12 December 2014

New Friends

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

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

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

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

28 November 2014

Black Friday v Small Business Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 November 2014

Silver Linings

Some of you might remember how gutted I was when earlier this year I had to give up my allotment. Well just look at these!

A tiny crop of winter spuds grown in a pot. There are 10 more where these came from and I'm planning new potatoes for Christmas Dinner if they last that long.

The spuds join crops of strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, caulis, enough courgettes to open a restaurant, tomatoes, spinach, fennel, coriander, mint, chives, chillies and lettuce all grown in pots and tubs or corners of the garden. 

Yes, I still miss the peace and quiet of my canal side plot and the undemanding companionship of other gardeners but I've grown more this year than I ever managed in the allotment and I have it on good authority that two families are enjoying Plot 29.

Success all round wouldn't you say? 

17 November 2014

Seize the Day

I went for a walk on Thursday. Hardly earth shattering news, especially for a guide book publisher, but it taught me something important.

On Thursday morning my partner checked the weather forecast, packed a sandwich, grabbed his maps and said, I'm off for a walk, are you coming?

Nope, I shot back - I'm far too busy, too much to do, too short notice, it's alright for some people ...... 

Five minutes later I was running down the street, laces flapping, hat askew, shouting wait, wait, wait for me.

We fell onto the train in a flurry of coats and bags and sticks and dog and looked at each other.

What changed your mind?

I'm not sure. You set off and my heart just plummeted. My to-do list suddenly felt like a great weight around my neck and I knew I'd get nothing done. 

I'm not generally a spontaneous person. I like a plan, I enjoy organising outings and knowing what to expect. I love a diary with lots of things to look forward to and I rarely just up sticks and go. But I miss out. We run our own business and I work from home. There is no reason in the world that I can't seize the moment and go. Just look up at the sky and head for the hills and have fun.

And on Thursday that's just what I did. Took the train to Horton-in-Ribblesdale then followed the Pennine Way to Hawes where a welcome pint and the luxury of a ride back to Garsdale station in the Little White Bus awaited. Fourteen miles of buffeting winds and scudding clouds, of Cam Fell and Snaizeholme, of scenery and solitude and of fun. Now how easy was that.

Oh and by the way I got more done on Friday than I'd ever have thought possible. That to-do list is toast.

18 August 2014

Beyond Excited

I am beyond excited. A small parcel arrived this morning containing this. A brand new copy of Ordnance Survey map OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas. 
Yorkshire Dales - Southern & Western Area
I've got one, a very dog-eared copy that's my go-to map for many of our days walks from home, but I'm not sure this one will ever see the side of a fell or the bottom of a rucksack. No, this one will be hidden behind glass, opened wearing those white gloves they wear on Who Do You Think You Are and left in my will to the most deserving grandchild. 

Because LOOK!

The route of A Dales High Way enters the map between Addingham and Skipton at the beginning of the walk and leaves some 50 miles later on the climb over Frostrow Fell to Sedbergh. The section shown above is one of my favourites of the whole 90 miles, the walk over springy limestone covered turf beneath the caves of Attermire Scar on the way to Settle.

Attermire Scar
Addingham High Moor between Addingham and Skipton

3 July 2014

This is one Midge we didn't want zapped

Anyone who knows me, and many of you who don't, will know by now that I come from Dent. The most beautiful dale in the Yorkshire Dales in that most astounding of counties - Yorkshire!*


Last weekend was the 6th Dentdale Music and Beer Festival. A remarkable annual event that has grown in popularity year by year. It is organised by local volunteers, supported by local businesses, it's free to attend and any money generated is ploughed back into the local community.

In their own words:
"After the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the early 2000s, the local community proposed and investigated an idea to regenerate the area and to raise much needed funds for local projects. In 2002, the first music event was held in the village and proved to be such a success that it grew hugely year-on-year. In 2009 the festival became two events with a free family orientated event remaining in the village under the new name of Dentdale Music and Beer Festival"

This year must have been the best yet, the crowds were huge and friendly, the sun shone, the beer flowed and the music was great

We ate, we drank, we bopped and we sang along and when Midge Ure belted out "Vienna" he had us in the palm of his hand. 

