and b) it was dark.  But it meant we got to gaze romantically at the stars as we sipped our bottle of cheap fizz.



Altogether we had a fantastic weekend at Whitbarrow Village - a great place to escape to to relax, refresh and unwind.  We were lucky enough to be allowed to stay in the luxury apartments but they have loads of different options available with something to suit everyone - even the ducks love it!




Tuesday, 6 September 2016

5 Scottish Fairy Tale Castles

Our Scottish adventure continued on from Edinburgh and headed north.  Last year we tackled the entire north coast, this year we went for something a little more manageable - a "Castle Crawl" around Fife and Aberdeenshire.  The thing about Scottish castles is that, apart from the ruined ones, they all feel remarkably cosy.  Here are our five favourites and my only regret is that we didn't have time to stop and see more.

1.  Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle
I'm starting with the only ruin - but wow - just wow.  This place will really take your breath away in every sense of the word (I'm not kidding, there are a LOT of steps to climb!).  With a history that dates back to the 3rd century and includes William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots, this is one not to be missed.  Download the app for an excellent self guided tour and make sure you have plenty of space on your memory card for photos.

2.  Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle
I'll confess, this one was my favourite, and not just because its colour matched my hair.  There is just something perfectly "castly" about it.  Imposing and dramatic and yet still beautiful to look at. The guided tour tells you all about its hidden secrets - I just wish the walls could talk.  It's a bit off the beaten track but well worth the drive.

3.  Kellie Castle

Kellie Castle
This was the gentlest of the castles - more of a fortified home with a wonderful walled garden.  We visited in the height of summer but I should imagine it's stunning when the autumn colours kick in.  There's an audio tour of the garden which is interesting even if, like us, you're not horticulturally minded - and if you are there are extra bits of the guide you can listen to that tell you more about the planting patterns and different species etc.

4.  Cathes Castle

Crathes Castle
Please excuse this photo but it was the one day of our 3 week hols when it rained.  I can't show you the very best bits of this castle as photos weren't allowed inside, but it has the MOST amazing painted ceilings I've ever seen - just superb.  There's a photo of one of them here from a project with RCAHMS - but it really doesn't do it justice at all.  The colours are so incredibly vivid - be warned, you may leave here with a crick in your neck...

5. Drum Castle

Drum Castle
This may not be the most dramatic but it's definitely one of the most fascinating.  You can see from the photo how it's evolved over the centuries and as you wander around the inside you start to piece together how it came to be the way we see it today.  On the top floor there's currently an art gallery hosting specially curated collections from Aberdeen Art Gallery while it undergoes extensive renovations - not all of it was to our taste but it was all fascinating to look at.  Once you're done with the insides you can climb to the top of the tower for magnificent views across the estate,  When they renovated the tower here they discovered 5 hidden rooms which they don't have the funds to fully explore, I did promise that when we win the lottery I'll remember them...

Monday, 29 August 2016

10 Tips for Surviving the Edinburgh Festival

I know it's all just finished for another year but, trust me, if you're thinking of tackling the Edinburgh Festival it's good to plan in advance.  This is our third festival - we even honeymooned there - and each time we approached it a little differently.  Here's what we've learned...

1. Pace yourself - it's a marathon not a sprint.  Everywhere you look there are exciting things to see and do and you really can't do everything.  Don't blow your party wad on day 1 and spend the rest of your time playing catch up.


2.  Check your venue timings and locations carefully when you book.  The worst thing to see at the festival is people leaving a gig 5 minutes before the end because they have another gig to get to.  Not all the venues are next to each other so check them out on a map beforehand and allow yourself time to get between sites.


3.  Take chances.  We all know what we like but this is the perfect time to try something different and it doesn't have to cost the earth - check out the half price hut where you can buy tickets for that day and take a punt on something you wouldn't normally consider seeing.  We've discovered some amazing performances this way and have only had one or two let downs.


4. Check out the Free Fringe.  There is TONS of free stuff to see - most of it is on a "put something into the hat at the end" arrangement.  Some is indoors and there's loads of free street theatre - it's a great place to spot potential stars of the future or just enjoy the colour and banter of the street performers.



5. Drink responsibly.  No, I'm not coming over all sanctimonious - just think where you drink.  The drinks are eye wateringly expensive (over £5 per pint!) at the main venues so stick to smaller local pubs or pack a hip flask.  


6. Go sightseeing.  Edinburgh isn't just about the festival, there are tons of other amazing things to see there too.  Take a walk around Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat, explore the castle or go on a ghost walk.  There are lots of tourist traps but it's still a beautiful old city with loads of hidden corners to discover.

Greyfriars Bobby

7. Think about your accommodation and book WELL in advance.  Seriously, it's worse than Bethlehem at Christmas.  We've done a B&B, a privately rented flat on the outskirts and this time we took Delores and stayed at Mortonhall campsite.Don't feel you have to pay through the nose to stay in the city centre - there are much cheaper places a little way out which brings me to...

Mortonhall Campsite
8.  Use the buses.  Honestly, they're brilliant.  Check out the Lothian Buses website for all the info you need.  They also have a superb app allowing you to plan your routes around the city.  We were there for a week so bought a Ridacard which saved us tons.  They run all through the night too so you can get home after even the latest of gigs.

View from our bus stop
9. Dress appropriately.  We were so lucky this year, it was warm and sunny for the entire week of the festival, but it's not always that way so make sure you're ready for anything. Also get something decent on your feet - there's a LOT of walking involved and, basically, Edinburgh is one giant cobbled hill (though it was rather fun watching a few of the drunk ladies trying to walk across cobbles in stilettos...)  I was trying out a pair of sports shoes from Columbia Sportswear and they were excellent - light, bright and waterproof!

Utterly brilliant wherever they went
10.  Pack a rucksack.  Yeah, I know this one maybe sounds a bit dull, but the rucksack allowed us to take drinks and snacks (we weren't on a mega tight budget but 7 days of eating out would have put a serious dent in the bank balance!)  We packed snacks and waterproofs - I was using a bright and breezy Columbia jacket which was soft and light and easily packed into the bottom of my bag.  I didn't need it to keep the rain off but it was handy for keeping me warm on the night bus "home".


Hope those have helped in some small way - we'll definitely be back again - I just need to sleep this one off first - cheers!

Cool shades, cool tent, cool beer and very cool Tshirt from Columbia.