Tag Archives: Adventure

Derbyshire wanderings

With holiday to use up, mainly due to poor planning on my part, I visited relatives in Derbyshire last week and had the chance for a wander through Dovedale, in the Peak District.

Dovedale, not far from Ashbourne, is a fantastic limestone gorge where you can walk alongside the river up to Milldale, or take various other paths to surrounding villages and other interesting spots. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, and remember crossing the stepping-stones with some trepidation the first time around. This time one of the stepping-stones had slipped downriver, so a less hazardous but rather boring bridge crossing was required.

The path to Milldale winds alongside the river, and is relatively flat with only a few ups and downs. There are lots of caves to explore should you have the urge; I don’t know the history of the area very well however one can imagine people must have lived in them for thousands of years. I liked Reynard’s Cave, although it seems a little big for foxes.

It was a bit of a dull day, but that really didn’t matter and probably meant it was a lot quieter than in the height of the tourist season, making for a very peaceful walk. I spotted quite a few dippers flitting about on the river, a few wrens and an inquisitive robin, and a yellow wagtale.

I passed various funky geological features including Ilam’s Rock, which I forgot to take a picture of as Lobster wanted his picture taken on the bridge, the 12 Apostles rocks, the Lion’s Head rock, the Dove Holes, all worth exploring more and it looks like a great climbing area too.

I’ve been watching a few of the old films we made for It’s A Trap recently, and couldn’t help thinking the area would make a wonderful location for some filming, probably involving Orcs or something; bit of a Tolkien landscape really.

After about 3 miles I reached Milldale, encountering only a handful of other walkers on the way. It’s a good spot for some lunch, although I did get swarmed by Mallards and one bit my finger; worse than piranhas!

I always think Mallards sound like they’re laughing at you. These were some of the boldest ducks I’ve ever encountered, even stooping to plunge their beaks into my rucksack in search of sandwiches whilst my back was turned; Lobster was no help whatsoever incidentally.

There’s a lovely poem on the information boards in Milldale, written by an eleven year old in 2003. I think it captures the spirit of the dale perfectly.

MAGICAL DOVEDALE
The water chuckles and giggles over weirs,
Then the bobbing dipper disappears.
The wrens and goldcrest dart along the riverside,
Above the spires the clouds do glide.
Ilan Rock looks down on Pickering Tor,
While mosses and ferns creep over the floor.
Across the Stepping Stones we tread,
Look! That Rock shaped like a lion’s head.
The ducks dip under, just showing a tail,
And this is my magical spirit of Dovedale.

After lunch I wandered back down the gorge, passing a few logs studded with old coins, where people must have made wishes. I stopped and added my own.

At the entrance to Dovedale stands Thorpe Cloud, an isolated limestone hill rising some 287m above sea level. Again I hadn’t been up it since I was a kid, so proceeded to clamber the grassy path, being careful not to slip down the steep slopes as one of my aunts did as a child, breaking bones apparently. In fact quite a few of my relatives seem to have accidents of one sort or another here, mainly involving the stepping-stones; I’m wondering if there was sherry involved.

Nothing like a good walk in beautiful countryside, maybe involving a few hills, to bring a little perspective and peace. Back at work now, but at least the morning cycle ride takes in some countryside; looking good in the frost.

Frosty morning bike ride

Frosty morning bike ride

Only a couple of weeks until Christmas holiday starts!

 

What’s important in life?

Last week everything was getting a bit hectic. Work was busy as always, I had a stack of admin to do, and I’d been trying to sort out house buying/selling stuff as well as visiting my brother and family, then visiting him again to collect my laptop which I left behind; what a plonker! Thankfully he only lives just over an hour away.

With stress levels mounting the short film below by Alastair Humphries was brought to my attention, which came as a timely reminder of what’s important in life, and got me thinking about future adventures again. I’d highly recommend you take 5 minutes to watch it.

I love the quote from John Muir…

‘A lifetime is so little a time, that we die before we get ready to live’

I bet this is a concern many share, and we should do our utmost to ensure we don’t delay living, instead of just plodding along hoping something will change, for a lottery win, or that fame and fortune will randomly find you if fame and fortune are what you really want. Definitely don’t wait for retirement to spread your wings. Who knows what the future holds and how long you have to enjoy it; the world doesn’t feel like a very stable place at the moment.

So  reminding myself of the above, I think it’s time to start planning some fun stuff in the outdoors for next year. I’m not thinking of trips taking several months again, instead it’ll be shorter excursions, and not just by bike this time. Current ideas include hiking/biking in Scotland, one of my favourite places, climbing in France, and perhaps canoeing in Canada. I’d better get saving however not all of these need be expensive. I also really need to commit to doing some writing, something I always say I’m going to do but rarely prioritise, finding other things to occupy my time instead. On top of that I’d like to commit time to environmental and conservation causes and projects, perhaps with some volunteer work, or fundraising for charities involved. Looks like 2017 could be busy then.

