Could this be Bradford’s best curry?

Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays…these are the days where you go along with where the person in question wants to spend their special day. So it didn’t come as a great surprise when Dad requested that this weekend we go for a curry at the Nawaab in Bradford.

A curry enthusiast, my Dad was in his element when our family moved from Leeds to East Lancashire in the late 80s. As a business manager in a bank he spent a large part of his working day helping local people secure finance to start businesses, and support existing ones. By 1989 Nelson was home to an increasing number of Asian restaurants and my Dad was involved in helping to get several of them off the ground.  I vividly remember visiting some of his customer’s houses as guests and being dressed in saris by their daughters, sharing home-made curries and trying my first glass of mango juice.

Dad relocated several times over the years but eventually retired to Bradford eight years ago, and I was excited at what I thought would be an opportunity to try out some of the famed Bradford curry houses, where you bring your own bottle and eat delicious authentic curries that are akin to those on the sub continent. I spent time in India when Sarah and I went on our epic adventure in 2005, and I was expecting to try some new dishes and expand my palate and horizons when it came to Asian food. The reality however, is that we’ve been to the same one restaurant about 100 times. And it’s not even really in Bradford, it’s on the A650 leading out to Wakefield and is pretty much in Leeds. I’ve not even been into Bradford apart from to get a train in the whole time my Dad has lived there.

This might sound like a crying shame, a waste of the wealth of fantastic restaurants available in the city centre.  The thing is, despite the volume, our local takeaways and restaurants can be pretty hit and miss. The Nawaab has been consistently delicious every single time we’ve been there, so we’re loathe to go somewhere new. It probably won’t come as a shock that I’ve also got into that irritating habit of ordering exactly the same thing every time I go, to the point that I now can’t order anything else because it could only be a disappointment.

This is a typical visit. 2-3 beers in the Six Acres pub across the road. Head to the Nawaab. A sizzling sharing platter for three – bhaji, lamb chop, seek kebab, chicken chat, and a side of meat samosas. Several poppadoms and lashings of mint yogurt dip. Bottle of Cobra. After six years Dad and Chris finally reached an understanding, whereby Chris will be allowed to order exactly what he wants even if Dad thinks he couldn’t possibly need or eat all that rice and bread, because he’s in his 40s and can decide himself how much food he wants. But Chris will then allow Dad to call him greedy at every opportunity. Dad gets to poke fun and Chris gets to be a glutton – everyone wins. The main course is what keeps us going back though, time and time again, and that’s the delicious lamb haandi. A traditional Punjabi dish, apparently it is eaten a lot in Asian homes, cooked in a clay pot that keeps all the delicious flavour in. It’s not too spicy, it’s not creamy, its just melt in your mouth lamb in a flavour packed sauce that is just the right consistency. We always have it with the pilau rice which always gives the impression of having been lightly buttered…whatever it is that they do to it, it works. Chris pontificates for longer than necessary on which combination of lamb, chicken, balti or rogan josh to have before ordering the same thing, with rice and two chapattis. And we all leave very happy indeed.

Yesterday we decided to have a change (eek!) and try out the Sunday buffet. My grandparents were visiting from the Cotswolds and we thought there would be more variety to suit their more delicate tastes and needs. For around £12 a head you get eight or nine different starter options, a full salad bar, two different rices (including a delicious keema biryiani…yes, there’s a lamb theme going on), breads and then nine different curries. I went for the chilli chicken and garlic and chicken balti curries, a heaped plates of starters (which I could eat all day every day) and a couple of refreshing scoops of ice cream to finish off. Oh, and a Cobra. You can even bring your own Cobras if you’re so inclined, and they won’t charge you to open them. It was delicious and the staff are so accommodating, but a little part of me did miss our usual order…

I don’t have any photos of the food to share, my grandparents aren’t comfortable with mobile phones so if I then started taking photos of their dinner to put on Twitter they’d think I’d lost my mind. And to be honest the Nawaab itself isn’t all that pretty, it’s basically on a roundabout, but they have just had a lovely decking and patio area set up outside for people coming for a drink before their meal. But lack of imagery aside, if you find yourself within a ten mile radius of Tong, or Huddersfield, or even their restaurant in Spain, I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. Maybe one day we will venture into Bradford so I can at least offer some kind of comparison, but for now, I’m pretty happy with my haandi.

Note: This is Dad’s 60th pictured below, we don’t usually spend Father’s Day with his golf mates!

