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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Rat and Mouse’s Epic adventure: a special birthday blog for Sarah Haworth

Ten years ago today, myself and the inimitable Sarah Haworth woke up in a hotel in Mumbai. A hotel that had cost us £2.30 for the night according to Hostelworld, but that we were informed on arrival was actually going to cost us £23, and we’d not actually made a reservation. It was 3am, we were in Mumbai, and we had nowhere to stay. They could find us a room, but were pretty incredulous that we would believe a room could cost £2.30, even in India. £11.50 each for a nights’ sleep was over our budget so in the morning we had to move on. It was the 18th January 2005, it was Sarah’s 25th birthday, we’d been in India less than 12 hours, and we were already incapable of booking a nights’ accommodation without a hiccup. It was going to be a long 8 months…

As a special birthday present to Sarah, I wanted to try and piece together what I could remember of this most memorable of birthdays, so I’ve gone back through the journals, the albums and the deep caverns of my memory, to hopefully give her a laugh as she has a civilised and leisurely 35th birthday breakfast in a cottage in Wales with her fiancé and 2 year old daughter. How the times have changed.

The day before Sarah’s birthday in 2005 we’d set off on our epic adventure. I’d never really had any desire to travel up to that point. I’d been on some lovely holidays to the Canary Islands with my family, and I’d been to Kavos with the girls (the less said about that the better), but I was hardly an intrepid explorer. I did however, have the desire to evade getting a ‘proper’ job for a little bit longer. Six months after I graduated and I was still showing no signs of knowing what I was doing, and the days and weeks spent drinking Stella between, and sometimes during, shifts at the Bear were mounting up. So I decided to go travelling. Yes, that’s a good idea, I’ll quit smoking and start saving and then in a year I’ll go travelling. My new friend Sarah from the Bear, and part of the Thursday night pint and a kebab up Colne crew, was also interested, but at this stage it was all just chat. So I exchanged the fags for three chocolate bars a shift and the money started adding up. We didn’t even have the internet at home at that point so I’m not entirely sure what my research consisted of. I knew I wanted to go to Vietnam and the Grand Canyon, the latter based entirely on watching Thelma and Louise, the former, I’ve no idea why. Sarah on the other hand was cultured. She’d been to Istanbul (not the one up Colne), and she’d been spat at. Before I knew it our travel plans consisted of 8 months, 4 continents, countries I can now admit that I’d never even heard of then (Laos?), and it would begin with a month in India. A nice easy start.

We’d said an emotional farewell to our families at Heathrow and boarded a ten hour flight to Mumbai. Well, Sarah’s had, mine put me on a National Express in Manchester and left John to sort me out from London onwards. He expressed a degree of concern about if I would manage for 8 months with just one bag, and then decided just to get me leathered and I could worry about it when I arrived. We did decide at some point during the night that I didn’t need to take the plastic knives and forks that my Mum had sent me with, a decision which may have been regretted later down the line.

So that’s how we came to be surrounded by, according to my journal, shanty towns, street fires, gangs, rancid water and bodies. They weren’t bodies, they were people asleep on the side of the road, but you have to remember I’d barely left Europe apart from a brief jaunt to Disney World, and saw more of the world in the 45 minute taxi ride from the airport than I had in 21 years. After switching hotels to a place that was within budget, but the room didn’t have a ceiling, and that you wouldn’t have been able to lie down horizontally in without having to bend, we went out to enjoy our first day in India.

According to my journal Sarah was by this point ‘quite frightened’, and I was quite alarmed by having to go everywhere on foot. Looking back at the photos I was a tad more ‘portly’ in those days, and hadn’t thought that purchasing some Jesus sandals from Millets in Burnley the week before gave Sarah free rein to make me walk everywhere. Later in our journey this included walking 8 miles from Agra train station to the Taj Mahal, walking past men with actual guns, because we didn’t want to pay for a taxi. Looking back it’s laughable as rickshaws were pence, but we had 8 months to get through on a few grand apiece, so it had to be done.

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We spent the day consulting ‘The Bible’ that is the Lonely Planet, eating cake and wandering aimlessly through market stalls, Sarah fighting her inner hippy by not buying any bells, incense and scarves, and then finally, getting ripped off. We fully expected to get ripped off at some point on our journey, just not less than 24 hours in. We were trying to buy tickets for our onward journey to Goa the following day as we’d decided the best way to deal with India, was on a beach. It was the oldest trick in the book, a lady approached us at the train station, told us the ticket office was shut, but she could take us to a man that could sort out some tickets. Then she told us we were pretty, which given that we were at the start of 8 months without make up and in a combination of ten pieces of clothing that made up our entire wardrobe, was music to our ears. Ten minutes later, we had double priced tickets and one very happy Indian woman named Sandy was rubbing her hands together.

