Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Mountain Rescue Shenanigans

I was saved by the Mountain Rescue on Sunday. It was all very exciting; I had been out walking with two others when one of them fell from some rocks and ended up with an ice axe through her thigh. In the ensuing chaos I had a heart attack, due to shock, and the other companion had an asthma attack.

OK, it all sounds pretty far fetched but this was a training exercise for Glossop Mountain Rescue Team and a thoroughly good day it was too. I have always had a soft spot for the mountain rescue, I give money out of my wages every month to both the Glossop and Patterdale teams and see it as a kind of insurance policy in case I fall off something pointy one day. Even the best prepared of walkers never knows when they might need these volunteers to come out looking for them and save them from a potentially deadly situation. So, when my friend, Oliver, asked if I would mind being a casualty for them I jumped at the chance. It was all a bit cloak and dagger as all I got was a time to meet and a grid reference but as I would have spent my Sunday out on the moors anyway I thought this would be a change whilst helping out a worthy cause.

Sunday came around and at the correct time and place I met up with some of the lads from the team and the other two victims (sorry, casualties). We were driven up a track and then set off walking to the area where we were to have our “accident”. My word it was cold. Luckily the peat and bogs were all frozen and there were some beautifully frozen waterfalls, they were only about two feet high so no need to get the ice axes out. There were patches of snow in the hollows and the promise of some in the air and a bit of a keen wind too. Pretty soon we were in position and all we could do was wait to be found by our saviours.

I say all we could do was wait but actually we were initially quite busy; Greg and David, who were our two mountain rescue handlers, gave us a bit of a briefing of what we had to do – in my case pretend to have had a heart attack – and got victim number one to wear the mocked up “pole through the leg trousers” complete with lashings of fake blood (apparently the top tip is to buy your fake blood the day after Halloween as its at its cheapest then).

So, we waited. It snowed. We waited some more and it snowed some more too. David made some soup. It got colder and colder, or at least that’s the way it seemed. You see in my haste and excitement I had worn what I usually wear for walking in cold weather, however, this wasn’t walking this was standing around and I was getting chilly. Victim number three, who is a bit of an old hand at being a casualty, put more and more layers on. I didn’t have any more to wear.

We could see the search teams criss-crossing the moors behind us and we could follow their progress on the radios that David and Greg had. We laid around in the snow. I think the fact that it was so cold added a sense of realism to the whole thing for me because when I heard on the radio that we had been spotted and a few minutes later people in red coats started turning up the sense of relief was immense. However, there was no time for sitting back and relaxing now; I had a role to play.

I’m not sure that I was the most convincing heart attack victim that they have ever had but I have to say the boys and girls who rescued us were absolutely amazing. Professional? You bet. The twenty or so rescuers went about their business immediately. Myself and victim number three (the asthma case) were covered over with a large orange shelter and assessed and treated incredibly quickly, we were correctly diagnosed and the appropriate treatments given. It was all recorded with our fake medical histories, symptoms and the medication given written down for when we got to the virtual hospital. The team members had an incredible variety of kit, there was oxygen, morphine, a spray for my non existent angina, you name it then they had it (as well as having carried it over the moors to use it). If I thought they were brilliant with me and the multilayered number three you should have seen how they did with case number one (the one with the pole through the leg). The team were arranged into scribes, runners, medics and others with responsibility for radio communications.

Eventually, victim one was lifted and put on a stretcher to get her back across the moors to the waiting ambulance, not easy when you have a three foot pole sticking out of your thigh. However, lift her they did and then, just so everyone could have a go they reset it and let another bunch of team members do it. And then they were off; across the moors, through heather and peat, over streams and up rocks carrying the stretcher. For exercise purposes I had been flown to hospital in a virtual helicopter (sadly no flight in a chopper for me but then it was only a fake heart attack for which I am grateful) so I walked along with them having a chat with various team members.

When we finally made it back to the waiting ambulance, oh no, victim three had gone into cardiac arrest so the team had to practice resuscitation and using the defibrillator equipment. A detailed debrief followed and then we were free to retire to the pub. It was an absolutely incredible day.

Lessons learned from my trip out with the mountain rescue include; don’t forget to pack extra warm clothing, if you are going to be out on the moors anyway then volunteering to be a casualty is a great way to spend a Sunday and thirdly don’t forget to charge your iPhone (fortunately I was kindly allowed to use photographs taken by the team).

I would just like to remind you all, dear readers, that these are volunteers, regular people who give up their time and energy to try to make sure that we don’t die out on the hills and to pick up the pieces for our loved ones if we do. What an amazing thing to do; so amazing that I have applied to join. I only hope that I can one day be as good as them.

Final thought is that if you can’t commit to joining a mountain rescue team then why not just donate some money? Choose your local one, or the one that covers the area you go walking most or like the best, or, if you can’t decide, just give it to Glossop MRT using the link below (you can even buy GMRT teddy bears, also on a link below).