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Third time lucky in Austwick…a hidden treat in the Yorkshire Dales

It’s always a struggle to find a campsite that is both pleasant to stay on and allows groups. Usually the group sites are filled with lairy groups of people playing guitar all night and having fires they aren’t meant to. I know this as I’ve been in one of those groups many a time. A few years ago we were looking for a group site, but this time the guitars had been replaced with toddlers so we needed somewhere quiet, accessible and with decent facilities. Cue Dalesbridge campsite. Only a 40 minute drive away from us up the A65 and into the Yorkshire Dales, it’s a part of the world that I’d driven past many a time on the way to the Lakes and thought it sounded a little too much like Auschwitz to be appealing. What a mistake that was. I’ve stayed there twice, the first time we had the benefit of good weather, a quiet time of year and the only pub in the village being open and serving excellent food (more about this later). The only downside was that Mr P had thrown himself in front of someone’s knee at football earlier that week, so he was at home practising on his crutches.

The second time was a couple of years later, and when we discovered the bar. The same group of families and friends had planned a trip, only for them all to cry off on the Friday because it was too cold and they were enjoying drinking their wine in comfort. Undeterred off we went. However our tent had been to Beatherder a good few times by this point, and was suffering as a result. Anyone who has been to Beatherder will know that packing your tent in such a way that avoids future mildew growth, is not your priority by the end of the weekend. We were in a chilly Austwick, the lovely pub I’d been talking about for two years was full to busting and had no unreserved tables all weekend, and the tent and sleeping bag had gone mouldy. Everyone we’d left behind at home was in a nice warm pub enjoying our friend’s band, and we were sat freezing outside a decrepit tent sulking.

Off we went to try out the bar. Now, spending the evening with a group of middle aged men from a mill town in Lancashire who are playing dominoes and discussing what I now know to be a prelude to the Brexit debate might not be everyone’s idea of a good time. But it was warm and dry and they served alcohol.

Dalesbridge is a really convenient site for us, and one that definitely should be remembered by those who live on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border. Too often we traipse all the way to the Lakes forgetting that we’ve got the beautiful Dales on our doorstep. Austwick is round the corner from Clapham and easily accessible for all of the three peaks of Yorkshire. The site is friendly, clean and whilst compared to some of the bigger sites it’s not as modern, it’s got everything you need. They specialise in groups and families, have got a big flat field with no drainage issues that I can remember, and they have other accommodation options if you’re not in tent. It’s also reasonably priced and they’re very relaxed about booking, though I wouldn’t take this for granted during the summer holidays.

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It’s also worth considering making a trip just for the Game Cock Inn. It’s a ten minute walk into the beautiful little traditional village of Austwick, all red phone boxes, dry stone walls and posters for the WI. I believe the pub is run by a French couple, and the menu is a wonderful mix of traditional English dishes with a French twist, and a variety of other dishes.

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As it was a bank holiday when we camped they were fully booked, and I suspect this is a regular occurrence. We called again last year, following a trip up to Coniston to climb the Old Man, which hadn’t left us sufficiently hungry enough to eat in the Lakes. We called into the Game Cock on our way home, which by now had become somewhat built up in Chris’s eyes due to his inability to ever get a meal there. It almost seemed like the same thing was going to happen again, but they squeezed us in and promptly stopped seating people for food. We’re so glad they did. As well as eating exactly the same thing as I did in 2012 and it being just as good, I got to try all of Chris’s choices and can confirm that they’re not a one trick pony.

A steak burger being held together with a very sharp knife looked the business, and tasted it too. The homemade chutney really complemented the flavours of the meat, and for some reason I’m a real sucker for a decent French dressing…which was always going to be good in a place like this.  The game pie beat my Grandma’s (though I’ll be keeping that to myself), and the malteaser cheesecake, well, I’ve sent a few tweets about it so it’s fair to say that I’m a fan. Add to this a great beer garden at the back with a children’s play area, and both Peroni and Wainwright on draught. Had it not been a Sunday we’d have been trying to get a room for the night, and waiting for the crowds to clear so we could enjoy the pub for longer. The couple on the table next to us were testament to its brilliance, given that they came most weekends and took it in turns between driving and enjoying a bottle of lovely French red.

If all of it isn’t enough to tempt you to Austwick, whether it be passing through for a drive, camping with a gang or scaling the Three Peaks, bear in mind that Austwick is home to Great Britain’s silver medallists in pickleball. And if you want to know what that is, you’d probably better ring and reserve a table now…

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Vilnius: The underground city that’s not just for cool people

I don’t usually pick my holidays on the strength of forum posts on Up the Clarets. As Neil and Dave have lived in Warsaw for several years now, planning a city break has usually revolved around finding out when Neil isn’t working and booking a £40 flight. We both love Poland, Chris especially. If he had a blog he would probably use it solely to extol the virtues of pierogi and the cost of premium lager. Having only visited Warsaw in November though, we decided to cast the net a little wider, whilst still focussing on that part of Europe. The problem with spending so much time in Warsaw is that then spending anything more than £60 on flights makes you wince, which immediately ruled Prague out. However Mr P spends a ridiculous amount of time on Burnley FC’s forum page. Within these posts apparently you can find out anything from information on player transfers, local road closures, kebab shop hygiene ratings…to Eastern European city break suggestions. And off to Vilnius we went.

