22 August 2015

Confession Time

I've got a confession to make. 

Despite spending half my year helping to organise the Ride2stride Festival and the other half banging on about it I've never actually been to a walking festival. Other than R2S that is. So this week I decided to do something about it and headed over the border into Lancashire and the Pendle Walking Festival.  

It's easy to overlook Pendle in favour of its more glamorous neighbours, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, but it's an area full of charm and interest where walking is king. There's a comprehensive year round programme of walks and the annual Pendle Walking Festival is billed as the biggest free walking festival in the country. This year's programme offered 68 guided walks from a family friendly 2 miler to feed the ducks to the "very hard"  23 mile Pendle Marathon. There are plenty of references to witches including Alice Nutter's Way and the Lancashire Witches Walk. This is a 51 mile long distance walk from Barrowford to Lancaster Castle following in the footsteps of the accused to their trial and subsequent executions in 1612. The festival programme offered the walk over 4 days and I wish I'd seen it earlier. Definitely one for the to-do list. 

Instead I chose an 8 mile linear 'hard' walk from Colne to Gawthorpe Lodge, stopping at Smithson Farm for tea and cakes before returning to the start by bus. Eighteen of us, including a walk leader and back marker, left Colne along the Leeds Liverpool canal and headed for Barrowford. 
Crossing the canal

I was lucky enough to walk with a local man who had lots of information about the village and its history. The day was further enlivened by a fellow walker who greeted everyone we met seemingly by name. I'd just started to think she came from the biggest family in Lancashire when it was revealed she was the local councillor and we were walking through her patch. The route continued through a combination of lanes and tracks with glimpses of Pendle Hill shrouded in mist.
Pendle Hill

As someone said, "If you can see Pendle Hill it's going to rain. If you can't it's already raining". Finally we reached Smithson Farm where we found a mini mining museum, a campsite, rescue ponies and a tea room with the lightest scones outside of Yorkshire. The walk finished with a lovely 2 miles through open countryside and along the banks of the river Calder where we spotted a heron and were accompanied for much of the way by a flock of circling Canada geese. 

I arrived in Colne on my own but with no worries about spending the day alone. If our own Settle-Carlisle festival is anything to go by I was expecting a friendly bunch and I wasn't wrong. The first person I met was also a Ride2strider and everyone went out of their way to be welcoming. I came away no longer a walking festival novice and determined to seek out more events like this. It's a brilliant way to explore our wonderful countryside in the company of knowledgeable locals. Now where's that list. I think I'm hooked.

17 August 2015

Run for the Hills

I live near the Leeds Liverpool canal in Saltaire. So near that I can watch the boats go by from my office window and wave to the dog walkers on the towpath. It forms part of my own dog walk most days and a vibrant, lively place it is too. There are boats and bicycles, parents with toddlers and serious walkers. There's a floating cafe and a swing bridge and locks. There's football in winter and cricket in summer on the adjacent playing fields and all year round the stunning architecture of Titus Salt's Victorian mill village. 
Canals rock. So it was with no hesitation that I agreed to walk the Union and Foth and Clyde canals between Edinburgh and Glasgow. There was a logic behind this abandonment of my beloved hills to follow the same contour for over 50 miles. In the last year we'd walked the Pennine Way from Edale to Kirk Yetholm (for our Heart of the Pennine Way book), the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Fort William (for fun) and a combination of St Cuthbert's Way and the Southern Upland Way from Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh - Are you keeping up? Maybe a map will help.

Our walks

Anyway we had a gap and although I can happily live with gaps in my life Tony likes to finish the job (it's a man thing) so, clutching Cameron McNeish's Scotland End to End guide, we set off to join the dots.

It was flat and long and pretty enough but although we made good speed it was surprisingly difficult to keep motivated.  We rarely met another soul. There were cyclists and local dog walkers around the towns and villages, there were the occasional walkers on the John Muir Trail and once in a flood a boat went past. For a major navigable waterway across the centre of Scotland it was seriously short of boats. The Leeds Liverpool it was not.

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The highlights were all off route. The pretty little canal basin at Linlithgow, the fabulous, amazing Falkirk Wheel and the climb (hurrah) up Bar Hill to the Roman fort on the Antonine Way. 

Falkirk Wheel

Bar Hill
The accomodation was great, we ate and drank well and everyone we met was welcoming and friendly. I enjoyed the psychological achievement of crossing the country and the little break from daily life but as we headed west into Milngavie and the Campsie Fells came into view my heart began to lift and my tired legs revived. 

Am I glad I did it? Yes, I think so. Would I do it again? No, I wouldn't. 

Am I looking forward to some fell walking? YES, YES,YES.

9 June 2015

My 5 best walks - so far!