Friday, 22 February 2013

In Memorium

A glass should be raised to mark the passing of a dear friend and walking companion, Sir Peppington Maximillian Lee (or Pepsi to his friends). Unfortunately, Pepsi hadn’t been well for some time and having reached the grand old age of 16 (ish) and with a gammy leg, cataracts and little quality of life we made the hard decision to take him to the vets. I have never had to make the decision to have a dog put down before and it was heartbreaking.

However, if ever a pooch deserved an obituary it was Pepsi. Yes, he could be a pain with his barking and getting under your feet sometimes but no one could ask for a better natured dog.  Good with kids, with whom he seemed to have some kind of infinite canine patience as Jo’s granddaughter chased him around the living room, Pepsi was always the best of company. So long as he had a comfy place to lie down and the occasional tickle of his ears then he was happy. He didn’t quite take on the role of guard dog very well. He would let anybody in the house but as soon as they came to leave he would bark at them

Outdoors he loved to run around chasing balls on the golf course and following us on some of our adventures. He never really got the hang of stiles though and crossing them usually involved me physically lifting him over them by his harness and he wasn’t a light dog. He loved the snow and running backwards and forwards in it the way that dogs do although he was never too fond of water, puddles or mud.

In his later years his bad leg meant he couldn’t get out for walks anymore and towards the end had difficulty with stairs and the laminate flooring but he still managed to steal Jo’s chocolate off the dining room table and eat a whole giant bar of Galaxy to himself. Yes, I know chocolate isn’t good for dogs but no one ever told him that. Like myself, Pepsi also liked a beer and usually got a bottle for Christmas and we have even shared a post walk pint or two (he seemed to particularly like Jenning’s Cumberland Ale).

His final hours were spent playing with his toys, being fed a bag of Cadbury’s buttons and having his ears tickled.

So here’s to you Pepsi; chaser of balls, not very good guard dog, fouler of the garden and faithful friend. Now if you don’t mind I think I need a pint

Monday, 28 January 2013

All Hail, The Extreme Pub Crawlers

I led my first walk on Sunday (waits for the applause to die down). OK, it was nothing major, just 5 miles with one little hill and a fair bit of tarmac with a bunch of friends and friends of friends – but it’s a start.

I have come to the realisation that the world of social housing can do without me and I can do without it, however, I still need an income. I’m 43 now, or as I prefer to think of it, 39D so I’m in danger of getting to the point where I am too old to change careers and if I am going to do something then it needs to be now. So, I did a bit of asking around, chatted to a few people on twitter and the internet and have decided that I quite fancy giving walk leading a go. However, this is not as simple as just dragging groups of people up the nearest hill, oh no, not by a long way. There are courses to go on, accreditation to complete, and books to read. There are all kinds of hurdles to jump over.

So far I have joined the British Mountaineering Council and registered for the Walking Group Leader program through the Mountain Training Association. And ... er ... thats it. The logbook I have to fill in is still sat on my “to do” pile and I haven’t booked a course yet as it takes money and I will have to arrange time off work. I will get around to it; I just need some time, energy and motivation.

The other thing that I did do though was think that if I wanted to be a walk leader then I darned well better start leading some walks. So, I created a group on Facebook and invited a load of friends to join and arranged two walks a month apart and the first one has just taken place. There was a good turn out of ten people, most of whom I knew and were not too scary. The weather was fairly benign with a bit of a breeze but coupled with some sunshine so no major issues there. I knew the route pretty well so what could go wrong?

Actually, nothing did on the day. Jo and I could have died in a car crash the day before when I lost control of the car on the motorway after hitting a patch of snow and ice and then glanced off the back of a truck and spun across M60 but we didn’t. We were still a bit shaken the morning of the walk and, of course, were without a car but we managed to get a lift with one of the invited guests. To tell the truth I was nervous as anything. Well, I suppose anybody would be. I kind of felt responsible for every aspect of the walk. Would the weather be OK? Would it be too muddy? What if I took a wrong turn somewhere? Would people enjoy it? What if the pub was shut when we got back? Naturally, it was just nerves, like I said everything seemed to go really well. In fact, it went better than I had hoped it would. People appeared to get on fine, some new friendships were made, the token teenager that was dragged along by her mum didn’t sulk too much and no one died. We ended up sat in the pub beer garden having our lunch as there was “no room at the inn” during a hail shower – it was a very fitting conclusion to what had been quite an odd weekend.

I’m really glad I did it and I am quite looking forward to the next one which will be slightly odd as its a child friendly walk so its a correspondingly different crowd of people coming. It certainly took my mind off the car anyway.

If any of you lot reading this out there in the blogosphere are in the Manchester, UK area and fancy a walk sometime then have a look at my facebook group, The ExtremePub Crawlers, or contact me through here and come along. The walks are going to be every month or so and I will try to mix them up a bit. Some will be fairly easy, some will be a bit tougher, but they will usually involve good company and an interesting pub, but I won’t always be able to guarantee the weather, sorry.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Why Am I Here In The Mist and Mud?