I’d not done a huge amount of research but what I had seen indicated that it would follow a similar format, Old Town, river, hearty (stodgy) food and reasonably priced beer. I’d also heard it would be cold. We tend to do hand luggage only on these kind of trips, primarily because I’m practically a Yorkshire woman and would rather wear the same top all weekend and have more money to spend on food, and because Chris likes using his miniature toilet bag. One thing I’d say about Vilnius in April is that you will need a hat, scarf and gloves, all of which luckily we’d brought. You’ll also definitely need a waterproof as we arrived in rain on the Friday and unfortunately it poured it down for the majority of the day.

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We’d got the airport bus into the city centre, which takes around 20 minutes and costs 1 Euro each, which quickly made us realise that Vilnius was going to be an easy city to get around. Our hotel, Europa Royale was right at the far end of the Old Town within shouting distance from the Gates of Dawn. The Gates of Dawn mark the entrance to the city by the only one of nine remaining original entrances in the city wall. I visited mid morning on the Saturday when there were large groups of tourists on organised tours and several carts selling fridge magnets and replica gates. From there you can walk the length of the Old Town, which is just over a mile or so, and end up in to Cathedral square, a huge square which is home to a beautiful cathedral and the start of the walk to what remains of the castle. From there you can see the river, and over into the business and presumably less touristy district of the city.

Our plans for the weekend were to wander around looking at the architecture, visit the castle, stroll by the river and intersperse this with plenty of stops for food and drink.

A couple of things hampered this on the first day, firstly the rain, and secondly that everything looked deserted. Vilnius is seemingly a really quiet city. But by the end of Friday night when the rain had stopped and we’d persuaded several Lithuanian students and young couples into conversation with us, we realised that everyone is just inside staying warm and dry. And getting hammered. Apparently in the summer the cafes, bars and restaurants all spill out into the streets, and quiet cafes turn into lively clubs. In the winter you wouldn’t have a clue where anyone was from the outside of the restaurants and bars. But we found them, packed into dark bars eating potatoes and drinking craft beers, and it was absolutely brilliant.

We’re the kind of people who like to size up a place from the outside, weigh up how popular it looks and even try and catch a glimpse of a meal before venturing inside. Not here. You can’t see through some of the windows as they’re frosted, and those you can see through could look deceptively empty. Some of the best bars we went into looked practically closed from the outside. And this is how we found ourselves on a walking and drinking tour in some incredibly quirky bars, including…

Alaus Biblioteka (The beer library)

If you head a couple of streets off the main road in the Old Town, you will find this fantastic bar hidden above a pizzeria. It’s a blink and you’d miss it job, but there’s no need to ever miss a bar again now we have Google maps. Rows of books face shelves of craft ales, lagers and stouts. My main complaint with the craft ale movement of the last four or five years is that it can alienate the lager drinker and make us feel a tad unsophisticated. This bar however knows that there is more to lager than Carling black label. Very friendly and knowledgeable bar staff offered a range of around 10 draught beers both ale and lager, and there must have been 200 available on display by the bottle. We went for German Pilsner, Jever, and a Lithuanian corn beer which Chris cited as the reason he slept through breakfast. It was a busy bar but we managed to get a table, and some great advice about where to go over the weekend from a local couple.

The Meat Lovers Pub

When I’d finally got Chris out of the door on the Saturday, we went for a stroll round the Old Town. It had stopped raining and we had blue skies all day, with the exception of about eight seconds of snow that afternoon. It’s a predominantly Catholic country, and as we strolled round the streets looking at a number of beautiful churches we stumbled across the Meat Lovers Pub. We ordered dirty burgers and Lithuanian sausage, and I treated myself to a Bloody Mary. All I can say is, if I hadn’t fallen in love with Vilnius when we found the beer library, being served a Bloody Mary with a skewer of bacon as a garnish sealed the deal. Not dissimilar to what you’d pay at home for the privilege, but for a capital city it was excellent value.

Leiciu Bravoras

Leiciu Bravoras is just off the Town Hall square and is one of a couple of bars/restaurants run by a brewery that offer tasting packages. By the looks of the group we watched, endless jugs of different beers are delivered with an explanation of the beer’s origin and other useful facts, plus what looked like a considerable amount of beer snacks. We observed this from the table opposite, where we enjoyed our own personal tap to pour steins of home brew, whilst eating cured meats and exceedingly spicy horseradish sauce. If you have a real interest in beer itself as opposed to just its side effects, the tasting experience looked substantial and enjoyable. We were just after a livener at this point after an afternoon spent in the Museum of Genocide Victims, which itself is well worth a visit to understand some of Vilnius and Lithuania’s history from WWII onwards.

