Saturday, 4 February 2017

Dirty Boots

What do clean boots and office Christmas trees have in common?  Neither of them are fulfilling the purpose for which they were intended.  In the case of the office Christmas tree it sits alone and forlorn on Christmas Day with no excited children or pressies anywhere to be seen - how sad is that?

Clean boots, paraded around Ambleside on a sunny bank holiday, remind me of caged animals in the zoo - they can see the fells all around but they're just not allowed onto them.  A dirty boot is a happy boot in my book so I was delighted when Bogs asked me to get a pair good and mucky for them.

Not that everyone agreed mind - look what happened when I posted a photo of them on Instagram when they arrived:

Too nice to get dirty?  Never! Chlorinekid & DistantHorizonsUK had better look away now...  Bogs promised these boots were 100% waterproof and I wasn't going to let a claim like that go untested.

First was some gentle puddling...

Then came the snow... (awesome footprint!)

Then there was a small bog...

Then they were dirty!  Yay!

So they needed to be cleaned - bring on the puddles!

Only one way to clean a good pair of boots.  (It's possible the care instructions didn't recommend this as the preferred method of cleaning...)

Remember when you were a kid and had your boots on and your mum still told you off for jumping in all the puddles?  Well, the best thing about being an adult is that I get to wear boots and jump in all the puddles I want!

At this point I realised that perhaps my mum had had a point all along.  My jeans were soaked, we were at Leighton Moss and I still had a good 2 hours birdwatching/ cake munching ahead of me. Steve gave me one of those looks but I remained unrepentant - boots should be dirty and puddles should be jumped in.

The boots were superb, my feet were comfy dry and warm and, in my humble opinion, the mud only added to the already awesome design.  Too nice to get dirty?  Pah!  It would be a sin not to!

The boots in the blog are the Sidney Lace Plaid boots - you can find them here.  They also have LOADS of other designs so do have a nose through their website.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Cumbria: True of False?

View from Friars Crag
Time for something a little different - a fun quiz all about Cumbria.  I don't have the fancy software to set one up with whistles and bells so we'll have to do it the old fashioned way.  Below are 20 statements about Cumbria, all you have to do is identify which 10 are true and which ten are false.  At the bottom is a link to another page on the blog where you can check your answers.  Oh - and I should perhaps warn you, it's not entirely serious...or is it?

1.  Friar's Crag is named as it was the site of a popular Victorian chippy.

2.  They used to race horses on the top of Racecourse Hill - that's how it got its name.

3.  Someone once tried to blow up Long Meg with dynamite but was stopped by angry villagers who said a storm that blew up at the same time was a sign she was displeased.

4.  Coniston is an ancient measure of weight.  One Coniston = 2 x Ulverstons or 5 Wigtons

5.  Haggs Wood near Arnside is named after giant flying worms that were said to live there.

6.  Surprise View is so called because it marks the spot where William Wordsworth jumped out from behind a tree and surprised Dorothy.

7.  Maryport is a Cumbrian coastal town just to the north of Mungoport and Midgeport

8.  Fairfield gets its name from the giant Ferris Wheel and Helter Skelter which once marked the summit.

9.  Grange-over-Sands got its name from an angry vicar who was fed up of his post going to Grange in Borrowdale.

10. Tebay marks the site of an ancient tea market.

11.  Parting Stone near Grizedale Tarn is named to commemorate the spot where Wordsworth said goodbye to his brother.

12. The pub in Kentmere village was once so rowdy it changed British law.

13.  Levens is the site of the first bakery in Britain to add yeast to its bread.

14. Tarmac was invented in a quiet valley just outside Arnside.

15.  Kendal is twinned with the US town of Barbidal

16.  The street plan of New York is based on Whitehaven.

17. The trouser press was invented in Kirkby Stephen.

18.  The monks of Furness Abbey were world class smugglers.

19.  Hardknott Pass takes its name from the adjacent Roman Fort.  They placed a gate across the road which was secured two ropes joined in a complex knot.

20.  There was once a plan to drill into Shap Granite as a source of geothermal energy.

How do you think you did then?  Check here for the answers.  And if you enjoyed it then it's worth getting a copy of our book, it's chock full of fascinating, true, facts about Cumbria.

View from Arnside Knott

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Do more of less

I have a number of friends, and family members, who suffer with depression.  During my twenties I also suffered very badly from depression and spent five years taking assorted concoctions of pills and attending counselling sessions all of which, thankfully, helped me enormously and, although I've had my moments, I've not looked back.

