15 December 2017

Katie Calling

‘Ooh I’d love a week off’ thought Katie as she hung her wet coat on the back of her chair. It was months till she was due any leave. Not having kids she always got last dibs at the holiday rota. 
Fancy Spring Bank in the Lake District? 'Sorry Katie that’s half term and Gemma’s off'. August in Brid? – not a chance, all the mums are away in August and as for Christmas... Katie hadn’t had Christmas off in years. She got Christmas Day of course but that was all. She was there till after six on Christmas Eve and in at eight on Boxing Day because ‘Christmas is all about the kiddies so Katie won’t mind.’ And she didn’t. Not really. She liked to keep busy.

Katie worked in the office of a large supermarket. She’d been there since she left school. Perched high above the shop floor she was the person that everyone went to when things went wrong. Her official title was Communications Assistant but everyone called her the Bing Bong Girl. Managers would rush by hissing instructions as they went ‘Quick Katie, call the cleaning team. There’s a family sized Wash n’ Go spilt on aisle 5.’ ‘A freezer’s down again’ Katie. ‘Tell customers the dessert section is closed.’ ‘Push the specials Katie, they’re on BOGOFF’  and Katie would sit in her glass fronted eyrie looking down at the customers and colleagues – they didn’t call them staff any more - and press her communicator.

Bing Bong Bing Bong. Katie calling. We have a special offer today on our own brand wholemeal pizza bites. Mmmm, all that delicious pizza topping on a base that’s actually good for you. Sandra is waiting in aisle 9 with samples to tickle your taste buds.

Katie was good at her job.

The run up to Christmas was always mayhem. And it got earlier every year. Bottles of Baileys slipping from arthritic fingers and smashing on the floor, small children lost and hysterical. Katie could never understand why people brought their entire family. It was a supermarket not an attraction. If she had kids she’d take them for a run round the park while Paul did the shopping.  But Katie wasn’t one to moan. Even when the hormone injections had made her feel like murdering someone she’d kept on smiling. That was Katie. Always cheerful.

But by the end of the first Saturday in December even she was exhausted. All she could think of on the way home was a hot bath and an early night. She hoped Paul had got chips on his way back from the match but if he hadn’t there was a tikka masala at the end of its sell by in her bag. He could have that. All Katie wanted was hot bath and a mini magnum. And maybe a foot rub if Paul's  team had won. 
She could smell cooking as soon as she opened the door.
‘Paul,’ she called. ‘Is that you?’
‘In here’ he shouted. ‘I’m in the kitchen.’
And there he was, stood at the counter wearing a paper hat and adding chicken legs to plates piled high with sprouts and roasties and pigs in blankets.
‘Merry Christmas Katie’ he grinned. 
Her quiet, smiley husband who lived for his rugby. Who’d held her head as she vomited every day of the pregnancy that only lasted six weeks and her hand the day they were told she was too old for another round of ivf.
‘It’s not Christmas for 3 weeks’ said Katie.
‘I know’ he said ‘It’s come early this year. Get your coat off. I’ve something to tell you.’

The next morning Katie was first in. She wanted to catch her manager before anyone else arrived. Jason would understand. He’d worked there nearly as long as she had.
‘The thing is’ she told him. ‘It’s a week in Lanzarote flying out on Christmas Eve, 5 star, all inclusive. That’s the prize and my Paul won it. In the rugby club draw.’
‘I’m sorry Katie’ he said. ‘You know how I’m fixed. All the mums have got that week off. The kids are off school and Christmas is all about ....’
‘....the kiddies. Yes, I know’ said Katie. ‘But is there nothing you can do? I’ve been here over 20 years and I’ve never once asked for time off in the holidays. Not once. Please Jason.’
‘No chance Katie. Head office agreed the rotas months ago. You’d better get back to work. There’s 4x4 blocking the delivery bay needs a Bing Bong.’
As she turned to leave his office Jason called her back.
‘Oh, and don’t think of calling in sick Katie. You’ll be out of a job if you do.’

