The Arden Way Marathon Walk

I made a very silly decision a few weeks ago. Having walked the Arden Way over a weekend two years ago, I decided that it would be possible to do it alone in one day. It’s 26.6 miles so I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought that given enough time, it would be possible. It was – just.

I started at 8 in the morning to make sure I had plenty of time and at first it was a pleasant walk. The route is a circular journey beginning and ending in the centre of Henley-in-Arden. The early stages, as much of the walk, are largely in fields and my socks were soon damp with the dew. I’d brought a spare pair (it’s a real pleasure to put fresh socks on when tired from walking) so I was able to change them over and leave the wet ones attached to my pack in the hope that they would dry off. Inevitably, I lost one!

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The River Arrow, in the early part of the walk.

For the most part it’s an attractive route through rural areas, lovely villages and a couple of small towns. There were a number of nice sights, such as an old red phone box convereted into a mini library and some stocks. I also came across two or three fields with cows who seemed to find me fascinating and followed me across their fields. I’m not sure why as I couldn’t see any calves.

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A novel use for an old phone box!

I made good time in the morning but as I reached mid-afternoon I was getting tired and still had 8 miles or so to go! As time progressed I found my feet were getting painful – I had a huge blister on my heel when I finished which caused problems for a week afterwards.

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One of the many lovely houses I saw.

The directions, produced by the Heart of England Way Association, were generally pretty good but a few times they were misleading or unclear, which led by off track. I had a map but even so it was difficult to find my way back to where I should be. None of these diversions were particularly lengthy but it was increasingly frustrating as time wore on and I was losing the light. I knew once I got into Henley I would be fine, as there are streetlights, but I only had a Maglite to light my way in the fields and woods.

For the last five miles or so I must have looked drunk, so odd had my gait become after so many miles. I was tired, frustrated, in pain and desperate to finish. I’m proud of myself for completing the route in the circumstances but I did ask myself what on earth I had been thinking! The longest I’d walked in a day before was 17 miles so I added nearly 10 miles to that!

I’d seen the TV programme Commando School a couple of days beforehand, which went behind the scenes of training for Royal Marine recruits. One of their qualifying Commando tests is a 30 mile ‘yomp’ (speed march) in Dartmoor, carrying 40 lb. of equipment and their rifle. They have only eight hours to complete this challenge, so I thought it shouldn’t be too much to ask myself to cover three miles less distance in four hours more, and carrying less equipment. In the end, it took 12.5 hours, but thinking of what the Marines have to do gave me the inspiration to keep going.

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Bucket List Update: Buying a House, Visiting New York, Helicopter Flight and trip to Peru

Once again, I haven’t posted for months. In my defence, though, I’ve been a bit busy. I bought a house about 5 weeks ago so I’ve been spending my time decorating and buying lots of things. It’s exciting but hasn’t felt weird at all, which is the strangest thing. I can’t tell if I’ve just adjusted really well or if it hasn’t fully it me yet that I actually own this house.

In truth, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of furniture and white goods either free or very cheaply through friends and family and haven’t had to buy that much, but it all mounts up. £115 to get the alarm serviced, £180 for a gas service and gas safety check, the same again for some roof repairs… still, it’s all done now. I’ll post some before and after photographs when it’s completely finished. There’s not much left to do actually, just some shelves to put up and pictures to hang.

In other bucket list news, I’m heading to New York with friends for New Year. I’m really excited about that as I’ve always wanted to go. I’ll annoy them all by taking photos every five seconds, but I don’t care.

Brooklyn Bridge New York

I already have a long list of places I want to go, like Top of the Rock, the Staten Island Ferry (for the Statue of Liberty and ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre. It won’t be a cheap trip, but worth it. While there, I intend to take a helicopter flight (which I didn’t get to do as planned at the Grand Canyon) so I’ll be able to tick that off too.

My friend Sarah and I are also starting to talk seriously about a trip to Peru next year, which I can afford because it turns out that my roof doesn’t need replacing! I’m also going to get a lodger soon to get some extra income.

