Friday, 16 June 2017

Sunshine and showers

Loch Shiel
There's no point getting annoyed at the weather - if it's going to rain, it's going to rain, so there's no point being miserable about it.  This week is seriously testing the strength of my resolve but I am determined not to get grumpy - this is my 50th birthday tour and I'm going to make the most of it.

One of the things I love most about exploring Scotland is the sheer variety of things to see and do, whatever the weather.  First up was the Falkirk Wheel - we'd planned to visit on a previous tour but never quite managed it - it is a superb feat of artistic engineering (if there is such a thing!) and, for once, the weather was utterly perfect.

I honestly think I must have been an engineer or something in a previous life as I have an absolute fascination with big bridges, tunnels and other oversized structures, all of which explains why, despite not being a Harry Potter fan (I enjoyed the films but that's about it) I insisted our nest stop was the Glenfinnan Viaduct (my birthday tour, I get to pick where we go!).

The location of the viaduct is stunning and it is a truly awesome structure - seriously, look at it - and all built without the aid of any computers!  The site is also an important historic location and the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie was great for filling in a few blanks in my history knowledge.

"Hogwarts Express" on Glenfinnan Viaduct
There was something quite magical about watching the steam train on the viaduct - never mind Harry Potter (though we could have used his Meteolojinx Recanto spell to get rid of the rain!), being immersed in a landscape with no modern structures made the spectacle all the more special.  We sat in the pouring rain to watch three trains pass over before we called it a day - on the bright side, the pouring rain keeps the midges at bay.

Our next stop was the Camping and Caravanning Club site at Oban which I specifically chose for 2 reasons.

  1. Because the entire site is within a walled garden and I LOVE that sort of thing and
  2. Because one of the reviews of the site said "Don't come here, there's nothing to do" and I love that sort of thing too.

Glen Dubh Reservoir


The site is wonderfully secluded, peaceful and quiet.  There are plenty of walks up into the nearby woods and, even on a soggy day, the views from Glen Dubh reservoir were superb.  There a 5 different walks starting directly from the campsite and loads of others a short cycle or drive away, plus the wardens were utterly lovely and make you feel right at home from the moment you arrive.

Next stop on our adventure is the Kintyre peninsula where I shall celebrate my birthday in style with swimming (I had a wet-suit for my birthday!), cycling, hiking, drawing, reading and maybe the odd visit to a distillery or two.  Cheers!  😀🍷

Saturday, 3 June 2017

The 5 finest benches in Cumbria

When it comes to enjoying a good sit down with a cracking view, Cumbria really sets the benchmark (you see what I did there?).  These days life seems to be lived at high speed, so what better antidote than to park your bum for while, sit back and enjoy the view?  Here are five of my favourites...

The Blencathra Bench

There's only one thing better than climbing Blencathra and that's sitting down and looking at Blencathra and there's no finer bench to do it from than this on.  There's no big climb required either - it's simply a gentle stroll along the old disused railway.  It would be hard to find more perfect sarnie spot in the whole of the land.

The bench on The Band

OK, this one requires a bit of a hike but, come on, look at those views - it's absolutely worth it!  Next time you're in the Langdale Valley, instead of joining everyone else on the walk up to Stickle Tarn follow the route up onto The Band instead and, just as you draw level with the Langdale Pikes up pops this little beauty.  Perfect in Summer but super special when there's snow on the fell tops.

The Inspirational Bench

I've blogged before about Orrest Head being one of the most important, and spectacular, views in the whole of the county so it's no surprise that there's no shortage of benches at the summit.  Although it requires a bit of a walk there's a very easy route up from Bowness.  It's a popular spot so you're unlikely to have the place to yourself but don't panic, there are plenty of benches up there (this is my favourite though!)

The hidden away bench

Scout Scar is just to the west of Kendal (and I mean 'just') - there are a couple of lovely big car parks and a stunning, largely flat, walk out along the top of the scar with sweeping views racing away in every direction.  There's even a giant mushroom you can sit it with a guide to the surrounding fells.  I'm often saying that fab town of Kendal is overlooked when it comes to Cumbrian destinations, and what better place to overlook it from than right here.