‘And that was it.’ she told Paul that night. ‘Off you go Katie. Just like that. As if all I was asking for was an early lunch.’
And this time it was Katie who held Paul while he cried.
The next few weeks were as busy as ever. Katie and Paul didn’t mention the holiday again. They were used to dealing with disappointment. It was better to just get on with things. On Christmas Eve Katie was up before Paul was awake.
‘I’m off Paul’ she called out as she left the house. ‘Don’t forget you’re picking me up. I’ll text when I’m ready to leave.’
By 2 ‘o’clock the store was heaving.
‘Just how many cans of lager did people think they’d drink between now and Boxing Day morning’ wondered Katie as she straightened her reindeer ears and switched on her microphone.

Bing Bong Bing Bong. Katie calling. On behalf of the management I’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas. And to thank you all for being such wonderful customers we’d like to offer you a FREE 10 minute trolley dash. Just fill ‘em up ladies and gentlemen and head for the doors.

And with that Katie grabbed her coat and ran down the stairs to find Paul waiting in the car with the suitcases she’d hidden in the boot that morning.
‘Quick Paul’ she said. ‘Drive. Our plane leaves at 4.’

8 December 2017

Ten for a Tenner (or less!)

I love the Christmas Gift Guides that fall out of newspapers and magazines at this time of the year but OH - the prices! £150 for this, £200 for that and if anything is even vaquely affordable it's dismissed as a Stocking Filler.

Now I love my family and friends but I've no intention of putting myself into debt so this morning I set off to find 10 gifts for under a tenner each, and where better to look than our own lovely village of Saltaire.

First stop Salts Mill where I found this beautiful Te Neues notebook for £9.99 in the bookshop. Anyone would want to keep a diary with a journal like this.
 Image result for teNeues Green Journal
Then down to Saltaire Tourist Information where a bar of wool fat shaving soap caught my eye. I remember my dad saying his hands were as soft as a baby's after a day or two spent clipping ewes. The lanolin in the sheep's wool is a great moisturiser and at £6.25 this is a bargain - if you can find a man without a hipster beard that is.
Coasters next from the Rad Studio on Victoria Road. Just £2.50 each and in a great range of colours so you could put together 4 for £10 to match or clash with any room.
One of Saltaire's best kept shopping secrets is The Craft House on Saltaire Road. Keep walking up Victoria Road and turn right and you'll find it. It has a great range of inexpensive gifts, many of them made by local people. I picked out 2, both priced at £8 each. This gorgeous hand knitted Saltaireosaurus
and a Shiraz scented candle that shouted Christmas in every sniff.
I love the Butterfly Rooms on Gordon Terrace and I've bought many special presents there. Today on my 'under a tenner' quest I found these socks. Beautiful colours and designs and presented in their own gift bag for only £6.99 a pair.
Next I crossed the road to the Co-op where I picked up 3 bottles of Saltaire beer for £5 including the very Christmassy Triple Chocoholic.
Then because gifts don't always have to be about stuff - sometimes only an experience will do - I went into the award winning Jeanette's Cakery to ask about afternoon tea. Jeanette provides a voucher for her fabulous afternoon tea for just £10 per person.
Now as some of you know my passion is walking so for my last 2 gift ideas I'm sticking close to my heart. Firstly a Dales Way mug for just £8 from Trek and Trail in Salts Mill
and finally our own Dales Rail Trails, also available for £8.99 from Trek and Trail or post free from www.dalesrailtrails.co.uk It's a fantastic little book of 32 fabulous walks from stations on the Settle to Carlisle line. Just jump on the train in Shipley and you'll soon work up an appetite for tea at Jeanette's.
So there you have it. My ten for a tenner so if you're comng to Saltaire this weekend why not bring your shopping list with you. Choose carefully and you'll have enough left for a glass of mulled wine.


23 November 2017

Sssssh! Don't Tell Everyone

The Howgill Fells, that huddle of smooth sided hills that nestle between the grandeur of the Lake District and the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales, is one of the north’s best kept secrets. 
The Howgills

They are often overlooked as a walking destination in favour of their better known neighbours, but on a clear, dry day there is nowhere that I’d rather be, away from the crowds and alone with the curlews and Fell ponies.
Fell ponies on the Howgills
Dennis and Jan Kelsall share my love of this landscape as their guidebook book Walking in the Lune Valley and Howgills clearly shows. This is the 2nd edition of the book they first wrote in 2012 and it celebrates the inclusion of much of the area into either the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales National Parks. It includes 40 day walks of between 3 and 11 miles in the catchment area of the river Lune, stretching from its emergence near Newbiggin-on-Lune and flowing for some 50 miles to the Irish Sea below Lancaster. 

