Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Helicopter ride

I was thinking about going to Lundy on Friday. I like small islands and this one has interested me for a while. I noticed on the map that in summer the ferry goes from Ilfracombe which is where I want to finish walking my bit of the coastal path. 

I spent today, or at least this afternoon, wandering around Minehead; partly to give my knees a rest ready for my big walk tomorrow, but also to research logistics for my next few days walking. Whilst in the tourist office I picked up some leaflets on Lundy and then settled into a nice cafe (The Creamery) for a delicious late lunch and to study them. 

Unfortunately the times of the ferries are such that I'd only have four hours on the island. It's 3 miles long and half a mile wide and there are quite a few things to see - seals, ruins, views. To circumambulate the island would be about 7 miles so it is doable in 4 hours, but I'd feel rushed and like I couldn't stop to enjoy it. If I was staying longer I could get the ferry from Bideford instead and have about 8 hours on the island, but it's not to be. And at £30 return with National Trust membership (more without) I don't want to go for quick whiz round - I want to have time to explore properly. So that's on hold. 

What was interesting on the leaflet though was the helicopter service. It seems to only be out of season and is £99 return. This is going on a Monday and returning on a  Friday. Maybe this would be too long for such a small place, but if I just wanted a relaxing half term to camp, walk, read, write and think then this could be good. 

When I tick the ride in a helicopter task off my list I want to actually go somewhere in the helicopter, not just do a scenic ride. I had intended it to be the Scilly Isles, but now Lundy is a real contender as well. 

Monday, 30 May 2011

Minehead to Porlock

Today was a shorter walk of 7 miles. Minehead to Porlock - the first section of the Southwest Coast Path. The first bus of the day didn't leave Porlock until late morning which is why I hadn't done this section yesterday. I didn't want to be hanging about all morning on my first day. This morning however, I was glad of the later start as it rained really heavily for most of the morning. By the time I was due to leave for the bus stop it was just a light drizzle and by the time I started walking it had stopped completely and ended up being a nice day. 

When I arrived in Minehead I called in Boots to buy some special tick tweezers in case any more ticks think I make a good lunch. Then I bought a cheese and broccoli Cornish pasty and wandered down to the seafront to eat it. I wasn't sure where the walk actually started so just walked along the seafront in the right direction. A huge bronze sculpture of a couple of hands holding a map open to show the path in it's entirety was a pretty big clue. That and big white writing on the pavement saying 'Southwest Coast Path' and an arrow. I was very impressed with the sculpture so stopped to take a few photos of it before starting the walk. 


The walk soon headed out of town and uphill into dense woodland. It was beautiful, but like yesterday, there were glimpses of the sea rather than a permanent view of it. There were plenty of grey squirrels and I stopped to watch a baby one playing in front of me seemingly without fear. The path zigzagged upwards until it flattened out onto moorland quite a way in from the sea. At one point I passed a sign pointing to a 'rugged alternative path' which seemed to go closer to the coast. The 'rugged' bit of the sign attracted me though I thought I should maybe avoid anything too rugged as my knees were still sore from yesterday and I knew I had some more descents to cope with before the end of my walk today. The clincher though, was the 'alternative' part of the sign. I didn't really want to do any 'alternatives' unless I had to. The alternative could be saved in case I ever did this walk again. 

 It was a good decision as the moorland walk was lovely with lots of wild flowers and big skies. I even got to see some Exmoor ponies. I only saw a couple of other people the whole time I was on the moor. Of course it had to drop down though and my knees were soon objecting. One bit in particular seemed very steep and I descended very sloooowly saying ouch with each step. As I got nearer the bottom there was a well-placed and welcome bench with a lovely view of the sea. I sat for a while and finished my flask of coffee. 

Then it was the final bit of descent before picking my way across farmland and marsh to the turnoff back up to Porlock. This bit wasn't very well sign-posted and if I hadn't have started my walk from here yesterday I would have missed it. So if walking here make sure you use your map!

The total descent (and climb) on this section is allegedly 698 metres. No wonder my knees hurt again.  

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Porlock to Lynmouth

I woke up early after a good first night's sleep in my tent and was raring to go. It would have made sense to start my walking by going to Minehead and walking back to Porlock and the campsite. Minehead is the beginning of the Southwest Coast Path after all. But as the first bus to Minehead doesn't get in until almost 12 o'clock and I was ready to get going I decided to leave this walk until tomorrow and do the Porlock to Lymouth stretch today.