Thing is, I think it's much harder dealing with depression these days than it was twenty years ago when I went through it (yes, I am that old!).  Why?  Because back then I only had to worry about getting myself better and I was only really aware of the goings on within my fairly small group of friends.  These days, thanks to social media, you are bombarded on a daily basis with photos and updates of everyone's perfect life - how can your miserable life possibly live up to those expectations?
Leighton Moss- my sanity restorer
The truth is though, no-one's life is really that perfect - trust me on that.  I know because part of my job requires me to coach and train other people so I know that we are all riddled with the same insecurities.  I also know because I am riddled with the same doubts and insecurities.  I am also aware that my photos and blogs can often give the impression that we have this perfect new life, which I'm a bit annoyed at myself about because I swore back here that I'd never do that.

I am a passionate believer that reconnecting with the outdoors - even if it's just a daily walk around the park - will help with feelings of depression and desperation.  And it's not just me that thinks that - have a read of this piece of research from Stanford University.

Some may wonder how could our "amazingly perfect" new life could be anything other than idyllic in every way.  After all, isn't it the sort of thing thousands of people dream of doing?  Well, simply to demonstrate that life up here isn't just about cakes and amazing views, here are some of our realities (and I am NOT sharing these for any other reason than to demonstrate the difference between social media life and real life)
  1. I work freelance to support us and there are days when I feel so overwhelmed by that responsibility, I feel like my head might explode.  Much as I made light of my accidents last year (here and here) the truth is it meant I lost over 2 months worth of work and even managed to have a negative income month when I had to refund a client for 2 days work I'd missed due to the accident.
  2. When we first moved up here I was working full time, using all my holiday days to build my freelance work and working in the evenings to try and break into the world of writing.  Despite all this we were utterly potless.  One month I recall that around the 18th of the month I had £2 to get me through to payday on the 28th.  I didn't have a bean anywhere else.  The next day an envelope got passed around for a colleague's leaving present - someone I really liked - and I had to wait until no-one was looking so I could slip just 50p in.  I  have never told them and I still feel really bad about not being able to give more.
  3. We can't have kids.  To be fair we knew that before we moved up here, but it's not something you get over in a heartbeat.  Luckily we have each other and a fairly pragmatic view on life.  We have our health and there are far worse things we could have been hit with - but it takes a bit of getting used to.  One thing we decided to do was to try and live the sort of life folks are always saying they'd live "if it wasn't for the kids" - but there are still plenty of times when it smacks you in the face.

The list goes on - we bicker and fight like most married couples but it's not something I post pictures of on social media.  Nor do I post pictures of the things I mentioned above.  Why?  Because a) you're unlikely to be in the mood to take a photo to capture those moments ("You're infertile - say cheese!") and b) they wouldn't be popular anyway, but by only posting pics of the good stuff we all continue to give the impression that life is perfect when it so very rarely is.

If your mental health is sound then it may not bother you that much, but if you're suffering from any sort of depression it can become overwhelming.

I don't have a magic cure for depression - I really wish I did.  I remember when I was going through it the thing that scared me and liberated me the most was finally coming to the realisation that I was responsible for me.  No-one else could fix me - they could help - but ultimately only I was responsible for me, I had to control all the nasty little voices in my head telling me I was rubbish.  How scary is that?

Anyway, in an effort to help, here are my top tips for reconnecting with nature to help with depression:
  • Do more of less.  Spend more time doing fewer things and less time racing from one thing to another trying to keep up with what you think everyone else is doing.
  • Go for a walk.  Sounds too simple but that's maybe why it's so often overlooked.  Even if it's just to a local park.  Walk slowly - look at the plants, the trees, the birds.  Who cares if you don't know what they're called - you don't have to know that to enjoy them.
  • Grow stuff - if you have a garden, get out in it and grow some fruit of veg - we're new to this and it is SO rewarding.  Some stuff dies, some stuff grows in miniature, but it's a fabulous way to get out there.  If you don't have a garden, get an allotment or grow stuff indoors - herbs, tomatoes, peppers etc. all grow brilliantly on windowsills.
  • Read a good book -  my favourite "outdoors" reads of 2016 were: The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and Common Ground by Rob Cowen - all of which took my mind outdoors when I was stuck on a train or in a dingy hotel room.
And finally, back to what I said at the start - don't compare the realities of your life to the social media versions of everyone else's life.  Get out there, feel better and have fun.  :-)

(If you don't mind a spot of swearing do take a look at this excellent blog by a good friend of mine who writes about the day to day realities of dealing with depression and anxiety)

Monday, 2 January 2017

Freeview -v- Pay Per View

Forgive me for kicking off the year with a rant, but it's a small one and I'm pretty sure many of you
Windermere - Pay Per View
will share my pain...  Our Christmas and New Years celebrations took us across the country to visit family and, as is our wont, we gave the family the slip a couple of times and went off in search of a walk.  As Steve isn't currently in the market for long hikes and as my wheelchair bound mum was with us on a few occasions, I realised how much parking charges disproportionately affect the less mobile.

