Saturday, 24 March 2018

Not all walks are uphill

I know that I'm lucky to live in Cumbria and I'm sure that many folks imagine that means that I am out up the fells every chance I get, but the reality is that I have to earn a crust and writing sadly doesn't pay all the bills yet.  This means that I often spend a lot of time travelling the country, staying in strange hotels and waking up in the mornings not entirely sure where I am - so how do I fit walking into a life like that and, more to the point for some folks, why should I?

You don't need me to tell you that walking is good for you but I think that too many people see it as a separate thing - something which needs to be dressed properly for with a water bottle in hand - but it doesn't have to be that way.  I was utterly horrified (strong words but true) to read this report from Public Health England which identified that 41% of adults in England aged between 40-60 fail to walk briskly for 10 minutes each MONTH.  Not week or day but MONTH.

Walking can be something we all slot in to our daily activities, however busy we are.  To give you an idea of what my last two weeks have been like, here are the places I've visited...

My days are crammed with travelling, working and trying to find my hotel so how do I fit in walking?

  • I never take a cab - that's a lie - I think I did, once, about 4 years ago when I left my phone in a training room and had to get back there before they closed.
  • Google Maps is my best friend - it always gets me from A to B.
  • If I do take a tube/ bus/ train or tram, where I can I get off one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
  • If I'm waiting on a train station (this happens a LOT usually thanks to Northern Rail) I walk around the station rather than sit in the waiting room jabbing at my phone.
View along Grange station

View from platform 14 at Manchester Piccadilly
  • I take the stairs where there's an option or walk up and down escalators at stations.
  • At hotels or client sites I avoid lifts and take the stairs - sometimes, at hotels, the stairs can be very well hidden and I enjoy the challenge of figuring out where they are...
  • I pack everything into my trusty little rucksack so walking and taking the stairs is easier.
And here's a big confession - I don't always feel like doing it.  I deliver training courses and I am on my feet all day so when I get to the station only to find there's yet another 20 minute delay because yet another member of the train crew has gone missing (seriously Northern Rail, what are you doing with them all?) I have to fight the urge to slump disconsolately into a seat in the waiting room and crack on with another level of Candy Crush.  So why do I do it?  I could list below all the health benefits of walking but here are the very personal and specific reasons that I do it:

  • It helps me to unwind
  • It takes me away from crowds of people - I've never been good in crowds
  • I see things I wouldn't normally spot
  • I enjoy a little peace and quiet
  • I get some fresh(ish!) air - definitely fresh on Grange station but notsomuch in central London
  • It gives me ideas and inspiration
  • It takes my mind off the delay
  • It's a little spot of "me time" after a day spent talking to people
I feel so passionately that everyone who can should walk more that I started a campaign called #WalkOneStop - you can find out more about it HERE.  All I want to do is encourage everyone to walk a little bit more whenever and wherever they can.  

Each week there is a new story in the news about obesity, cancer risks and the general non-movement of huge chunks of the population - and yet just a few short walks could really help to turn things around - did you know for example that an 11 coach Virgin Pendolino Train is roughly 250m long?  All you'd need to do is walk the entire length 6 times (avoiding picking up a bag of crisps at the onboard shop as you pass) and that's a mile sorted.  

I know I keep banging on about walking but honestly, #WalkOneStop - it could save your life.  😀

PPS.  Here are some of the fab things I spotted while walking around just in the past 2 weeks...












Manchester - KIDDING - Leeds. 😁



Sunday, 18 March 2018

Samuel Johnson was wrong

I've been travelling a lot for work lately and, last week, I was in London for a couple of days working in a trendy hotel which had lots of quotes around the wall and no visible reception desk (I appreciate it makes the foyer look larger but why on earth do away with a reception desk?  A couple of folks in suits perched at a table tapping away on their laptop could be anyone. Would you like me to go around pestering all of your guests until I find the one who happens to be on reception duties or simply hang around looking lost until someone takes pity on me?  But I digress...)

The quote which dominated the wall in the dining area was this "Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford" - well known words from Samuel Johnson.  He was speaking to his biographer James Boswell, trying to convince him that he wouldn't miss his native Scotland if he moved to the big smoke, but I couldn't help thinking that however leaned the man may have been, he definitely got it wrong with this one.  London is lovely in so many ways but it definitely doesn't have dibs on "all that life can afford" - for starters here are just a few of the things which Cumbria has that London doesn't.