The way to the beach led through a marshy area
I started by walking down Sparkhayes Lane to the beach which is a good half mile or so. The beach isn't a sandy sunbathing type of beach, but rather a pebbley and marshy affair. It was getting the full blast of the wind too. In 1996 the natural shingle ridge across Porlock Bay was breached by a storm, resulting in the flooding of the fields behind at each high tide. This means the official path has had to be moved inland a bit. The signs were quite confusing so I just walked on towards Porlock Weir. I thought I'd know if I was on the old path as it would become impassable and I'd have to turn back. However, once I got to Porlock Weir I saw a much clearer sign that pointed out that I had walked the closed part of the path. Hmm, was that why I'd had to wade through that bit of a slippery, green-slime-filled river?

Porlock Weir
Old groynes on the beach. 
Once I arrived in Porlock Weir (about 2 miles further on) the wind dropped and the sun came out. I sat at a picnic bench looking out to sea and ate my breakfast. Then I had a wander round the tiny village - thatched cottages, boats and an old pub - all very pretty. There's supposed to be the remains of an ancient forest here which can sometimes be seen when the tide is out. Well, the tide was out, but I couldn't see the forest. Unless of course, I was confusing it with all the old groynes that were around. 

From here the path was clearly marked all the way and very easy to follow. I only needed to refer to my map when I wanted to check distances or whereabouts I was. It became very wooded and was slightly inland. This meant that apart from occasional tantalising glimpses of the sea through the trees, it felt very much like a woodland walk. This was pretty much the theme for the rest of the day.

A couple of short tunnels in the woods
The path from Porlock Weir led upwards and into Yearnor Wood. A short while on I passed the end of the toll road with big arches for cars to go through. The signs said the toll road goes to Lynmouth but I wasn't sure about this as on the map it seems to finish at the main road a long way from Lynmouth. Next I had to walk through a couple of tunnels and past signs pointing down to the beach. It was too much of a detour though as I had a bus to catch to get back to the campsite. So I had to be in Lynmouth for 5pm. There are so few buses on these routes that, although I enjoyed myself and saw and did plenty, I still felt rushed a lot of the time. 

Culbone Church
I did stop at Culbone Church. This is really hidden on the banks of a river down in a bit of a valley. The church is dedicated to St Beuno  and is apparently the smallest complete parish church in England at only 35ft long. It's main structure dates from the 12th century. I had a look inside and immediately felt the hush. It made me realise just how noisy it actually was outside in the woods with so many birds everywhere. 

I didn't see many people on the walk until I got to County Gate which is the border between Somerset and Devon. There is a car park and so a couple of groups of people had wandered down to the Coast Path from there. They didn't seem interested in actually going anywhere once they got to the path though, so soon I was on my own again.

The path got a bit hillier and there were quite a few detours where the original path had slipped. One detour seemed almost vertical and was very sandy so my feet couldn't get any grip. There was nothing to grab hold of and even my sticks kept slipping. That was the only tricky bit though, and even that was only a very short bit. 

Lynmouth can be seen in the distance

All in all I walked about 15 miles and climbed 934m (according to the coastal path website). This wasn't one big climb, but was continual ascents and descents. By the time I was within the last few miles of Lynmouth my knees were causing me quite a bit of pain and I could feel them swelling up. This slowed me down a bit meaning I only got to Lynmouth about 10 minutes before the bus was due to leave, so I didn't get chance to have a look around. Despite the pain, I'd really enjoyed my first day's walking.

There were signs up in quite a few places warning of ticks in the area. I've been in plenty of places before with ticks but never had any attach themselves to me. So I had another first when I later got ready for the shower and found 2 small ticks firmly attached to my left leg. Tweezers easily got rid of them, so as long as I don't contract Lyme disease they weren't a problem.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

England at Wembley

Driving down the M6 on my way to Exmoor I passed lots of cars and vans and minibuses with Manchester United flags and scarves flying out of windows or strewn across the back windows. It was cup final day at Wembley: United vs Barcelona in the Champions League.

This made me think about the new Wembley Stadium and how I'd like to see it. I loved the old stadium with the iconic twin towers and it's a shame it's gone. But the new one looks like a pretty interesting piece of architecture too. 

I first went to Wembley when I was about 14 and at secondary school. I went along on my brother's primary school trip to see England vs Holland in a schoolboys' under 15 game. We won 7-0 and I fancied the Dutch goalkeeper. 

The last time I went into the stadium was when I worked as an extra for the day on a Persil Automatic advert. I had my face painted red and white and was part of an imaginary football crowd. It was a long day but I got paid £50 and well fed. 