Eat your heart out Glastonbury - we've got Dentdale.

*Any remarks about Dent being in Cumbria should be addressed to Whitehall

17 June 2014

Haytime - hard work and happy memories

Growing up on a hill farm at the top of Dentdale I had very mixed feelings about haytime. The days in the fields turning and scaling the mown grass with an old fashioned wooden rake were long and hard for a young girl. We had very little machinery, an old grey Fergie tractor, a mower and a sled to cart the loose hay back to the barns, so it was all hands on deck as we worked fast to beat the rain. 
Dad setting off to the hayfield with his basket of pop

Leaning on his rake
But we had fun too. All us farm kids had to work and on a fine sunny day in July before the start of the summer holidays our classroom would be almost empty with just the children of the shop keeper and the vicar sat at their lonely desks. Our mothers worked with us in the fields and all of them carried a yellow duster. When one of them spotted the school inspector's car chugging up the Dale out came the dusters and a ripple of golden semaphore sent us running home to pull on pyjamas and jump into bed. 

These days I love to see the hay meadows filling the valley bottoms with a sea of yellowLook closer though and you'll see that amongst the meadow buttercups and yellow rattle are the blues and whites and pinks of speedwell and chickweed and clover. 

A hay meadow in Dentdale

In the upland hay meadows of valleys like Dentdale you can find over 120 species in a single field. This abundance of wildflowers is a result of centuries of traditional farming practice. The grass is allowed to grow in late spring after the lambs go off to the fells with their mothers then cut for hay in the summer. As stock goes back onto the fields in autumn and early spring their hooves break up the soft ground and cause ideal conditions for the flowers to germinate.

We mustn't take them for granted though.  In the last 70 years over 98% of our hay meadows have been lost. So if you're walking or cycling through the Dales this month, if you're watching the Tour de France, if you're on a coach trip or a day out and you're loving the flowers, please think about all the generations of Dales farmers whose hard work keeps this glorious landscape alive.

8 June 2014

A Good Goodbye

We recently buried our friend. And I mean that quite literally. At the end of his amazing DIY funeral his family and friends all took shovels and we didn't leave the cemetery until his grave was filled in. 

I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about funerals. I've been to a lot over the years, from cold miserable little affairs where the vicar kept getting the name wrong and most of the ageing congregation looked like it was hardly worth going home, to a magnificent South London send off which featured plumed horses and a stand up comedian. 
The churchyard in Cowgill where my parents are buried
We buried my shepherd dad in a beautiful Dales churchyard surrounded by bleating sheep and carried my mum out to the same plot to the sound of her Women's Institute choir singing Jerusalem. Like I said, I've been to a lot.

But I've never been to a funeral like this one. No undertakers, no floral wreaths, no hearse. Instead, under the guidance of his wife and following his own expressed wishes, the friends and family of this dearly loved man came together and created an event that reflected exactly the life that he led. A life of creativity, respect for the earth and the absolute conviction that if you want something doing you learn how to do it yourself. 

We erected a huge gazebo in the local cemetery and many of his friends arrived by bus. He came in a wicker casket in the back of his mate's van. The sound system was powered by pedal bike and the celebrant wore wellies. After the ceremony, which was moving and funny and life affirming, his nephews and friends carried his casket up a steep slope to a woodland burial area. They lowered it into the grave where the shovels were passed around as we shared the task of laying our friend to rest. And of course there was a wake. A gathering of several hundred people in a club he had loved and pretty much single handedly maintained. It had been cleaned and painted for the occasion and food and drink was prepared and served by his friends.