London has plenty of places named hill but no real, proper, hills.  Primrose Hill is 65m high, Notting Hill isn't even a hill (it's only 36m above sea level) and the highest point in London, Betsom's Hill, is only 215m high and surely only counts as being "in London" on a technicality.  And, have you noticed how so many place names in London (and other cities for that matter), have retained the name of the thing which was flattened in order to make way for whatever is now built on top of them?  Places like Waltham Forest (although there are still a few small parks left), St Martin-in-the-Fields (which is on a busy junction right next to Trafalgar Square and miles from the nearest fields) and Wood Green which, despite having been both woodland and a large green space in the past, is now a "...busy urban activity centre with sizeable shopping area..."  I'm guessing updating those names would be bad for business; "St Martin-in-the-middle-of-a-crossroads" doesn't have the same ring to it.

So, Mr Johnson, London definitely appears to be lacking hills; the soaring peaks of the central Lake District, the comfortable familiarity of the Langdale Pikes and the gorgeous rolling hills around the Duddon Valley for starters...

View from Great Gable

Langdale Pikes

Orrest Head

Duddon Valley


There may be a few small lakes in London but anything you can walk around in under an hour without getting your boots muddy doesn't really count in my book.  Up here we have so many lakes they named an entire national park after them "The LAKE District" - in fact they are SO fab that we even got UNESCO World Heritage Status - tell that to Mr Boswell next time you see him.  As a comparison the Serpentine in London covers an area of 16 hectrares while Elterwater, the smallest "lake" in the Lake District, covers 17 hectares.  We are also home to the largest and the deepest lakes in England - Windermere and Wastwater respectively.



When I'm away in London on my travels, this is the thing I miss the most.  There is nowhere in London where I can find true peace and quiet - granted there are some lovely parks and quiet back streets, but at no point can I escape the distant hum of cars or take a deep breath knowing that there is no-one else for miles around.  To be fair, back in 1777, when Samuel Johnson muttered his now infamous words to his friend and biographer James Boswell, London probably did have a lot of really quiet corners (Wood Green was probably still woody and greeny for a start) - but these days it's hard to find true peace there.

Of course on a busy bank holiday it can be hard to find true peace in Cumbria too, but there are still plenty of quiet nooks where you can escape the crowds and the drone of the motor engine and enjoy the tranquillity and solitude that is so hard to find in London.

The Eden Valley

Smardale Gill

Black Combe

Unlike Samuel Johnson, people are not going to be quoting our books in 250 years time but, then again, you never know!  They are full of fab photos and fun facts and we are happy to ship directly and cut out the Amazon middle man.  Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

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Saturday, 10 March 2018

What's in a name?

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle around here over the past week or so on account of the fact that two of our local radio stations have been swallowed up by a big corporation and have consequently changed their names.  The Bay is now Heart and Lakeland Radio is now Smooth.  I'm pretty sad about it to be honest as they just don't feel local anymore.  When I was driving home up the M6 I used to get excited around about Preston as I jabbed at the radio dial trying to find The Bay to welcome me home - I can listen to Heart anywhere these days but I could only listen to The Bay at home.  It got me thinking about names and how important they are to us, so here are a few stories behind the names of local landmarks which we've discovered as we've researched our books.

Scafell Pike

Heading out to Scafell Pike
It's more the pronunciation of this which causes the problem with most folks either in the Scawfell or Scarfell camps, though there are plenty of Scaffel fans too.  The original name comes from ancient Norse and translates as "Bald Summit" and for our 50 Gems of Cumbria book we tracked down a couple of experts in ancient Norse to hear how it should be pronounced - but if you want to know what
they had to say then you'll have to read the book!  What I can tell you is that up until the 1800's the term "Scawfell" (as it was then written) referred to a collection of 4 peaks in the general area, including what is now known as Scafell Pike - although that name didn't really begin to catch on until the early 1900's.

Jenny Brown's Point

This is a popular spot near Silverdale with an equally popular story surrounding its name.  Local folklore tells us that it is named after a nanny who rescued the children in her charge from drowning at that spot.  Chances are this isn't the case and there's no evidence to back up the story,  What we do know is that in the 1600's a woman named Jenny Brown was named as a beneficiary in a will and lived in a house in the area, but it's still not clear why the point is named after her.  There's also a lot of debate as to what purpose the chimney served; Morecambe Bay Partnership are doing a lot of archaeological work to get to the bottom of that one and you can follow their updates here.


Bat Cave?
There are at least three Borrowdale's in Cumbria and probably more - the name means "valley with fort" so if you find a Borrowdale you'll most likely find the remains of a fort somewhere nearby.  We've written many times about "the other Borrowdale" just north of Kendal (Kendal = Kent Dale) which has the remains of a Roman fort buried under a field at the far end of the valley.  It is a beautifully deserted place to walk just about any time of the year although I have my suspicions that the Bat Cave may be nearby...