Beerhouse and Craft Kitchen

IMG_8611.JPGThis was possibly the most deceptive of them all. From outside all you could see were empty tables, but the couple smoking outside couldn’t rave about it enough, so in we went. We went down a flight of stairs, round a corner and into a series of underground cellars filled with tables and people enjoying a Saturday night out. People sat eating herring and drinking from yet another impressive array of beers, and all in what looked like a concrete bunker/railway station/brewery. It was fantastic.

Then we went to a club. If like us you’ve not been to a club since before they introduced late licensing in pubs, Vilnius is a good place to ease yourself back in. We ended our day of exploring in the Mojo Lounge, Vilnius’s number one nightspot and according to the guide book, a place where ‘it doesn’t matter how young or old you are’. It’s the kind of club you can get a Corona for 3 Euros, they’ll let you in wearing your big coat, and you can dance to Faithless.

Needless to say Sunday got off to a slower start, and off we went to Forto Dvaras to indulge in some traditional Lithuanian stodgy dishes to clear the cobwebs. It’s a chain, but its menu laid claim to the seal of approval from the Lithuanian culture board for staying true to traditional culinary values. It was yet another Vilnius labyrinth, with what felt like hundreds of tables below ground level in more caves. We ordered chicken kiev and cepelinai (commonly called zeppelins because of their likeness to the airships). Zeppelins are almost the Lithuanian pierogi, a huge potato dumpling stuffed with meat and drizzled with fat, lardons and sour cream. They might not be everyone’s cup of tea but Mr P ate them every day with no complaints.

After a short and easy hike up to the castle for views out over the city, including the Three Crosses monument, we ended our trip by retiring to Sky Bar at the Radisson Blu hotel. A couple of thoughtfully served cocktails in their gorgeous 22nd floor bar, endless bowls of peanuts and ambient dance music later, and I could have stayed in Vilnius all month.

We flew… Ryanair, £80 return from Leeds Bradford

We slept… Hotel Europa Royale, £50 a night for a huge double room and breakfast

We drank… beer ranging from 3-5 Euro a pint

We ate… anything with potatoes and stuffed with meat, prices varied a lot but you can get a decent traditional meal for around 5 Euros and be full and content

We bought… if your family are anything like mine and expect a fridge magnet from everywhere you go, you can pick these up at the airport for 3 Euros each (if you were too busy drinking cocktails to buy them in town)

We chatted… to anyone and everyone. The people were incredibly friendly and happy to share their tips of how to make the most of your Vilnius experience. Even if you were wearing anoraks

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Keswick when it drizzles

It’s something I do a lot. The sun comes out, I’ve kept a bank holiday weekend free for ‘spontaneity’, and I mention to Chris that we could go camping. By the time the bank holiday rolls round a fortnight later it has inevitably dropped 5 degrees, non-stop rain is forecast and I’ve lost interest. Unfortunately by this time Mr P has packed and unpacked the boot several times in his mind, and before I know it we’re heading up the A65 under a blanket of cloud with cries of “stop being a fair-weather camper” ringing in the air. This Easter was no exception. We’d spent the previous couple of weekends basking in early Spring sunshine, and on a Vitamin D fuelled Sunday took the radical step of becoming members of the Caravan and Camping Club. We claimed we’d done it for the discounted ferries and wider options for our sporadic camping trips, but we both knew we’d done it for the matching membership cards and car stickers. As chance had it, their Keswick site had availability, so we booked in and set off on a drizzly Good Friday morning.

This was our third trip to Keswick in just over a year, so you could be forgiven for thinking it’s our favourite part of the Lakes. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is true, but you get the convenience of a huge variety of walks, accommodation, shops, and places to eat and drink without having to do battle in Bowness. Here are my favourite things to do in Keswick, many of which I have partaken in this weekend…

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Go for a walk

It sounds obvious, but there are that many shops and a growing number of fancy bars that you could visit Keswick quite easily without leaving the town centre. This would be a terrible idea! Many people flock there to climb the ‘family friendly’ Cat Bells, though having gone up in driving wind and rain last year, I found it relatively tough. Having said that, it’s steep but not too high, and after the initial painful section you get fantastic views out over Derwent Water. On a drier and less blustery day I’m sure you could take relatives of all ages.