On the environment front a colleague at work asked me today why I don’t use my car to get to work when it’s cold and wet, instead of cycling all the time. Aside from the fitness side of things and constantly trying to lose weight, my more immediate response was as follows.

‘If your house catches fire, do you throw more fuel on it to make it burn more quickly and destructively,  or do you go and fetch a hose pipe and call the fire brigade?’

Every time I get in my car, and even though it has very low emissions, I’m conscious of the fossil fuel it’s burning and how the emissions from this are contributing to climate change. 2016 is another record breaker, being the hottest year on record, and CO2 levels have permanently gone over 400 ppm now. The planet seems to be on course to continue warming, with all the disastrous side effects such as ice melt, sea levels rising, warming oceans leading to coral bleaching and anaerobic dead zones, as well as habitat destruction and species decline on a massive scale. I could go on with examples but it gets a little depressing, especially with a new president due in the USA who doesn’t believe in climate change and who is going to encourage more coal-burning. I think the Paris Climate change agreement to limit temperatures to a 2’C rise is broken.

Perhaps that’s the problem. Of course you wouldn’t throw more fuel onto your house if it’s on fire, however most people just can’t see that the same thing is happening to the planet.

The human race seems determined to ignore all the warning signs, and continue blindly on with its destructive lifestyle. Endless consumerism of goods you don’t really need and often pointless technology, is driven by large corporations driven only by profits and greed. People are often completely unwilling to compromise on their comfortable lifestyles to try to limit their impact on the environment. Having the latest gadget, upgrade, a new car, or a wardrobe full of new clothes is still a necessary status symbol for many people, even though we’re using up the planet’s resources at an unprecedented rate and destroying countless habitats to do so.

It really is completely messed up and illogical, and I think I’m beginning to agree with Sir David Attenborough’s comments that humanity are a plague on Earth and population growth needs to be limited and reversed; unfortunately that still seems to be a bit of a taboo subject. Any arguments around the planet not being overpopulated by humans as there’s still loads of space, of which I’ve seen a few recently, are seriously flawed. Yes there’s enough space to make lots more farmland, but at the expense of more critical ecosystems, and with more people will come more demand for goods that will strip the our remaining resources even further, at the expense of the other animals we share this world with, and future generations.

Still, I like to think there’s still hope, with awareness growing of the issues we face, and more and more people taking notice and trying to change their lifestyles to limit an adverse impact on the environment, pollution, waste and energy use. Even the small things like stopping buying coffee in non reusable cups with plastic lids helps; just stop it! It may be too late to stop some of the changes such as sea level rises that will sink coastal cities, but hopefully other changes can be averted.

If we can persuade governments to invest more in renewable energy, expose large corporations with damaging practices, and change our habits things will get better. There are also projects such as ITER, which I just read about, which could provide a clean source of energy on a permanent basis, solving many of the world’s problems (see https://www.iter.org/). And perhaps more critically I firmly believe, along with hundreds of thousands of others, that we need to do more to  keep fossil fuels in the ground, even if that means fuel prices may rise and life might get a little more difficult in the short-term. We’ve got to do something to force the political elite, as well as the very small percentage of the superrich who seem to control everything with only their own wellbeing and wealth in mind, to take notice.

Those were my musings for a Tuesday evening. By writing about this I hope to increase awareness and make people think, as it should (IMHO) be something we are all concerned about on a daily basis; after all, what is important in life? And if you didn’t like the environmental bit I hope the video was at least enjoyable.

Autumn adventures

I may well have extolled the virtues of Autumn before on this blog, however it really is my favourite time of year with the countryside looking beautiful, lots to forage, and plenty to do before the harsher winter weather sets in.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had lots of opportunities to get out and about, both on two wheels and a few mini holiday breaks further afield.

Suffolk has plenty of places I haven’t been before. A short break saw visits to cosy small villages, RSPB Mimsmere with its Marsh Harriers and waterfowl, and Sutton Hoo which I hadn’t been to for several years.

I swapped my bike for a short stint in a row-boat, discovering it’s quite hard to go in a straight line if you don’t notice the boat also has a rudder.

As well as lots of birds to spy, and a few deer, Mimsmere also had an abundance of fungi to get confused about. My mushroom identification skills are sadly lacking.

Still a few flowers around as Autumn continues, and pine cones with their interesting Fibonacci sequence geometry.

Amongst adventures further afield I still managed to get out for a good cycle around Norfolk; not as flat a county as you might think, and great at this time of year with less holiday traffic.