The time between a death and a burial often feels unreal, as if life goes on hold and normal activity feels awkward and wrong. Not in this case - we all had jobs to do. Painting and cleaning and shopping and cooking brought many of us together on a daily basis. Sharing our grief but also taking great pride in being together and doing it for our friend. It's changed my view of funerals completely and opened my eyes to the joy to be found in not handing over to professionals, however caring, however helpful, but in taking responsibility ourselves for the end of our loved ones' lives .  

And I thank my friend and his wife for giving me the chance to be part of it.

26 May 2014

A Sense of Self

This isn't the blog I intended to write today. No, I planned to post a story about the four days I just spent walking in the Scottish Borders. Either that, or our week away at the Ride2stride Walking Festival, or maybe my new project to walk A Dales High Way on alternate Saturdays with a group from Nidderdale or.... 

Well you get the idea. I've got plenty going on, most of it involving walking and all of it taking me away from home. And that's where the problem lies.

Last night I had a visit from the secretary of our allotment association, a dear friend of mine, who wondered on behalf of t'committee, whether I was actually going to plant anything on my plot this year. She offered me 3 alternatives - give it up, share with someone from the waiting list or commit to cultivating. I tried to convince her that there was a 4th option - leave me and my weeds to our own devices but no - I have to make my mind up.

My plot looks like this ...
...when it should look like this
Our allotments are stunning, tucked away behind the church in Saltaire and bordered by the Leeds Liverpool canal. I've spent some of my happiest hours there. Me, the dog, a flask and a sunny afternoon. But with a long waiting list and most plots shared by 2 or 3 families already it's really not fair that I hang on to mine.
The canal flows along the bottom of the site
So with a heavy heart I've been down this morning, picked my last rhubarb, collected my tools and handed back the key to the taps. I know it's the right decision. I don't have the time, I'm not at home enough and every time the sun shines there's an almighty tussle between the walking boots and the gardening gloves. It might even be a relief to be rid of it, one less thing to worry about in an already overcrowded life, but I'm heartbroken all the same

It's not just that I'll miss the gardening, I have a garden at home, I can neglect that instead. It's not the company - I enjoy a chinwag with my allotment neighbours but I see most of them around the village anyway. It's not even losing the peace and quiet although one of the things I love most is that feeling of being away from phones and emails and domestic responsibilities for an hour or two. 

No, I think I'm saddest about giving up the notion of myself as someone who has an allotment. It's who I think I am - walker, gardener, writer, cook - and giving up the allotment feels like I've lost a part of myself.
Last year's apple and redcurrant jelly

14 May 2014

Town v Country

I usually tell people I live in Saltaire. It's not strictly true because Saltaire proper is the World Heritage mill village built by Titus Salt in the 1850's to house his workforce.

I live one street away on an estate built by Shipley Corporation in the 1930's, also to house the local workforce.

Our view
No matter. Either way it's a beautiful place to live. Surrounded by woods and fields with the Leeds Liverpool canal and the river Aire running through the valley bottom you'd never think we are just a few miles from Bradford and Leeds. Our little station is crowded each morning with commuters travelling the 20 minutes or so into the cities by train and in the evenings with people setting off for nights out.
Trinity Arcade, Leeds
The other day I popped into Leeds for a pizza with a friend and we got talking about where we live, would like to live or might live in the future. I'm a country girl and  I've often  fantasised about moving to the back of beyond and living the rural dream. Recreating my childhood in fact. Work and friends and family prevented such a move for many years and now I'm in the position I could actually consider it I've changed my mind. An isolated life on a Dales farm is fantastic for kids. We had an idyllic childhood. It's not so great when you get older. Lack of public transport and shops and services that are increasingly located away from the villages mean that you are always dependant on a car. 

What happens when your income, your health or your inclination means you want to stop driving? How do you get your prescription or buy a pair of shoes or visit the bank without asking for lifts? How do you continue a social or cultural life when a night at the theatre involves a round trip of 50 miles and most importantly how do you retain your independence into old age?

All these things struck me as I left our lovely green valley with its woods and its fields and its waterways and jumped on a train to enjoy a glass of wine amid the buzz of the big city. I think I'll stay put.