Haggs Wood

The "Kirk" in Kirkby Lonsdale
There are a lot of Haggs in Cumbria, and I'm not being rude.  A "hagg" or "hag" was the name given to a bunch of fodder, typically holly, which was fed to sheep over the winter.  Apparently if you take the branches higher up they're not so prickly and the sheep don't mind them.  The word "holly" often evolved into "Hollins" and explains the number of "Hollins Farms" in the region.


Not surprising that there's loads of these too as it means "village with a church" - Kirkby Lonsdale, Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby-in-Furness (Furness means "rump shaped headland" so now you know!)  Kirk is the "church" part and Kirkstone Pass got its name from a large stone towards the top which looks like a church steeple are you approach - you'll probably need to drive over 2 or 3 times before you spot the stone but once you spot it, it's easy to see how it got its name.

There are TONS of interesting and unusual facts crammed into our books - buy them, read them, and impress your friends with all the things you know. Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Top 5 Hiking Snacks

They say that soldiers march on their stomachs, well it's much the same for hikers.  I don't only hike so I can eat piles of cake and other gooey goodies, but it's as good a reason as any.  There are plenty of excellent websites which will guide you through the essential items needed for a hike, but what are the best snacks to pack?  I realise I'm about to open a big can of worms with this blog (definitely NOT on my list of essential food items!) but here are our top 5...

5. Mini Cheddars

I adore crisps but they are really not practical on a hike - they are far too fragile and end up as a disappointing pile of smashed up crispy dust, impossible to eat on a windy hillside.  Cheddars, on the other hand, come in smaller packs, are more robustly constructed and aren't so easily blown out of your hand in a force nine gale.

4. Malt Loaf

I have extolled the virtues of the humble malt loaf many times in the past.  For me it is a near perfect hiking food.  It's solid, doesn't melt, can be shoved in a corner of the rucksack and is crammed full of calories for that much needed boost when you're flagging at the end of the day.  At home we may slice it and serve it in a civilised fashion, on the hillside we simply rip chunks off it and argue over who has the biggest chunk.

3.  Peanut M&Ms

If you're on a health kick you could always swap these for a nice bag of dried fruit and nuts but we found that the bags of fruit and nut returned unharmed from far more hikes than the peanut M&Ms did and often got dangerously near to their expiry date before we ate them.  M&Ms do have their downsides - being chocolate they're not great in the summer but, let's face it, there aren't going to be many days when you're hiking in Cumbria in 30C temperatures.  Nutritionally you get a double benefit from peanut M&Ms - a quick sugar boost from the chocolate and a slower boost from the nuts.  It's tenuous, but it's what I keep telling myself.

Equal first - Tea and Cake

I thought long and hard about this, I even put off writing the blog while I thought about it some more, but these two simply cannot be separated.  There should be no cake without tea and no tea without cake - so joint first was the only option.  We're terribly civilised and find that mid way through the afternoon is the perfect time to pause for tea and cake.  I'll be the first to admit that I drink pretty revolting tea - very weak and milky Redbush - but the cakes are always divine (life is too short for cheap and nasty cakes!)

My absolute favourite cake is a slab of Ginger Bakers Beetroot & Berry Brownie (it's even gluten free for those who require such things) which, if you follow me on social media, you'll have seen be gush about many times in the past, but last time I visited them (they're near to Plumgarths roundabout in Kendal so if you're driving form the M6 to Windermere you'll probably go right past their door) they pointed out that they make lots of other cakes too and gave me a few to sample to prove it - each and every one of them was utterly divine, but the beetroot & berry brownie is still my favourite.  Look - you can even be civilised and eat it at home with a lump of white Stilton on top:

White Stilton on Beetroot & Berry Brownie - don't knock it till you've tried it!
(The blurry cake in the background is their new Westmorland Pepper Fruitcake which is perfect when sliced thickly and spread with butter). 

The best part is that you don't even need to come to Kendal to buy them - they have an online shop right here so you can enjoy them wherever your hike may take you.

So, that's our top 5 - I know there will be others you want to add - but please don't tell me to pack Kendal Mintcake, I know I live in Cumbria but I honestly can't stand it.  Sorry.

If you're putting your feet up with a slice of cake then you'll need a good book to go with it - our 3 fit the bill perfectly and, if you order directly from us, I promise to wipe all the cake crumbs off the cover before I send them. Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

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Sunday, 4 February 2018

Don't wish for spring.