To the east of the river lay the Howgill Fells and the Forest of Bowland and it is in these areas that there are some of the finest walks in the book. Base yourself in the lovely market town of Sedbergh and you can tackle anything from a strenuous circular climb over Winder, Calders and the Calf to a gentle stroll around Dent.
Dent village
There are also clusters of walks in the north around Orton and Tebay where there are fine examples of limestone pavement, and further south in remote little Barbondale. 
The limestone pavements of Great Asby Scar
The final section of the book takes you along the Lancaster canal and out to the Lune estuary were you can see the remains of Cockersand Abbey and explore Glasson Dock, still active after over 200 years, although mainly with pleasure craft these days.

The book is published by Cicerone and is in their distinctive style; pocket sized with 1:50,000 extracts of OS maps to accompany each route description. Directions in the text are enlivened by the historical and geographical snippets that add interest to any walk.

If your walking in the northwest has been concentrated on the Lakes and Dales then this is the book for you.  But sssssh! Don't tell everyone or they'll all want to go there.

Walking in the Lune Valley and Howgills by Dennis and Jan Kelsall is published by Cicerone, ISBN:978 1 85284 916 0 price £12.95

I was sent a free copy of the book to review. The photographs in this review are my own.

27 September 2017

Offa's Dyke

Offa's Dyke path was never at the top of my 'To Walk' list but if we are to complete our project of walking the whole of the UK mainland on long distance trails it had to be done. The walk is a 177 mile National Trail crisscrossing the Welsh/English border from Chepstow to Prestatyn. It's up-hill and down-dale and it took us 12 days this September. Altogether we walked 182.4 miles with over 10 kilometres of ascent. The extra 5 miles included diversions to get to our accommodation and the amount of climbing came as a bit of a shock. The weather was kind, the accommodation was generally very good, the waymarking was excellent, we ate well, slept well and enjoyed meeting other walkers.

Here's my walk diary - Enjoy!

Wednesday 13th Sept. Sedbury to Monmouth. 18 miles.
Getting off the train in Chepstow we headed south to Sedbury where a very unprepossessing cliff marks the start of the trail. 
The start of the walk
We admired a small bank of earthworks, which is the last we'll see of the dyke for the next few days, then headed back through the Chepstow suburbs into the Wye Valley. Our Cicerone guidebook states 'The first section of Offa's Dyke Path is also one of the best' - a claim that worried me somewhat as the day consisted mainly of steep climbs and vertiginous descents through heavy woodland with occasional glimpses of the river below. 
Tintern Abbey glimpsed though the trees
We saw no other walkers but caught sight of rowers far below us and small herds of deer running across the track ahead. The villages of Brockweir and Redbrook made welcome stopping points, the steep climbs down to them reminding us of dropping into Cornish fishing villages on the South West Coast path.  
The path into Redbrook
From Redbrook there's the option of taking a riverside path into Monmouth - a very good option which we chose to ignore, instead slogging back up to the summit of the Kymin, the last climb of the day, before spending the night in Monmouth.

Thursday 14th Sept. Monmouth to Pandy. 17 miles.
Today was a day of farmland. We walked through fields of horses and cows, sheep and pigs and negotiated paths through turnips and potatoes and corn. 
Farmers' fields
The corn was as high as an elephant's eye

We wove our way through cider orchards and picked damsons and blackberries from the hedgerows. The terrain was much flatter and the walking a little dull but the sun was shining and we made good time, picnicking at the White Castle and enjoying a pint at the Hunter's Moon Inn in Llangattock Lingoed. I had Robinson's cider - one of the appley-est ciders I've tasted.   

Friday 15th Sept. Pandy to Hay-on-Wye. 17.5 miles.