On this trip we climbed Latrigg. Wainwright describes it as “the easiest of promenades” and a walk for which Sunday best is quite appropriate dress. I wouldn’t have gone that far, but I’m in no position to disagree with Wainwright. We tried to do the walk via a circular route in a tourist leaflet, but one of the bridges is as yet unrepaired following the 2015 floods, so we trekked up from the town centre, crossing over the A66 before starting the climb. It’s not a long walk, and the beauty is that there are several trails heading off it into woodland so you can explore if you want to extend the walk or enjoy your picnic. It’s also pram and wheelchair friendly. I’ve got no upper body strength so I doubt I’d push a pram up, but I saw people comfortably doing just that. Once you get to the top you see down Derwent Water to Borrowdale, the Newlands Valley and Cat Bells to your right, and Bassenthwaite in the distance. Behind you is the beast that is Skiddaw.  Latrigg is often described as Skiddaw’s ‘cub’ so that gives you an idea of its size. We climbed Skiddaw during the very snowy February last year and I thought my legs would never recover. Latrigg is a gentler option for those wanting a couple of hours stretching their legs and getting great Lakeland views. It’s also perfect for if you want to cross a Wainwright off quickly before getting to the pub. (More resilient walkers may wish to try Blencathra or the Newlands Horseshoe, both of which were ruled out because of the weather on this trip).

Go for a post walk pint

No Lakeland walk would be complete without the pint at the end, and there’s no shortage of places to get one in Keswick. A particular favourite and our first stop this year was The George Hotel. It’s at the top of the main street, opposite a working men’s club which I’m dying to visit for a game of pool. The George is all dark wood, brass hangings, maps of peaks and decent beer. In winter there’s always a fire, and they have both Peroni and Jennings on draught. They also do the best food – but I’ll come back to that.IMG_8493

Last year a Belgian beer bar opened just before our trip. Now admittedly it’s not very traditional to drink 8% Belgian beer on a Cumbrian walking holiday. That said, if you’re there for a week and become a little bored of Wainwright and meals containing gravy, their beer selection is overwhelming, they sell the glasses of many of their brands (I know this as we have some), and they have an impressive variety of both moules and cakes. Originally called The Drunken Monk, it’s now called Magnolia, and you can find it at the top of town just before you turn off for crazy golf and the lakeside.

Eat a pie

Now this may sound a little controversial, but I don’t think that the Lakes really pulls its weight when it comes to great pub food. I’m sure many people will disagree, and I will (very) happily go back and try any recommendations, but most pub meals we’ve had in the Lakes have been OK rather than fantastic. That is with the exception of The George. The George is rightly famous for its cow pie. It says something about a pie when they serve it in half and full portions. I’ve had the half, and had to retire back to my bed and breakfast suffering from what Joey in Friends described as ‘the meat sweats’. It’s not just that it’s huge; it’s rich, delicious and gravy dowsed and you do feel like you’ve eaten half a cow, but in a really, really good way. The full cow pie is the sort of thing American diners would give out bumper stickers on completion and take snaps for Instagram #fullcowconquerer. It really is a must try, if you love meat and supporting traditional pubs. On our next trip we will be attempting the full cow pie. Well, Mr P will be. I’ll be tweeting photos of him (they also have WiFi). If you love pie but couldn’t stomach a full cow, we head to Thomason Butchers each trip. They sell individual pork, steak, mince and onion and breakfast pies for under £1.50 each, and we take one on each walk. Due to being rained off our second planned walk, I can report that steak pies taste just as good eaten in a nice warm car in a layby off the A66. I always find if you’re looking at a mountain you can almost convince yourself you’ve climbed it and deserve the pie all the more.

Go shopping

After a lovely Saturday walking, eating and drinking in intermittent sunshine, Easter Sunday was back to back drizzle all day. There is no lack of shops to visit in Keswick, and as much as I hate shopping, there are so many wonderful things to buy in some of the independent shops in Keswick I overlook it. I also overlook how far off pay day it is. My absolute favourite is Cherrydidi. I’ve popped in on every trip and each time buy something and add something to the IMG_8515list for next time. They stock local artists and jewellers, are absolutely lovely and cater for people who want a Lakeland souvenir but don’t want to spend a tenner on a Herdy mug. I had a ring made by one of their local jewellers last year, Jeannie Healey Creed. Their service was fantastic and I did it all over the phone once I was home, which prompted a welcome return trip to collect it (postage was available, but that’s not as much fun).

This weekend I added these beautiful earrings to my collection. You can buy a big selection in the shop itself though, no design needed.

Head for the famous Zak the collie dog once you leave the main street (this will make sense on arrival!) and you won’t miss the shop.

Viewpoints is the gallery of Pete Tasker, keen walker and photographer. His photos are gorgeous and it’s always worth a look in. His biggest framed prints are around the £200 mark, but you can pick up a small print for under £40, or greetings cards if you’re stuck for space or funds. We’ve got one of his Wast Water prints above the fire and it’s a constant reminder of how we’ve still not climbed Great Gable (previous blog post about disastrous trips to that part of the Lakes if you’re interested).