 As you have probably gathered by now I quite like mountains and walking. There are other things I am particularly partial too as well; beer, cheese, cricket, music however, the biggest passion is books. Boy, do I love books. I have hundreds of them. They are all over the house. I have to keep popping to Ikea for new shelves. Even though she quite likes a book herself it is driving Jo nuts. I have books on all kinds of subjects and all kinds of genres. I hate giving them away or donating them to charity shops as there is always the chance that I will read them again, and I do read some of them over and over again. I know the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy almost word for word. Fortunately there is a degree of overlap when it comes to books and my other interests; OK, granted there are not many books on cheese and once you get past the Good Beer Guide not many on that subject either. However, there are lots of books about walking and mountains!

So, of course, I have a couple of shelves of Wainwright books. There are the Pictorial guides, the Coast to Coast, the Pennine Way Companion and nearly all of the coffee table books he did with Derry Brabbs. I have a load of walking guides to various regions and guidebooks for different national trails as well as volumes of routes up mountains and county high points etc. I kind of see these as the “tools of the trade”, not as invaluable as maps (I should have put maps on my passions list, they are one of my favourite things in the world) but they are sometimes the spark that inspires a walk. I usually have one crammed in my rucksack when I set out and when we go camping we quite often have a mini library of relevant books in the tent with us.

However, as well as the practical books about walking there are also a number of books about the history, psychology and background detail of mountains, mountaineering, countryside and walking. I think these are the ones I like the best.

Pschology of walking? What’s all that about then? Well, to put it simply why do we go out and do something that is practically pointless? Why do we cover ourselves in goretex and wander around in the wilds in the pouring rain/snow/wind/hail? Why do we do something that has the potential to be incredibly dangerous? What is the point of climbing up a mountain? You could quite simply take the George Mallory answer of , “because it’s there” but today I read something that sums it up for me and reflects how I feel about walking. My latest acquisition from Amazon has been the Guardian Book of Mountains, a collection of cuttings from The Guardian relating to walking and mountaineering. There are obituaries of famous rock climbers and mountaineers, news stories like the Kinder Mass Trespass or the ascent of Everest as well as the demise of the aforementioned George Mallory. However, the one that particularly caught my eye was a leader article about the rise of the popularity of rambling and dates from 22nd January 1923. Entitled “Good Ramblers” it finishes with this little paragraph which, for me, sums up why I go outdoors when I could be sat watching Eastenders, Britain’s Got (Little) Talent or The X Factor.

to live submissively in great towns, without ever going out to get an embrace of mother earth and renew one's acquaintance with solitude, is a deprivation, almost a creeping disease. In an appreciable degree one is remade, and made better, every time one spends a long day among the heather or the peat; a coating of the almost inevitably incipient parasitism that comes of always living in a crowd falls from you; you breath deep and are yourself"

It will probably sound strange to a non walker but I’m just not at home when I’m indoors, in a town or away from the hills. Even being stuck in my own house for a couple of days results in me getting cabin fever. Picture the worst day you could have outdoors; cold, raining, windy, muddy – it would still be better, by a long way, than a being sat watching TV, or a trip to the shops, or a day at work.

On Friday I had a day to myself. Lacking company, a car or a great deal of funds I got the train the short journey to Glossop. From there I walked up Bleaklow, Higher Shelf Stones and Doctor’s Gate. It was cold, low cloud made navigation tricky, I got wet, never saw another person all day, it was boggy and in one or two places the peaty mud came over the top of my boots. Now some people would read that and think urghhhhh, others will look at it and think that sounds fun. That’s the difference between outdoors people and your regular kind of person I guess. It was a fantastically great day.

Now, that’s all well and good but there comes some problems with this kind of thinking. Problem number one is that enforced imprisonment in the house or at work does you no good. If the weather is horrendously bad, you’re poorly or there is some other reason you can’t get out then you start feeling ill at ease, jumpy and short tempered. Problem number two I find is that its sometimes difficult to relate to “regular” people; you know the ones at work who ask your opinion about who is going to win I’m a Celebrity or try to engage you in a conversation about the Trafford Centre. I just normally nod and smile a lot and try to answer noncommittally. This then leads to you developing a clique of like minded people; the kind of people who can join in a discussion about the relative merits of different map scales or the best route up some obscure hill. Of course I can hold down conversations on other subjects too; beer, cheese, cricket and folk music all make for great subjects to talk about with the cool kids at work.

One of the final articles in The Guardian Book of Mountains is an obituary of a young climber called Will Perrin, the son of Guardian climbing writer, Jim. He took his own life at the age of 24 and the implication was that he found life difficult to fit in to away from the mountains. Whilst that is, hopefully, an extreme response to outdoor deprivation I can kind of see how it could happen. As I don’t do any climbing then my chances of dying on the hill are somewhat reduced but I can think of no better way to go then sat on top of a summit, by a trig point or a cairn looking at the view. Unfortunately, you don’t usually get a say in such things.

I will leave the last word to master of outdoor philosophy, AW. Obviously he is writing specifically about the Lake District in this quote but it fits even if you swap the word “Lakeland” for the phrase “the outdoors” or even for any area of your choosing,

"Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland...no other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming, no other than calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.''

