It’s been a good while since I added anything to my blog. 2022 has been an difficult year on a personal front – much has been going on with family and my own health – and I’ve really missed writing here as much as I did before. In fact, I’ve struggled to get much writing done at all in the last few months. Consequently, it’s been a struggle to get back into the habit. Still, I’m reaching old heights slowly, and I’ve enjoyed being back in the writing seat once more.
Hiking has been one hobby that’s kept me going. Walking in nature is the gateway to understanding our own thoughts and feelings. But, at times, I found even the idea of putting my trainers on and heading outdoors for five minutes difficult to comprehend. But, again, I’m slowly getting back into the swing of it.
I’ve spent plenty of time near the River Thames over the past few months. Staying grounded in the present moment and using my senses to appreciate what nature offers me has been rewarding: whether it’s observing fish flowing underneath the water, hearing the call of birds or smelling the sweet aroma of summer flowers, being by the water’s edge has engulfed me in a sense of calm.
Also, I think the need for walking along the Thames is also born out of a need to remain in the flow of life. When things get too much, we need to find a way to escape and ground ourselves again.
So, as life carries on flowing by, I intend to grab more moments of calm. Even amidst the full-on pace of life and what it throws at us, taking even a brief amount of time out is so important.
And I’m looking forward to catching up with you all on WordPress.
This weekend my cousin and I trekked through Church Woods and Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, England. We were blessed with endless sunshine, making it the kind of day that we wished our legs wouldn’t tire so that we could keep on exploring.
The clear blue skies, the ripe green fields and trees in full bloom provided us with all the necessary resources for our minds to be filled with peace and calm.
The most spectacular part of the day, however, was being witness to the floral tapestry made up by the bluebells that covered the forest floor.
The day was completed with a few moments of calm by a serene lake before the final walk back to the car.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A FOREST STROLL?
In her book ‘Adventure Revolution’, Belinda Kirk advocates that there are a number of physical and mental health advantages that spending time in a woodland setting can provide. These benefits include a healthier cardiovascular system and reduced stress levels. However, the author points out that the effects are much deeper as the trees and soil are actively helping us.
Kirk points out that studies have shown that trees let out phytoncides which benefit our immune systems to fight communicable disease and tumour development. There’s also evidence to suggest that a certain soil bacteria can bolster us against stress.
Knowing such things gives me a deeper connection with our planet, and makes me want to spend more time in the open.
I hope that you all have a chance to take a hike and embrace the healing properties of nature soon.
This book is based on the questions that British Adventurer Alastair Humphreys asks his guests on his podcast.
At the time of writing, I’m enjoying working my way through each question. I’m finding that it’s a fun way of journalling based around my hiking experiences. Writing in this way helps me to gain a deeper understanding of myself, and to reflect on past achievements and future dreams.
Staying focused on what drives a person is important to making dreams come true, and this book is an encouraging resource for any lover of the outdoors to make those dreams happen. Answering the questions is garunteed to stop procrastination.
I’m looking forward to answering all the questions. I highly recommend this book for any seasoned or newbie lover of the outdoors.
I’m still having to stay close to home as I’m running errands for family members in different households who’ve caught Covid. It’s meant that I’ve had less time to get into the countryside, so I’ve had a new idea as to how I hike for the time being.
The idea is partly inspired by two influences: Alastair Humphreys, who did a hike around the circumference of the M25 in his book ‘Microadventures’; plus, it’s a revamping of the urban hikes I did during the first lockdown.
Recently, I was looking at a map of my hometown, Maidenhead, and worked out I could do circular walks of different lengths. Although these will be mainly urban hikes, it means that I can still be close to family. So far, I’ve created a two mile, four mile and six mile walk.
I did the six mile walk today. The accompanying photos are from that walk.
Then, when I got home, I decided to see how many miles the circumference of Maidenhead would be. I measured that out by using pins and string, and measured out the distance in accordance with the map scale. That totals approximately 11.5 miles. With the almost two miles it takes to get to the edge of town and back that would make a fifteen mile walk, which I’m planning to do sometime before Easter.
On these walks, I try to counter the noise of passing traffic and trains by deliberately seeking out the sights and sounds of nature in gardens or small stretches of woodland.
So, whilst these urban hikes won’t fully immerse me in nature, they’ve given me the creativity and stimulation to keep going in preparation for when I get back out into the countryside.
Living in South East England, I don’t live close to mountains that I’ve come to crave. So, it’s important that I look elsewhere for my adventure fix. I’m lucky to live near the River Thames, and a forty minute train journey from the North Wessex Downs hill range.
