Sunday, 29 June 2014

Conquering the Old Man. . .

Coniston has the reputation for having its own weather system within the Lake District - and it is usually a lot worse than whatever the rest of the region is undergoing.  The last time our walking group attempted going up Old Man Coniston, this is what happened

Several months later, we headed to Coniston again (walkers are nothing if not eternally optimistic), but this time the Liverpud was leading the medium walk.  We'd got lucky with dry weather on the recce the week before - could it possibly stay dry two weekends in a row? 

Well this is what it looked like, leaving Coniston Water behind and making our way towards the Walna Scar Road through the fields just behind Heathwaite Farm. 

We decided to ascend the Old Man from the back, via a lovely ridge walk to get the maximum views.  Our first main climb of the day was Brown Pike which you can see off to the right. The gradient on the path is not too bad this way up although there is a very steep bit just at the end.

Going up with the natives. . .

From the top of Brown Pike, you can see the lovely path leading to the next peak, Buck Pike.  Ridge walking is my absolute favourite type of walking and such a reward for the climb.

From the top of Buck Pike, you can look back, with a proper view of Blind Tarn and further away, just a glimpse of Morecombe Bay leading out to the sea.

The next peak was Dow Crag which Wainwright described as second only to Scafell in "the magnificence of its rock architecture."

After a brief scramble up Dow Crag, you can see Old Man Coniston opposite in all its glory, along with the path that we'll be taking to get up it.

And here's the view on the other side of Dow Crag - fell upon fell.

After a brief descent down half of Dow Crag, prior to going up the Old Man,  we reached Goat Hawse looking down on Goats Water. This is an alternative way up to the Old Man path, but you miss the views on the other side of the ridge.

And now we're nearly at the top of the Old Man.  Our group was quite chuffed - it had been decades since some of them had been at the top in decent weather.  The Liverpud and I had jokingly subtitled this walk "Unfinished Business" and it was a great feeling to get the job done.

And of course there's always great satisfaction in looking back at the ridge you've just walked.

Here's the view from the other side of Old Man showing our path down the mountain with Low Water in the foreground and Levers Water in the distance.  I have to say it's not my favourite descent; there's a lot of loose shale so you definitely have to pay attention to where you are placing your feet.  It also seems to go on forever. . .

The bottom half is just plain ugly with remnants of the area's mining history on view everywhere - rusty cables criss-crossing the path and huge piles of shale everywhere.

Still, we made it to the pub with an hour to spare and it was cheers all around for a grand walk and for finally conquering the Old Man!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Grass IS Greener. . .

This weekend marked my two year anniversary of living in England.  I can't believe how quickly the time has gone.  Once I got over the novelty and the sheer wonder that I had the guts to actually make the move, and my stuff arrived, and was unpacked, and I found a job, a knitting group, a dentist and a multi-region dvd player, life seemed to settle into a regular daily routine and the weeks and months have just flown by.

So did I make the right decision?

Well obviously, the hardest bit was leaving behind family and friends. I have the Liverpud of course, and I've met some wonderful people in England but it does feel weird sometimes that most of the people I interact with haven't known me for longer than two or three years. I miss that shared history of good times and bad that you have with friends of longstanding.  I'm often a bit nostalgic for the coziness of my old little apartment too.

If I had to sum up the key differences of before and now, I'd say that back in Toronto, I had a very interesting and challenging job but a rather boring life outside of it (often counting the days until my next UK holiday), and here, my job is rather ho-hum but I do far more interesting things in my free time. And I have a lot more of it.  It's definitely a trade-off and one that hasn't always sat comfortably, but on the whole I think it's been worth it. There are a lot more important things in life than working.  And there are several things about daily living in the UK that may seem incredibly mundane, but have actually improved my quality of life to no end.

1. The weather.  Yes, Brits love to gripe about the weather as much as Canadians do, but you'll hear no complaints from me because I love weather in moderation.  No extremes here in Liverpool (although you can get worse weather in other parts). I didn't even see as much as a snowflake last winter, never mind an ice storm or temperatures in minus double digits. No more winter boots for me! As for the summers, I definitely don't miss Toronto's heat, smog and humidity.  No need for air conditioners here and I really like that. I also love the extra light in the summer -  at the moment it doesn't get dark until ten. And the rain?  Personally, I don't notice that it rains any more in Liverpool than it did in Toronto.  If it does, it hasn't bothered me; it's what keeps everything so green!