"The nights are drawing out, not long till spring now" - I've seen this several times across social media already this past week or so and it's not that I won't enjoy spring when it gets here, it's just that I'm not desperate for it to arrive.  These days we seem far too eager to wish our lives away: "I can't wait for summer", "I'll be able to ditch my big coat soon" and "I'm fed up of all the long dark nights" - and yet when summer does arrive it's invariably either too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry and "maybe it will be better tomorrow/ next week/ next year".

Those who know me will tell you that I am definitely not a creature of habit, repeated routines drive me nuts and I thrive on unpredictability, but I do have one routine.  Every Friday night, without fail, it's chippy tea night.  I adore my Friday night bag of fishy chippy goodness and really miss it when we're away from home, in the wilds of nowhere, without a chip shop in sight.  The thing is it scares me how quickly chippy tea night comes around each week; "Friday? Already? Where did the week go?" - like a malfunctioning lighthouse whose beam sweeps faster and faster - I sometimes feel that my life is racing away one large cod and chips at a time.
The way I see it, there's no point in being upset at either the weather or the season - I don't have control over either of those things, so I may as well enjoy wherever we are now and figure out a way to make the most of it.  Take this past week for example; we've enjoyed glorious walks in the sunshine and we've huddled up indoors while it slings it down outside, tossing logs on the fire as the house fills with the smell of jacket spuds and we pore over maps planning the pitch for our next book.

Maybe it's my age (I turned 50 last year) or the fact that I spend a lot of time reading about history, but I find that time flies by fast enough as it is without me wishing it away.  "Where did last year go?", "It only seems like 5 minutes since the millennium", "Is Simon Le Bon really 60 this year?"

If you're looking for a little winter inspiration then here's a few places you could look:

Spring is on its way; it will get here in its own sweet time and I promise I will enjoy it down to the very last bluebell, but I'm not going to wish my life away waiting for it to arrive.

We don't smother this blog in adverts or force folks to sign up to a mailing list, but it wold be a big help if a few folks bought our books - they're perfect whatever the weather. Click the pic to find out more about our books & order yours.  😀

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Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The terrible shame of getting lost.

Just taking photos of the view...
Recently I was enjoying a rather long low level solo hike around Millom - trust me, it's a lovely spot with some cracking views - when I arrived at a stile which was about 50 metres down the road from where it should have been.  I double checked my map and surveyed the area.  It looked as if the path used to run between some farm buildings but had since been diverted to go around them instead.  I was 99% sure of this fact until I spotted the farmer walking across the field looking in my direction, at which point I became massively self conscious and took a number of fake photos of the view until he was safely out of sight.

Is it a British thing?  Or perhaps it's just me.  If I'm out with Steve and we're having a difference of opinion about the route we hush right up if someone else comes along - especially if they're striding confidently in a "I come this way every day" kind of way.  We also tend to duck and scurry around farmhouses where we fear our confusion over the route may leave us open to ridicule, even though we know the path passes directly through the farm and they just haven't bothered to label it.  This usually results in us hiding behind a wall while we squint at our map ever more closely to figure out whether the path goes behind the second or third building from the right.

Sheep. Watching and silently judging...
I'm not averse to asking directions if I'm properly lost, but if I'm just a bit unsure there's a nagging worry at the back of my head that the other person will mock my woeful map reading abilities - I've seen folks on social media and they can be harsh.  What if they knew me?  The shame of a "I met that Cumbrian Rambler woman the other day and she didn't have a flipping clue where she was" comment.  We all make mistakes and we all get lost sometimes, that's just life, but why do we feel embarrassed about it?  (Or maybe it is just me?)

For the same reason I always get irked at "No Turning" signs on driveways - and I say this as someone who's driveway is a very popular turning spot.  I wonder if the owners of such places have never been lost and needed to turn around?  I can understand that they don't want their driveway blocked or damaged, but why not allow people to turn around and get back on the right route? Seems a bit rude to me.

Found by mistake
Sometimes there's a joy in getting lost - not in an irresponsible "help I'm stuck on a mountain and I've no idea what it's called as I haven't even brought a map with me" kind of a way - but in a "ooohhh - I thought we were on that path but we're not we're on this one and isn't that a lovely view?" kind of a way.  I've found some lovely places when I've got a little bit lost - hidden gardens behind churches in London, interesting sculptures climbing the walls in Manchester and, on this walk, a rather lovely bench with fantastic views down over Millom and out towards Barrow.

Excellent surprise bench!
I'm sure I'm not the only person who has discovered something new by getting a little bit lost so post your stories below and tell me all about it.  And if you happen to see me out and about looking a little bit bemused just give me a wide berth - I'm sure I'll get there in the end, I usually do.  😀

One place you can always get lost safely is in a good book!  (You see what I did there?)  Click the pic to find out more about our books & order yours.  😀

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