Great views
A great day's walking on the eastern ridge of the Black Mountains. We left Pandy early and climbed up Hattersall Hill for a 9.5 miles ridge walk over to Hay Bluff.
Views down towards Longtown and Llanthony were fabulous. Rain fell in 10 minute bursts but we soon dried out and headed for Hay-on-Wye. After a surprisingly steep and very muddy descent though trees we came to an access road with a wide grass verge and a laminated sign - 'Don't sit on the grass. It's our garden not a picnic spot'. Fortunately our welcome at the 'Rest for the Tired' B&B was significantly warmer, as was the hospitality at Kilverts Inn.
Great pub
Great beer and great pies!

Saturday 16th Sept. Hay-on-Wye to Kington. 14.5 miles.
Today we were joined, or should I say overtaken, by ultra runners taking part in the King Offa's Dyke race. We're attempting the walk in 12 days - they are running it in 90 hours. This year's winner Gregory Crowley finished in just under 55 hours and we were delighted to spot Mark Collinson who we met when he ran A Dales High Way. After 3 long days 14.5 miles felt very relaxed and we took our time, calling at the church in Newchurch where we enjoyed tea and biscuits along with other Offa's Dyke walkers, and at the pub in Gladestry. 
Welcome cuppa
The day ended with a climb up Hergest Ridge and a lovely walk on green tracks through harvested bracken, something I haven't seen in the Dales for many years. 
Broad tracks through the bracken

Kington is a small town that has seen better days and the pub was in need of some tlc. We'll draw a veil over our breakfast which suffered at the hands of a hungover landlord. On the plus side I went to the laundrette and we started day 5 with packs full of clean clothes.

Sunday 17th Sept. Kington to Knighton. 14 miles.
The dyke is back! 
Along the dyke
Today we followed long sections of dyke all the way, adding interest to what would have been a rather join-the-dots day. We're in the Welsh Marches between the Black Mountains and the Shropshire Hills ahead. Knighton is a friendly little town with great accommodation in the converted stable block of the George and Dragon. Lots of the walkers we've met finish Offa's Dyke in Knighton which is almost half way and has a useful station. We're carrying on though!
Monday 18th Sept. Knighton to Montgomery. 18 miles.
Eighteen miles AND 1,350 metres of ascent. The words 'comfort zone' and 'outside' come to mind - in fact it's fair to say I only got to the end of today by breaking out the emergency whisky. The first half of today's walk was lovely. Some steep climbs and descents with lovely views over the valley including a steam train crossing a distant viaduct. 
Half way there
We reached the halfway point of the walk - a fingerpost showing 88.5 miles in each direction - just before lunch. But by the time we got to Churchtown and the second of the afternoon's 3 tough climbs the rain was falling very heavily and made the steep ascents and even steeper descents very treacherous, especially through Churchtown and Nut Woods where the path was reduced to sludge. This section of the walk ends in Brompton Bridge but we continued another 3 miles into Montgomery to spend the night at the Dragon Hotel where the lovely young staff, great food and comfy rooms soon restored our sense of wellbeing.

Tuesday 19th Sept. Montgomery to Welshpool. 11.5 miles.
After yesterday's efforts it was great to have a shorter day. I resisted the temptation to catch the bus and we set off for a sunny day's walking. 
More fields
The morning's walk was fairly flat along the edges of fields then, after skirting the village of Forden, we began a long, easy climb up Long Mountain on a tarmac lane. Several cars stopped as the drivers joked about how far we'd to go! We left the lane to enter woodland - why are we always in trees when the sun's out - where the muddy path wiggled around the Leighton estate. We ate our lunch at the top of Beacon Ring, the site of a circular Iron Age hillfort, a taste of things to come. After a hair raising crossing of Buttington Bridge - no pavement and very heavy traffic - we joined the towpath for an easy walk into Welshpool. 
Buttington Bridge
It's a busy little town and we got there in time to enjoy a beer in the sunshine before replenishing energy and clean socks with food, sleep and a visit to the laundrette.