Still, we were grateful the next day when we were on board a train with both seats and a table, sat next to a family who were only to happy to share their food and see us safely onto the next leg of our trip. A train journey a couple of weeks later was not so luxurious, safe or pleasant, we saw a man shitting on the ground, and a man rubbed his crotch against Sarah for the whole journey. So Sandy, if you’re still at Mumbai Central station ripping off new arrivals, good on you. Those few hours eating samosas on the way to Goa were probably the most decadent of our whole time in India, and we have you to thank for that.

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After the lavish train journey we had a few relaxing days on the beach in Palolem, Goa, getting offered drugs, yoga classes and scooters, whilst scoffing at the seasoned travellers and their ridiculous hippy clothes. Little did we know that less than a month later we too would be getting Reiki, tarot readings, piercings and wearing fishermans pants. What followed Goa would take far too long to recall, and would possibly only interest myself and Sarah, but hopefully this little snippet will have taken her back in time ten years and made her smile as she drinks her chai this morning.

Maybe in July I’ll retell the story of how we spent my birthday, suffering mild altitude sickness in La Paz, Bolivia, and opening my birthday gifts of a llama foetus and a bowler hat. Thanks Fran and Crofty, to this day I do not know how I managed to leave the foetus in the bin in the hostel…

Editor’s note: No llamas were harmed during the celebrating of my birthday. Llama foetuses are sold in Bolivian markets as an offering to the goddess Pachamama. They also make a horrific birthday present for hungover friends with altitude sickness. If I’d wanted to harm a llama, it would have been the one which tried to mount me and Fran as we walked back from watching a sunrise.

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Students vs. semi-professionals

It’s Freshers Week and Oxford Road is absolutely heaving with students morning, noon and night. After a peaceful summer of walking to and from work relatively alone, I’ve spent this week zig zagging around excitable teenagers who are either drunk, recovering from being drunk, or planning to become drunk shortly. I must sound like I’m jealous, and I suppose part of me is. Having been told this week that making my car fit to drive will cost me £400, it is slightly frustrating seeing swarms of giddy youngsters with quiffs and crop tops pile into the pubs, interest free overdrafts lining their pockets. I went to uni with a girl who once used her overdraft to spend £400 on a skirt. In retrospect, unless she left her graduation ceremony and walked straight into a lucrative career with PricewaterhouseCoopers, I expect this is a spending strategy she’s lived to regret.

The students have certainly given me plenty of food for thought as I creep between traffic lights on my way home, food being the operative word. The whole road has been full of people flyering and shouting, trying to drag unwitting students into food outlets, and yesterday even onto a promotional bus. I’d have probably been on the bus myself if I’d have actually heard what they were saying, but unfortunately I thought they were saying ‘Do you want free mangos?’. As I can take or leave a mango I carried on walking, only to find out later that they were actually offering free Nandos. All you had to do was get on the bus and declare your love for Nandos at the top of your voice. Having certainly done worse things for a free meal I was a little disappointed I’d missed the opportunity.

Today was brilliant, I actually got mistaken for a student. 6 weeks without cigarettes has obviously returned my skin to it’s youthful glory. Either that or I was simply caught up in the thick of it and was the only person who wasn’t already holding a Subway wrapper. So at some point before the end of September, which looking back if I remember rightly by this point in the year 2000 I’d already spent most of my student loan in HMV, I am entitled to a free Subway cookie. That will certainly keep the students going through October?

It’s just got me thinking what a difference 14 years makes. They’re wandering about with pizzas, at lunchtime. How reckless! They clearly don’t realise that once you hit 3o and start worrying about getting your 5 a day, body fat percentage, and dying young, that you don’t eat pizzas unless it’s the weekend! And if you’re going to eat something so decadent as a takeaway, then for crying out loud don’t do it at lunchtime! These treats must be kept for an evening or the equilibrium of the world will be thrown off kilter. When I was at uni I don’t remember drinking water. In fact I don’t remember drinking water until about 5 years ago, and that was because Ailsa questioned how I still functioned when all I drank was Coke. Now my work output is hampered by my constant need for the loo because of my obsession with staying hydrated. Are the students worrying about this as they wander about yelling Nandos at the tops of their voices? I doubt it. They don’t need to quit smoking yet as they’ve not discovered that it gets harder and harder to breathe running upstairs, because at 18 you can smoke 2o a day and still comfortably go circuit training.

