Thursday, 7 December 2017

Braving the elements in Cumbria

Earth, air, water and fire are the basic elements the ancient Greeks used to explain matter.  (Not to be confused with Earth, Wind and Fire, the American R&B band who had a string of hits in the 70's and 80's including their huge hit September. You can thank me for the earworm later.)

As Steve had broken his old rucksack, those lovely folks at Millets sent us a North Face one to play with to see what we thought of it. Well, when I say "we", Steve got to play with it while I was stuck in exciting places like Wythenshawe, Hindley and Ashford (Kent) - as I braved the rigours of Northern Rail, London rush hour and the high speed train to Kent (that thing is SERIOUSLY fast - 140mph - Northern Rail, you could learn a lot!) Steve did battle with the elements on the Cumbrian hills and I wasn't jealous at all. Nope. Not one bit.  I mean, why should I be...?


Helvellyn (with awesome Akus boots from Keswick Boot Co)
Honestly, you can feel the cold air nipping at your nose here can't you?  Steve tackled Helvellyn and while I was snug and toasty in an office he sent me a text saying "on top of Helvellyn but not hanging around as it's a bit windy".  He also sent me the photo above.  I gazed out of the window at the car park and supermarket and didin't swear once. Honest I didn't.  Thankfully he didn't show me the rest of the photos until later.  Apparently the rucksack was doing well and he particularly liked the fleece lined pockets which kept his camera batteries warm so they lasted a lot longer in the freezing cold.

Crucial point - the side pockets are big enough
for a flask of tea.


Standing behind Ashgill Falls
Cumbria has a reputation for rain and we miss it so much that when it doesn't rain we go and stand behind a waterfall to recreate the experience.  Ashgill Falls are well off the beaten track and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed when Steve told me that there wasn't an evil lair or a stash of hidden treasure tucked away behind the falls.  Or maybe he just didn't look hard enough...  Of course he tried to make me feel better by telling me he was working,  He was.  He was working hard,  but his work looked like this and mine, on that particular day, looked like and office on a trading estate with a view of an air conditioning unit outside the window...

Apparently everything fitted in. Apart from
the tripod. But that dangled outside.

The North Face of the Waterfall

Are you SURE there was no treasure?


See - I told you the tripod strapped nicely to the outside
Having scaled the heights of Helvellyn and hunted for hidden treasure behind waterfalls, on day 3 he decided to keep his feet firmly on the ground and take a wander along the Langdale Valley.  (For the record, I was in another office with a view of another car park, but I was being supplied with an excellent selection of biscuits & cakes).  We both love the Langdale Valley - the views are immense and it's such a peaceful place to be, especially at this time of year.

Yeah, yeah, of course I'm working...

The other good thing about the Langdale Valley is that you can see the weather closing in on you.  You could run for cover when you see a snow storm approaching, or you could stay and photograph it like Steve did.  Nutter.


Whether you've been on top of a windy fell, ducking behind waterfalls, dodging storms in the Langdale valley, working in an office or simply strutting your funky stuff to a disco classic (honestly, Let's Groove was way better than September in my book), there's nothing quite like putting your feet up in front of the fire with a proper Cumbrian pint.  Sequins and spandex tights optional.

With thanks again to Millets for the lovely rucksack - which withstood all of the elements Cumbria could throw at it.  😀

Monday, 4 December 2017

What's wrong with walking?

I walk. Anyone who reads this blog knows that. I live in Cumbria & I walk up big hills. BUT I also travel around the UK a lot with my job & I like to walk then too, but it's not always easy.

I use public transport & prefer to walk from the station to wherever I'm working or staying and so many times when I do that I realise how hard it is. Not the distance, that's the easy part; it's finding a safe route that causes the trouble.

Take this evening. I arrived in Ashford, Kent, at 6:17pm. My hotel is 1.7 miles from the station. Easy? No. Finding a route along a busy road is the first challenge, followed by navigating roundabouts and roads with no easy crossing places.

After that comes the long walk along a well lit but very quiet road.  The thing is people don't walk anymore, they drive, so routes are deserted.  When I was a kid in the early 70's I remember closing time at the local factories when you couldn't have driven if you'd wanted to because the road was choked with people walking home.  Today, at 6:30pm in Kent, where the traffic report on the radio is an endless list of holdups, I only saw 2 other people on foot in the space of a mile & both of them were runners.

