Remembrance of things past

No I haven’t been reading Proust this weekend. I went for a long walk up Skiddaw instead.

It is ages since I have been up Skiddaw even though, or possibly because, it is the closest big mountain to home. But it was the scene of my very first fellwalk on the first day of my first youth hostelling holiday many decades ago, when I came to Lakeland with my best friend Elspeth. We were about 14 and it was our first holiday without grownups and was great fun.

The main drag up Skiddaw. Last experienced in blisteringly hot sunshine.

I had a new pair of walking boots, and an ancient canvas rucsac from a junk shop. So I didn’t have “all the gear”, and I certainly had “no idea”. Most of my socks were nylon school socks and I developed blisters very early on. Sunscreen wasn’t a given in those days and my arms got terribly sunburnt. That wasn’t going to happen yesterday because it was freezing cold.

Some were suitably clothed for the conditions 🙂

There had been quite a crowd of walkers on that first day and it was pretty busy yesterday too, although no-one was hanging about on the summit for long.

On the summit ridge

We continued north along the ridge then east and south past Skiddaw House to return to Keswick.

Looking back south whilst descending to the north
Skiddaw House – former shooting lodge, now a hostel (not open all year)

No need for a trip to a teashop as Frances put the kettle on at home. I had taken along a cake and for once remembered to take a photo. A first try at this recipe, it was deemed a success – not so hard really as it is full of lovely things like chocolate, cream and ground almonds. Very luscious and sticky and approximately 1.5 million calories a slice.

Pity it sank a bit in the middle, but cake is more about taste than appearance!

A new ornament

I couldn’t resist blogging this because I have never been a sports-minded person, I hated team games at school and always hoped for rain on hockey days so that we could do country dancing indoors instead. So I have never had to polish any trophies.

However, earlier this month the annual Great Cumbrian Run took place.
This is basically a half-marathon but there is also a fun run and this year for the first time there was also a team relay class. At almost the last moment my running club decided to enter a team in the relay. This was probably in part a result of our successful trip to Edinburgh in April.

Team spirit triumphs

Debbie, Phil and I had run at Edinburgh but this time we were joined by Dougie, a recent recruit to the club, who is very young (undergraduate) and very fast: he ran his stage of more than three miles in a few seconds over 17 minutes! As a result we won 🙂 and brought this home:

The first Cumbrian Run Relay winners’ cup 🙂

This weekend it became my turn to have it gracing my home, before it goes to the club trophy cabinet 🙂

(Sadly the support team failed to attend this event – his devotion to duty is really slipping – and although lots of press photos were taken none of them made it into the paper, so I cannot include a team photo. And no cake was involved at all.)

Feeding The Coldest Journey

As you will probably know, an expedition to cross Antarctica in winter is planning to set off soon, led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Its aim is to raise money for the charity Seeing is Believing, which tackles preventable blindness.

I am not nuts enough to want to spend six months in the pitch dark at perhaps minus 80 degrees, so what is my connection? Well, a very slight one actually. Here is a hint:

So much chocolate!!!!!!!!!

Last week I spent a day with Jo, who is organising all the food for six men, including her partner Brian, for six months. It has been provided by sponsors and is stored at their home. There is food everywhere: in the outhouse, on the stairs…

…on the stairs….

… on the landing…

…on the landing….

… in the bedrooms, in the dining room, in the garage…

… a double garage FULL OF CHOCOLATE 🙂 🙂 🙂

Many hundredweight of food of all types has had to be unpacked (the amount of packaging to be disposed of is hardly credible), sorted, and repacked into bags for each day. For example, one of my jobs was to label and sort the majority of 7 puddings x 6 people x 52 weeks. That’s a lot of pudding.

Although we are all (that is to say, most readers of/contributors to this blog) used to expedition food, I do not think any of us would relish such a long period with a diet based on dehydrated goods. In an attempt to make the meals as palatable as possible Jo had to come up with a number of recipes that would be reasonably varied and tasty but also easy to prepare and cook with limited facilities in Antarctic conditions. The benefit of this is that whilst helping out one gets to test the menus. (Rice pudding scored very highly on quality.)

As you can see, Brian is looking forward to his nutrition 🙂

Cumbria Cross-Country 2012

I’d always been a bit nervous of trying a XC race because I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for. However, I was told it was basically just a race, quite short but usually muddy.

The first XC of this series was the first XC for both Sarah and myself. It was held at Cockermouth and organised by my running club so I had an idea what to expect. Unfortunately our support team decided he was too busy surfing the net to come along and take pictures, so you will just have to take my word for it that quantity of mud was tremendous. I had to be hosed down before I was allowed back in the house.

Near the start – before Jane and I reached the mud! I nearly lost a shoe twice within the first 100 yards.

Although the weather was good on the day, it was quite a tough race: four circuits of a 2 km route involving steep ups and downs as well as mud. Fortunately we were allowed to outflank the flooded parts of the fields which in parts had turned into ponds.