Pretty much all of the parking spots that were near to a view had a charge attached to them - the highest we saw was £4 per hour.  We had to dig deep into our local knowledge to locate free car parks near to a nice, flat, walk.  When there's just the two of us in full health we'd happily park some distance from the start point, or take a different route, to avoid parking fees but when one of you is in a wheelchair and another on crutches, that isn't an option - even a blue badge doesn't help as many councils no longer offer free parking in disabled bays.
Dorney Common - surprisingly Freeview

We found this to be particularly true in the South East, although Cumbria can be just as bad.  My rant isn't just for the less able, it's also for the less affluent.  We're not desperately short of cash these days, but if you fancy visiting a few places for a few short walks you can quickly find yourself spending well in excess of £10 per day just on parking - in the midst of an obesity crisis, how is that helping people get outdoors more?  

I honestly don't know what the answer is, but I know part of it should be to stop charging for parking in disabled bays.  I understand that councils need to generate more income in the face of huge cuts but a) charging the disabled isn't the answer and b) lots of the car parks we saw were privately owned anyway.  Or maybe councils could waive fees for one day per month to give everyone the chance to get outdoors and enjoy views from places like Virginia Water, Windermere and Grange-over-Sands (just 3 of the places we've visited over the hols).

For my part I'm going to fly in the face of (some) public opinion and talk about where we park for free when I'm writing blogs (I've genuinely had folks ranting at me for talking about "secret" free parking) - but for now, here are a few more of our festive views - most of which are Freeview because I'm mean that way...  Happy New Year!

Burnham Beeches - Pay Per View

Coniston Water - Freeview

Chapel of St Mary Magdalene - Freeview

Lancaster Canal - Freeview

View from Gummer's How - Freeview

Walk to the shops - Chalfont St Peter - Freeview

Chalfont Common - Freeview

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Two Falls and a Submission

A wrestling analogy seems appropriate to describe how many of us have battled our way through 2016 - but for us "two falls and a submission" is particularly apt.  As a kid I remember watching Dickie Davies on World of Sport on Saturday afternoons at my grandparents, with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks going several rounds with each other. They'd take it in turns to leap off the ropes in what I am sure were carefully choreographed manoevers, to pin each other to the floor -banging out the count with their hands.  2016 has been a lot like, but without all the rehearsals and giant spandex wrestling suits.

The two falls were mine - in May I knocked myself senseless when I tripped running through Bowness for a ferry.  The docs told me it would take 12 - 18 months to recover, but I persevered and was making good progress, so celebrated by hurling myself off a footpath along the Eden Valley in October - a smaller concussion this time, but with 3 staples added to the mix.

Steve, on the other hand, is resisting being beaten into submission by a persistent, but as yet un-diagnosed, knee condition, which has resulted in him being on crutches since late August.  Not that this has stopped him completing all the photography for two books, planning the pics for a third and hiking up Loughrigg on a frozen November morning.  Or break-dancing on Grange prom...

You may think that grounding the two people behind a hiking a travel blog would slow things down somewhat, but it's going to take more than that to stop us - plus we still managed to do a whole bunch of cool stuff in 2016.  We've both chosen out top 5 stand out moments of the year to revisit and inspire us to keep battling on - you know, just in case 2017 is getting any ideas or anything...

Beth's Top 5 for 2016

1.  High Cup Nick

We'd been meaning to do this walk for a couple of years but I finally got around to it in September and it easily went straight into my top 10 fabulous walks list.  Mainly because it's a cracking hike, but also because my background is in geology and the rocks are superb.  Of course it didn't hurt that I also discovered some of the finest sloes in Cumbria on the walk which  were swiftly turned into several litres of sloe gin to keep us warm during the long cold winter months.  Where is this amazing crop?  It''s...sorry - could you repeat the question?