9 May 2014

Should I, Would I, Could I?

Last week we hired a cottage in Settle and stayed there for the Ride2stride Walking Festival. The town was full, with walkers staying in cottages, pubs, B&Bs, tents and caravans. Our cottage was lovely. Converted from a garage attached to the owner's own house it had a small living room/kitchen that opened straight off the street with a bedroom and ensuite above. Charming and quite big enough for 2 people on a walking holiday but certainly not big enough for a full time residence.

I've always had very mixed feelings about holiday cottages. I'm from Dent where 20% of the houses are holiday or second homes. When my mum and dad retired they had to leave the farm, the house went with Dad's job. 

Our farm
Second home ownership had pushed up the prices of cottages beyond anything a retired shepherd and his wife could afford. It was an anxious time. They were lucky - a housing association was building homes in the village and they lived out the rest of their lives in the Dale that they both loved. Young people are not so lucky.They often end up moving away from the villages they've grown up in. In Dentdale over half of the residents have lived there for less than 10 years and 40% are retired. 

So, should we buy second homes? Holiday cottages in towns like Settle and villages like Dent that we can go to for weekends and holidays and let out to family and friends. It's tempting isn't it, especially for those of us who live our real lives in large towns and cities? Or should we stay in pubs and on campsites and hope that the pints we buy and the chocolate bars and the fish and chips do something to help keep small businesses alive in our towns and villages? What do you think? 

23 April 2014

There's a welcome in THESE hills

Thank you Scotland - or more specifically thank you to all the fantastic people who made our West Highland Way walk so special.

It almost goes without saying that the walk itself was wonderful - 95 miles in 7 days through the spectacular West Highlands of Scotland.

After a lowland start from just north of Glasgow to the banks of Loch Lomond, the Way follows the loch for a day and a half before heading over Rannoch Moor into the mountains, ending in Fort William under the watchful eye of Ben Nevis.

It was a great introduction to walking in Scotland and everything I'd hoped for, and more, because in all the years I've been walking I don't think I've ever felt so welcome. No tight lips as we dripped on the carpet, no dirty looks as we lugged rucksacks and walking poles into bedrooms. 

Just a warm welcome, a big fire and a chat about where we'd walked that day. 

The West Highland Way attracts 1,000's of walkers a year from all over the world and for many businesses it's their main source of income so understanding the needs of walkers makes sense but just because something makes sense it doesn't mean it always happens. Over the years I've stayed in B&B's that told me to leave my rucksack outside and in pubs that stopped serving coffee after 8 o'clock even though the dozen or so walkers who'd just finished eating were the only customers in the place. I've stripped off at the door to avoid the wrath of receptionists and dripped guiltily up the stairs after disapproving landladies. 

Walking a long distance trail boils down to the very basics of life - get up, eat, walk, shower, eat, drink, sleep - then do it all again tomorrow so the quality of the accommodation makes a massive difference to the experience. It doesn't matter if that accommodation is a 5 star hotel or a shared room in a bunk barn so long as the welcome is warm, there's somewhere to dry and store mucky wet gear and above all you're not made to feel like a hobo who's wandered in from the hills even though that's exactly how you look. 

So well done West Highland Way - you got it spot on and the welcome in those hills will stay with me for as long as the memories of the walk itself.

11 February 2014

I'll tak the high road ....

WooHoo. It's booked! We're off to walk the West Highland Way

One of the drawbacks of publishing walk guide books for a living is that you spend much of your life walking for work (I know, I know, call that a job!). 

In the last 12 months we've walked the Coast to Coast twice for our latest book, A Dales High Way once to monitor the new waymarking and the Dales Way to check for route changes. Great walks all of them but work all the same. 

We finally decided to tackle a long distance route just for the fun of it and settled on the West Highland Way. Despite being half Scottish and spending great chunks of time with my cousins north of the border I've done very little walking in Scotland and I just can't wait. 

Glen Coe