Today there were pavements for most of the way - not all mind, I still had to take my chances on a narrow bridge with no pedestrian option - but in the past I've tramped along grass verges and, on one particularly memorable occasion, skittered along a very narrow footpath alongside a dual carriageway.

Walking is cheap. Walking should be easy. Walking gives you time to unwind, refocus & burn a few calories. "Walking Rage" isn't a thing (as far as I know) - at least not along quiet suburban pavements.

I love the film WALL-E and think they were right on the money with the scenes in the spaceship where folks float around glued to screens & have largely lost the use of their legs. It wasn't just a cute Pixar film, it was a warning about where we're all headed.

Walking doesn't have to be up hills. Walking should just be something we do every single day - it shouldn't be such a rare thing that it merits a 5 minute shocked conversation with a hotel receptionist who can't believe you walked "all the way from the station".

I do understand why some folks don't do it - especially women - it was scary walking along deserted unfamiliar streets alone after dark, but if more people did it, the streets wouldn't be quite so deserted and we'd all be a little bit fitter.

I walk because I like it, because it helps me unwind and because I know it's good for me.   I'll be honest - I also do it because it means I can scoff a warm chocolate brownie & not feel too bad about it afterwards... See? What's not to like? 😀

AND AFTER YOU'VE ENJOYED YOUR WALK - why not put your feet up with a good book or 3? 😀
Click here to find out more

Friday, 24 November 2017

10 Christmas Pressie Ideas for Cumbria Lovers

Last years list of pressies proved SO popular (over 10,000 views!) that I'm back again this year with another list of 10 pressie ideas which are perfect for lovers of the outdoors and/ or Cumbria.  (And if you missed it and want even MORE ideas, then last year's list is right here!).

As usual there's a mix of stuff from funky stocking fillers to huge romantic gestures so pick your favourite and earn some brownie points this festive season!

1.  Gyroplane flight with Lakes Gyroplanes

Let's start with a big pressie - how about treating someone to a completely different view of the Lake District?  There are several places that offer flights but this one was recommended to me by someone who knows a lot about flying, and pilots.  I bought Steve a certificate for a flight for his birthday and although he's not used it yet he's properly keen & hopes to be up before Christmas (watch this space!).  You can buy gift certificates for flights here.

2. Ginger Bakers

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me wax lyrical about Ginger Bakers in the past - a small bakery on the outskirts of Kendal producing magical cakes.  They were wiped out a couple of years ago by Storm Desmond but are back and better than ever.  Many of their bakes are gluten free and they have a whole range of gorgeous Christmas goodies ready to wing their way to you - just click here to find out more (warning, you may be tempted to lick your screen...)

3. Splash Maps

Thanks to @Glocky9 for the pic & modeling
 it beautifully! 

This is a simply genius idea - a company which will print an OS map area of your choice onto a beautiful Toob (like a buff but more "mappy") - as they say, you need never be lost again!  They are functional, practical and keep you toasty warm on a windy walk.  All the details are on their website - it's a gift any outdoors lover will love!

4. Zippo Hand Warmer

We all know someone who is always cold, so introduce them to something which is always hot!  Zippo have launched a range of colourful handwarmers to keep your fingers toasty warm on long winter walks.  They run on lighter fuel, are fully reusable and run for up to 12 hours - pick the perfect pressie colour right here.

5. A romantic retreat at Crumble Cottages

There are loads of holiday cottages in Cumbria but Sarah and Stewart have created something truly special at Crumble Cottages in Cartmel - and you don't just need to take my word for it, check out their Facebook page where they have 36 reviews and every single one of them is 5 star.  The cottages are stunning - you can curl up in front of a cosy log fire in the autumn and winter or enjoy their spectacular gardens in the spring and summer.  AND if you book before the end of 2017 champagne & flowers on arrival are included (also, if you tell Sarah it's for a surprise pressie she'll send you a lovely gift card too).  Book directly with Sarah & Stewart - all their details are here.

6. Proper Cumbrian Crafts from Farfield Mill

Farfield Mill is tucked away at the foot of the Howgills near the beautiful village of Sedbergh and is home to a broad range of talented Cumbrian artists and crafters - there's everything from clothing to jewellery and works of art to toys.  If you're in the area you can pop in, enjoy a bite to eat in the cafe and visit the artists as they work, or if you're after the perfect Cumbrian Christmas gift, here's their artists directory, - pour yourself a cuppa, have a browse and order online.