2.  Cream tea on Harter Fell

We had SUCH a lot of fun with this one!  I absolutely love Harter Fell and the views along Haweswater so the idea of having a full cream tea on the top of a fell really appealed.  It's not something I'd try on a trickier fell in unpredictable weather but it was a perfect spring day and we had a ball.  We got a few odd/ envious looks, but I wasn't sharing my clotted cream with anyone!

3.  Craigievar Castle

This was love at first sight. No - this was love before first sight.  I'd seen the photos in the National Trust for Scotland booklet and knew I had to see it for real.  It's not easy to get to, even if you happen to be lurking around the Aberdeen area, but it's well worth the effort.  The only access to the inside is by guided tour, but this was utterly fascinating and the views of the castle, and from the castle, were absolutely breathtaking.

4.  Cheltenham Literary Festival

I'm addicted to both the outdoors and reading so a book festival with an outdoors theme was always going to be a winner.  I saw some great speakers but none of them more "outdoors" than Major Tom himself, Commander Chris Hadfield.  The way he speaks about seeing the planet from space and the need to care for it is truly inspirational and I was absolutely honoured to have the chance to meet him afterwards.  He also inspired my favourite blog of the year, all about why we need to send poets into space...

5.  Bum Cloud over Walney Island

Yes it's silly, but memories should make you smile - and this photo always does that.  We spent the first 6 months of the year producing a series of walks for Cumbria Wildlife Trust and, on this particular day, had had a wonderful time exploring Walney Island.  This photo was taken towards the end of the day when a giant bum shaped cloud appeared perfectly reflected in a small lake, causing us both to dissolve into a fit of giggles.  As the title of the Good Life Christmas Special says (essential viewing this time of year) "Silly, but it's fun"

Steve's Top 5 for 2016

1.  Wetherlam in the snow

One of the best things about being 6ft 4ins is that I don't sink quite as deep into the snow as Beth does - plus she generally tries to tear off ahead so she makes a useful depth gauge. This was a long and challenging walk and the snow was pretty deep in places, but Wetherlam isn't too tricky a fell and we both got home in one piece - Beth's bum was colder than mine though...

2. Zipworld Caverns Blaenau Ffestiniog

We'd done plenty of zipwires and high ropes courses in the past but nothing had quite prepared us for this - clambering around in a cavern deep underground.  Although we knew everything *must* be pretty tightly screwed into the walls, when you're dangling 100ft or so above the cave floor you do feel the need to double check.  Of course, I wasn't scared at all and didn't scream like a girl at any point.  Not even once. Honest...

3.  Snowdon

Technically this was my second time on the top of Snowdon but, as my first ascent was at the age of 4 months in a pram on the train, I'm not going to count it.  This time I went up on foot via the Rhyd Ddu route and despite it being early May, it was another snowy extravaganza.  Along the summit ridge the paths were solid ice, but that didn't stop several hundred other people also attempting the route.  Has to be the busiest summit we've ever been on, but a really interesting mountain.

4.  Kendal Mountain Festival - Ullswater Screening

Throughout the year there are Kendal Mountain Festival events and this summer we spent a lovely afternoon and evening on the banks of Ullswater watching a series of excellent films.  The whole evening was very civilised with picnic hampers and Prosecco as far as the eye could see.  As well as the great films we were also introduced to the songs that became the soundtack to the rest of the year, especially during our extended tour of Scotland - Christine & the Queens and First Aid Kit.  Just humming a few bars and I'm back there again now...

5.  High jinks in a Hilux

I really didn't expect this to be quite as much fun as it was.  I also planned to share more of the driving with Beth but that didn't really happen either.  When Vantage Motors asked us if we'd like to play with it for the weekend I'm not sure they expected it to come back with quite as many miles on the clock as it did - we even managed another cream tea, this time in the back of the Hilux on Walna Scar car park.  It persuaded  us to trade our battered old Freelander in for a rather nice (used) Toyota Rav 4 which will no doubt be popping up in blogs throughout 2017...

We're both now hoping that 2017 will turn out to be a little less painful than 2016 but, whatever happens, we'll still be out there finding fun things to do.

We sincerely hope you all have a very Merry Christmas full of family fun an adventurous New Year full of exciting new challenges!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Thermoballs are GO!


As a regular hiker but someone that feels the wind chill I need a jacket to cover all environments and this has sometimes resulted in me looking like a 6ft 4 version of the Michelin Man. Not so with the Northface Thermoball insulated hoodie which, with a waterproof shell, makes a perfect combo to combat those nasty heavy rain and strong wind combos.