I seem to be spotting lists everywhere at the moment. Everyone's publishing their 10 top tips for this and 6 best hints for that, their how to's and how not to's and it got me thinking. 

So here goes, in no particular order, 5 of my own best walks - so far!

Number1 - Cadair Idris.
I hadn't had much luck with Wales and although we'd had several walking holidays in Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, my strongest memories were of damp cottages full of sodden clothing and pubs that shut on a Sunday. We were staying in Dolgellau and had already slogged our way through the murk to several summits where we'd assured each other that the views would be amazing if only these clouds would lift/rain would stop/mist would clear. Cadair Idris was our last shot and it was with no great expectations that we set off up the pony path in low cloud. Amazingly the higher we climbed the clearer it got and by the time we reached the top of the zigzag path I was stripped to shirt sleeves and for the first time in a week my waterproofs were safely stowed away. A couple of hours later I was still in shirt sleeves but this time sat on the sea wall in Barmouth, eating fish and chips and looking up at what had become and continues to be one of my very favourite mountains.
Cadair Idris - photo courtesy of The Old Rectory on the Lake. I'd given up on taking the camera out!

Number 2 - Hannah's 1st trigpoint
Much more modest is Hope Hill, the rounded hill we can see from our kitchen window.  Seven year old Hannah had been begging to come with us on a proper walk for months so one winter morning we set off from home to climb Hope Hill. Properly equipped with boots, backpacks. sandwiches, crisps, sweets and teddies we made our way through the woods to the bottom of the hill. Egged on by the promise of her packed lunch Hannah made short work of the 282 metre climb and some 3 miles from home she ticked off her very first trig point. She's joined us on many walks since then and is looking forward to climbing Pen-y-ghent this summer.
Made it!

Number 3 - The Coast to Coast
In May 1995 we left home to walk the Coast to Coast. We were younger and poorer in those days and there was no way we could afford to pay for a fortnight's accommodation so we packed up the camping gas and sleeping bags and what passed in those days for a lightweight tent - all 4lbs of it. I carried the gas bottle and flysheet. Tony took charge of the tentpegs and poles. We made do without a ridge pole and relied on some tight guying to keep the nylon from suffocating us in the night. Advertised as a 2-man (sic) we could only get in by undressing in the open and taking turns to limbo dance into bed. Fortunately we camped as near as we could to a pub every night and were duly anaesthetised from both embarrassment and the hard ground. It rained every day. Every single day. Despite having chosen the last week in May and the first week in June for our walk, 'cos everyone knows it never rains at Whit, not a day went by without precipitation of some sort. Our waterproofs were nonbreathable plastic that left us wetter on the inside than the outside and crackled as we walked and we ran out of what little money we had (I blame all that beer) somewhere around Richmond. It was wet, it was tough and it was wonderful and exactly 20 years later it's still one of the best two weeks of my life.
Angle tarn on the Coast to Coast - in rather better weather 

Number 4 - A Dales High Way
A Dales High Way is the long distance route we devised ourselves, bitten by the bug from those early years of Dales Way, Coast to Coast and Pennine Way walking. By September 2007 when we set off to walk the 90 mile trail in one go we'd softened up a bit. Hot baths, comfy beds and a week of full English breakfasts were the order of the day but that didn't detract from the challenge. We still had to average 15 miles a day carrying a full rucksack over some of the highest points in the Yorkshire Dales. We walked from our home in Saltaire over Rombald's Moor and Malhamdale, past the limestone scars of Attermire and on over Ingleborough. We rounded Whernside and looked down over the tiny, isolated farm I grew up on at the top of Dentdale and we hiked into the beautiful Howgill Fells. The sense of achievement when we reached Appleby was immense. We'd done it. We'd created a route. We'd spent nearly two years walking and re-walking, choosing some paths and discarding others, and finally it was complete. A High Way through the Yorkshire Dales.
On A Dales High Way above Dentdale
And finally

Number 5 - Whernside where it all began
Whernside wouldn't be everyone's choice of a favourite walk. In many ways it's not mine. Without the rocky scrambles to reach the summits of Ingleborough or Pen-y-ghent, climbing Whernside is just a long slog up a steep hill. But it's my steep hill. Our sheep lived on Whernside and as a small girl I walked to the fell and back with my Dad. Several times a year we joined other shepherds for the gathers, meeting on the tops to drive our own sheep down for tupping, lambing, clipping and so on. There are few walls or fences on the fell. Instead the sheep are hefted, learning their heaf, their own patch of ground, from their mothers when they first go to the fell as lambs. Generation after generation of hardy little Swaledales all passing a genetic memory down the years. And I was a hardy little thing as well. Stomping up and down Whernside in my wellies and my mum's cut down mac, never thinking that one day I'd be walking those same hills for pleasure. So Whernside may not be very thrilling, nor is it a great beauty but it's the walk that led to who I am today.
A good shepherd needs his dog 

11 May 2015

Spoilt for Choice

With 42 events to choose from during 7 days of the Ride2stride Walking Festival it's impossible to get to everything. I managed to squeeze in daily walks, 2 of the three talks and music most nights and although it is technically possible to go to 18 different things that was exhausting enough. Exhausting but totally exhilarating. 