7.  Funky laces from Keswick Boot Company

How about some fab and funky boot laces as the perfect stocking filler for the hiker in your life?  Breathe life back into an old pair of boots by giving them a good clean and a fab pair of laces - in fact, why not buy a few different pairs and mix and match them to really brighten up the fells?  BLOG SPECIAL - the laces are 120cm or 140cm and, if you quote this blog when ordering P&P IS FREE!  (Keswick Boot Company are a properly independent small business based in Keswick (you'd never guess from their name would you?) with boots to suit every size and shape of foot so if you *really* loved the person you're buying for you could always buy them new boots too - though there would be P&P on those 'cos they're big and heavy!)

8.  Cumbrian Spirits

You may remember that I spent the first 2 weeks of September visiting all the spirit and liqueur producers in Cumbria with my new found friend Karen (if you missed it the adventure from day 1 begins here and the book will be out spring 2018!), so I couldn't leave them out of my Christmas list now, could I?  I'm including 3 of my favourites - Shed 1 gin (who produce a special festive tipple) Kendal Mint Cake Liqueur (because of its awesome uniqueness) and Kin Toffee Vodka (which tastes amazing in hot chocolate!) - they are all the perfect way to add a dash of Cumbria to your festive cheer!  PLUS you're going to need a beautiful Cumbria Crystal glass to drink it from - if it's good enough for James Bond and Downton Abbey, it's good enough for us!

9.  Bakes and Balls

As well as a whole range of delicious tray bakes the inventive chaps (and chapesses!) at Bakes and Balls also offer a range of high energy snacks perfectly packed for throwing into your rucksack to keep you going on a long hike.  They use only natural ingredients, dry all the fruit themselves and offer plenty of low sugar and gluten free options - they've even created an edible advent calendar to help you count down to the big day in style!  All of their other cakes and scrummy goodies can be found right here.

10.  Our fabulous books!

This year we have THREE books to keep you entertained - and there's another two coming next year!

50 Gems of Cumbria explores 50 fab places to visit in the county: "This book is not just for visitors...a surprisingly eclectic mix...places that on many occasions have 'slipped under the radar'  Penrith Today

Trails with Tales is a full of intriguing walks around Arnside & Silverdale: "...lovely clear instructions...all the information you need to plan many lovely days out."  Lancaster District Magazine

Historic Cumbria (off the beaten track) gives a more detailed account of 10 sites around the county: "This is a truly lovely little book and an invaluable companion on any walk or wander around the Lake District." Sir Chris Bonington

You can find all of our books here - we'll personally pack them and sign them if you'd like too.  If you want more than one book just email us here and we'll sort something out with the P&P

JUST SO AS YOU KNOW - with the exception of Zippo who kindly sent me one of their funky hand warmers to try, we haven't received any payment or payment in kind for including people in this list.  Well, in the interests of full disclosure,  I did reward myself with a couple of bourbon creams for writing the blog and including our books, but that's all.  Everyone else is there because they're lovely and we love the stuff they do. Cheers!  😀

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Long Way Home

Yesterday (22nd Nov 2017) I'd arranged to travel to Wolverhampton from Grange-over-Sands to meet my elderly mum for lunch.  I'd bought advance tickets and although it was raining when I left home the journey down was uneventful.  The journey back, however, was a catalogue of misinformation, a battle against the elements and really bad timing - but I did meet some lovely people.

  • My 15:37 from Wolverhampton was running late, we were further delayed getting into Lancaster meaning I missed the 17:20 to Grange, which apparently left on time.
  • As the Virgin train I'd just got off pulled away the station announcer informed us that the line between Preston and Lancaster was now closed due to flooding.  If I'd known that 2 minutes earlier I could have stayed on the Virgin train to Oxenholme and got Steve to pick me up from there.  Still...
  • As no trains were running I headed for Lancaster bus station where I got myself onto a very late and diverted, but still running, 555 to Kendal (the driver of which was an absolute STAR - cheerful and helpful in the middle of what must have been a dreadful shift, top marks to Stagecoach)
  • I was trying to keep up to date with things on Twitter and, as we passed through Carnforth I saw this Tweet from Northern Rail