Rather sooner than that, a group of friends and I are heading to coastal Wales over the Bank Holiday weekend. We’re staying in a bunkhouse and have already booked to go to Bounce Below. It looks amazing! It’s an abandoned slate mine where the owners have installed three enormous trampolines in a space twice the size of St Paul’s Cathedral. They’re linked by slides and ladders and lit by a coloured light show. I’ve also found a place which does quad bike trekking. I’m still annoyed that I passed that up in California so I want to rectify that mistake. There’s fantastic walking in the area too (I want to climb Cnict) and the beach looks lovely. Unfortunately a few of us won’t arrive until Saturday lunchtime as we’re going to watch the musical Wicked the night before. I don’t mind though, it’s a fantastic show!

misty Cnicht

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Recent Escapades

I’ve been fairly busy lately. We’ve had various bank holidays here in the UK and when you get a free day off, I think it’s good to do something with it!

The first bank holiday – Good Friday – was spent with friends wandering the Clent Hills and having a pub lunch and an ice cream. I’d never been there before which is shocking considering how lovely it is round there and how close to home it is.

Three days later on Easter Monday, most of the same friends, as well as one or two others, joined me at Rutland Water. It’s a large reservoir created in the 1970s. We hired bikes and cycled around it for the day, which was very pleasant except when going up hills! I haven’t really done any cycling aside from occasionally in the gym for about 10 years, so they were challenging! It also didn’t help that my friend Zoe and I mistakenly ended up with road bikes instead of mountain bikes. Still, it was a great day, helped by sunny weather and a fortuitous discovery of an entrepreneurial village hall selling bacon baps, cups of tea and homemade cakes!

Normanton Church, Rutland Water

Normanton Church, Rutland Water

There was another bank holiday last Monday (this time of year is full of them) and we walked from my friends’ house onto the North Worcestershire Path, wandering across fields in the direction of a pub we’d heard was good – and indeed, it was!

Then on Wednesday, I took the day off and drove my brother and I to Snowdonia in North Wales. The journey took three hours but it’s great to get away from urban life and into wild countryside when you can. We intended to climb Tryfan, which had recently been voted the best mountain in the UK, then its neighbours Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. Tryfan itself proved a challenge, because despite there being paths marked on the map, there’s little to no evidence of them on the ground! We had to scramble and climb our way over broken rocks all the way to the top. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun but it was mostly scrambling rather than walking. Some of it was practically rock climbing! It took a lot longer than we anticipated and as we looked at the very steep scree slope we’d have to climb to get up the side of the next mountain, we called it a day and headed home early. Next time, we may approach from the south! We did see some RAF jets flying past us, which was quite exciting. In fact, they were flying lower than us, which must be quite rare! I didn’t manage to get my camera out in time to take a photograph unfortunately.

View from Tryfan - one of the less rocky sections!

View from Tryfan – one of the less rocky sections!

The other thing I’ve been up to recently was The Wolf Run. It’s an off-road 10km run with obstacles, including a 60m lake swim, a giant slip and slide, walls to climb, a large cargo net, monkey bars and mud. Lots of mud. Some of it you had to crawl through, some you had to wade through, and some you had to try to run over. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t slipped over! It was fantastic fun and a lot easier than I was expecting. A couple of the obstacles were tricky but it’s a run not a race so there was always someone willing to help you out. I was expecting the lake swim to be utterly horrendous and not to be able to move afterwards from the cold, but it actually wasn’t that bad at all. It looks like we’re running it again in November so ask me again after that!

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Pudding Club

I recently had the opportunity to attend Pudding Club. For those not in the know, Pudding Club is a weekly event held at the Three Ways House Hotel in Mickleton, Gloucestershire. The owners were sick of the sort of desserts being served in the 1980s and set up Pudding Club to promote traditional, hearty English puddings. The event has really taken off since then and it regularly features on TV and in travel magazines.