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

25 Wainwrights and a Wedding

And so, we reach that time of the year where we are prone to a bit of reflection on the 12 months gone past and look forward to the New Year that is on its way. As is traditional I have decided to have a bit of a review of the last 365 days of walking and together with my good lady wife we have introduced the “Woodys” – our very own walking awards (there is no actual prize before you get excited). So, put on your dinner jacket and bow tie or evening dress for the ladies, imbibe a large amount of champagne and get your winners speeches ready as we start with the Woody for Animal Encounter of the Year...

Spot the seal
2012 was our year of the goat, we saw the largest goats ever the other week when we were walking up Stoodley Pike (they were very cute though) and we also saw the amazing balancing goats of Anglesey that were being used to manage some of the vegetation on the cliff edges. They were very clever as they moved around on the rocks just above the sea. If they had slipped I’m not sure how they would have got back out again. We also managed to see a slow worm on Arran as we came down off Goatfell. It was just sat there in the middle of the track looking all snaky. However, the winner has to be the seals at Millport harbour on Great Cumbrae. It was just magical, a lovely little cove, crystal clear water with the sun glinting on it and around half a dozen seals popping their heads up just off shore and playing about. Jo and I stood and watched them for ages while we waited for the bus back to the ferry.

Camping in a vineyard
The next category is Campsite of the Year. We didn’t actually do that much camping this year compared to previous years – possibly due to the weather. We did start the year off though with our first ever stay in a camping pod at The Quiet Site near Ullswater. For those of you who don’t know what a camping pod is, it’s a curvaceous shed. They have a light and a heater but everything else you have to bring yourself. Bearing in mind that we had chosen February for our first time in a pod it was, to put it bluntly; bloody freezing the first night (this was due to us not working out how to operate the heater). The next night was a lot better as we borrowed an additional heater and we were as snug as a bug. The other thing noteworthy about The Quiet Site is the bar. Set in a converted barn it is stuffed (literally) full of animals, it’s like a taxidermist’s idea of heaven. Everywhere you look there are glassy eyed furry things in cabinets. We also gave Thirlspot Farm a go in the Lake District. Having driven past it many times its close proximity to the Kings Head pub swung it for us and we were not disappointed. It was pretty cheap but clean and had all the necessary facilities. Even though it was next to the road it was quiet and the pub was excellent. This year’s Campsite of the Year though has to be Ty Croes on Anglesey. Believe it or not it has its own vineyard. It’s just down the road from Newborough Beach (more of that later) and our stay there was just so incredibly relaxing that it had to win. As we now want to finish off the Anglesey Coast Path we will definitely be back there next year.

Picnic spot of the year
What is a walk without a picnic? We have found some really good picnic spots this year but the ones that really stand out must be the bench just below the summit of Dodd in the Lake District where, just the other week, we sat drinking hot chocolate with Baileys in it enjoying the view over Derwentwater as everybody else in the country ran around doing Christmas shopping. Jo and I also tried to get out in evenings after work for local walks when the nights were lighter so we had a few picnic teas and we had a lovely time sat on top of White Nancy with some sausage butties one night. Our top picnic spot of 2012 though was on the beach at Cladach on Arran having just climbed Goatfell. The view across the water and the lovely autumn sunshine would probably have given it top spot anyway but the weird way that the waves came in and ran along the beach with a load roaring noise gave it an extra reason for winning.

Valentine's Day in a howling gale
2012 was of course notable for the sheer amount of rain that fell so it would be remiss not to mention our Worst Weather of the Year. First up, rain. We did a walk from Betws Y Coed round Llyn Y Parc in the pouring rain. It started as that thick drizzle but as we got half way round it turned into a torrential downpour, everything got wet. It worked its way through our coats and trousers and the paths were muddy and slippery. At least there was plenty of water going over the Swallow Falls. From rain to sun and the day we did the Fairfield Horseshoe. It must have been the hottest day of the year as we did the 12 mile route. We didn’t take enough drink and we got really badly sunburned – a valuable lesson learned I think. Without doubt though the worst weather we had this year was the wind when we went up Ard Crag and Knott Rigg. As we had already aborted this walk once the previous year due to high winds we decided to press on this time. I think there must be something about this corner of the Lake District that acts as a wind tunnel. It was so windy it nearly blew Jo off her feet at one point – quite a way to spend Valentine’s Day.

Getting sunburned doing the Fairfield Horseshoe
While we are on the slight low points let’s get our Most Uncomfortable Walk of the Year out of the way. The contenders were the above mentioned Llyn Y Parc walk as well as another trek along Baslow Edge. Jo’s boots were getting on a bit and had started to leak so when we did the Baslow Edge walk she was walking in two puddles and was not a happy bunny. We went out and bought her a new pair which she was wearing when we did the Fairfield Horseshoe. So Fairfield is the winner as not only was it boiling hot and we were lacking in drink but Jo was in agony by the end and could barely walk due to her rubbing boots.