But with the demands of everyday life, it sometimes difficult to find the time to go on an adventure day. During the lockdowns, though, I found myself exploring my local area more than ever before. I explored woodlands and pathways that I’d never given much thought to before.
This was all done by simply looking at a map of the outskirts of my hometown. These very local adventures proved to be a lifeline during the pandemic. I was concerned that as life got back to normal that I’d neglect these local places of interest for escapades further afield. But, exploring these areas has become so ingrained in me that I was determined not to let this new hobby go.
Just when I thought that I’d discovered all there was locally, I noticed this new area of green on my map. When I say ‘new area’ what I actually mean is I’d just overlooked it. Less than a mile and a half from my house – and more directly behind a supermarket – is a local nature reserve called Braywick Nature Reserve.
It’s been such a joy to find a new place to unwind, and it’s come with a number of other benefits. The track seems to hold up well after long bouts of rain, so it’ll make an ideal training ground in most weather to prepare for long distance hikes. Hearing the birdsong and the rushing stream is also a quick fix for the enduring sounds of nature that I experience on longer hikes. I can also see how walking here links up to other pathways, so a longer trek can be enjoyed.
So, the next time your short of time or you just fancy doing something nearby home, pull out a local map and see if there’s any new places it could take you too. As well as experiencing a great mini escape, you may find other benefits like I’ve described above.
‘I am already planning the next adventure. The wanderlust that infected me has no cure.’
It all started in Fishguard in the mid-1970s when, aged fifteen, Martyn Howe and a friend set off on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path armed with big rucksacks, borrowed boots, a Primus stove and a pint of paraffin, and a thirst for adventure. After repeating the route almost thirty years later, Martyn was inspired to walk every National Trail in England and Wales, plus the four Long-Distance Routes (now among the Great Trails) in Scotland. His 3,000-mile journey included treks along the South West Coast Path, the Pennine Way, the Cotswold Way and the West Highland Way. He finally achieved his ambition in 2016 when he arrived in Cromer in Norfolk, only to set a new goal of walking the England and Wales Coast Paths and the Scottish National Trail.
In Tales from the Big Trails, Martyn vividly describes the diverse landscapes, wildlife, culture and heritage he encounters around the British Isles, and the physical and mental health benefits he derives from walking. He also celebrates the people who enrich his travels, including fellow long-distance hikers, tourists discovering Britain’s charm, farmers working the land, and the friendly and eccentric owners of hostels, campsites and B&Bs.
And when he is asked ‘Why do you do it?’, the answer is as simple as placing one foot in front of the other: ‘It makes me happy.’
The author writes in such an engaging way about his journeys that its as if you’re walking with him at times. The descriptions of the landscapes and the interactions with the people that he meets really drew me in.
As an avid day hiker looking to become more involved with long distance/multi-day hikes, this book has given me a lot of encouragement to start planning those journeys.
I’m sure this book will be a constant companion to me on my future treks.
Last weekend I was out on a hike, and I saw this lonely looking phone box in a village. It evoked in me the sense that we have to stay connected. Moreover, how it’s important to make the time to chat with one another.
I’m going through my phone contacts and making a list of people that I haven’t spoken to for a while. It’d be good to catch up.
Sometimes life just takes over and people move on – it’s a natural occurence in life. It’s also natural (and important) that we want to reconnect. Going through the names on my phone filled me with memories of times with specific people, and that filled me with joy.
The pandemic may have robbed us of certain things, but one thing that seeing that red phone box reminded me of is the importance of being there for one another, and to listen.
Reaching out to a family member, friend (old or new) or a stranger really can have a positive impact for everybody involved.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope you have a great weekend with the people you love. (And give an old friend a call too).
A few months back, I was looking at a map of the UK trying to work out where to go on a new adventure. I became drawn to Northumberland. I’d visited its neighbours – Cumbria to the west and Yorkshire to the south – a number of times before, and enjoyed those experiences immensely. But, in Northumberland, here was a whole chunk of county that I’d completely overlooked.
I decided to do a bit of research and found out that the county was home to England’s largest and least visited national park. Those facts alone made the idea of visiting there more intriguing to me. So, before I had a chance to rationalise what I was doing, I booked myself a reasonably priced hotel and train journey to go and explore.
I had plans to explore the whole county in six days, but as soon as I got there I knew that I’d need longer. So, this is the first leg of my tour of Northumberland. What follows is the highlights of a four day trek across the southern portion of the county.
Day 1 – Hadrian’s Wall (Steel Rigg and Peel Cragg Circular Walk
This was a lovely seven mile walk that involved some short but stiff climbs along one of the most popular stretches of Hadrian’s Wall. The above photo is of the Sycamore Gap, which is the most photographed image along the wall. The cliff faces rose up so high at some points that I couldn’t see beyond them – it truly felt like I was standing on the edge of the world!