2. Proximity to gorgeous countryside. This can't be understated. In fact I'm continually amazed that there are 62 million people living on this island.  I can't figure out where they all are. About a decade ago, I started going on walking holidays and came to a very simple conclusion - I'm just happiest when out on a long walk. It's the one time that my mind is completely at ease and stress-free and I love the sense of accomplishment that getting to the top of a hill/mountain using my own legs gives me. I even love the tired, slightly achy feeling of muscles well-used that comes afterwards (it's always a good excuse for a nice long bubble bath).  I feel more fit and healthy now than at any time in my life.

3. Living in a smaller city and being able to walk to work.  See above.  Liverpool also has lovely parks and a small wooded area for short walks that is only five minutes from my house.

4. The Marks and Spencer Food Hall.  Yes, really.  I'm addicted.

5. Free art galleries and museums, and cheaper theatre.  I thought I would really miss all the culture on offer in Toronto but I've been so pleasantly surprised by the arts scene in Liverpool. They get more funding in the UK and I'm never short of things to see and do. Tons of festivals in the city and I love being able to just pop in to my favourite galleries for free whenever the whim takes me.

6. Having a garden.  It's small, just a few containers but I'm adding more every year.  Back in Toronto my flat didn't even have a balcony so no green space of my own at all.  Even this little patch gives me such pleasure. And the UK are garden mad - everywhere you turn there are patches of fantastic colour and inspiration. 

7. Yarn Shows.  I really do miss the yarn shops in Toronto which are many and fabulous but I absolutely love going to the many yarn shows that are on offer in the U.K.  Canada is starting to host more but one can't just jump on a plane and go off to Vancouver easily, whereas, most of the ones in the UK are just a short train ride away.  The breadth of indy dyers and spinners is really huge and I love knitting with British wool, knowing that it comes locally from the thousands of sheep I see regularly on my walks.

8. Small country + large population  = fast and cheap shipping.  So when one can't get to London or to a wool show, the speed and relative cheap cost of ordering online (I'm talking from independent businesses here, not the big, bad amazon which I've boycotted for years) is fabulous.  I also love that we have Saturday mail delivery; the nicest bits of mail seem to come that day.

I'm sure there's more but that's plenty to be getting on with.  I do feel quite blessed and happy that this is one "what if?" in life that I don't have to ponder.  No regrets.  Now, if I could just find a decent doughnut shop. . .

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A Sunday in Sunny Shropshire. . .

Last Sunday the walking group went to Church Stretton in Shropshire.  The Victorians called this area "Little Switzerland" and again, it's a completely distinctive area of the U.K. and absolutely delightful to walk in.

The hills may not be as high as the ones in Wales or the Lake District, but they still provide a good workout for the calves. I'd describe them as comfy, pillowy hills; the paths often veer off onto springy grass which (when dry) is one of the nicest terrains to walk on.

The ridge below of the Stretton Hills is the one you see as you drive into Church Stretton with The Wrekin at the far left (the pointy one) which I'd like to climb one day.   We were on the western side of the town though, where the landscape turns into moorland, reminiscent of Yorkshire.

Before veering back into rolling hills, farmland and fields of buttercups.

There were no shortage of handsome and curious sheep along this walk who were not at all spooked by walkers and quite happy to pose for photos.

But seriously, isn't this the quintessential English landscape? And don't the sheep really make it so?

When climbing many of the hills, it often looked as if we were going straight up into the clouds (also on fine form this day).  I love this type of climb as you never know what you are going to see on the other side.

It was this.  Just lovely.

The last half of the walk took us up onto Long Mynd where again, the views were spectacular.

Just to the right in the photo below, you can see the town of Church Stretton.  I thought we'd just go down the hill and head to the pub but our leader had one more treat in store for us.  

And we descended through this stunning valley instead.

An absolutely fantastic walk.  The whole area is known for its walking paths and natural beauty and I definitely want to come back and explore it in more detail along with the town which had an enticing antique shop that alas was closed when we arrived.