In between times I went to the market that was held in the car park on Sundays. I wonder if it still is? I've also been to a couple of concerts there. I saw Madonna in her 'Who's That Girl?' tour in the 1980s. I queued up all night for tickets, ticking something of my 'things I must do' list of wishes at the time. The 'thing I must do' was the queuing up all night, not the Madonna concert. The other concert I saw there was the celebratory concert after Nelson Mandela was freed. The man himself was there and made a speech on stage, as well as a whole host of bands and singers.

So I have good memories of the old Wembley and I'd like to start getting some of the new Wembley. I've never been to an England game - the 'real' England, not the schoolboys - so it would be great to see them for the first time in the new Wembley. I doubt I'll see them win 7-0 though!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Soon to be waxed

I called in at the beauty therapy salon bit of college tonight on my way to web design to check out times and so on for waxing. As it's a college and training place they only do 'salons' at certain times. At the moment the only evening ones are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, neither of which is convenient. Thursdays I definitely can't do, but Tuesdays should be possible in the next few weeks. The appointment would be at 6pm and take about half an hour. I start web design at 6.30pm. After half term the teaching should be pretty much finished and we'll just be getting on with creating our own websites for the assessment, so then it shouldn't matter if I'm a few minutes late. So another few weeks and then I'll be having my first waxing experience.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


Web Design
As I didn't do the Duke of Edinburgh camping weekend, I've spent today sorting out plants, making up hanging baskets and planting vegetables. I've also got loads of laundry and ironing done. These are all things that needed doing, but I've run out of time to do the other things I was hoping to do, like my homework for the web design course. So I'll have to do that tomorrow evening instead. The teaching part of the course has almost finished and soon we'll be starting on creating our own websites for the assessment. I'm going to work on the actual website I want to have so at least I'll be well on the way with it when the course finishes in July. 

I rang the campsite in Exmoor this afternoon to try to book for next week. As it's half term and the bank holiday I thought it might get busy. I spoke to owner who doesn't take bookings in advance, but advised me to try to get there before lunch as it is likely to be busy. He said they shouldn't have too much trouble fitting just me and my small tent in though. I've checked out a route online and it's about a 4hr drive. To allow for a stop on the way and any delays, I think I'll leave home at 6am next Saturday. That should give me plenty of time to explore the area once I've got my tent up, and then I can start my walks first thing on the Sunday morning. 

I read a bit of the April edition of Country Walking magazine whilst I was having my lunch. It's got a special feature on the national parks and yes, there was an article on Exmoor. So I've cut it out and will take it with me. I've already got the OS map which I bought a few weeks ago and lots of printed out walks from the internet. 

I spoke to a friend at work during the week about ballooning. If I can get a good price she is willing to do it with me. So now I just have to wait for the special offer to come up again on Groupon. When it does I'll buy a couple of vouchers and then we can sort out a day to do it. 

The Groupon voucher that arrived today was for a PADI diving course. Although I have no time to do anything about this at the moment I had a quick look at what the requirements are for the course. I need to be able to swim 200m. I can swim 200m, but only with lots of breaks, and I somehow don't think they'll count this. At least I have an idea now of what I need to aim for when I start swimming again.  

And another volcano erupts when I'm not there

Yes, another volcano in Iceland has erupted and yet again I miss out on seeing lava. I was close to this volcano when I was in Iceland a couple of summers ago. I skidooed over the glacier that covers it, though I was further south. I also came close when I did a trip into the interior of Iceland which is pretty much closed to everyone in the winter. Because of distances and difficulty of getting transport in this region this Grimsvotn volcano isn't as easy to get to as Eyjafjallajokul would have been when that erupted. 

One of these days one will erupt when I'm either already nearby or when I'm in a position to get on a plane (assuming they're still flying) and head straight over to see it. 

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Car Valeting

I did a first this afternoon and even though it's not on my list of things to do before I'm 60, I'm still going to write about it.

I got my car valeted. 

I always thought this was something people with too much money do. I love having a clean car but rarely have one. My car gets used to transport muddy boots, plants, leaky bags of grout, camping gear - I won't go on - but rarely gets cleaned, a) because I don't have time, and b) because it's not very often I get the chance to park right outside my front door and when I do it's usually raining so I don't want to go outside with my vacuum cleaner. So my car gets dirtier and dirtier and well, with the cost of petrol these days, I really can't afford the price of the extra fuel I'm having to buy to cart all that dirt around. 