Wednesday 20th Sept. Welshpool to Trefonen. 17 miles.
We set off back along the towpath at a fast pace, staying alongside the Montgomery canal to Pool Quay. 
Hovering helicopter
The path then set off across a series of flat fields where our walk was enlivened by watching RAF training helicopters take off, hover and land again. We joined the Montgomery canal for the second time at Four Crosses and enjoyed a lovely walk into Llanymynech, not a very attractive village, before climbing up to Llanymynech Rocks. 
Tow path walking
Somehow we managed to walk the wrong way around the rocks and found ourselves completing a full circle of the quarry before heading off in the right direction. We've rarely gone wrong on this walk. Waymarks are so numerous that there's barely the need for a map. We reached the village of Trefonen where we were booked into Dingle Cottage B&B along with 2 other Offa's Dyke walkers. They stayed in the house while we went down the road to be billeted with Norman, the neighbour. Tea in pub, bed at Norman's then back to Dingle Cottage for breakfast. Apparently that's the way they do it in Trefonen!

Thursday 21st Sept. Trefonen to Llangollen. 16 miles.
Today's walk from Trefonen to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is only 12 miles but we had another 4 miles to go along the canal to our accommodation at Llangollen Hostel. The day started wet but cheered up later. We followed old lanes and field paths from the village up to Racecourse Common where we crossed the old racecourse, passing a statue of a two-headed horse and the remains of the grandstand. 
The grandstand
Before long we spotted Chirk Castle on the hillside ahead and climbed up though the grounds on a permissive path hoping to have a cup of tea. Sadly the teashop was inside the castle and required a payment of £18 each to enter. Needless to say the flask came out. 
The Great Oak at the Gates of the Dead, Chirk Castle
For a walk that passes through a number of villages and hamlets Offa's Dyke has been surprising short of en route refreshments. A great exception was a cafe boat moored in the Trevor basin where we enjoyed tea and toasted teacakes and a nice sit down after crossing the aqueduct. 
You need a good head for heights to cross the aqueduct on this narrow path
We liked Llangollen very much and enjoyed both our evening at the Corn Mill pub and the relaxed and friendly hostel where, yes, we did more laundry.

Friday 22nd Sept. Llangollen to Clwyd Gate. 15.2 miles.
A great day's walking. We left Llangollen and climbed up to Castle Dinas Bran.
Looking across from the castle to the limestone screes
Well worth the effort for the exhilaration of the climb and the fantastic views. After the castle we crossed the limestone screes to World's End, my heart always lifts in limestone country, where we had a break by the first tumbling water we've seen. 
Heading for the hills
After a short road walk through tree felling operations we crossed some open moorland on board walks before reaching the village of Llandegla where we spent a happy hour in the community cafe and shop. The day ended with our first taste of the Clwydian Hills, a long range of open fells with hillforts on top of most of the summits. We arrived at the abandoned motel at Clwyd Gate and were picked up by the landlady from the Druid's Inn, where we had a great night.
The lovely Druid's Inn

Saturday 23rd Sept. Clwyd Gate to Bodfari. 11.7 miles.
Our penultimate day and another great day's walking. I'm very much enjoying being in the hills again. 
Back amongst the hills
We got a lift back to Clwyd Gate then set off over Foel Fenlli to drop down to the car park at the base of Moel Famau where a shepherd's hut was open and serving drinks. 
The shepherd's hut cafe
There were lots of people around - walkers, runners, DoE groups - and it felt good to be in a buzzy atmosphere of people enjoying the outdoors. We had a great walk up to Jubilee Tower followed by a day of upping and downing as we crossed the Clwydian range. We reached Bodfari in good time but were a bit daunted to find the B&B a good way out of the village which meant a walk back in to the pub for tea. 

Sunday 24th Sept. Bodfari to Prestatyn. 12 miles.
Our last day and much hillier than I expected. We met lots of people out and about - walking, gardening, picking blackberries - and they all asked if we were finishing Offa's Dyke and seemed genuinely pleased for us. 
I can see the seaside
Lots of tantalising glimpses of the sea and an unexpected treat. Our friends were holidaying in Snowdonia and arrived in Prestatyn in time to meet us at the end.
We did it!

So - Offa's Dyke. The verdict. I had a lovely time and found the people we met to be friendly and welcoming. The route was easy to follow and quite varied though I much preferred the hillier sections to the flat bits. It was tougher than I expected but that may be because we did some long days, 15 miles works better for me than 17 or 18. On the other hand it's great to know that we can still do it. We packed light, carried what we needed and took advantage of every cup of tea stop and laundrette we saw. 
And as for our End to End Project - watch this space!
Our End to End walk