  • Mindful of the advice that no one should be driving unless absolutely necessary I jumped off the bus and headed to Carnforth station to save Steve having to drive to Kendal (I can walk home from Grange station) - there was a train showing on the Network Rail app as running 32 minutes late so I figured I'd get that.
  • It turns out Northern Rail were somehow misinformed (lying is a strong word and I can't imagine they'd deliberately put out false information so let's stick with "misinformed").  Later on I did try to tell them:
  • I joined 3 other people waiting on Carnforth station - plus 5 teenagers at the far end of the platform having some sort of party, 
  • Fifteen minutes later we were joined by an elderly gentleman who'd just caught a taxi from Preston to Carnforth.
  • Between us we were trying to get to Silverdale (1), Grange (1), Ulverston (1) and Barrow (2)
  • Regular recorded announcements were coming through but the information was out of date - they were still telling us that the 17:48 for Barrow was delayed.
  • Around half an hour later a lady appeared on another platform telling us the underpass was flooded, we went to explore.  The two photos below were taken just 4 minutes apart.
Notice the dry area in the centre
Dry area now gone
  • Two of the teens paddled through, the other 3 refused to.  I was happy to paddle, as was 1 other guy in our group, but two others & the elderly gent weren't.  By now we were a team and needed to resolve this.
  • Station announcement tells us all trains are now cancelled but a bus replacement service will be running - fine, but we can't get off the station to get to the busses.
  • No answers to any calls to any organisation who can help or inform us - all of us bar the elderly gent (who didn't have a phone) were trying. We even tried the emergency contact button on the platform.  Nothing.  (I did notice that Northern Rail were now Tweeting about Manchester Christmas markets though, which I thought was nice...)
  • One of our group identified that we could walk to the end of the platform and cross the tracks the the next platform - I appreciate this is probably illegal but we were stranded, there was no information or support coming from anywhere, we'd been told the trains were all cancelled anyway and we had a clear view along the tracks.  Plus this counted as an emergency so we figured we'd be OK (for those who know Carnforth station can I just point out that we only crossed to the central platform with the refreshment rooms and the path out at the far end, we did NOT attempt to cross the West Coast mainline).  These folks, who arrived several hours later, got stuck in and good to see the water level had dropped a little.
From @Bloo_bel Twitter feed
  • Information on the replacement busses was sketchy at best. One source was insisting they were running, another was saying the bus company had refused to send their drivers out in the weather conditions (and who can blame them?)
  • The local cab companies said they weren't working but the elderly gent flagged one down and persuaded the driver to take him to Silverdale.  (The teenagers had vanished as soon as we'd left the station)
  • The remaining four of us, now a soggy but fairly merry little band, decided to abandon Northern Rail and head for the pub/ hotel over the road where I called Steve to come and collect us.  I offered the others a lift to Grange.
  • As the others, who by now had names: Emma, Laura and Torquil, tried to make contact with their families we realised that they couldn't get lifts from Grange as Newby Bridge was flooded.  They booked the final 3 rooms in the hotel while I nursed my G&T, confident that Steve in our 4x4 would make it through.  The coaster on the table made me laugh though...
  • Steve arrived to collect me, I bid farewell to my new found friends, and we finally headed home, getting in at 21:45 - 6 hours after I'd left Wolverhampton.
  • The roads were shocking but folks still whizzed past us on the M6 as if nothing was amiss.
It wasn't the worst journey in the world, and I made some new friends along the way, but surely these days we could have been kept better informed?  At that time of night Carnforth is an unmanned station and there was absolutely no consistent or reliable information available to us from anywhere.  We're told CCTV is constantly watching us and yet no-one can tell us what's happening.  

I know I regularly bang on about Northern Rail but their misinformation earlier in the evening triggered a series of events for me which could have been avoided - the upshot is that I now absolutely don't trust anything on their Twitter feed, which pretty much undermines the whole point of it. 

Of course the upside is I can now look out for my new found friends on my travels and we can bitch about the service together - so not a complete disaster after all.

IF YOU NEED SOMETHING TO READ ON A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY - our books are packed with fun facts and fab photos - perfect as a pressie or just to treat yourself!  Click HERE to learn more!

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Monday, 20 November 2017

Behind the scenes at Kendal Mountain Festival

Endurance, grit, determination, a drive to push yourself beyond the limits of your comfort zone and a willingness to face fear square in the face are just a few of the qualities you'll need to be a volunteer at Kendal Mountain Festival.

Having visited the festival for many years, this year we decided to get involved so we volunteered to help out a bit and see things from the others side.  We had an absolutely brilliant time.  Utterly exhausting but brilliant.  At one point I was sat in a film session where there was a Q&A with the film-makers who had survived untold challenges canoeing along the Amazon in a dugout boat (which they'd dugout themselves and documented in a film called Dugout).