Autumn is also deer rutting season, and we visited Holkam Hall for a wander around the park. Some of these Fallow deer really know how to pose.

After misplacing my camera (Canon SLR) for about 12 months, it’s nice to have found it again, although I think I need a bit more practice at focussing using zoom. These Red deer came out alright through.

And Holkam grounds look lovely with the leaves turning, and more fungi to get confused about.

There were also several quite spooky trees; apt for Halloween.

It’s been very mild for the time of year up until last week, however it looks like the colder weather has arrived with November, in time for bonfire night. This did not however deter a group of friends and I heading off to camp in the woods for the weekend. Armed with the right kit you can still be nice and toasty in your sleeping bag, and I’m thoroughly sold on hammocks versus sleeping on the floor, even if my hammock did nearly tip me out at one point; could have been user error. Camping out in the wilds of Norfolk exposes you to some beautiful sunsets.

The woods were warmed with candle light, campfires, friends and good food cooked over glowing embers. There might have been the odd glass of mulled wine too, just to stave off the cold.

And some dramatic fire poi action to round off the evening. No-one set themselves on fire this time around.

That might have been the last campout for 2016, however I would like to get one more in during December, just to round off the year; already missing the campfire, woods and good company. I might have to take some whisky with me if it gets much colder, if I can wrestle it from Lobster’s grasp; he is still around, and still needs a wash.

Lobster likes whisky as well as chocolate apparently

Lobster likes whisky as well as chocolate apparently

Happy Autumn adventures everyone.

Wayland Woods

As less is sometimes more, here are a few photos from a wander in the woods today. There is definitely an autumnal feel in the air, however the countryside is still rich things to forage and spot. I even saw an owl gliding across the road on my way back to Norwich, too quick for a photo but always a spectacular sight.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit...I think...and a bit poisonous so not good forage

Jack-in-the-Pulpit…I think…and a bit poisonous so not good forage

After a hectic week at work a walk in the woods is always good for relaxation purposes, and I hadn’t been to Wayland Woods, near Watton, before. The woodland is allegedly where the ‘Babes in the Wood’ legend comes from; this involves murdered children and not some kind of carry-on episode. Perhaps this is why the forest is sometimes also known as the Wailing Woods…

Beech trees providing a glorious canopy

Beech trees providing a glorious canopy

The woodland dates back to the last ice age, and is recorded in the Doomsday book. The name Wayland Woods may also be derived from ‘Waneland’, the Viking name for a place of worship. Wandering around this vestige of ancient woodland it’s easy to imagine sprites and fey folk living there, although I think the ones I saw were probably just squirrels eating the abundance of hazelnuts.

The wood has been managed for centuries as a Hazel coppice, however there are a lots of other trees to see including oak and ash, beech and birch, and a several others I didn’t immediately recognise. With coppicing you get some areas that have been recently cut back, providing hazel poles for various purposes including preventing river bank erosion, and other areas where the hazel is dense, the light is shut out, shadows linger, and sound is muted. In these quieter spots it’s easier to imagine the Babes in the Woods legend might be true.

Nature provides a mini swimming pool, or drinking bowl

Nature provides a mini swimming pool, or drinking bowl

The woodland is smaller than I thought it wood be, and probably once covered a far greater area. We need to do all we can to preserve these last remaining areas of ancient woodland, to help maintain biodiversity, and to offer quiet spots for a relaxing walk. Wayland Woods has recharged my batteries ready for the week ahead, after which I should have the opportunity for a few days off here and there, and perhaps a few mini cycling adventures.

Up North of the border

After a hectic first two-thirds of the year holiday time has finally arrived, and I’m spending a week with family up North.

Melfort Village

Melfort Village

We’re staying on the shores of Loch Melfort, a peaceful and beautiful spot just south of Oban, on the west coast of Scotland.

Mussel Bay - Loch Melfort

Mussel Bay – Loch Melfort

The waters of the loch are slightly bracing even in the height of summer, but were still enjoyable for a swim today, once I’d made it out past all the seaweed; mostly bladderwrack. There were a few seals bobbing about, along with cormorants – or they could have been shags, and duty seagulls.

We made stone towers, and my niece and nephew fished for crabs.

Mussel Bay - stone tower

Mussel Bay – stone tower

I’ve visited a lot of the area before, both on my 2013 cycle tour around the coast of Britain, and on previous holidays. Something about the West coast of Scotland keeps me coming back for more; it was certainly one of the best bits of my cycle tour. It was nice to visit the Tigh-An-Truish Inn for lunch with Dad on Monday, crossing the Bridge over the Atlantic to Seil Island.

After lunch I walked 10 miles back over the hills to Melfort, taking in various sights and sounds along the way, and avoiding sheep wherever possible.