The event begins with an introduction from the Pudding Master, including a rundown of the puddings on offer that night. Once you’re all seated, you are asked for your choice of light main course – for us it was salmon fishcakes, butternut squash risotto or chicken with bacon. To accompany these, dishes of vegetables and dauphinoise potatoes were brought out but sadly, despite how tasty the potatoes, were the vegetables were barely touched as nobody wanted to fill up on the main course! I have to say though, my salmon fishcake was delicious.

A short while later and it was time for the parade of puddings. The pudding master announces each pudding in turn and staff bring them in pudding one by one while guests clap and cheer. They are all placed on a central serving table along with a large bowl of custard. Staff stand ready to serve you.

The Rules

Oh yes, there are rules.

  1. You can only go up to get a pudding when the Pudding Master says so. Each table goes in turn so you do at least get a reasonable gap between each pudding.
  2. Staff will serve you a small-ish portion, but after you’ve had three or so you will feel pretty full. You can ask for a smaller portion if you wish.
  3. You must clear your bowl. If you don’t clear your bowl, you cannot have another pudding – and nor can anyone else on your table! This can lead to a bit of mostly good-natured barracking from those who want another helping if you can’t finish – or don’t like – your pudding.
  4. You can have the puddings in any order you like.
  5. You don’t have to have one helping of each – if you want to have seven helpings of sticky toffee pudding, you can. The idea is to try all seven though.
  6. If you’ve had seven puddings and want to keep going, you’re perfectly welcome to do so. The record is 26 helpings!

Our seven puddings were Rhubarb Crumble, Spotted Dick, Very Chocolate Pudding, Passionfruit Charlotte, Banana and Cinnamon Pudding, Syrup Sponge and Butterscotch Pudding. The menu does change.

Once everyone has managed all they can eat, it’s time to vote. You’re allowed to vote for your favourite puddings as many times as you ate it, so if you had three helpings, that’s three votes. Everyone gets a certificate to celebrate the evening and after relaxing over tea and coffee (included) it’s time to leave. We were fairly local, so just came for the evening, but most people at our event stayed over.

I’d wanted to go to Pudding Club since I saw it on TV years ago and it didn’t disappoint! Sure, the Spotted Dick was boring and the Banana and Cinnamon Pudding unpopular but the others were tasty and the evening was great fun. I certainly want to go back!

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A Look Back At My 2013 and A Look Forward to 2014

At the risk of being self-indulgent, this post is more for me than readers – a convenient way to see everything I did last year of significance, all in one place.

Walking and Running

I carried on walking with my walking group, although I wasn’t able to make as many hikes as I’d have liked due to them clashing with other events. I also spent a weekend walking in the Brecon Beacons with my brother, including a hike of the Pen-Y-Fan Horseshoe.

View of Pen-Y-Fan

As promised in my New Years resolutions for 2013, I successfully completed a 10km race. I also wanted to run a local, off-road 10km race called the Wolf Run, which has lots of obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do this as the date was announced while I was in America and by the time I got back it was sold out! It’s all worked out well though as many of my friends were also interested so we now have a group of 10 or so of us signed up to run it at the end of April.

Travel

It was a good year for travel, beginning in late March when I joined 7 friends for an epic 3 week roadtrip holiday, travelling to San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, down the central California coast to Los Angeles and then across to Las Vegas, from where we took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was my favourite holiday I’ve ever had – it really was a trip of a lifetime! During the 3 weeks, I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, rode a San Francisco cable car, explored Alcatraz, saw Giant Redwoods, gazed in awe at the sheer magnificence of Yosemite, surfed badly in the Pacific alongside some dolphins, saw sea lions and a hummingbird, posed with the Friends sofa on the Central Perk set, gambled in Las Vegas (I lost, obviously), fired a shotgun and marvelled at the Grand Canyon.