We existed on microwaved pasta and Dolmio stir in sauces when we lived in halls. When we got our own house in second year we upped the ante and progressed to Chicken Tonight on a regular basis, honey and mustard was a favourite. For very special occasions there were mini chicken kievs, which as anyone who lived at Manor House Road will tell you, if you ate them without my permission, there were tears. Eating wasn’t cheating, it was just a necessity. When I was at uni we didn’t photograph everything we ate and upload it straight to twitter (#foodporn). I’d like to point out though that I have been photographing my food for years, but mainly because I’m greedy rather than I’m trying to be cool. I like the before shot, usually a plate filled with large cuts of meat, and then after, clutching my belly, sweating but triumphant. I digress…

Now, food is IN. Being a foodie is bang on trend. The people that I sat on kitchen floors with eating pasta out of a microwave dish are the same people that now own Agas and go to Michelin starred restaurants…one of them even worked in one according to Facebook. I know people who would spend as much on going out for an evening meal as they once would on a week in Kavos. I’m not knocking it, I bloody love it. Most of my money goes on eating and I love the fact that I can talk about burgers for half an hour without the automatic assumption being that I’m getting ready for a gastric band. On one of mine and Chris’s first dates we spent a long time talking about our favourite foods…and I mean a long time. It was #hot. 

Tuesday night in my student days was ska night, and we used to go to a night called ‘Get your skates on’ at Northumbria Union and try our best to skank. It usually involved illegal vodka from Mr V’s offy before hand and a highly questionable burger from Munchies on the way home. Last Tuesday night? I came home and cooked pork loins stuffed with sage, mozzerella and wrapped in parma ham, served with crushed potatoes and broccoli with chilli. I went to three shops to try and find fresh sage, and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I even shared the recipe for the broccoli on facebook. It was an ‘I’ve changed’ moment.

In all seriousness though, I wouldn’t go back. For a start the thought of drinking shots of vodka at 40p makes me feel nauseous, though I would love to be able to go out with a fiver and come home with change. The idea of being on a revolving dancefloor is also making me nauseous, despite some of my fondest uni memories stemming from there. We’re spoilt with some of the best pub/restaurants I’ve ever been to in Pendle and the Ribble Valley, and Remas is bloody good too. I’ve then got every single cuisine going on my doorstep as soon as I step foot out of work…that’s if I don’t get trampled by students on their way to Nandos as I go. The best thing is I can pay for it out of my wage and not out of an overdraft that no-one really bends over backwards to tell you that you have to pay back. I don’t have to drink vodka redbull just because it’s the cheapest thing behind the bar, and my illegal vodka days are (I think) long behind me.

But tonight, in memory of my student days, I went to McDonalds after work and had myself a meal deal. I had intended to make a chorizo couscous dish and then watch the Bake Off, but for the sake of nostalgia I headed straight for the golden arches. We used to have competitions at the one on the high street in Newcastle, winner was who could eat the most 79p hamburgers in one sitting. To be honest though I’ve felt slightly unpleasant ever since, and watching the 17 year old Martha on the Bake Off (who has written a dissertation this week as well as keep her place in the competition) has just made me feel like the most unaccomplished individual on earth. I bet she doesn’t eat McDonalds. 

So maybe I am slightly jealous of the students, but tomorrow as I walk to work past piles of sick, green faces and empty Dominos boxes, I will be ever so slightly smug instead.

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A summer of firsts

It feels slightly strange to be sat here with the curtains drawn and the heating on when I can still smell suncream, but here we are.

It’s been a glorious British summer, topped off with two scorching weeks in Europe, so it’s only fair that I’d be slightly disgruntled this morning when my alarm went off and it was still perfect darkness outside. It might be warm enough to go out without a coat at lunchtime, but it’s definitely autumn, and it wouldn’t surprise me if next week it was suddenly winter without any warning whatsoever.

It’s been a chaotic summer even by my standards, and just as I’ve dragged the slow cooker recipes out of hibernation and fallen back in love with my fleece pants I’ve looked at the calendar and realised that it’s looking like a hectic autumn too.

How to describe it all…well, I’m conscious of not blogging since the sun came out, but I’m also conscious of going on all night, so here goes, the abridged version of this summer’s activities…

A weekend at the seaside just in time to greet the sunshine, fish, chips, pint pots, power cuts, painful flip flops for a coastal walk whilst getting ravaged by a plague of furious flies, eating scallops for the first time…

Two beautiful English countryside weddings, more scallops, the most stunning brides and dapper grooms. Before the weddings came the hens, for Terri, a Caribbean Queen veil, prosecco and jaeger bombs, for Janine…stripy t-shirts, bobble hats and Europe’s longest zip wire. The less said about the stag do the better, though it was a relief that Chris returned from his first mountain biking experience since high school little more than saddle sore.

