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.
After a few weeks of pretty decent winter weather, February has hit us with heavy rain in South East England. With Storm Eunice due to hit us on Friday with 40 mph winds, I thought it was time to gain motivation for this year’s hikes and adventures.
So, I’ve been looking back over some old photos to gain inspiration, and I thought it might be worth sharing one adventure here. These photos are from when my mate and I walked up Pen y Fan, the highest point in South Wales, in 2019. It has to be one of my favourite mountains because the hills roll up along the track, meaning there are no real steep drops.
This was perfect for someone like me who has a considerable fear of heights. When we got to the top we were blessed with unspoilt views of rolling hills. The sun was trying to break through a thin fog, making it feel like we were in a mystical dreamscape.
There were plenty of pathways for us to explore the other mountains, but our tummies were rumbling heavily. Reluctantly, we headed back down and satisfied ourselves instead with a big fried breakfast!
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).
With big thanks to @lovebookstours and @codi_schneider for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. What a great book it is!
Tucked in the cold Colorado mountains lies the remote village of Gray Birch, a place where outsiders are frowned upon. In this village lives a cat named Bijou. But she’s no ordinary house cat; her ancestors were mousers on Viking longships, and their blood runs through her veins. Since her battle skills are hardly needed in this modern age, however, she spends her energies running the Fox Burrow Pet Inn with her human, Spencer, and her assistant, Skunk, a mentally negligible Pomeranian. Together, the happy trio has created a safe haven for their four-legged guests.
But when Eddy Line, a handsome baker from California, comes to the inn—along with his piglet and pit bull puppy—everything changes. Spencer falls for Eddy, Bijou is unhappy with the sudden changes to her clan, and the townspeople are anything but welcoming; in fact, threats are made against Eddy when he buys the town’s historic firehouse in order to open a bakery.
Then a shocking murder/dognapping occurs on the night of the bakery’s grand opening, and Bijou finds herself thrust into a tangled mystery. To solve it, she will have to summon her inner Viking—and fight tooth and claw for her new clan.
I was super intrigued to read a mystery novel told from the point of view of a cat called Bijou. Her crime-solving powers are aided by her innate Viking abilities, and her animal friends.
This honestly has to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. Codi Schneider is a very talented writer with a mastery of word play. This novel is such fun – I didn’t want to stop reading. The book has a good dose of humour and an engaging plot full of suspense. The cast of characters gives the story depth and diversity.
I really look forward to reading more from the author.
The last few weeks had been a bit odd for me. My creativity had been stifled. Sometimes life gets in the way, and I need to reset. Thankfully, I had some holiday due from work, so I used it to visit my brother in Cheshire. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
My brother surprised me when he got out his old Subbuteo set from his loft. I spent hours on end playing this tabletop soccer game in my bedroom as a teenager. Now, here I was again revisiting my youth. My brother beat me 1-0 in the game we played, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were kids again having fun.
On another day, we visited the town of Stockport. Here, I found a comic book store that stocked old copies of my favourite comics I’d read growing up. Normally, the comic book stores I visit are full of Marvel and DC Comic titles, as well as manga and other publications. They’re all great, but here for the first time ever I found titles such as ‘Buster’ and ‘Whizzer and Chips’ – firm British staples of my childhood that are sadly no longer published. Suddenly, I was transported back to Saturday mornings in the mid-80s when I’d run down the local shops and buy a big pile of comics and read through them again and again before school came round again on Monday.
I bought a few copies, and have been laughing my head off ever since.
Comics were so instrumental in me wanting to become a writer as they opened up endless worlds of storytelling and possibility to me. It was good to reminisce about this.
The result of all this is that the power of nostalgia has fuelled my creativity again. I’ve now got a pocketful of ideas for short stories that I’ve begun working on. Plus, I’ve also got a new tactic if I get writer’s block again.
If you’re creativity is lacking, remembering the hobbies you had a child could be one way to help you.
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?