I decided a few weeks ago to go to the valeting place near my house and emptied my car out into my living room. I baulked when I found out that prices started from £50! But then a colleague told me about a place in East Didsbury that does an amazing while-you-wait job, inside and out, all for a tenner. As I was in Didsbury today anyway for college and I have to drive past the valeting place I stopped to get it done on the way home.

It's truly amazing. They washed, sprayed, wiped, scrubbed, hoovered, and even put something on my tyres to make them really black. Then they gave me a nice smelly thing to hang over the mirror. Why have I never done this before???

Now I can get rid of all the car junk from my living room. Hopefully when I sort it out more of it will go in the bin than back in the car. Then I can get on with other jobs, feel organised, and free up time to work on my list. And I'll have a nice clean, fresh smelling car to go to Exmoor with. 

Friday, 20 May 2011


The weekend after next is the start of half term. I'm planning to drive down to Exmoor to spend the week walking. Usually when I go to the south west I feel as though I have to go as far as possible and always end up down near Land's End. But this time I thought I'd stop and see some of the places I usually speed past.

I've found a cheap but nice sounding campsite near Porlock. So I'll use that as a base and walk some of the South West Coast Path. I've walked some of the Cornish bits before, but this time I'll start from the beginning and walk from Minehead. I'm hoping to spend about four days walking on the coastal path. As the walks are linear I'll be partly reliant on public transport and this limits me quite a lot. I'd like to leave my car at the end of the walk and get the bus back to the beginning so I'm not clock watching towards the end of the day. But, because of bus times, this would mean that on some walks I'd only be able to start walking in the afternoon. So I think four days will be enough of juggling bus timetables and on the other days I'll do circular walks on Exmoor itself. 

I'll have to remember to write up my walks each night for my log, as this week will ensure I get one of my three areas of the country covered for my walking group leader's qualification. It'll also be a good test for my dodgy knees to see how they hold up to a week's walking. I'd like to walk a long distance path in the summer so I need to know how physically possible that's likely to be. 

I've researched and printed out my walks for the week, so all I need to do now is book the campsite and pack.  

Thursday, 19 May 2011


I'm not disciplined enough to write a book. But I would like to have a go. If I ever do write one I don't think it will be fiction as I'm not imaginative enough. It'll probably be more like a fictionalised account based on a true story. Because I think this will be very hard for me to achieve I've included 'writing a book' as a separate challenge to actually being a writer on my list. If I write a book but never write anything else, I'll only tick off the book task. If I write and get published regularly, but don't write a book, then I'll only tick off the writer challenge.

I heard of NaNoWriMo recently on another blog. I had no idea what it was about but a bit of googling soon sorted that out. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place each November. It started as an American thing, hence the 'national', but is now global.

Basically you register, and then spend November trying to write a 50,000 word novel. By the end of the month you have to upload your novel to their site and their special counting machines do a word count. If you've achieved the magical 50,000 you get to copy and paste an online certificate. So no big prizes, but then it is free. And it gets people writing. The best reward of course is that by the end of the month you have 50,000 more words than you had at the start and so have something to play around with and try to turn into an actual novel.

When I was a student and had to write essays I always struggled with the traditional 'make a plan first' approach. I agree, this is a very sensible and practical approach and I can't fault it. But I couldn't do it. I would write my plan and then stare at the page not knowing how to turn it into an essay. So I came up with my own technique. After doing some research around the subject area, so I at least had a bit of a clue about what I was doing, I would sit down and time myself for one hour. In that hour I had to write my essay. This killed two birds with one stone. It was great exam practice and it meant I had something on paper that I could then edit and turn into an acceptable essay. After reading it through I'd have a good idea of what I could actually do with the essay, what changes needed to be made, what needed to be added (or left out), and so on. Then I'd make my plan and write my essay in the conventional way.

With NaNoWriMo I'll have to use this technique. There'll be no time for edits, drafts, research, plans, or any of the other stuff that you're supposed to do first. Sounds perfect for me!

So depending on my workload, and how my college courses are going, I'll be giving this go. Hopefully this November, but if not, then the one after.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Duke of Edinburgh

The Duke of Edinburgh group from school have their camping and walking training expedition this weekend. It's something I've been keen to get involved in ever since I've been a teacher but has never happened. As soon as the call went out for staff to help out this weekend I volunteered. Then I didn't hear anything. I had been looking forward to it and it will be really useful for me to be involved in this as it could be relevant to my future plans (so I wasn't volunteering just to be altruistic!) ...