They were the first weddings I’ve ever been to where a spontaneous dance off erupted between courses, and where a groom beat boxes during his speech. Needless to stay the instigators of both of these things were one and the same. I’ve also never been to a wedding where the best man handed out a copy of ‘Turkish Meat’, it’s not exaggerating to say they were amongst the most unique weddings I’ve had the privilege of being invited to.

It’s the first summer that I’ve been on a holiday that I did absolutely nothing, to the point that even lifting my book up seemed like an actual effort, and sometimes I just had to put it down and go back to sleep. By contrast though, I also went on a holiday and kayaked 15km. It hurt. I didn’t realise just how much it could possibly hurt using your upper body strength for such a long period. It’s actually quite frightening when you come round a bend and are in the middle of a huge lake, and it’s down to your own arms to get you across it. Luckily there was a bar at the side of the river that you could paddle up to, have some super strength Polish beers, a huge escalope and a few cigarettes and you got a second wind for at least 200m.

It’s the first time I’ve been to a festival and not ended up with a face like a slapped backside because it was muddy. I was wearing high-vis waterproof pants and a poncho for ages 4-11 so I was well equipped. It’s the first festival I’ve showered at, though not the first or last that I’ve whimpered before the end. In my defence, I had done 3 days and nights without a moan but hit the wall when Example came on and I’d only managed three lukewarm beers all day.

As well as the weddings there’s been three big birthdays, a christening, two engagements, a pregnancy, a birth…and everyone I know who doesn’t live in Barrowford all came to visit within a two week period.

In short, it’s been quite a summer. We’ve even managed to attend a four week boot camp during this time so despite four months of indulgence I can still fit through my front door.

So what for autumn and winter? The plan is as ever, less TV (easy to say after watching an entire series of Californication yesterday) and more adventures, though as much as it pains me Judith Chalmers doesn’t have anything else booked in yet. This needs remedying, for blog purposes if nothing else at all…

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That mountain I almost climbed (also known as ‘The curse of Wasdale Head’)

Is it really nearly three months since I last blogged? Well, back by no demand whatsoever, here I am. I think that means that I’ve broken practically all of my resolutions so far. In my defence it’s because I’ve been keeping resolution number 10, the secret unmentionable that I couldn’t reveal in my last post, which was to work hard in my new job. Well I’ve been working hard and commuting hard, and as a result I’ve turned into someone who goes to bed at 9.30pm and complains all the time. I must admit I’ve been quite enjoying the new hours I’ve been keeping, until it hits the weekend and staying up after midnight polishes me off for about three days. The commute, well that’s a blog post all to itself, especially after my two hour journey home last night avoiding burning cars, premiership parade road closures and a woman in a Honda trying to cross into the same lane as I was from the other direction. Hairy.

The career move has prompted a bit of a rebudgeting strategy though. Petrol to Manchester isn’t cheap, but luckily Aldi prosecco is, so I’ve not been suffering too greatly. It did worry me though that I’d be unable to carry on writing a blog about adventures, holidays and travel if I couldn’t afford to go on them, but it would appear that turning into a pensioner and being asleep more than I’m awake put paid to my blog career several weeks ago. Anyway despite this, I’ve got more excursions planned than my grandma this year (who has an incredible social life and will probably be on twitter soon) so I thought I’d share my latest outing.

This weekend, we braved Wasdale Head again. If anyone read the blog about Great Gable, some of this will be familiar information. However if you didn’t, to recap, we went to Wasdale Head two years ago to climb Great Gable and all that stopped there being a murder in the fells was 50 Shades of Grey. The mountain remained unclimbed. Until this weekend?

A few years ago me and Nicky realised we shared a love of walking. I say love, she loves it, I love reading, writing and talking about it, though am usually too hungover to do it with any kind of gusto or frequency. We began meeting up a couple of times a year for a good hike, starting with Pendle, then venturing to the Lakes, before deciding to crank it up a notch.