Day 2 – Corbridge
Corbridge was the most northerly town of the Roman Empire, so its economic, cultural and historic importance is worthy of note. The village itself today is a charming place to visit with its sandstone buildings, impressive church and tower (where you can stop and have a pint) and abundance of coffee shops. If I had more time, then I’d have loved to have done a river walk. I had a cracking three course Italian lunch for just £8.95 as well!
Day 3 – Allendale, North Pennines
Allendale was one of the remotest parts of England I’ve ever visited. The thirty minute bus journey took us deep into the countryside to this village that was surrounded by rolling hills on all sides. I walked a stretch of the river and climbed hills. I spotted nineteenth century farm machinery, fat hens freely grazing across cottage gardens and some truly magical riverside spots like the one above. Then, I ambled back to the village and noticed that Dr Who had popped in…
Day 4 – Back At Hadrian’s Wall
On this last day, I did a seven mile walk that started at the majestic Cawfield Quarry. It’s well worth a moment of anybody’s time to pause by the lake. This stretch of Hadrian’s Wall provided me with some heart-stopping views across the open landscape. I dropped down into the valley, and I was truly the only person in this expanse. On this clear blue day it felt so good to be alive.
I’ve only scratched at the surface of Northumberland. Whilst I haven’t talked about the history or culture of this area in any great detail, I hope you see that by seeing the natural beauty of the places featured that this county is well worth a visit. It’s a county that I want to return to many times: there’s still a great coastline, acres and acres of forest and the Cheviot Hills to explore.
Have you been to Northumberland? What did you make of it?
Northern Ireland is a spectacular place. Outside of Belfast, there’s lush green countryside, rolling hills and breathtaking coast. The recent visit I did with my friends was to the Mourne Mountains where we took on the highest peak, Slieve Donard, at 850 metres.
On a bright and clear Saturday morning we headed out of Belfast passing through remote villages and deep green countryside. After about an hour’s drive we arrived at the seaside town of Newcastle – not to be confused with the city by the same name in the North-East of England – then began our journey from the car park.
We trekked up a rocky path that cut through open grassland with rich vegetation. A boulder-strewn river wound its way alongside us and provided a natural water slide for a number of day trippers in wetsuits. Soon, we were about halfway up when the path steepened and the mountains grew in stature.
And that meant one thing…
…My fear of heights kicked in!
On previous mountain explorations nerves had always gotten the better of me. But I was determined for this not to be the case this time. My friends took it in turns to drop back and motivate me to keep going as I tailed off the pace.
As we approached the Mourne Wall – which runs the entire length of the range – we noted the jet black surfaces that occasionally appeared in the side of the mountains. The tin huts dotted to the side of the track confirmed this had once been an area for slate mining.
Around a final corner, and then the final ascent to Slieve Donard presented itself: three hundred metres or so of awesome steepness! We met a man who said it would take us no more than thirty minutes. Secretly, I knew that would mean an hour for me.
Previously, I’d have taken on such a feat by stopping every so often, shutting my eyes and re-centering myself before taking on the next stretch. I’d repeat this as often as I needed. This time I had a few new tactics to battle the heights: I’d count fifty steps then stop for a bit; I’d zigzag up the mountainside instead of going straight up as it was less strenuous on my legs; and instead of melting down as before, I’d deliberately soak in the countryside to absorb it’s calming beauty. Plus, I made full use of the wall by holding onto it to help me climb as I went – making use of whatever is available is important to getting the job done. And my mates did a cracking job of keeping me going with banter and words of encouragement.
My mates waited for me thirty metres from the peak, so that we arrived together. The clouds suddenly formed around us like a thousand misty ghosts come to greet us. We took a few photos, then hastened our exit as conditions became more dense.
The descent was the most enjoyable I’ve had on a mountain. The first section required careful navigation down rock steps. At times my mind went into a vortex where the greens and the greys swirled and merged into one. Once this tricky part was completed, we trod a well used path, skipping over streams and through boggy sections. Before entering the forest path that led back into the town, I took in my surroundings: the powder blue sky had now reappeared; the mountains formed a horseshoe valley that towered over us, cascading waterfalls giving this place a more majestic quality; the chattering river snaking its way down the emerald hillsides. And all this abundant beauty overlooking the town and the Irish Sea below.
Heaven is a place on Earth!
And so was this afterwards…
Thanks for dropping by and reading this. Please feel free to leave a comment – they’re always appreciated. I hope you all have a great weekend filled with adventure 😊