... then just before Easter I got the chance to do a free post-grad course that is relevant to my teaching and could widen my options later on. Great, except the one day Saturday school clashes with the Duke of Edinburgh weekend. I thought I could still manage both if I went straight to the campsite from college on the Saturday evening. At least I'd still get to spend the night camping and be involved with the walks and orienteering on the Sunday. But now I have so many other things to do, I'm actually hoping everyone has forgotten that I volunteered and I can spend my Sunday catching up on other things instead. Things like marking, doing my homework for web design, reading and planning for my uni assignment, gardening, ironing, cleaning, sorting through paperwork, and so on.

Not as exciting or as much fun, but I'll feel a lot better to have it done. Especially as I'm planning to go down to Exmoor the following weekend for the half term week. I really need to get my life under control then I can relax and enjoy my free time.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Ramblers

I've recently rejoined the Ramblers. I was a member a few years ago and although I only ever went on one walk with them, I did like the magazines and I like the idea of supporting them as a pressure group. They do a lot of good work keeping public footpaths open and fighting for rights of way. When my membership expired I couldn't afford to renew it. I've always intended renewing but never got round to it. Now that I'm getting serious about walking and a future life involving the outdoors I thought it a good idea to rejoin.

My welcome pack has just arrived. I've got the latest magazine and a note saying I should receive the new handbook in the next few weeks. Unfortunately they seem to have signed me up to the Upper Wharfedale group. From what I can make out the walks all seem to be aimed at people living in Leeds and Bradford and their surrounding areas. There must be a group closer than a couple of hours drive away! I can't remember which group I was assigned to last time; maybe Stockport or Derbyshire? So I'll have to contact them and ask them to find me a closer group. It's a tad concerning though that a national association involved with maps, distances, areas and so on doesn't seem to know that Manchester isn't a suburb of Leeds!

Monday, 16 May 2011


Waxing might seem a strange thing to have on a list of things to do before I'm 60. Not much of a challenge, some people do this regularly and have done for years. But I never have. I'm quite intrigued by this aspect of personal grooming and why people would pay to have hairs ripped out of their skin by the roots. It's a cross-cultural phenomenon, though in some cultures other substances such as sugar are used instead of wax. What exactly gets waxed (and how much of it) is both culturally and fashionably determined.

This really seems like something I should experience for myself, yet I've never tried it. Partly this is through fear of physical pain, but also it's because of the fear of financial pain it will cost my bank account. Waxing is not cheap.

Each time I go to college to do my web design the walk from the car park takes me past the hairdressing and beauty therapy department where there is a functioning salon. I had a look online at the treatments and prices on offer and it is cheap. There are two prices depending on whether you have a junior or senior trainee. They also offer other treatments I'm interested in such as eyebrow and eyelash tinting and massage. So it's convenient and cheap - really no excuse now to not get this done.

I'll start with my legs and will probably just get my lower legs done first. Then I'll assess and decide whether this is enough to complete this challenge or if I should do more and get other bits waxed as well before I can count it as complete. I've just found a video on youtube of someone having a Brazilian bikini wax. It took ages, looked even more painful than I'd imagined, and her 'bits' got redder and redder as the procedure went on. So I don't think I'll be going that far. But who knows? Watch this space ...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hathersage Walk

Jean, the mother of a friend from Kent, has just spent the weekend with me. She wanted to see a bit of Manchester, but most of all she wanted to do a walk from Hathersage as she missed out on a trip there with her walking group earlier in the year. We planned to do the walk on Saturday, but changed it to Sunday when we saw the weather report. This turned out to be the right decision as we got a wonderful day, whereas on Saturday it had rained heavily for most of the day.

One of the tasks on my list is to get my walking group leader's qualification. I would like to start on this fairly soon and to do it I need to log walks I have done in 3 different areas of the country. The Peak District will definitely be my main area as this is my regular stomping ground. I haven't walked for months though. Firstly because I've been incredibly busy and secondly because I had an accident involving a car and a house that put me out of action for a while. So as it was my first time walking seriously in a few months we didn't choose a particularly strenuous walk.

We started off parking in Hathersage and buying sandwiches (oven bottom muffins) and eccles cakes in the local bakery to have for our lunch. Jean was surprised to see signs on the local pubs and cafes saying 'muddy boots and dogs welcome'. Muddy boots and dogs are usually not at all welcome in Kent!

Our walk took us across fields to join up with the River Derwent, which we then followed for a while. Our walk book did a slightly bigger loop, but this would have taken us away from the river and it was so nice walking along the bank it would have been a shame not to. We walked through a wood alongside the river with bluebells to one side of the path and wild garlic to the other. This meant lots of stops for photos and to munch on the wild garlic flowers. We crossed at the stepping stones and had fun taking more photos as we jumped across them.