The Busiest Bench

There is just about zero chance of you getting this bench to yourself, at least not for very long. Before you've got the lid off your Thermos there'll be someone else loitering nearby ready to leap into your place should you leave - but it is a truly fine bench.  For those that haven't spotted where it is, it's the bench at Friar's Crag overlooking Derwent Water - a glorious place to be, even on a day when the weather isn't quite perfect.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

7 Sunset Trips

Steve has been putting up with my wayward ways for 15 years now - really the man deserves a medal - but I warned him when we first got together that I didn't plan on growing up anytime soon.  This mean he still finds himself embroiled in my "crazy ass plans" from time to time, but it also means I still get childishly excited about a good sunset and am hopelessly romantic enough to enjoy watching them together.

Be warned though, a Cumbrian sunset often requires a good degree of tenacity and several layers of warm clothing - but the results are always worth it. 

1.  Hampsfell

This one is right on our doorstep so I had to include it first.  The photo above was taken on the evening we all lit beacons to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee, which explains why there are so many people on top of the Hospice.  It was an absolutely perfect evening and the fells looked utterly stunning as the sun went down and, as the beacons were lit, we could see right across to Birkrigg Common and down to Warton Crag.  It wasn't the most perfect night though - we were still fairly new to the fell and managed to get lost taking a "short cut" down, resulting in us wading through a huge blackberry bush and climbing a large wall - no one said romance was easy!

2. Wansfell 

The thing about Wansfell sunsets is that after you're done admiring the view there's a really big, clear and easy to follow route back to the car.  This photo was taken from the south side of the fell at High Skelghyll and from there the track will lead either down to Waterhead (near Ambleside) or around to Troutbeck.  If you're up on top of Wansfell Pike it's more of a challenge, though there's still a relatively straighforward route back down to either Ambleside or Troutbeck - but you will need a head torch and lots of warm clothing as, even in the summer, it will get cold quickly once the sun has gone.

3. Whitehaven

Whitehaven is only a 40 minute drive from Keswick and absolutely worth it for the views.  There is tons of interesting history in the town and a beautiful walk up along the cliffs to St Bees Lighthouse - with plenty of places to pause and spot a range of sea birds along the way.  Once you're done head back to the town, grab a bag of chips and settle down to watch the sunset from the harbour walls - there are views over to the Isle of Man to the west and the south coast of Scotland to the north.  Perfect.

4. Windermere

This one is super easy for everyone to access, although the small car park there is now pay and display.  As you leave Bowness heading north watch for the car park on your left just before the roundabout to Ambleside (the perfect spot to turn around if you miss it).  From there you get a spectacular view clear along the Elterwater valley to see the sun set behind the Langdale Pikes away in the distance.  Many's the time we've been on our way home from a hike and pulled in there for 10 minutes to admire the view and finish off our flask of tea.

5. Red Screes Inversion

This was such a spectacular evening - just me and Steve above an inversion on top of Red Screes watching the sun set.  He took so many stunning photos that night with the clouds first glowing gold before deepening in colour to resemble hot lava pouring from the sky.  If you're heading high to see a sun set then do please make sure you're properly kitted out - this was a stunning evening but despite our many layers of clothing we were still pretty cold when we got back to the car.  (Our secret is to leave another flask of hot tea in the boot ready for our return)

6. Sandscale Haws

I'll be honest, this is a very new discovery for us, but what a place!  Just 5 minutes drive from Barrow and your surrounded by enormous sand dunes and spectacular views.  We walked all the way to the south of the dunes for a picnic on the beach and, after the sun had gone down we wandered back around the edge of the dunes enjoying views like this across to Black Combe (one of my favourite fells).  You'll need to check the tide times before you head out but, if you keep close in to the shore, you should be absolutely fine.

7.  Arnside

We have seen hundreds of sunsets from Arnside and they never get boring.  What I love about Arnside sunsets is the way the sun plays on the different patterns across Morecambe Bay at low tide - it's never the same twice.  There are so many places you can watch from - Arnside Prom, the pier, the benches out along the coastal walk or, if you have folks with you who don't love the great outdoors quite as much as you do, then there are ringside seats available at The Albion (and excellent food and beer too) but, be warned, it's a very popular place.

And all the others...

There were so many others I could have included, but then the blog would have been really long and boring, but here's a few more if you fancy seeking them out.