OK that was the bad stuff out of the way so back to the good. Jo and I have had a bit of a year of it this year, on the plus side we got married but we also had a load of stress and worry about our jobs and lots of other stuff going on so we have needed the odd bit of running away for some time off which brings me to Best Escape and Bringer of Sanity of the Year. Sometimes you don’t need a full blown holiday, sometimes just a good day away from it all is enough to get your head straight and one such day was our “Christmas Shopping” trip to Keswick. The plan was simple, drive to the Lakes, buy what we needed and then go for a walk which led to us doing Wainwright number 59 (Dodd) as a bit of a bonus. Another grand day out was the day trip to do Lingmoor Fell followed by a plate of goulash in the Dog and Gun, life doesn’t get much better than that. However, the top Escape and Bringer of Sanity was our few days on Anglesey; the campsite in the vineyard, Newborough beach and the delights of the coastal path made life bearable again.

well worth the money
Jo and I had a bit of a difference of opinion when it came to our Favourite Bits of Kit of the Year. I went for walking stuff with my new North Ridge Agility Pro technical trousers and the Sprayway Nyx coat that I won from Country Walking Magazine high on the list. Jo went with the camping toaster, which I have to admit is pretty nifty and makes an evening in the tent more homely as well as the tent itself. In the end though Jo chose her Marmot gloves as her favourite things as they keep her hands warm and dry whilst I went for my Salomon 4D GTX boots which are the most comfortable things I have ever put on my feet.

Food and drink now with first Teashop of the Year which was a close fought category with our old favourite Laura In The Lakes in Keswick who are purveyors of a fine breakfast as well as massive sausage rolls and a new one in the National Trust for Scotland’s property at Brodick Castle on Arran which has a lovely terrace with a view over the gardens to drink your coffee and munch your scone. This year’s top of the teashops though is Faeryland in Grasmere; a grand view over the lake to Loughrigg, rowing boats, an odd collection of tea pots and generous portions of cake make it a clear winner.

Goulash anyone?
The second of the food and drink categories is Pub of the Year. It was hard coming up with a short list never mind to choose a winner. The contenders were narrowed down to The Vale, Bollington who provided the beer for our wedding as well as being generally excellent, great atmosphere, good food and sponsors of the local walking festival and the town’s cricket team. Joining them was The Church in Uppermill which is just one of the quirkiest pubs anywhere with peacocks, morris dancers, their own brewery and a portion of fish and chips that would feed a family of four ... for a week. The top pub though was The Dog and Gun in Keswick for the goulash, dog biscuits (not in the goulash), the money pushed into the stonework and general hubbub of a walking/climbing/outdoor type nature.

We are now down to the final four awards; if this was the Oscars then these would be the ones for best film, director, actor and actress. These are the most prestigious of the Woodys, the rest have just been 1,800 words of preamble really. This is where the action and the glamour really are as we decide initially on Moment of the Year

this picture does it no justice at all
Wow have we had some moments this year! There was, of course, the whole getting married thing but as this blog is ultimately more about getting people out and about I will concentrate on the outdoors moments rather than trying to inspire you to tie the knot – that has got to be your decision. So, what did make the shortlist? There was the sight of a spitfire flying along Dunmail Raise as we wandered along the Fairfield Horseshoe. Due to us being somewhere around Heron Pike we found ourselves looking down on it as it made its way towards Thirlmere, it was a pretty impressive sight. Talking of impressive, Castlerigg stone circle near Keswick is always a sight to behold as it nestles in its ring of mountain neighbours but the evening we went was particularly good as was one of those spectacular sunsets that are all pinks and purples and oranges. I tried to take some pictures on my iPhone but they didn’t really capture the moment. The ultimate Moment of the Year though (not counting the wedding) has to be those seals at Millport again – they really were that good.

First peak for Mr and Mrs Wood
We have done a lot of hills this year. 25 new Wainwrights plus a return to the Langdale Pikes as well as getting out and about in other parts of the country has meant there have been some fine summits for us to savour. The day we went up High Street we did 5 Wainwrights, each of which was a beauty. The summit of High Street and its flat top, historical connections and view which went from one end of the Lake District to the other was particularly good. We went up Holyhead Mountain, the highest point on Anglesey, and sat watching ferries leave the port below and travel over to Ireland. Then there was the previously mentioned “Christmas Shopping” trip that ended in us climbing Dodd with its easy walk up through the forest and fantastic view of Bassenthwaite, Derwentwater and the North Western fells. Earlier in the year we had ticked off little Loughrigg a hill that definitely punches above its weight and goes to prove that you can’t measure a hill’s worth in just feet or metres. The winner though was our first Scottish peak, Goatfell on Arran. What a mountain that is. It is steep and rocky with views across the other Arran peaks, up to the higher mountains on the mainland and across the Firth of Clyde. It was our first summit as Mr and Mrs Wood and we couldn’t have picked a better one so that was Summit of the Year.

A deserted beach with mountains - best of both worlds
Talking of views you don’t just get them off the tops of mountains. If I name my favourite view contenders then the ones from High Street, Goatfell and Loughrigg would be in the top five but there was also a very fine view from the cliffs above South Stack on Anglesey with the big drop, churning sea and gleaming white lighthouse with masses of seabirds swirling around. The winner though wins by a long way; it was during a little evening stroll, the first evening of our stay on Anglesey, and we wandered on to Newborough beach. We walked along for a short distance to a tidal island with an abandoned church before turning back. The view across the beach to the distant silhouettes of the Snowdonian Mountains was far and away the best view of the year and I can’t wait to get back there.