After saying she would never go up Ben Nevis again we somehow ended up booking 4 nights in a bunkhouse at the foot of it, and had made detailed plans for our trip including a spreadsheet for who was going to bring the cans of Coke and Mars Bars. The day before my trip my new boyfriend (who you may have heard me mention in previous posts…) decided to spend all morning reading me articles about people falling off Ben Nevis, people casually strolling off Ben Nevis, and people blowing off Ben Nevis. Apparently there is some tremendous gully up there called Five Finger Gully and because of poor visibility, snow cover, and people like me who listen to their guide book when it says to not attempt mountains without a compass, but has no idea how to use an actual compass, people tend to fall down this gully. This spoilt the excitement that had been building for my first walking holiday, and turned into sheer dread when Chris handed me two bright orange survival bags, just in case, and told me to keep them in my rucksack. About half an hour later it transpired that Chris had never been up Ben Nevis, he’d just once met someone who had, so I decided to push the fear to one side and go out for lunch with the girls.

As this blog isn’t about Ben Nevis I’ll keep it brief, but as I’m writing this now you will know that I didn’t fall off Five Finger Gully. To be honest I think we had more trouble on our ‘training’ walk the day before when we attempted a little known mountain called Stob Ban, ended up climbing up a particularly un-navigable waterfall, whilst wearing walking pants that didn’t fit and were cutting off circulation, and had a sheer rock face to finish that didn’t look at all appealing.

Ben Nevis was a breeze in comparison, just relentless zig zagging for what seemed like hours until we hit the snowy section, when all I can say is, I’m glad we had Mars Bars and Nicky knows her stuff. After being able to see nothing all the way up, shortly after starting our descent the clouds blew over for about ten minutes and we had the perfect view out over the rest of the mountain range and the Lochs below. You could say it was like God lent us his eyes…

Hols 107

Hols 128

We rounded off the day, and the holiday, getting drunk with some squaddies from Doncaster in the Ben Nevis Inn and with me falling out of my bunk bed in the middle of the night after too much Stella. Happy days.

The reason I mention all this is because this weekend we had arranged to meet Nicky and Gina in the Lakes, to continue our plan to conquer the highest mountains in the UK. Last year we did Snowdon, and experienced pretty much every season going on the way up, before having a similar holy experience at the top and getting ‘the view’.

Sadly, this weekend was not the case. The problem with trying to combine the diaries of three women and a man who watches football, is that you have to book these things fairly far in advance. So you know for a fact that when it comes to said weekend it’s going to be pissing it down. When we have a glorious weekend for walking one of the aforementioned people is likely to be at a christening, a wedding, on the Turf, visiting family, suffering from a Saturday night, or at a Backstreet Boys gig. Ever the optimists, myself and Chris booked to stay at the same campsite that was home to the Diamond Jubilee Disaster, but we had learnt – we were staying in a pod.

It was clear that it was all going to be doomed. For a start the plan was to be at the campsite by 9pm on the Friday night, walk up Scafell Pike with the girls on Saturday, and then mosey up Great Gable on the Sunday before the 3 hour journey home, just so I could tick it off my list.

We didn’t get into the pod until just before 11pm, after having to reverse Chris’s new shiny car for over a mile down a bridleway that I thought the campsite might be at the end of. It had been raining all week. I’ve become fairly scared of low fog in recent years (why do we get less brave the older we get??), Nicky’s waterproof pants had ripped, and the forecast wasn’t positive for the weekend. It wasn’t looking good.

So of course, we didn’t go up Scafell Pike. And we didn’t go up Great Gable. Instead on Sunday we had two cups of tea and a bacon butty and decided to drive home the ‘scenic way’ instead of exerting ourselves in the cold drizzle and potentially run the risk of needing a survival bag.

On Saturday though we did do Julia Bradbury and Wainwright proud, with a beautiful 6 mile walk up hill and down dale, passing through woods filled with bluebells, a traumatised cow, and even got the view out to Great Gable from the picture that inspired this so far fruitless mission. Plus if the fog had have come down lower, Nicky’s day-glo gloves would have certainly got us rescued.

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My whiny teenage mutterings aside about being cold and damp, there was something wonderful about a weekend camping and being outside. It’s a brilliant excuse not to wash your hair, or yourself, for a couple of days and not feel remotely guilty about it. You don’t get phone signal so you are saved from the clutches of Facebook, Twitter and Clarets Mad for a few hours at least. I also meant I went into work yesterday rosy cheeked, well rested, and feeling pretty wholesome.

However I’m still looking forward to this weekend being in a cottage. Mainly because I won’t have to put walking boots and a kagool on to go to the toilet. Unfortunately there is very little chance of just nipping up Great Gable from Whitby, so it’s going to have to remain on the list for now.

I am confident though that we will do it at some point in our lives. It really wasn’t the weekend for it, and our walking quartet will come together again and tackle many mountains when the time is right. Chris is reading a copy of Outdoor Fitness as we speak…we mean business.

So it’s going to be third time lucky, or maybe we really are just cursed when it comes to Wasdale Head…

 

 

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