Tag Archives: Countryside

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!

 

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?!

Cycle to work: Why pollute when you can pedal with a plethora of positives?

With the clocks changing I’ve had the opportunity for a few longer evening rides this week, altering my route home from work to take in more of the Norfolk countryside. I’m really hoping the two glorious days we’ve just had aren’t the sum of our 2016 summer; fingers crossed there’s more good weather to come.

You have lots of time to ponder things whilst you’re pedalling peacefully past pleasant panoramas. I’m sure the roads are getting busier, and the fumes from traffic worse. It made me wonder yet again why more people don’t use a bicycle to get around? There are so many benefits that come from regular cycling, and using your bike to get around often doesn’t take any longer that the same trip by car.

I start my day with a 7.5km ride to work, often with a break for a few minutes at a quiet spot to contemplate the day ahead and organise my thoughts.

Pause for thought on the way to work

Pause for thought on the way to work

Getting to work on my bike takes about 24 minutes. It could be quicker but I prefer to take a more roundabout route to avoid traffic and pollution on the inner ring road. Driving to work, which I very occasionally do, takes the same time or longer to cover a shorter distance, and leaves me feeling thoroughly wound up from sitting in traffic. I know I’m more used to cycling long distances, but it really doesn’t take very long to become accustomed to a self propelled method of transport.

A quick search on the Interweb has revealed that a few years ago the average commuting distance to work in England and Wales was around 15km. I’m not sure why Scotland didn’t get a mention, maybe Scottish commutes are convoluted due to other factors such as the threat of ambush by wild haggis. 15km, which is just over 9 miles, isn’t  very far, and as that’s the average there are an awful lot of people who commute a far shorter distance.

I was trying to think of why people don’t cycle to work, or even walk, instead choosing to use their car instead. Maybe they don’t want to arrive at work a bit sweaty, or with helmet hair, or are scared of cycling due to bad driving. The first two are often easily solved as many work places now have showers you can use, and to be honest a 25 minute cycle doesn’t generate that much unpleasantness, especially during the winter months when it’s colder. If you’re worried about your hair, well…lucky you…a lot of people don’t have much, and frankly there are probably more important things to worry about.

I do however understand people who are nervous about cycling due to the amount of traffic, and bad driving, as it can be intimidating and scary if you’re not used to it. However the only way to overcome such fears is to give it a go and build up your confidence, with a bit of defensive cycling thrown in to make sure you’re seen and drivers don’t try something stupid. Incidentally I in no way condone stupid cycling; riders should obey the rules of the road just like car drivers.

Maybe it’s better to focus on the benefits of using your bicycle, rather than what might put you off. There are so many positives to getting on you bike and leaving the car behind. I’ve compiled a bit of a list, which is by no means exhaustive, of the reasons to take up cycling, especially for that daily commute.