You’ve also got to pay a quick trip into Bookends if you love reading. If nothing else, it supports and helps to keep local bookshops alive. There’s always something a little unusual to be found, bought, and read at your leisure in your camping chair.

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This weekend has gone a long way to remind me that you should never let the weather at home put you off packing the tent and setting off. Yes, we’ve been cold, and my bank balance would be in a better place if we’d walked the Newlands Horseshoe with a Thomason pie instead of loitering in the aforementioned shops and pubs. Looking out of our window at home on Friday morning was enough to make me want to turn on the fire, stockpile the beers and spend the weekend socialising and complaining about the Great British weather. Yet the weather didn’t really seem all that bad from where I was sat later that day, looking up from under the awning at Skiddaw, with a rather large glass of Lakeland gin.

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When is a hill not just a hill? When it’s Pendle Hill

Pendle Hill dominates the landscape for anyone who is lucky enough to live in the boroughs of Pendle, Burnley and the Ribble Valley, yet many of us take this completely for granted. My mum has never walked up it, despite living practically at the bottom of it for ten years. A couple of Sundays ago Chris and I took advantage of the rare combination of having a free day, the sun being out, and the fact that we weren’t suffering from ‘late night’ headaches to walk up our local hill.

Pendle is definitely a hill, we’re not that place in Wales that is desperate to become a mountain. But at 557 metres it’s not a stroll in the park. Whichever way you choose to walk up it, it’s a pretty sharp climb but an achievable one for most members of the family. Given where we live we tend to favour the traditional route up from Barley. On a day like this in glorious sunshine, that meant parking on the road from Roughlee with all the other hikers and picnickers. It’s not the longest of walks, if you’re relatively fit you can be up and down in an hour and a half, though I have had friends regularly go up Pendle for fitness and knock half an hour off that. This was the first time I’ve been up in quite a while without having to stop for breath on the steps, so it’s fair to say that I am not a speed walker.

Once you leave Barley village and start winding your way up towards the field that marks the start of the climb, even on a beautiful day like this was, it’s very peaceful despite being busy. There are also plenty of opportunities for real estate envy. You see all levels of fitness, elderly fell runners, families in jeans. I’ve been walking up Pendle since we moved to the area when I was six, so I forget how fantastic the views must be to a newcomer. We were at the top last March on a snowy but sunny day, and it was so clear that you could see out to Blackpool Tower. Anyone who lives in or knows North West England knows that days like these are not the norm. A family were at the top from out of the area and they were amazed at how far you could see. Pen-y-ghent and the Dales, the Trough of Bowland, the coast, and out over the Pennines. It’s easy to forget that most people don’t have this on their doorstep.

If history interests you, then the hill and surrounding area is steeped in the story of the alleged Pendle witches, trialled and hung at Lancaster in 1612. People tend to walk up on Halloween, but I’ve never done this because I don’t like the dark, the supernatural or being scared!

The Barley route takes you up some sharp steps but then you’re only a short walk to the trig point to enjoy those fantastic views. On this occasion we had to linger longer than normal due to a family taking around 200 photos, before returning to Barley via Ogden reservoirs. There are shorter routes back down if you’ve got little ones, and all are easily found. We stopped for a picnic and the obligatory post climb Mars Bar in the shadow of Ogden Clough, before coming back down to the forest and reservoirs. All in all we were out about 2 and a half hours and it didn’t cost us a penny.

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However if you want to spend some money, another thing we’re blessed with round here is an abundance of country pubs. Whichever way you walk up Pendle, you’re guaranteed a good pint and decent meal at the end. In Barley our favourite is the Pendle Inn, which does the best cheese and onion pie I’ve ever tasted, bar my friend Rick’s. I think it’s about £9.50 and worth every penny. If you’re into real ale there’s always a good selection I’m led to believe, and a trip after a walk up the hill would not be complete without a pint of local brewers Moorhouses ‘Pride of Pendle’.  The Pendle Inn is the walkers’ pub, unpretentious, comfortable and accommodating. Over the road is the Barley Mow, one of a growing chain of more upmarket pubs/restaurants/luxury accommodation owned by the Seafood Pub Company. The reason I didn’t go up Pendle this morning is because I spent the entirety of yesterday sat in one of their other beer gardens, the Forest in Fence. They’re great pubs, nicely set out and relaxing, but for me the menu at the Barley Mow doesn’t compare to the Pendle. It does have fond memories for me though as my first ever job was here, as a waitress when I was 13. I was quickly relegated to pot wash after accidentally dropping a piece of chocolate fudge cake in a customer’s lap. The Cabin at Barley car park also does great ham butties using meat from local butchers Roaming Roosters, and ice creams.