We then headed up away from the river. When we came across a field of cows with a sign telling us we could buy ice cream from these very cows we felt obliged to take the slight detour involved to get to Thorpe Farm, home of Hope Valley ice cream. Well, it would be rude not to wouldn't it? Especially when they'd gone to all the trouble of putting signs up. So after choosing our cow we strolled down to the farm. The ice cream (or hot chocolate if it's a cold day) is made on the farm with milk from the cows. What a great example of diversification! After enjoying a very large cone of panacotta, chocolate and coffee ice cream it was with heavy legs we set off again. Really, it seemed to have gone straight to my legs. 

We continued walking to get to the northern most point of our walk which was near Green's House. A local artist called Lyn Littlewood has a studio here and she had signs up saying she was open. I last did this particular walk 7 years ago with Louise, Jean's daughter. We called in the gallery then and Lou bought a painting for which we later had to call back to collect with the car. It was only when I went in the gallery this time that I realised she only actually opens her studio one weekend a year. What a coincidence that both times I've done the walk it's been when she's been open! The garden was also open so after a look around the studio we walked round the garden so I could pinch ideas for my own tiny yard and garden.

When we left Green's House the walk headed south more or less in a straight line all the way back to Hathersage. When we stopped to look behind us we could see the magnificent Stanage Edge outlined against the horizon. We dropped into a wood and found a well-placed bench by a foot bridge where two small, but speedy streams joined. The whole area was full of bluebells and dappled by the sun. And we had it all to ourselves. We knew we wouldn't find a better place to have lunch so stopped to eat our oven bottoms.

As we continued our walk we passed more of the halls thought to have belonged to the Eyre family. We'd seen some earlier on in the walk too. This was the family from whom Charlotte Bronte borrowed the name for her most famous character and novel. They owned seven halls - they'd had to buy them for their children. No-one's exactly sure which seven they are now, but they have a pretty good idea. Although these halls are nice and fit in with the area we did pass one on our right that can only be described as a monstrosity. It was a collection of over manicured gardens, precisely placed over-large Italian style vases, a long (very long) drive with horse head sculptures on the over-large gates ... everything stood out like a sore thumb and was a total blot on the landscape. The only thing that could be said to be good about it, is that it is a good example of how money can't buy taste! 

Rant over ...

Towards the end of our walk we called in at Hathersage Church to have a look at Little John's grave and to have a cup of tea and a slice (ok, a wedge) of victoria sponge. There are quite a few Robin Hood connections in the area, the Little John grave being just one of them. It's thought feasible (if he existed at all) as in 1784 when the grave was opened a thigh bone that could only have belonged to a man over 7 feet tall was found. 

This was our final stop and after our cake we walked back into Hathersage and to the car. We'd walked just under 7 miles and it had taken us 6.5 hours! This was because of all our stops. We'd had a great day though and felt like we'd done much more than just a walk.

Volcano Book

I had to go into Manchester for the dentist after school and as I had a bit of time to kill I popped into a remaindered book shop. I was quite excited to find a hardback book full of colour pictures of volcanoes for £2.99.

I first got interested in volcanoes when I travelled in Indonesia a couple of years ago. I saw several steaming, grumbling and smoking volcanoes but no actual lava. The nearest I got was Merapi which is really active. You have to go with a guide if you want to go into the danger zone (very Top Gun) but even with a guide it's not possible to go to the rim which is in the forbidden zone. The morning I was there it was spewing lava. I could hear it grumbling. I could feel it rumbling beneath my feet. But did I see lava? No. The morning I was there the lava was pouring out of the other side! So now I'm on a lava quest.

In recent years both Merapi and Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland which I saw the following year, have had full blown eruptions. I missed both. Just to rub salt into my wounds I got stuck in Antwerp over Easter last year because of the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud. Not that that was such a bad thing. I got an extra week off work and got time to explore Antwerp. But both times I missed the lava. One day I'll see it, I know I will.

Monday, 9 May 2011


I've always liked the idea of being a writer - work when and where you want to, write about things you're interested in, get to do things that other people don't, and so on. However, I realise that I might not like the reality as much as I like the idea. Having constant deadlines, having to write in a way an editor wants me to rather than the way I want to, trying to sell my work, and so on. But unless I try I'll never know. A few years ago I started to think more seriously about this and managed to get paid £100 for a 200 word article I wrote for the Times Educational Supplement. Then life got incredibly busy again and I never got round to writing anything else. I've always kept travel diaries, but haven't really written anything else. So if I do get seriously involved in writing I think it would have to be travel writing in some form or other (I would include outdoor activity type writing in with this though).