It was a very peaceful walk and relatively easy-going, especially since the weather is good this week. Apparently it rained all last week so we’ve struck it lucky. I only met one other person walking the other way, accompanied by their dog who obviously thought everything was brilliant. That’s one of the great things about this part of the world, lack of crowds!

After making it over the hills to Degnish, there followed a stroll down the road next to the loch back to Melfort. I’d forgotten it was quite a long road, with a fair few hills, however beer was waiting at the other end and the scenery was lovely; lots of buzzards soaring about too.

Yesterday it was all about the beavers! Although I didn’t actually see any as they’re not so active during the day. There’s a Scottish Beaver Trial, now ended, in Knapdale Forest. The beavers are still there, awaiting a decision on their fate from the Scottish Parliament. Hopefully they won’t be evicted as they’re a keystone species that bring with them a lot of benefits for other flora and fauna. They’re also very cool creatures, and I’m wondering if I can sneak some back to Norfolk.

 

To finish the day off we visited the small port of Crinan, at one end of the Crinan canal, which bisects the peninsula.

Still got a couple of days left before I head back to Norfolk. Might have to search out some Sea Eagles, or perhaps wild haggis! I might visit Oban again and see if I can find the Otter I spotted playing in the harbour there other day. Lots to do here 🙂

 

Troll Hunting

I was going to write a blog with some post referendum thoughts. Some musings on how we have to be careful we don’t make the decline of the UK, recession and doom a self-fulfilling prophecy, and commenting on the general air of insanity, panic, vitriol and political nonsense that seems to have gripped the nation recently…

…but it’s my birthday and I want to focus on happier things.

After work today I went for a pedal through the Norfolk countryside, enjoying the sunshine, nature, smells of summer and mental freedom elicited through just going for a bike ride. Sometimes it’s nice to let your imagination run wild, and regress to a child-like state-of-mind, something us adults probably don’t do enough.

It’s amazing how your sense of smell can evoke such powerful memories. Today the smell of recently cut grass took me back to seemingly endless childhood summers, helping in the garden, exploring the countryside and going on adventures, or just lying in the sunshine and spending time with family. A wonderful period of life that was, of course, taken for granted at the time, but which truly were the moments when you were most free, as a child, with none of the burdens of adult life and responsibility.

So for a couple of hours this evening I left my adult mind behind, and entered the world of pretend. I stopped worrying about anything else and lived in the moment, letting my imagination do whatever it wanted too.

It’s a liberating feeling, and something I find easier to do when pedalling. Something about the motion of the bike, combined with mild exercise and being out in the countryside helps you enter a somewhat meditative state. You can let you mind relax, take some deep breaths and try to switch your head from rushing from one task to the next, to a more creative and playful place. The feelings of stress that can build up over the day or week just vanish.

So if you get the chance, go and have some play-time, and hunt some trolls. With all the mental health issues going on at the moment, maybe that’s what everyone needs.

Caveat: No trolls were harmed in the making of this blog, and any inferences to anti-social or violent troll behaviour is purely speculative. I’m sure most trolls are very nice, once you get to know them.

 

 

May Day Bluebells and a modern day mystery

Come Spring and May Day every year I undertake a pilgrimage of sorts, along with thousands of others, to enjoy one of nature’s finest gifts; a woodland landscape carpeted in Bluebells. There’s nothing quite like seeing the forest floor come alive with violet-blue flowers, whose sweet smell tantalize your olfactory sense.

This year I took a trip up to Foxley Wood, just up the road from me in Norfolk, which is famous for its Bluebells and consequently busiest in late April and early May. It’s still a big enough wood to try to get lost in though, whilst avoiding any trampling of flowers of course.

As soon a you start looking more closely one notices all sort of things hidden amongst the Bluebells, from buzzing bees laden with heavy pollen sacs, to lots of other insect life, and other wild flowers such as Celandines, Wood Anenomes, Stitchwort, Primroses, Wood Sorrel and rare orchids.

If you’re lucky and patient enough, I’m told you might even spot the odd faerie, especially around May Day, however pretty sure it’s a butterfly in the picture below. It’s easy to imagine faerie kingdoms nestling amongst the gnarled trunks of some of the trees.

There’s still plenty of time to take in the Bluebells yourself, in a woodland near you; it’s a very good way of relaxing. The viewing season usually lasts until the end of May, however it started a bit earlier this year, no doubt due to a warm winter, so will probably end earlier as a result.

If you do go down to the woods, and take your dog, please don’t add to one of life’s modern-day mysteries. I prefer the old mysteries, like how were the pyramids built, or what was Stonehenge used for, or Atlantis. I really dislike the modern-day mystery of why some dog owners will bag up their dog poop, but then choose to throw it in a bush, or hang it, almost artfully in its plastic sack, from a tree…why?! Just…why?!