Duddon Valley

Sunday, 30 April 2017

8 Perfect Election Escapes in Cumbria

This blog is a politics free zone and, luckily, so are big chunks of Cumbria.  You may still pass the obligatory roadside signs en route but, once you're there, these places offer a blissful escape from the barrage of interviews, accusations and fake political smiles plastered across our TV screens and mobile news feeds.  I've also tried to pick places that fewer people visit so you won't have to overhear someone else's political views while you try to enjoy the scenery.

1.  Ennerdale and Pillar

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **   

One of the most spectacular and untouched valleys in Cumbria the route up Ennerdale via Pillar is blissfully quiet and benefits from a distinct lack of phone signal - although on the top of Pillar your phone may try to connect you to the Isle of Man or even Irish networks so the best advice is to leave it switched off.

2.  The other Borrowdale

Phone Signal: *         Other People: *    

I've been banging on about this other Borrowdale for years and even Wainwright described it as being one of his favourite valleys, yet it still remains a quiet, unspoiled, get-away-from-it-all valley.  There's not a lot in the way of phone signal along the valley floor and, even on a sunny bank holiday, I can pretty much guarantee you'll find a parking spot in the layby on the A6.  It's just a few miles north of Kendal and for a really interesting walk follow Breasthigh Road over to the deserted village of Bretherdale Head - glorious!

3.  Cathedral Cave

Phone Signal:           Other People: **** 

This election has had many of us wishing we could jut crawl into a cave and emerge once it's all over - well now you can.  Cathedral Cave is tucked away in Little Langdale and is a man made relic of the quarrying industry which once dominated the area.  Although the thick rock walls will block pretty much all phone signals, it is a more popular spot so you may have to share your hideaway - let's just hope everyone else is there for the same reasons you are and politics remains off the agenda.

4. La'al Ratty

Phone Signal: **        Other People: *****

Although chocablock with other people this really isn't an "I'm on the train" kind of a train ride.  Winding up from Ravenglass along the breathtaking Eskdale Valley the signal is so patchy that there's no chance of refreshing your newsfeed - plus the scenery is utterly stunning and most people tend to chat about that.  Apart from a suspicious number of men who prefer to talk about steam pressures, regulators and piston strokes...

5. The middle of Morecambe Bay

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **** 

PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS ALONE - yes, the middle of Morecambe Bay is the perfect place to escape mobile phone signals and politics, but you should only ever go there on a Cross Bay Walk.  (Sorry about the photo but the day we did it the weather was grim!)  Standing in the middle of the bay, over a mile from "land" in every direction, the sense of isolation and desire to stay there may be overwhelming.  There will, of course, be other folks on the guided walk with you, but the bay is HUGE so you can keep your distance from anyone who's annoying you.

6. Foxfield Bank

Phone Signal: *         Other People: *    

We found this beauty a few weeks ago when we decided to ditch the car and take the train around the coast.  Hop off at Foxfield and follow one of the many paths winding through the valleys around Broughton - it's part of the Cumbria Coastal Way so you may bump into the odd long distance hiker but your much more likely to bump into a Herdy.  If you don't fancy a challenging hike then there's a lovely disused railway route you can amble along instead.

7. River Glenderamackin

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **   

While there may be hoards of people tearing up and down Blencathra there aren't many who follow the route along the Glenderamackin (on the side that doesn't lead to Scales Tarn).  It's not the easiest valley to access but it's definitely worth the effort - the views back to Blencathra and Sharp Edge are utterly stunning.

8.  Cartmel

Phone Signal: *         Other People: **** 

An odd choice I know, but hear me out.  First up it's a beautiful village and, although there may be quite a lot of other people there, it has all of this going for it: very poor mobile signal, Unsworth's Yard where you can buy bread, cheese and freshly brewed beer to enjoy on the courtyard, very pretty river walks and a number of pubs where, if someone decides to start spouting about the election, you can order another round of drinks to numb the pain...

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Voyage to the middle of everywhere

Dunstanburgh Castle
When I was a kid I always wondered where people who lived at the seaside went for their holidays.  Now I live at the seaside I know the answer – or at least I know the answer for us – we usually head for Scotland.  Over the past few years we’ve explored huge chunks of the country but there is still so much more to see – and we haven’t even started on the islands yet.