They talked about how they'd survived the extremes of tiredness and hunger.  "That's nothing" I thought "I haven't had a hot dinner for 3 days and all that stands between me and the end of my shift in 8 hours are two Yorkie bars and a bag of mini Cheddars".  I should have listened to Jean - a seasoned volunteer who had wisely packed a tuna sandwich and had a rucksack full of enticing snacks.

So what does being a volunteer entail?  Well, pretty much anything and everything.  The amazing Kendal Mountain Festival (KMF) team are there to ensure everyone has a fantastic time at the festival and our job is to do whatever they need us to do in order to make that happen.  In exchange we got a rather lovely T shirt, a Hydroflask and a pass to get in to see films and events when we're not on shift.  Me & Steve absolutely LOVE watching the films at the festival so over the course of 4 days we worked 27 hours and also fitted in well over 15 hours of films, which didn't leave a lot of time for food.  Or sleep.  I knew exactly how the Dugout guys felt - bar the odd swarm of enormous ants and the occasional dog-sized spider.  (Of course we could have had more time to eat if we'd watched fewer films, but where would the fun have been in that?)  😀

Between us our duties encompassed:
  • Putting up bunting
  • Taking bunting down when an angry lady told us off for putting it in the wrong place
  • Giving out brochures
  • Answering questings
  • Acting as VIP drivers and ferry folks to the station and assorted hotels
  • Selling festival merchandise
  • Handing out passes and tickets to VIPs
  • Not recognising some VIPS and feeling bad about it later*
  • Picking up litter
  • Fetching a burger for Tom and trying not to lick it as it smelled so good
  • Giving out tickets at the opening ceremony
  • Taking tickets in again at the opening ceremony
  • Buying batteries
  • Putting said batteries into tealights
  • Putting up posters
  • Helping to pack stuff away again when it all ended
Another famous bloke
* A young guy arrived at the Summit Desk (VIP spot) when I was there alone.  I looked at him.  "I know I know you" I said "and I know you're a climber, but I'm so sorry, your name completely escapes me just now".  It was Pete Whittaker - one of the most talented climbers on the planet and thoroughly nice guy to boot.  If you don't know him take a look at this.  The man is a legend.

Pretty much everyone we met was utterly delightful, including world famous climbers and the occasional TV star.  The tetchiest person we met (apart from the scary bunting lady) was a journalist who shall remain nameless.  They wanted a lift from the Brewery Arts Centre to an event at the Leisure Centre (a distance of around a mile for those not familiar with Kendal).  Both pool cars were out and it would have been half an hour before we could take them over there.  They stared at me.  "I'm happy to walk you over there if you're unsure of the directions" I offered.  "I know where it is" they replied "but it rained on me one year and I don't want to get wet."  

What I wanted to say was "This is a mountain festival so dig deep and brave the drizzle".  What I actually said was "Would you like to take a seat and I'll see if I can find you a coffee while you wait?"  Sometimes I hate myself.

The entire KMF team were hugely appreciative of our efforts throughout, though special mention should go to Tom for his unending cheerfulness and Festival Manager Paul Scully who stopped to say thank you every time he passed a volunteer.  The KMF team were easy to spot as they were all sporting eco-friendly white down jackets from festival sponsors Columbia.  The jackets may have many fantastic features including being warm, waterproof and made from 21 recycled water bottles, but every time I saw 4 of them gathered together I started humming E17's Stay Another Day - all they needed were fur trimmed hoods.  (The whiteness is another eco-feature which avoids the use of coloured dyes)

Will we be back next year?  Absolutely - if they haven't been put off by me insulting world famous climbers and surreptitiously Googling other vaguely familiar faces and names.  It is one of the most exhausting, brilliantly fun weekends I've had in a long time.  I think I might even film our experience and enter it into the following year's event.  You want endurance mate? I'll give you endurance...

(And if you want to volunteer next year just click here for more info)

The brilliant Dan Keeley

I'm calling this one "Psychohorizontal"

Absolutely no idea what Tom had just sat on...
My favourite film of the festival - just 5 minutes and guaranteed to make you smile.

MORE THINGS TO MAKE YOU SMILE - our books are packed with fun facts and fab photos - perfect as a pressie or just to treat yourself!  Click HERE to learn more!

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