I was after a jacket that was light yet thermal and suitable for #EverydayLifeOutdoors from shopping in the high street to walking the fells, mountain biking or sitting still while taking landscape photography – oh and even canoeing on the lakes when I’ve finally decided on the right canoe.  (or keeping the wife warm when she wants the heating turned up at home – yes, I’m that mean!)

The next decision was whether to go for a down or synthetic jacket. Traditional goose down is very warm though not so good at maintaining warmth when wet. Synthetic down, the scientists tell us, is just as warm as goose down but is also water resistant meaning when the down gets wet it is able to dry quicker without clumping and so maintains your body warmth better.

Thin thermal layers are important and really do work. Having many thinner layers traps more air than a couple of thick layers, but make sure each layer is breathable (or wicks). Trapped in perspiration will only become cold and make you even colder. But hey, you already knew that didn’t you?

For all those times I’m out on the fells taking photos and waiting for the right light, only to get rained on, I decided to try a synthetic down jacket. The latest tech in synthetic down is Primaloft Thermoball. It’s really light and packs down to a very small size, ideal when I’m already weighed down by lots of camera equipment, and doubly important  as I’m on crutches at the moment.

So far I’m loving it, I’ve been able to reduce the bulkiness while still keeping toasty warm, plus I don’t have to worry about the rain quite so much.  All of which means that those long sitting still moments, waiting to capture that perfect shot, are a lot more comfortable.

<Beth interrupting> Psssst - they're currently on sale - click HERE quick to nab one!  :-)

Techno stuff:

15D nylon ripstop with ThermoBall™ insulation
Attached fully adjustable hood
Exposed molded tooth, center front zip
Hem cinch cord
Internal elastic cuff
Secure-zip, covered hand pockets

Water Resistant: Yes
Windproof: Yes
Insulating: Yes
Hooded: Yes
Stuffable / Packable: Yes
Keeping the wife warm: Yes

600 Fill Goose Down - provides warmth equal to 600 Fill Goose Down
Packs up into it's own pocket for easy storage
Stays warm, even when wet

*apologies for the dodgy selfies!

Monday, 5 December 2016

5 Wonderful Winter Walks in Cumbria

Tis the season to go on cold wintery hikes then get warm again in snug cozy pubs and tea rooms.  Here are 5 of our favourite wintery walks, all offering spectacular views and many of them with good food at the end.

1.  Arnside Knott

Arnside is tucked away right in the south of the county but Arnside Knott offers some of the best views of the fells.  There are plenty of routes up either from Arnside village or from the campsites in Silverdale - you can also drive half way up if you're not feeling too energetic.  From the top you can enjoy glorious panoramic views of the Kent Estuary, Morecambe Bay and the snowy Lake District fells away in the distance.  Once you're done there are a number of excellent pubs in the village or the superb village chippy - honestly, what more do you want from a walk?


2. Wetherlam

Granted this one is more of a hike, but there are some sensible paths up here in snowy weather though do please always ensure you're properly kitted out before you head up there in winter.  The thing with snow is that the paths vanish and the snow drifts so you have to rely more on your wits and map reading skills.  That said it's fantastic fun if somewhat exhausting to wade through the snow - plus a snow slope seems to bring out the inner child in most of us.


3. Grasmere & Loughrigg

OK, back to something more gentle, but with the option to be more ambitious if the mood takes you.  From Grasmere village there's a lovely route around the lake, though some of it does run along a pavement beside the road.  Once you're on the far side you can either follow the lakeside path back around to the village or venture up the paths onto Loughrigg.  The paths up onto Loughrigg Terrace are well trodden and easy to follow and the views are definitely worth the effort.

4.  Smardale Gill

I know this is an old favourite of ours and, if you're a regular reader of the blog you're probably tutting at me mentioning it again, but it is a perfect winter walk - lots of broad level paths and stunning views.  If you walk in from Newbiggin-on-Lune it adds a bit more to the hike but means there's a lovely pub waiting for you when you're finished.  There's tons of history there too - but if you want to know more about that you'll need to buy our book.  (Shameless plug, I know!)

5.  Duddon Valley

Oh I am going to be in BIG trouble with some folks for mentioning this one - it's one of the best kept secrets in Cumbria and is a SUPERB place for a hike any time of year, but, for me, the colours in the winter make it just perfect.  You can reach it from just south of Torver and it's a valley full of secrets.  My only complaint is that the excellent pub en route is just a bit too cosy making it hard work to tear ourselves away for the second half of the hike.  Don't say I didn't warn you.