The fabulous Win Hill
And so, to the last award. It’s the big one; Walk of the Year. I thought this would be a really difficult winner to choose as we been incredibly fortunate and have done so many great walks this year, however, in the end it wasn’t that bad. The year started off with, amongst other walks, a trip up Win Hill in the Peak District. To say it’s more or less on my doorstep and only just across the valley from where Jo and I did our first ever walk together we had never been up there. The walk up from Hope was fantastic, interesting all the way and the summit was really pointy with a great 360 degree view of moors, reservoirs, woods and the cement works (can’t have everything I suppose). The best Wainwright bagging walk was the day we did High Street and the fells around Riggindale. We did 5 fells that day and each one was really worth the effort with a differing view from each. The climb up over Long Stile was fun, the view down Mardale Reservoir impressive and the big drop off Kidsty Pike was exhilarating, it was just a pity we never saw the Golden Eagle but I don’t suppose you can have everything in one day. One of the last big walks of the year was the one we did with Colin to Stoodley Pike and this has to go on my shortlist for a myriad of reasons, not least of which was the fact I didn’t have to plan it or navigate but also because it was a really high quality walk. It had a bit of everything; canal towpath, moors, lanes, greenways, woods, a huge pointy monument and a great pub at the end. If you add in good company and crisp, clear weather then you have a combination that is hard to beat.

But, beat it we did.

Halfway through day one of the coast path
I really struggled to decide between these two walks but in the end I managed to choose a winner. The runner up for my walk of the year wasn’t some big day hike through the hills it was a simple little evening stroll on the beach at Newborough on Anglesey. I guess we walked maybe two miles out to the island and back with little sandy insects squishing between our toes. We had the place to ourselves and the sun was just going down. There were interesting rocks, ruins, quirky wooden gates and the above mentioned View of the Year, it was absolutely stunning. If you really need to get away from it all and have some you time then this is the place to go.

Which brings us to the winner of Walk of the Year, can I have a drum roll please? My choice for the best walk of the year keeps us on Anglesey where we did day 1 of the Anglesey Coast Path from Holyhead to Treaddur Bay. The start was a little underwhelming if I am honest, from St Cybi’s church past the ferry port was not what we were expecting but from then on it just got better and better. We were soon out of town and into a little country park, climbing up over cliffs, going past sea arches, looking down on lighthouses. We went up Holyhead Mountain, and to the RSPB reserve at South Stack. We saw standing stones, little sandy coves, deserted beaches where we could have a paddle and more birds and butterflies than we managed for the rest of the year combined. It was absolutely the best walk of the year and one that will be hard to better in 2013.

That was it, my review of the last twelve months and associated prize giving, I hope it wasn’t too arduous reading it but if you would like further details of these walks please feel free to drop me a line through facebook, twitter or by leaving a comment below and I will do my best to get back to you.

I hope you had a great 2012 and that 2013 will be even better – Happy New Year to you all, Col



Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Three Go Mad in Calderdale

New friends from the latest walk
I don’t know about you lot but I am terribly indecisive when it comes to deciding where to go walking. It’s not so bad when I have a limited amount of time as a lot of possibilities are taken out of play and the choice is a lot narrower, however, when I know I have a whole day free and I can go where I please then I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. The trouble is that I can feasibly cover such a large area of country from where I live and a day out could mean the Lakes, Snowdonia, the Dales, Shropshire or a good long day in the Peak District. Even if we narrow it down to wherever the weather is going to be best then I can spend literally days looking at maps, guidebooks and trawling through the Internet to find the perfect place to go, the perfect walk, the perfect route. To be honest it’s a labour of love but it’s still bloody hard work sometimes.

One of the downfalls of it always being me planning the walks is that my own preferences always come to the fore. If you take the weather factor out of the equation then if I’m planning a day’s walking it will be the Lake District ticking off some Wainwrights. If the forecast for the Lakes is a bit grotty then I will sulk a bit but then spend an inordinate amount of time planning something that will fit better with the projected weather, day length and time of year.

Very cold down by th'cut
So, the other weekend, it was very nice to have all these decisions taken out of my hands by my friend, Colin. For months he has been extolling the virtues of his home turf of the South Pennines; the area that acts as a kind of buffer zone between the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Forest of Bowland. Lots of millstone grit moorlands, deep wooded valleys and little mill towns; the disputed territory between Yorkshire and Lancashire (the boundary between the two used to run down the middle of Todmorden’s main street; I bet that made life interesting!). Its not that I was unaware of the charms of this bit of the country, it was just that it had never been a priority to go there. As I said before, sunny days were for the mountains of Cumbria or Wales. The South Pennines were for days when it was chucking it down with rain and Jo and I would have a mooch around Hebden Bridge with a stop for coffee and cake somewhere quirky. Therefore, Colin very kindly offered to arrange a walk for us that would serve as a bit an introduction to the area and would probably end up in a pub somewhere – pub and a walk? Don't mind if we do.