Here's a snapshot of Ride2stride 2015.

Climbing Pen-y-ghent

A grouse nest on the side of the track

Inside the Hoffman kiln

High Cup Nick

Rare breed piglets on Mearbeck Farm
Live music every night
Heading down to Cleatop Park Wood

18 April 2015

I've just started reading A Year of Living Danishly, an account of a woman's move to Denmark and her attempt to discover what makes it the happiest country in the world to live. Already she has identified an appetite for pastries and a healthy work-life balance as most significant with most Danes leaving work promptly in mid afternoon and not thinking about it again until the next morning, preferring to concentrate their time and energies on family, friends and leisure activities.

Recently my family contact has been reduced to text messaging, my friends have forgotten what I look like and my only leisure activity is a self medicating glass of red at the end of yet another 16 hour day.

Working from home with the Skyware office overlooking the garden and a laptop on the kitchen table means it's hard to switch off. A quick check of emails while the kettle boils, a last look at a chapter before bed, I've even found myself downstairs at 4 am because I've woken up and remembered something I'd forgotten to do. 

Thankfully it's not always like this. The intense pressure over the last few weeks has been because we've a new book, Heart of the Pennine Way, due out on April 24th, the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Pennine Way AND the annual Ride2stride Walking Festival starts 4 days later.

The book is at the printers now and the festival programme is out in the world so there's not much more I can do now, except try to remember how to relax and maybe eat more pastries.

12 December 2014

New Friends

On October 27th 2012 I joined a walk along the Dales Way link route from Menston to the start of the trail in Ilkley. It was the Dales Way Association's AGM and the walk was a chance for members to get to know each other before the business meeting in the afternoon. There was a woman walking on her own and she didn't seem to know anyone else but we're a friendly lot and soon she was chatting to other walkers. She told us her name was Eileen and that she'd walked the Dales Way many times with her late partner Roy.

After the meeting Eileen came up to the committee and gave us a substantial cheque. She asked us to use it in memory of Roy to improve the route that he had loved so much. Coming to Ilkley that autumn was the first time Eileen had been in the Dales since Roy had died and an incredibly brave thing to do, to walk with strangers on a route that meant so much to them. 

Eileen made new friends that day and we have seen her every year since and finally the improvements she initiated are finished. On Monday I joined Dales Way committee members and Yorkshire Dales National Park staff at the newly renovated suspension bridge over the river Wharfe at Hebden.

If you are walking on the Dales Way please take a moment to stop and read the little plaque on the side of the bridge and think about Roy and Eileen and the happy times they spent there. 

28 November 2014

Black Friday v Small Business Saturday

I've just watched a video of shoppers in Bradford pushing and shoving each other to the floor in the race to cram the biggest/newest/cheapest tv/playstation/gizmo into a supermarket trolley and elbow their way to a checkout where it will no doubt add to their mounting debt and New Year misery. And all in the name of Black Friday. 

Who thought that one up. It wasn't an independent trader that's for sure.

Small businesses like ours don't have 50% or 30% of even 20% to cut off our prices in a mad pre-Christmas promotion. When we price a walk guide book that figure has been carefully worked out to cover the cost of printing (we could get a cheaper deal by printing in China but we don't want to when there's a perfectly good printer less than 20 miles away in the Yorkshire Dales), of transport and distribution and research and licences to OS for the use of up to date maps and software and office costs and wages  ....well I could go on but you get the picture. 

It's the giants - the supermarkets, the online retailers, the Tescos and Amazons of this world, who play fast and loose with their pricing and ruin small businesses along the way. We, the supplier, don't get a say in the price the big boys charge or the discounts they offer. So when a walker searches online for Dales Way by Colin Speakman for instance they'll find it for sale on our website for £11.99 and on Amazon at £7.79 - a whopping 34% discount. 

We're grateful to every single customer who buys one of our books wherever you buy them from. Without you we wouldn't have this business that we love. We're not sitting in judgement about where you shop or how much you pay. But there is one thing you can do. Support Small Business Saturday on December 6th. 

Buy your books from the bookshop, your cheese from the deli, your bread from the baker and your gifts from the Makers Fair. It'll help keep us all going for another year and I promise you won't get crushed in the rush.