This week’s XC was different, but equally tough I think.

The start was along a pleasant tree-lined farm track.

Up the track, then right down to sea level, where a circuit started along a path parallel to the Maryport promenade, followed by a climb back up the cliffs, returning along the edge of fields and dropping down to the beginning of the circuit. I felt like packing it in during the first circuit, but of course one doesn’t do that unless injured! Fortunately the second circuit was the last one.

About 50 yards from the finish I became aware that footsteps were catching up with me at a sprint and, although I was pretty sure it wasn’t somebody with whom I was in direct competition, so I decided I had better put on a spurt myself!

Almost a photo finish with a Border Harrier

Border Harriers always seem to be quite hard so I wasn’t entirely surprised that he beat me, but hey, who cares? He wasn’t competing in the Lady Veteran class, so…. I got a medal! My first, and quite possibly my last, XC win. 🙂 🙂 🙂

12 years to Criffel

….ever since we moved to Cumbria in fact. Although it is no distance as the crow flies, about 12 miles, without wings (or a boat) it is a relatively long trip. One has to go inland beyond Carlisle, then north to cross the Solway Firth at the first available bridge (since the more local one was taken out by an ice berg in c.1938), and then continue to Dumfries to cross the river Nith, before turning south to arrive a few miles due north of where you started.

Unfortunately we managed to choose the one recent day when the Criffel was swathed in cloud. As we approached it began to rain quite heavily so we started the expedition in the teashop at New Abbey – the very same tea shop that featured in an expedition to Sweetheart Abbey in August last year. Again we did not actually have cake so there is no cake photo. 🙁

It was still raining as we left but a mile or so away in the car park this stopped, so off we went. I had been planning a bit of an expedition but then I discovered it is only a 5 km walk from the car park to the summit, albeit a steep 500m ascent within that distance. It’s possible to do a ridge walk but the weather really wasn’t right for that so we didn’t bother. I actually used my compass on the summit but we did get a few brief views.

Sarah gets a glimpse of the Nith estuary on the way down
Anna takes a bearing at the summit cairn

There was time to pay a visit to another place that has been on my tick list for ages: Caerlaverock Castle. It is only across the Nith from Criffel but you have to drive north up the true right bank, cross again at Dumfries, and drive south along the other bank. We stopped on the way for a cuppa at a rather nice new tea shop funded by Euro-money, with glass walls giving a great view across the smooth river. A closer look disclosed that the current was actually very strong; it would have been a mistake to fall in.

Looking west across the river Nith

I forgot to take a cake photo, sorry.

Caerlaverock Castle was worth the journey, it’s very attractive and interesting. (There is also a tea shop but we did not need more cake at that point.)

Here was the scene of an important siege in 1300 when the Hammer of the Scots, Edward I, subdued the fortress in 2 days. This is known about in great detail because of the survival of a contemporary manuscript. (Seven years later Edward died on the Solway Plain, a few miles from where we live and there is a monument to this event on the marshes.) Another important siege took place in the Civil War – after which the castle’s defences were destroyed for ever.

The castle is also very unusual in being triangular. Although I could not get a photo to show that – Terry and his microlight would have been useful – there is a picture of the castle here…

So: poor weather but a nice day out. And it made a change to be walking rather than running up a hill!

Canary Islands

This autumn’s pre-winter trip was to the politically Spanish but geographically north African Canary Islands.

Well, I wanted heat and sun and I got both in Lanzarote. They had had no rain for a year – until last Thursday! After a tropical downpour the humidity improved and it was more comfortable for walking.

Cliff top scenery

As you probably know Lanzarote is volcanic and all the hills are volcanoes.

looking down into a crater

Although the volcanoes appear to be dormant it is in some places possible to dig a few inches down, through lava gravel, to reach temperatures too hot to touch. There is a visitor centre where the staff do party tricks such as chucking dry leaves into a hole where they sem to spontaneously combust. There is also a lot of interesting geology to look at.

Black sand and strata

I also visited Isla Graciosa which has “proper”, yellow, sand. Here I know Tish would have enjoyed being thrown around by the Atlantic breakers as I was 🙂 Very invigorating. However, for my money, if you want to see active geology I would recommend Iceland where there are live explosions, steaming pools, and it is possible to step from one tectonic plate to another.

Because it was so dry the scenery was not that attractive and most of the time it was like walking on the surface of the moon. Astonishingly the many bodegas were still serving wine – I tried a very pleasant rose – though, to judge from the sad-looking vines, I suspect that most of the product was from last year’s harvest.

The little crescents on the ground are small walls built of lava to protect the vines, or other plants, from the prevailing wind. There are many thousands of these evidencing an enormous amount of hard labour over the last 300 years.

As well as some exercise, working on my tan, and eating huge amounts of food (back on the fitness diet now) I made some new friends:

All in all a very welcome interlude after a rubbish summer of poor weather and hospital visits. Now: whwere is the atlas to research the next trip??