A friend who lives in Bali has been writing for her local paper for years. She's written on education in past, but mainly writes a review and what's on type column these days. She'd like to get more involved in writing and has found a correspondence course with the London School of Journalism that she is interested in doing. I had a look at the course online and there is a travel writing version of it which sounds really interesting. I don't necessarily think a course would be a guarantee for me becoming a wonderful writer, but it might focus me and give me some direction in styles and markets.

I was fully intending to apply for this course in the summer when my web design course finishes, but then I got the opportunity to do a post-graduate certificate in specific learning difficulties which is paid for by the TDA. After a bit of thought I decided to go for it. How often do you get the chance of free education these days? And it's an area I'm interested in and may open up more job opportunities for me in the future. It's an awful lot of work on top of everything else I'm doing, so now I have to decide whether I can really take on the travel writing course as well. There's no point doing it if I'm not going to do it properly. But I don't really want to postpone it by a year. So in the next month or two I have a big decision to make.

Thursday, 5 May 2011


I've always liked the idea of riding a motorbike - having all that power in my hand and being open to the elements instead of hidden away in the tin box that is a car. I've been on the back of few bikes and it's been ok but nothing special. I want to be in control. In the last couple of years I've had a go at driving (riding?) a skidoo and a quadbike and enjoyed both.

I'm not really sure how much I'll like the practicality of motor biking though. When it's bad weather I want to be tucked away in the warm dry environment of my car and when it's good weather I really won't want to be wearing all that hot sweaty protective gear. I'd still like to give it a go though.

Without having a bike I don't know how good I'd be able to get. I could have a few lessons at a place where they provide the bike, but it's only by riding regularly on my own bike that I'd get to be good and really know if I like it or not. If I had my own bike there's the problem of storage. Maybe I could store it in my future hostel?

On my web design course I've become friendly with a woman who has a bike and is a member of a group of women bikers. They often go out riding in the Peak District together. So she could be a good contact for my future biking life!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Web Design Course

Ever since I first started learning how to use a computer in the latter half of the 1990s I've enjoyed them, found them fascinating and wanted to learn more. As I've got more and more hooked on the internet I've wanted to understand more about how it works and how it is put together. So this is one reason for my enrolling in a web design course. The other reason is so I can put together my own website for the hostel I plan to own one day.

I started a beginner's web design course last September at the local college. On this course I learnt the basics of HTML and got quite a good understanding of how websites are created. I enjoyed it and finished in February with a distinction. This motivated me to sign up for the intermediate level course which began immediately after the first course and runs until July. On this course I am learning how to use Expression and Java, amongst other things. I've found it a lot more difficult than the first course but think this is mainly due to being so tired and exhausted all the time. I have no time to practice at home and by the time I get to college I'm half asleep. Yesterday evening I was quite alert as it was the first day back at school after the Easter holidays and I've had a good rest and feel really relaxed. What a difference! I understood everything and feel that I did quite well. So there's hope for me yet!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


I don't play any musical instruments but have always felt that I should. That it would make me a more complete person in some way. I'm not naturally musical and actually think I'm tone deaf, but why should I let a little thing like that stop me.

I'm interested in a few instruments such as the guitar, piano and violin, but the one that really interests me is the drums. I love the sound of drums and there's just something appealing about having a legitimate reason to bash the hell out of something. What a way to get rid of any frustrations!

As a whole drum kit will take up too much room, I think I should start with something like a bodhran or bongo drums. I bought my nieces one of each for Christmas and so had a go of them then and quite liked them. A couple of nights ago I almost went back on to the same website I got their drums from to order myself some, but decided to hold off for a month or two as I've had a lot of other expenses recently. Then towards the end of a school meeting today the Head of Music mentioned that her department had lots of bodhrans that never get used and she's looking to get rid of them. Straight away I asked if I could have one, as did a few other people. So I think I'll be getting a free bodhran when she gets round to sorting them out. I asked if she also has any bongos going spare but she didn't think so. We all have to get rid of so much stuff before we move into the new building next January that I think there will quite a few more instruments up for grabs as well. Hmm, wonder what else I could learn?