This trip began just south of the border at Alnwick (and a trip to the rather lovely Dunstanburgh Castle) before heading up to Dunbar, Biggar and finally Moffat. I’m simply not one of those people who can keep returning to the same place time and time again – there’s just too much to explore.

John Muir
In Dunbar we learned about John Muir who was born there before emigrating to America when he was just a child and going on to become one of the founding fathers of conservationism. We also spent a fun day in Edinburgh journeying back to the Big Bang (courtesy of Dynamic Earth).

After all that activity a change of pace was called for so we parked up Delores for a lovely night in the Tinto House Hotel – it’s an absolutely perfect spot for accessing loads of wonderful walks (including the Tinto Hill) and is a great base for seeing lots of the sights in this very pretty corner of Scotland.  It's only an hour from Dunbar, 40 mins to the Edinburgh park and ride (free), 40 mins from the glorious walk up to Loch Skeen (at the top of Grey Mare's Tail) and a short 30 minute tootle from Moffat, home of the toffee, “miraculous health giving spring” and a number of very pleasant and not too taxing family walks.

Tinto Hill
The only downside to life on Delores is the lack of a bath so I made the most of our room with a long hot soak in the huge tub – surrounded by bubbles in the tub and in my glass!  The hotel is a lot like The Haweswater Hotel but bigger and a bit posher with a stunning Art Deco stained glass window half way up the main staircase.

Had the weather been a little warmer we could have enjoyed pre-dinner drinks in their lovely gardens but instead we headed straight for the restaurant.  There’s a good range of food on offer with an excellent selection of vegetarian and vegan options (they even have a vegan night once a month when the chef whips up an array of vegan delights).

After the obligatory whisky and a good night’s sleep we dragged ourselves back downstairs for more food – this time a full Scottish breakfast – after which I couldn’t manage another thing until tea time.  All of the food is sourced locally and cooked just how you like it.

Tinto Hotel Gardens
We reluctantly bade them farewell and continued off on our adventures...  I can’t resist a good roadside monument so we screeched to a halt just after a particularly large one we spotted near the Devil's Beef Tub (awesome name!).  The monument is for two postal workers who died in 1831 trying to deliver the mail during a particularly vicious snowstorm.  You can discover the full story in the small, but perfectly formed, Moffat Museum and their graves are in the local churchyard.

As I write this I’m sitting in the sunshine on Delores with two snoozing cats beside me – it may sound idyllic but we’re actually waiting for someone to give us a jump start as our battery has died...  But it’s not all bad news - for me the very best thing about living “beside the seaside” is that fact that I never dread going home in the way I used to when we lived in a town – it’s so lovely to return home from holiday and feel, just a little bit, like the holiday never properly ended.

PS Delores sorted and now safely home again.  😊

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Curious Corner of Cambridge

OS Maps are fantastic - not only do they guide us and keep us safe on high mountains, they also enable us to discover hidden away treasures in the middle of busy cities.  My non-writing life takes me all over the country and, whenever I can, I try to do a spot of exploring.

Last week I was in Cambridge and had an afternoon to myself to explore the city.  It was a bright sunny day and the place was heaving, so I kitted myself out with a £1 walking guide and set off.  The guide was perfect for navigating me around all the "must see" honey pots but I was keen to stretch my legs along the river - cue my OS map!

I spied a rather pleasant river walk so set off to explore.  It's hard to believe but although I was less than half a mile from the jam packed city centre I hardly saw another soul.

As I crossed the river I noticed what I thought were the remains of a large building but, it turns out, it was actually the complete remains of a fabulous Victorian folly known as Hodson's Folly.

Hodson's Folly
It was commissioned by John Hodson (a butler at nearby Pembroke College) and built around 1897 - purportedly to enable him to keep an eye on his daughters when they were bathing in the river while he tended to his nearby land.  The folly itself is at the far end and the walls were erected later (1904) to give additional privacy.

Like the many other thousands of visitors in Cambridge that day I took plenty of photos of the colleges, chapels and other landmarks - but I'm pretty sure I'm one of only a handful who ventured out and found this little gem.

(And, just for the record - here are all the other lovely things I saw)

The Mathematical Bridge

Kings College

Trinity College

Apple tree grown from a cutting from Sir Isaac Newton's "gravity" tree

Henry VIII - note missin scepter - it was replaced
with a table leg by students in the late 1800's

St John's College

The Round Church

A busier stretch of river