Quite a lot to go at in Barley alone, but you can also go up Pendle from Downham and Sabden. I’ve only done each of those routes once, probably because I’m a sucker for cheese and onion pie and Barley is nearest to my house. From Downham you’ve got the added bonus of having a drink at the Assheton Arms (also Seafood Pub Company). It has a gorgeous beer garden and views out to the hill, though quite a limited menu if you’re not into seafood (the clue is in the name). They win back points by having Peroni on draught.

I’ve walked up dressed as a witch, including even my own broomstick, along with hundreds of other witches commemorating the 400 year anniversary of the Pendle Witch trials. We broke a world record that day and raised money for our local hospice. Last year I had the privilege of taking my niece Scarlett up for the first time, who bounded up with her usual vigour saying to me at the top “It’s alright walking isn’t it?” No matter how many times you go up Pendle, the view never gets old, and no walk is ever the same.

I’m sure now Spring is here there will be many more days spent either on Pendle, or sitting in the shadow of it with a nice cold beer.

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Notes from a small island

I’d done my usual trick of not researching where we were going, therefore I was instantly and pleasantly surprised. It started on the surprisingly short journey up to the ferry port in Ardrossan. It continued when I realised there was a bar and a restaurant on the ferry. And it reached its peak as we started our journey across the Isle of Arran to our home for the week and saw our first highland mountains in two years.

George had offered up their holiday home Balmara to the group last summer, and we were the first of the gang to visit. We thought we may be the last after a minor incident with a wine glass, but luckily that was only house related calamity of the week.

Apparently (I didn’t know this, having done no research) Arran is often referred to as Scotland in miniature, and it’s easy to see why. The island is home to less people than live in Barrowford, only they’re spread over about 170 square miles, a lot of it wild moorland and highland peaks. The villages on Arran consist of around five houses and some swings, and many settlements are so small you don’t realise you’ve driven through them.

I’d seen George’s photos on Facebook and discussed their stays on the island with her several times, and I knew there was a ‘hill’ called Goat Fell which I would be expected to walk up whatever the weather. What I wasn’t expecting was it to be sunny practically all week, for there to be mountain ranges similar to what I’d only expected around Fort William or the Cairngorms, and there to be beautiful coastal walks beside cliffs, seals, and more sunshine. I wasn’t expecting Goat Fell to be a similar height to The Old Man of Coniston.

Having not had a full week off work for six months I was well ready for a week of relaxation amidst George’s many scented candles, however Chris, who had done his research, had plans of mountain boot camp. This all came to light on the first day when my suggestion of nice sounding walks called Kings Cave and Fairy Dell were scoffed at in favour of walks that had included descriptive words such as horseshoe, ridge, demanding and so on. We decided to have a nice large gin and then take it in turns to decide what we did each day, hence striking a balance, with compromise and variety. We thought this was such a good idea we immediately had another gin, the Scottish Rock Rose this time, my new favourite, and set about planning the week.

The following day we set off walking up Arran’s highest peak, Goat Fell. I was really enjoying walking through a forest in the sunshine, the higher we went the more of the sea visible behind, the fells up in front… that is until I remembered that I’m pretty scared of hill walking in Scotland. With the exception of Ben Nevis you can walk for hours in Scotland, if not longer, without seeing another soul. To some people this is heaven…this is my idea of hell. If you don’t see anyone, who will reassure you that you’re on the right path? If you don’t see anyone else’s footprints, AND then it clouds over, how do you know you’re not about to end up on the local news for stupidly going for a big walk when you don’t know how to use a compass and only have a Mars Bar for comfort? The wildness of Scottish mountains is tremendously beautiful, but quite frankly I’d like to have an invisible guide a few steps ahead at all times. I don’t know why, it’s not like we’re that far away from the Lakes, where I’ve walked on many occasions in terrible weather, without a map, and strayed far from the path. I’ve always found my way back, even when I set off from Grasmere and ended up in the Langdales, quite by accident. None of that worried me anywhere near as much as trying to get to the top of Ben Scurragh a couple of years ago when I ended up clinging to the side of it. It’s not even as high as Pendle Hill. We continued upwards alone, eventually seeing some people in front of us who looked like they were struggling in what looked like thick snow. At this point we just had t-shirts on and were getting sunburnt faces, but up ahead it looked like a different story.