Viva Las Vegas – it’s a crazy place

In August my family and I went to the Lake District for a discounted week in a caravan. We were on Ullswater, which is a stunning lake. It was a great week, especially as the four of us haven’t holidayed together in several years. My brother and I enjoyed some outdoor activities – climbing Blencathra, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, wild swimming in Ullswater (utterly fantastic, albeit a tad chilly) and canoeing to an island on the lake.

Looking down Hall’s Fell Ridge, Blencathra

In December I went to Rome. I was proud of myself for taking the big step (to me) of going it alone and though I would have enjoyed my visit more if I’d had a companion, it was great to see the sites. It also added an extra country to my talley – Vatican City!

The Colloseum, Rome

I added another new country 3 short weeks later when I saw in the New Year with friends in Dublin, though my favourite part of the trip was a visit to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

New Year’s message projected onto Trinity College, Dublin

I took a couple of daytrips to parts of my own country I hadn’t seen before. My Mom and I visited Stonehenge and Salisbury for the day, which was really nice. I also visited Bath with friends, which was fun.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Royal Crescent, Bath

Other

My Dad and I competed in a charity sailing race, helping to crew a 72ft yacht in a circumnavigation race around the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately the wind didn’t really want to co-operate but it was a great experience.

Sailing round the Isle of Wight

With my friend Zoe, I went to watch a disabled athletics event. It was fantastic to see so many Team GB paralympians competing! We saw Hannah Cockcroft and David Weir, among others.

Hannah Cockcroft wins by a mile!

I finished my photography course and a number of us saw it out in style by arranging an exhibition of our work, which was thrilling!

My photographs in an exhibition!

The final big event of 2013 for me was starting a new job. I had the interview back in September but all the pre-employment checks took so long I didn’t actually start until a week before Christmas. I was sad to leave my old job, which I found interesting and enjoyed most of the time (I worked with some great people too) but the new job is in my chosen field and is a promotion so it was a no-brainer, as they say! It’s been less than two weeks but I’m enjoying myself there.

All in all it’s been a pretty good year!

What 2014 Has In Store

I doubt I’ll be able to travel much, if at all, this year. That’s because my primary goal for 2014 is to buy a house. I’ll be booking an appointment with a mortgage advisor shortly to get things moving. If things go smoothly I hope to have bought somewhere and moved in by the halfway point of the year. This will no doubt suck up all my money for some time! If I can afford it, I might do the Caledonian Canal canoe crossing this year.

Other than that, I’m in training for the Wolf Run at the end of April. My new workplace has a very cheap gym on site so next week when everybody’s back in work I’m going to see if I can have a look at it. Assuming it’s ok, I can quit my existing gym membership (saving myself more than £200 per year in the process) and work out before or after work instead, hopefully several times a week. With luck and motivation I’ll be fitter than I’ve ever been – although that won’t be difficult!

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Dublin and Giant’s Causeway

Ha'penny BridgeGiant's Causeway (Black and White) 1Giant's Causeway (Black and White) 2New Year's Message on Trinity CollegeDepartment of the TaoiseachKilmainham Gaol
General Post Office and Spire of DublinPadlocks on Ha'penny BridgeRiver Liffey and Dublin at DuskSplash of Water 1Splash of Water 2Giant's Causeway 1
Headland Overlooking Giant's CausewayGiant's Causeway 2Giant's Causeway 3Giant's Causeway 4County Antrim CoastlineCampanile, Trinity College
Bright Buildings, Dublin CastleLeopold BloomRiver Liffey

Dublin and Giant’s Causeway, a set on Flickr.

Some months ago, my friends and I organised a trip to Dublin for New Year.

I’d never been before – in fact, I’d never been to Ireland before – and it surprised me how similar it is to home. I know that shouldn’t be surprising, but I didn’t think it would be so familiar. I suppose you might see more traditional Irish culture outside the capital.

We did see some Irish music performed in the pubs and visited Dublin Castle (not my idea of a castle, to be honest, but the state rooms were impressive), Kilmainham Gaol, where a number of political prisoners from the uprisings against British rule were held and many executed (well worth a visit), and saw the inside of many a pub!