We had arranged a date well in advance and so it was incredibly lucky that when the allotted day came the weather was perfect – bright sunshine and the temperature somewhere around freezing. Thick frost covered trees and grass, the puddles had a skin of ice, any mud was frozen solid and the air was crystal clear. I would take a day like that anytime, even over a summer’s day. As I had left all the details of destination and route to Colin he had to direct us to where we were to park and by a little after 10 am we were pulling our boots on in a layby just short of Hebden Bridge.

Don't be fooled - its still a good way off
The start of the walk was pure Yorkshire, through a little ginnel (for non Northern English readers a ginnel is a passage or cut through between houses), over the River Calder then alongside the frozen Rochdale canal before a climb up through a fairly squelchy beech wood and out on to lane near the brow of the hill with a view back down over the Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge – it looked like something out of Last of the Summer Wine (another cultural note for my overseas readership – Last of the Summer Wine was a long running British TV comedy which ran for 742 years with a cast whose average age was 97.362. I use the term comedy very loosely). A short walk through some fields and we were up on top of a plateau with a full 360 degree view out across the moors and valleys and over towards the south west was Stoodley Pike.

Getting a little closer ...
As it was now plainly obvious what the days target was I was well pleased with Colin’s choice. I am a bit on an aficionado of strange things on top of hills. Growing up in Bollington we had White Nancy, a large, white, bell shaped structure built to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo on top of our local hill; now living in Hyde we have a kind of obelisk war memorial on top of Werneth Low. In the Lakes I always like finding a big cairn on the summit of a fell and I take delight even in a humble trig point too. I had seen the memorial from the valley floor a few times as I had driven past, to and from Hebden Bridge and always fancied going up there.

All 121 feet of Stoodley Pike Monument
There was something a little odd about Stoodley Pike Monument though. In the distance it looked pretty much like any of the obelisk style war memorials you can see in, or above, many towns around these parts but, as we walked towards it along a lovely old drove road it never seemed to get much bigger. A while later and the answer became obvious; the monument on Stoodley Pike is massive! It’s 121 feet tall, with stairs inside which lead up to a viewing balcony which goes all the way around. Rebuilt in 1854 after the first effort collapsed due to a lightning strike it is a memorial to the fall of Paris in 1814 during the Napoleonic Wars and was paid for by public subscription. It just goes to show, no matter how much Lancashire and Yorkshire dislike each other they will always stick together when it comes to celebrating a win over the French.

If you are thinking Wuthering Heights you are wrong ...
That's across the valley
Just below from the summit there was an old quarry where the hill had given up some of its fabric to build the monument; at least they hadn’t had to drag the blocks all the way up from the town below. The path went down past the quarry and zigzagged towards some houses lower down the hill before we followed a lane into a small wood, a quick splash through a stream, then down the track with pleasant waterfalls beside it and we were soon back at the canal – it hadn’t got any warmer since we had left it. The River Calder which runs next to the canal was showing evidence of the recent flooding with various bits of flotsam and jetsam hanging from the trees a good few feet above the present water level and some unidentified ducks (later researched as being goosanders) floated around to make the place look prettier.

Perfect day
After another mile or so the three of us ended up in the Stubbing’s Wharf, a lovely pub that was full of mountain bikers and walkers. The beer was very good with a great range on offer and the food looked pretty good too. Although we didn’t have anything to eat Colin and I did manage a couple pints each which meant Jo was promoted to driver for the journey back.

So, what have we learnt from this escapade? Sometimes you don’t have to drive all the way to the Lakes or Wales to have a really great day out. Sometimes it’s good to let other people choose where you are going and, of course, do the navigating and sometimes instead of driving past things and going “ooh, that looks interesting” try stopping and having a look.

Of course, there is one last thing. Now Colin has introduced us to the South Pennines and done such a good job of it into the bargain, it now falls to me to show him a good walk in my home territory with a pub thrown in for good measure – walk and a pub? Sounds like a plan ... now where are my maps?

You can read Colin's blog about the South Pennines here:  footstepsfotography

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Walking Back To Happiness (Whoopah oh yeah, yeah)

There may be trouble ahead
Ok, you lot huddle in close I need to tell you a secret ... no, come a little closer ... right, here goes. I had an ulterior motive when I started writing this blog. The truth is I had a serious amount of time away from work during the summer due to stress both at home and in my job. I ended up having the best part of six weeks off when you include some leave I had booked and, finding myself at a loose end, and being stuck in the house due to the awful weather I needed something to do. So, I started writing about the great outdoors as it gave me the perfect excuse to tell people to bugger off and leave me alone without being too rude and when the weather picked up a bit I would go out walking. Some of my earlier blogs (The Long Walk Home and Falling in Love with the Peak District) were written about walks I did around this time.