I've had a look on the internet for a 'teach yourself drumming from scratch' guide, but they all seem to be more for regular drums. I'll keep looking, but also may have to look for lessons in the future. I don't want to be a brilliant drummer (I know there's no chance of that), but as long as I understand the basics and can bash out a bit of rhythm I'll be happy.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Cycling Japan

I've wanted to go to Japan for years. I have Japanese friends who returned to live there a few years ago and visiting them gives me even more of a reason to go to Japan. Why haven't I gone already?
  • When I've had time to go on holiday I've been busy visiting other places instead
  • I'd like to go for long(ish) time and so haven't had long enough holidays off work
  • It's very expensive
  • It's difficult to get around and really do anything without knowing the language and a lot about the culture.
So, if I'm going to get around to ticking this one off my list I have to get over these four main issues.

The first one isn't so major. I'll make time for it at some point. I have plenty of time to get to all the main places I want to visit before I'm 60 and still have time to visit others as well.

Now I'm a teacher I have 6 weeks holiday in the summer. Spring and autumn are meant to be the nicest times to go as I'd get to see either the blossoms or the autumn leaves. But I could cope with missing out on those as long as I got to see the country. I'm not sure if even 6 weeks would be long enough, but I may get even more time in the future if my hostel and freelancing life plans work out. So issue no.2 is fast disappearing. 

The expense is a problem I still have to really deal with. Some people say it's not as expensive as I think especially if I'm not staying in luxury hotels. Which I definitely wouldn't be. I recently read an article in a travel magazine about cycling round part of Japan. Now that would be a really cheap way to get about. I could camp (hopefully - I don't know much about the camping situtation in Japan), carry lots of packets of instant noodles, and get to out of the way places without it costing me anything.

The problem with the cycling solution is I've never ridden really long distances before and never carried all my gear on a bike. I would like to do this though, which is why doing a long distance cycle tour is also on my list of things to do. By doing my cycle tour in Japan I could tick off 2 challenges in one go. So now, I need to think about practising and training. I bought a cycle rack for my car at Christmas so I can take my bike out to the Peak District and cycle some of the converted railway track trails. I do want to cover these as they are very scenic, but they make for boring walking. They will make a good start for my cycle training though. As I'm too busy to even get out walking or go to the gym at the moment I don't know when this will happen, but hopefully before the summer.

The fourth issue with my going to Japan is the culture and language. I have a friend who is a Japanophile (is there a proper word for that?) and has studied the language for years. Even she had lots of difficulties when she visited. The language is written in a mix of Japanese, Western and Chinese characters. Although she knew the Japanese and Western characters, all the Chinese characters made things very hard to read. Also there are so many rules for every little thing you do. Because foreigners don't know the etiquette it makes it very difficult to achieve even half of what a Japanese person can in the time, and there are many things you miss out on completely.

Starting my visit by staying with my Japanese friends may be a good move as I can learn a lot from them. Akiko is pretty adventurous and not your typical Japanese woman so she may even be persuaded to do a bit of travelling with me. I'll need to learn a bit of the language, though I have no plans for that just now. I'm studying a couple of other things at the moment and need to get them out of the way before I take anything else on. I can make a start on the culture though. I'm not starting from zero as I already know quite a bit (not nearly enough, but more than your average British person). I've just bought The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture which is a bit out of date but still a good place to start according to the reviews on Amazon. I must also read my Josie Dew books about her cycle tours of Japan. I like her books but I've never got round to reading these two even though I've owned them for years.

And still on the cycling theme - I've just come back from the Netherlands which is the world's most cycle friendly country. As I go there most years, I could do a bit cycle tour training there. There are plenty of places it would be great to cycle round for a few days and I could carry all my gear to practice. I've done some cycling there in the past (including this visit) so I know how easy it is. A great place to start.

So these are my Japan visiting and cycle touring plans so far. When I start writing them down like this I feel like I'm actually getting somewhere. When they are just ideas swimming around in my head it doesn't feel like I'm actually doing anything towards my goals. But actually, they are all ticking over all the time in the back of my mind.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Mud walking

I've just returned from the Netherlands where I spent almost a week staying with a friend in Amsterdam. This has got me thinking again about wadlopen or mud walking. There is a line of islands along the northern coastlines of the Netherlands and Germany. When the tide is low it is possible to walk with a guide along the mud flats and even from one island to the next. These are challenging walks that can take up to 4 hours to complete and involve wading through cold sandy mud. Sometimes thigh deep. On a Dutch person. Dutch people are tall. I'm not tall.

Bart would also like to do this so it is something we could do together. I'm usually there at Easter which is the wrong time of year, as it is too cold and unpredictable before May. So maybe next year I have to make my trip for the June half term instead. High top trainers are recommended for the walk and as they went out of fashion in the 80s they can be quite hard to find now. So I'll start looking around charity shops for a cheap pair so I have them ready for whenever the wadlopen opportunity presents itself.