Perhaps my favourite part of the trip was hiring a car with three of my friends and making the three hour trip to the Giant’s Causeway. It’s at the northern tip of the County Antrim coast, in Northern Ireland. I’d never been there before so I have now been to all the constituent parts of the UK. We were lucky with the weather – the sea was powerful but that just adds to the photos! It was great to see such a landmark for myself. I was worried it might be a let-down after such a long drive but it wasn’t at all.

Back in Dublin we saw in the New Year with a meal, some beverages in the pub and tickets to the New Year’s Eve concert on the streets of Dublin, headlined this year by Madness. Having danced and sung 2014 in, we dispersed.

It was a good trip, and although I didn’t love Dublin (I liked it well enough, but didn’t love it) I am certainly keen to return to Ireland!

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Solo Trip To Rome

As discussed in my previous post, I spent the weekend before last Rome. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to go as it happens. My flight was early on Friday morning and on Wednesday evening and through Thursday I had some kind of stomach bug. Fortunately I was feeling better by Friday, only to develop a bad chest cough and a cold while I was away!

The travelling went smoothly and I even found my hostel without too much of a problem. It was called ‘Coliseum Lodge’ [sic] and I was quite impressed by it. Really, it was more of an apartment where one of the rooms had 6 beds in it. Even more happily, the beds were mostly single beds rather than bunk beds, which I far prefer. They were comfortable and the facilities were fine.

After arrival I walked to the Colosseum, which was only about a ten minute walk away. Having done my research, I bought my entry ticket (which gets you in to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill) at the Palatine Hill ticket office, which is much quieter. The Colosseum is larger than I expected and is very interesting to walk around. Before I left the UK I’d downloaded some free audio guides onto my MP3 player by a guy named Rick Steves. They were American so had the odd reference I wasn’t familiar with, and some terrible jokes, but they were quiet useful. I had those for the Colosseum, the Forum, The Pantheon, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica and they gave some useful information.

After the Colosseum I walked round the Forum in astonishment at the sheer quantity of Roman ruins in such a small area. There are remnants of many temples and two impressive triumphal arches as well as part of the house of the Vestal Virgins. I was amazed by the large fragments of columns and inscriptions which just litter the ground – in an area of such historic riches they aren’t a priority.

Following that I walked up the the Victor Emmanuel II monument, also known as the Vittoriano. It’s absolutely enormous, a huge stone structure to commemorate King Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy. I had a wander round the museum inside before heading back out to explore the Centro Storico.

Christmas lights on the Via Del Corso, one of the main streets in Rome.

My evening wanderings took me several miles and I made sure to visit all the main sights – the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. I had a thoroughly disappointing canneloni in Piazza Del Popolo and headed back to the hostel for an early night because I’d been up since 4.20 am! It didn’t end up being very early though as I got chatting to my roommates – one of the advantages of hostels for the solo traveller!

The next day I had a booking at the Vatican museums at 9.30 so I was up and out early. I went slightly wrong on my walk there but didn’t end up being very late at all. This area is one of the worst for street vendors trying to sell you tat and it’s added to by all the salesmen trying to get you to pay for a tour. Having successfully avoided all of them, I got into the museum and quickly ignored the crowds by heading to the right to get a shot of the famous exit staircase.

I ended up spending 4 hours in the museums, because they are simply huge and very wide-ranging. There are museums of portraits, a museum dedicated to the coinage and stamps of the Vatican City, another for early Christian scarcophagi as well as those for sculpture and the like. The most famous part of the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel. At first sight I wasn’t as impressed as I had been expecting to be but it really is fantastic work and it’s no surprise it took Michaelangelo four years to complete it!