As we got higher the nerves kicked in even more and after trying to scramble round the wrong side of the path in snow, I was all for giving up. That is until a young lad in wellies started springingIMG_8165.JPG up the path towards us, showed us the correct way and then suggested we follow him. I’d recommend Goat Fell as a walk for the spring and summer months if you’re not confident. We had to kick our boots into the snow to get a footing, and without poles, it was pretty heavy going. There’s no drop off the side or anything, but it’s still pretty slippy and possibly one for the more adventurous. Anyway I huffed, kicked and muttered my way to the top, thinking about all the gin we were going to drink on my day, after looking for fairies in a cave in a leisurely fashion. Then I remembered why I go hill walking. It’s for the view at the top, the Paps of Jura and Ireland on a good day, the Witch’s Step and the other Arran ranges today, a golden eagle and views back out over to the Scottish mainland. The lad pointed out what we were looking at and gave us a suggestion to make it a circular walk, and before long we were sliding back down the snow of Goat Fell on our bums to the bus stop at Corrie. Whilst the walk might not have been the easiest, navigating Arran’s transport system was. Yes, the buses are every three hours, but if you want a flavour of Arran life just travel on one. Everyone is chatting, everyone knows each other (probably because there’s only one high school and one late night disco), and it stops and picks up on command. When we travelled one on during the school run even the teenagers were pleasant.

A week happily went by. The people of Arran continued to be delightful everywhere we went. It is impossible to do anything quickly because people just won’t stop talking to each other. They also think absolutely nothing of drinking gin cocktails at high noon. A recommendation for a gin cocktail would be the Auchrannie resort and spa, a little high brow by our normal standards, but lovely for a drink by the fire on our wet final day (my turn to choose the itinerary). We sampled the North Berwick, Edinburgh and Botanist gins that day, though none quite compared to the Rock Rose.

As well as a couple of more leisurely walks along the beach at Kildonnan to see the seals, and around the coastline at Lochranza to Fairy Dell, we also attempted one last ambitious hike. We unfortunately we left it a bit too late in the day to walk as far as we wanted up Beinn Nuis, but the initial walk through the Glen Rosa valley was the prettiest sight of the week. The following climb up through the moorland and an adder sighting were a little more hairy. Again, possibly a walk for summer days (hopefully minus the snake), when I’m hoping we will be able to return.

For an island with so few people and such small villages, it initially surprised me that every village on the coast road has a swing set looking out to the sea. But then, this says a lot about Arran. After all, what could be much more pleasant than swinging out to sea, full of mountain air and Scottish strength gin? Not much I wouldn’t think.

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Lets start at the beginning, a very good place to start: How the ’15 for 15′ challenge was born

I took a detour home from work tonight and stopped in for a brew and a catch up with an old friend and his wife. After celebrating their wonderful news, the conversation moved to the outdoors, projects, spreadsheets and all that goes in between. Driving home I felt a renewed vigour for ’15 for 15′, the project myself and Riggers hatched back in October in the snug of the Britons Protection.

As with all good plans it began over a pint of Amstel and a conversation about our mutual love of taking to the hills for the day. We both acknowledged that we’d not done enough walking in 2014, in fact, with the exception of two failed attempts at scaling peaks, I’d done very little. Clinging to the side of Ben Scurragh and refusing to go any higher because of the wind would not tick any self respecting peak-baggers box.

We both like a project, in fact I thrive on them, and like nothing better than making lists, ticking things off, and then boring everyone senseless talking about it. Remember the marathon?

So we made a list. Nothing restrictively ambitious, just 15 lovely walks across the UK to be completed during 2015. Mr P would complete the trio, and we would use our challenge to invite like-minded friends to join us in the hills and have a jolly wholesome time.

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As you can see by the fact that we thought Kinder Scout was called Tinder Scout, and the whole challenge would be sponsored by Amstel, we had surpassed the amount of Amstel that you should drink on a school night whilst making life plans. It should be noted that this is the first draft of the list, the second involved doing the Three Peaks in 24 hours. By this point we were disrupting the snug and were on the verge of inviting them all to join us on our travels. It was cold, there was a fire, what can I say…we got carried away with the festivities.

And so that was that. We woke up, went to work (slightly less enthused), and after a few weeks all but forgot about it. Christmas took over and before I knew it January began in it’s usual hazy way, all plans to start the year with a brisk jaunt up Pendle sidestepped due to the post New Year dull aching head.

So what happened next? Well, I can happily say we have since completed one of the 15 walks, twice. Nicky has completed a second walk (three if you include walking to see a Gruffalo). We’ve gained companions, had offers of accommodation, cancelled one walk due to snow and illness, and already had to write off February as a trio because we’re all booked up three months in advance. I’ve also been virtually introduced to ‘The Taxi Driver’, a hiker from Yorkshire who has a prolific You Tube following due to his walks with a handheld video camera and steady informative monologue. I’ve got to admit it’s the accent that does it for me rather than the routes, but nevertheless he’s proved invaluable during my initial research.

As we’re perilously near to the end of February I’m well aware that my write up of this challenge is seriously lagging, so I’ll share walk number 1 in my next blog. All I’ll say for now is that I first went up Pendle in 1990, and the fact that the challenge began walking up it in the worst weather conditions I’ve ever known gives me a real sense of foreboding.

Still, it’s all in the name of a good spreadsheet, and I can certainly cope with a bit of adverse weather for that.

 

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