I have always known the benefits of walking when it comes to regulating a stressful life and it is amazing how the simple act of just putting one foot in front of the other can change your entire mindset (at least while you are doing it). I am never quite sure if its the walking itself, the fact you are usually somewhere away from the stress or a mixture of both that does the trick, but, it definitely works. Anyway as time passed things worked out, work calmed down a bit but I still carried on doing the blog. I had really got into this writing stuff and I was getting good feedback as well as it being picked up and used by an outdoors company on their website (www.largeoutdoors.com go and check them out). I even, occasionally, pop up in Country Walking magazine as a bit of a “talking head”. I know its only a little project of mine but it seems to have got a bit of a life of its own. I get people writing to me in reply to blogs I have posted and saying some very complimentary stuff. I even get others who say that they actively look out for it and if I haven’t written anything for a while I start getting badgered to get something done.
On a hill with Jo = relaxed and happy

So, what has prompted me to disclose all this now? Well, although things got better at work for a while the last couple of months its all been going downhill again. There is a restructure going on in my department and jobs have been at risk. I have had very little time to get out for a walk – a day in the lakes a couple of weeks ago to tick Lingmoor Fell off my Wainwright list – and very little time to sit and write my blog. Even when I have had time I’ve not really been in a frame of mind that is conducive to writing something coherent and structured (if my writing ever is), it would have been far more likely to come out as some rant about the unfairness of it all and an expression of worries about the future etc.

Our lowcal local (Werneth Low)

Then, today, I managed to get out for a while, just me and my smallest daughter, nowhere fancy just the local circuit from my front door, up the nearest hill and back. Three and a half miles on a chilly November Saturday within a few miles of Manchester city centre doesn’t sound that perfect however, there was walking’s old magic straightaway. The annoying cough I have had ever since I got over a recent cold went with the fresh air. My daughter’s questions about trees and birds and the view and a hundred and one other things gave me no time to dwell on work. The simple act of one foot in front of another, of dodging puddles and trying not to slip in the mud (Poppy managed to end up face down in it) made the world seem alright again. For the hour or so that we were out together I can honestly say that there is nowhere, not the Lakes or Anglesey or anywhere else I would rather have been. That little local circuit along the abandoned railway line, up a very modest hill, then back down through the outskirts of town and a bit of a scrubby woodland was perfect.

Its fairly obvious that I am a firm believer in the benefits of walking on mental health. However, its not just me; I read an interesting report by the charity Mind this evening called “Ecotherapy: The green agenda for mental health” (available from www.mind.org.uk/help/ecominds/mental_health_and_the_environment should you wish to have a look) the headlines from which are that after an outdoor walk:

  • 90% of people reported an increase in self-esteem
  • 71% of people experienced a decrease in the levels of depression
  • 71% people stated they felt less tense

The British Mental Heath Foundation found that regular walking gave benefits including:

  • less tension, stress and mental fatigue
  • a natural energy boost
  • improved sleep
  • a sense of achievement
  • focus in life and motivation
  • less anger or frustration
  • a healthy appetite
  • better social life
Uncertain prospects

Therefore, from what I already know to be true and the backing of two major mental health charities it seems I should be walking more. But, there is something else too. This recent restructure thing meant that Jo and I had to do some serious thinking about what would happen if the worst came to the worst and if it didn’t then could I really see myself doing my present job until the government decides I can retire? I think the answer is a definite “no”. I’m just not designed for office living, all that happens is that I spend a large amount of time looking out of the window at the hills waiting for the weekend. Whilst this is, in some respects, an escape and a way of dealing with the job its also not exactly helpful in that I spend nearly 40 hours a week wishing I was somewhere else. I really want to get my Walking Group Leader certificate and earn money doing something I love rather than have all this stress from a job that I really, actively dislike (love the people I work with though).

So, yes, a dream job outdoors please – if anybody has one going? Pretty please?

In the meantime I have also started toying with the idea of writing a book. Again, since I have been pottering around doing this blog people have been telling me they think I should write something longer. I usually dismiss these people as just being polite or over enthusiastic but, who knows, maybe they are right? So, I have a couple of ideas that are known only to my nearest and dearest that I am kind of mentally kicking around – they may come to nothing or they may come to fruition, only time will tell. Just don’t expect me to be the next Oscar Wilde or Alfred Wainwright

Its all about a work/life balance
If you are wondering what happened with the restructure I got a full time permanent post in the new role and a big dollop of guilt when a couple of my friends ended up out of a job – it was all pretty dreadful.

I think there are two morals to this particular piece. Firstly life shouldn’t be just about work and money and all the crap that we are told is important by people trying to sell us yet more crap. Life should be about me and Jo and the kids. It should be about laughing your head off with Poppy because she fell in the mud, not worrying about whether next door has a bigger TV. I remember once telling my assistant that the reason I come to work is to provide “pennies for walking”. Well, the truth is you don’t need that many pennies and I am perfectly free to choose how and where I collect those coins. Secondly, its a bit of a taboo subject mental health. Apparently it accounts for nearly half of all ill health suffered in this country and costs us around £77billion to try and treat. Maybe we should talk about it more, maybe we should be more open and discuss how we are feeling and maybe we should just occasionally say “so long” to the rat race and go for a walk.

Another excellent blog about the benefits of walking and mental health (not by me this time)can also be found at - http://www.walkinggirlsguide.com/1/post/2012/09/how-walking-changed-my-life.html 

There should be more of this going on