After the museums I had a pizza nearby before joining the queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world. The queue was huge but it moved quickly and I was inside in about twenty minutes. The light was fading so I went straight for the stairs to climb the cupola, the dome of the church, as I’d read that the views were incredible. Five Euros later (it’s seven if you take the lift halfway) and I was climbing 700 stairs and negotiating the very narrow corridors at the top where the wall curves in on you. The view was well worth the effort – judge for yourself! Downstairs, I looked around the church while listening to the Rick Steves’ audio tour. I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer scale of it and the incredible decorations, though I do think that overall I preferred St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Afterwards I had a wander down the bank of the Tiber (the picture shows Castel St’Angelo, near the Vatican) and through Trastavere. It’s supposed to be very authentic, but it wasn’t anything special from what I could see (though it was dark!) After a spaghetti carbonara in an empty restaurant, I headed back to the hostel for bed. I was tired from a long day and a lot of walking, but I think my visit to the world’s smallest country was my favourite part of my trip.

Day 3 dawned and I walked out to see a few places I hadn’t yet seen and to see some which I’d only seen in the dark the day before. After some navigational difficulties caused by the Italian dislike of road signs, I eventually found my first destination, the Campo D’Fiori. It was a nice enough space but I wasn’t quite sure why it was a recommended visit. From there I headed to nearby Piazza de Navona, which was very busy even in the morning, and the Pantheon. When I arrived the service was still taking place (it’s been a church for 1400 years and was a Roman temple before that – the name means ‘All Gods’ as it was not dedicated to a specific deity) so I waited for a few minutes and was able to enter. You can’t really see it from outside but the Pantheon has an enormous concrete dome, which was built with the temple in Roman times. It’s an architectural marvel and was unmatched until the Renaissance. There’s a circular opening in the roof which lets in light – and also rainwater.

From the Pantheon I walked north-east to the Trevi Fountain. To my surprise, it wasn’t much busier than it had been at night two days before. It’s a stunning construction and I sat and enjoyed it for a few minutes.

Next I went to the Piazza de Spagna, the square which hosts the Spanish Steps (both so-names because the Spanish embassy is also in the square). I knew that there was due to be a ceremony there that day, as they do it every December 8th. The ceremony involves the fire brigade placing a wreath over the outstretched arm of a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of a tall column. When I arrived, the wreath was already in place but there were people waiting around behind barricades so something else was obviously due to happen. I’d read that Pope John Paul II had taken part in the ceremony years ago and there were men handing out flags which said “Benvenuto Papa Francesco” so it was fairly obvious a papal visit was in order. I waited around but there was no sign of it beginning so I had to give up and head back to my hostel to be able to check out. On my way from the hostel to the train station to return to the airport, I stopped for some real Italian gelato at Merulana Ice. I ordered a larger size than I would have done ordinarily as it was only 3 Euros and the distance the dishes were away from the counter meant I didn’t quite realise how large it was! Oh well, I got a very large helping of dark chocolate ice cream for a very reasonable price!

Overall, I enjoyed Rome but I didn’t fall in love with it as many people seem to. I’d go back, although I’ve now done everything I was particularly bothered about doing, but I’m in no hurry.

Travelling solo was an interesting experience. I haven’t done it before, and while it had its advantages (I only had to go where I wanted to go and never had to wait for anyone, which meant I fit much more into my limited time, and I wasn’t annoying companions by making them wait for me while I took pictures) I much prefer travelling with friends or family. I don’t really mind being on my own during the day when I’m doing things (as long as I know where I’m going and what I’m doing) but I don’t like eating alone. Still, in other circumstances I may well have been able to find someone to come with me, it was just short notice!

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3 Weeks Off – So I’m Going To Rome!

I finished my job on Friday. It was a sad day, as I’ve been there 5 1/2 years, but a new job had come up which was exactly what I was looking for. I asked if I could work my full notice period and be paid in lieu for my leave, but wasn’t allowed to, so I find myself with 3 weeks off.

I’ve already got a list of things to do – I need to have a clear out and visit relatives as well as getting on with things related to the festive season: finish my Christmas shopping; write my cards, go to a couple of Christmas get-togethers etc. Plenty to do, certainly, but it’s an unparalleled opportunity so I decided to bite the bullet and go on a solo city break.