In no particular order…

  1. It’s actually faster  okay, not all the time, and it depends on your route and the traffic, but that’s certainly the case with my morning ride to work. If you live in a town or city and drive to work you’re likely to be stationary for a lot of the trip, whereas on your bike your moving for much more of the journey. So you’re saving time by cycling!
  2. You can eat more – this is one of my personal favourites as I love eating. Pedalling to work every day burns off several hundred calories, which I very much enjoy replacing with the occasional bacon roll, or cake off the tea trolley that comes around at 15.00 each day and which I have great trouble resisting. Guilt free eating really is a lot of fun, and quite handy around Easter time; busy consuming an egg as I write this.
  3. Lose weight  it’s really easy to lose a few pounds each week through cycling. I struggle with this one slightly as I’m really into to benefit number 2, and keep having to add another few kilometres onto my evening ride to burn off that unexpected jaffa cake or sausage roll. If you have any sort of willpower you’ll find the pounds falling off. Also, after exercise your body will continue to burn fat at an increased rate for a short time, even after you’ve stopped pedalling, which has got to be a good thing when you’re tucking into a post ride doughnut.
  4. Be healthier – there are countless health benefits associated with cycling, from a better immune system, to increased brain power, as well as a healthier heart and lungs, better bowels and a reduced risk of cancer. Allegedly it can make you cleverer as well, due to increased blood flow to the brain and boosted hippocampus development, although I’m not convinced it’s had much of an impact on me; I’ll ask my colleagues at work, I’m sure they’ll be kind….maybe I’ll just skip that one. As a result a bit of pedalling will also reduce the risk of degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimers. Finally cycling a decent distance each week can apparently also improve your sex life, although I suspect that really depends on your saddle; make sure you choose a good saddle, very important.
  5. Look younger and live longer – cycling increases your circulation and thus delivers oxygen and important nutrients more effectively around your body. Exercise of any sort also helps flush out toxins (it’s a good way of getting rid of a hangover). I just read that it can boost collagen production which helps reduce wrinkles and heal wounds, the latter being quite handy for me as I’m always banging my pedals against my shins or calf muscles. You’ll also live longer due to all the points mentioned in 4.
  6. Be happier, and less stressed, sleep better and be less tired – I’ve grouped these together as they often go hand in hand. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins which makes you happier. Time on your bike where you only need to focus on pedalling can reduce your stress levels, especially after a hard day in the office. A decent ride will tire you out so you’re more likely to sleep better, and exercise can actually wake you up which I find always helps in the morning.
  7. Less pollution an obvious one, as by cycling to work you’re not adding to exhaust fumes which do all sorts of bad things both to people’s health, as well as the environment. With climate change getting higher on everyone’s list of priorities this will become more and more important, especially after people read the latest predictions about sea level rises and the need to reduce emissions drastically. This is one of the most important benefits for me, as I’m getting quite sick of breathing in fumes and am very concerned over the dangers posed by fossil fuel burning induced climate change. The more people who cycle the less pollution they’ll be, so get on your bike!
  8. Avoid pollution – by taking the road less travelled to work, or using a cycle path if you’re lucky enough to have one, you’ll get to breathe in cleaner air. Even if you have to use main roads apparently you breathe in less fumes as a cyclist compared with a driver, which surprised me, but is down to being at the edge of the road and not directly behind an exhaust pipe.
  9. Encourage more cycle friendly routes – the more people who cycle the more there’s an argument for money to be spent on cycle paths and cycle friendly routes. This has got to be good for everyone as it’ll mean safer cycling, and fewer cyclists on the roads ‘annoying’ drivers. Likewise the more people that cycle the more used to cyclists drivers should get, and the more tolerant they’ll be, hopefully.
  10. Less traffic – in line with the above point more people cycling equals fewer cars, which in turn means fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents, as well as a reduced requirement for road mending, meaning everyone can go about their business more quickly and less angrily.
  11. Time to think – we lead such busy lives these days, often always connected to social media or otherwise contactable by phone or text. Putting your phone away and going for a pedal gives you time to contemplate whatever you need to contemplate. I often find myself entering an almost meditative state whilst cycling, and studies have shown it can increase your creativity. It’s also gives you a bit of playtime each day, and we don’t play enough these days; playing isn’t just for children!
  12. Increase your motivation – as with any exercise you’ll feel more motivated after going for a bike ride. Exercise can give you a bit of a high, which is one of the reasons people can get addicted to it. So pedalling to work should make you more productive at work, and more motivated to get off your backside at home and do those things you keep meaning to do, like go on adventures.
  13. Learn to appreciate the weather – Modern life means we’re often completely cut off from nature and the outdoors, shuffling from car to office to home and spending as little time as possible exposed to external elements. I don’t think humans were meant to be inside all the time. This is probably one of the reasons people get ill both mentally and physically, with more allergies and suchlike. If you cycle in all weathers you really love it when there’s sunny and warm day, but likewise I have learned to embrace the rain; it can be a lot of fun splashing through puddles – that playtime thing again, try it. The only weather I don’t particularly get on with on a bike is the wind; headwinds can be soul destroying if they go for too long, and I have had a lot of arguments with whichever deity I blame at the time for sending a headwind my way; I mostly blame Loki.
  14. Better communities – in a car I don’t get to say hello to people, or exchange smiles and waves. In fact people are more likely to swear at fellow commuters when they’re driving, or give them ‘the bird’. Each morning on my bike I say hello to people walking or cycling the other way, generally the same people each day, and feel better for it. A smile given, and received in turn, can really make you feel better. You can make new friends too, who knows who you might meet!
  15. Improve in other sports – regular cycling builds muscle, makes you fitter aerobically, and is good for the joints, so it can really help with other sports you participate in. Although don’t assume it’ll make you a good runner. Running hurts. I don’t know how anyone really enjoys running, unless its over an obstacle course with lots of mud and rivers to jump in.
  16. Raise money for charity – a long cycle challenge can be an excellent way to raise money for your favourite charity, as I have discovered when raising money for the Big C. Just be careful what you agree to; might have accidentally said I thought a tandem bike ride from Cambridge to Norwich would be a good idea, really not sure it is but it’ll be fun whatever.

There are no doubt plenty of other benefits that are worthy of a mention. What do you think? Anything I’ve missed which you think is a real positive produced by pedalling?

I’ll finish with a few photo’s from my cycle home through the Norfolk countryside today. It was ‘bootiful’ and I saw my first Swallow of the year which seems a bit early, perhaps not?

And please consider using a bike rather than a car for your commute to work, or to take the kids to school. Got to be better for everyone 🙂