I decided on Rome for a number of reasons – it’s not too far, I can see the main sites in a couple of days, flights are cheap and it’s perfect for a history and photography buff like me. I will confess to nerves though. I’ve never travelled alone before and there is a language barrier, although many people will speak at least some English. On the whole I’m excited and I think it will be a bit of an adventure, but there are definitely nerves!

Rome, Italy, by Kerry Loggins

 

Now to squeeze research into my list of things to do!

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Film Review: Gravity

I’ve been seriously slacking on the blogging front lately, sorry!  I haven’t had all that much to write about, I’m afraid.

I recently saw the film Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I’d never heard of it until I saw a poster on the side of a bus (old fashioned marketing still works in the digital age) and was sufficiently intrigued to look it up. What I saw convinced me to see it.

The film centres around a rookie astronaut, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on her first trip into space where she’s helped by George Clooney’s retiring veteran Matt Kowalsky. There’s an accident and they end up the only survivors of their mission, with the shuttle too damaged for them to return to earth. The film is the story of their attempts to survive and to say much more would ruin it!

The film does a spectacular job of conveying the vastness and loneliness of space, helped by spectacular (and seamless), CGI which must have taken years to plan and produce. The effects are staggering, but never showy. It’s designed to be watched in 3D and while I’m not normally a fan of 3D, it did work for this – I was particularly impressed by tears floating towards the camera in zero gravity.

I can easily see this film walking away with a good handful of Oscars and confidently predict it to be at least nominated for Best Actress, Best Film, Best Director, and Best Cinematography.

If you can handle the tension it’s easily worth watching.

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Lake District Adventure Holiday

A few weeks ago I headed up to the Lake District with the family for a week. I’d been able to get a caravan cheaply through work so why not? We were based on the shores of Ullswater, which was perfect. It’s a beautiful lake, much more rugged than, for example, Windermere, but also with a few small centres of civilisation so it doesn’t take half an hour to go out for some milk.

During the week, I climbed 3 mountains (Blencathra, Helvellyn and Skiddaw), swam in the lake and canoed to an island and around the southern section of Ullswater, as well as seeing the Aira Force waterfall. It really was a great week! Naturally, I took my camera – here are some shots.

Ullswater with the fells behind

Blencathra

Hall’s Fell Ridge – our Blencathra descent route

Our routes were chosen to be exciting – on Blencathra we chose to ascend via Sharp Edge, a narrow rocky ridge, and descend via Hall’s Fell Ridge, which is almost as bad! A bit of scrambling and climbing brings interest to any walk!

A mini waterfall in a brook at the bottom of Blencathra – photography practice time!

After a day’s rest we tackled Helvellyn, 3rd tallest mountain in England. Striding Edge was to be our ascent and we planned to descend via Swirral Edge and then Catsty Cam.

Our lunch spot on Helvellyn!

We decided to stop for lunch before taking on the mighty Striding Edge. Lots of other people had the same thought but full credit to my brother for spotting this place for lunch – what a view!

Helvellyn’s Striding Edge

View from Helvellyn

Our walk up Skiddaw was a bit less exciting. Not only is the route less interesting than Blencathra or Helvellyn (no ridge walks) but the weather was bad and got worse. It was quite cloudy on the lower slopes – this is the best shot I managed to get – but as we got higher the cloud surrounded us completely so we couldn’t see a thing. It also started to rain and the summit was incredibly windy, so between the cloud, the wind and the rain it wasn’t the best mountain experience of my life! At the summit there’s a plaque showing what you can see in the distance on a clear day, which was pretty annoying as we couldn’t even see the edge of the summit plateau!

View of Keswick and Derwentwater from Skiddaw

On the last day we went to Aira Force, a 62 ft waterfall. I took my camera tripod on the holiday for that reason and that reason alone, so I was able to experiment with slow shutter speeds to blur the water. I was really pleased with the results!

Aira Force from a distance

Brook at Aira Force

Aira Force and bridge

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