We were so close to the Smoky Mountains! It was unplanned but those adventures are usually the best ones. This was only a brief visit before the actual start of our full journey North. My husband Darwin and I wanted to touch it, to feel this thing we had read about and researched for the last year. I felt almost a fraud to be traveling by car to this special spot. We were still several months early; I felt we had not earned the right to be here yetRead More
Three months ago I was sent a copy of Kinder scout: The People's Mountain by Ed Douglas and John Beatty. Here is my misty-eyed review (finally).
I was 17, my parents were away and my friend Paul came to see me. We jumped on one, two, maybe three trains in order to get to Edale and then we walked around, through Upper Booth, along the Pennine Way to Jacobs Ladder and then rather aimlessly around the plateau.
From that day Kinder Scout came to have a special meaning to me. And, at the time, I knew nothing of its important history.Read More
I am so grateful for the discovery that I can enjoy walking so much. It is a great reminder that even the most terrible things in life can bring gifts. I have no idea if I would have ever got into walking had it not been for my brother’s death, there was certainly no indication of it. I think of it as the greatest gift he ever gave me. I still miss him lots, and wish I could have shared this with him, but can always thank him for this legacy that has enriched my life so very much.Read More
What an exciting weekend! Saturday was the last day of 30 Days Wild and also Wild Night Out so we (Myself, Emma, her friend and her friend’s Dad) embarked on a wonderful micro adventure that ended up with a trip to A&E and a course of antibiotics...
We headed out around 5pm on Saturday. The idea was to have a paddle in the packraft, a splash in the river, a little barbecue and camp out in the wild.
It all went swimmingly. It has been a rich seam of good weather of late and we tapped into it - the girls really enjoying the cooling waters of the river and the generous warmth of the late afternoon sun to dry off as we lit the barbecue and opened a can of beer.
After eating we dragged our gear, using the packraft as a kind of pulk, to a secluded spot where we figured we could set up camp undisturbed. It was around 9 pm when we threw down our mats, and threw up the tent. The air was cool, but not cold. A heron flew overhead and we could hear its wings beat. It was as quiet as can be expected with a 6 and a 7 year old negotiating for more marsh mallows but it was idyllic to be outside, free of the usual digital distractions to which our children can be easily subjected.
Then... I stood on a snake.
Then, whilst wandering around the longer, uncut grass near the tent, it seems I stood on a snake. I felt a sharp pain and jerked my leg up. Two little holes on my ankle oozed a drop of blood. I wiped it off.
I thought I had seen the back end of a grass snake disappear but I was carrying my unpacked sleeping bag and I honestly didn’t really believe this could happen in Cambirdgeshire.
I thought no more of it and before long we were all lying down - children in the tent and grown-ups out under the stars. It was stinging and I joked with everyone that I had been bitten by a snake, but I didn’t really believe it myself. As I tried to rationalise it internally I wondered had my eyes deceived me? What else could it have been? There were no brambles or plants nearby. Nothing but grass.
The dark flick of a snake tail remained in my mind. Surely I hadn't actually been bitten by a snake? These things don't happen in the Cambridgeshire! But the summer sun was setting, shadows lengthening and my mind wandered.
I remembered encountering vipere (adders) when I was a child, in Italy. I was almost always with an adult as I recall and in any case I had been drilled as to what to do: cause vibration from a distance, remain still if it is close to you, don’t touch it or poke it, don’t step over it, even if it blocks your path.
They were beautiful creatures, occasionally quite large, with dark diamonds down their length. Fascinating to a child, because of their danger as well as their beauty.
But that was rural Italy. Most people in England have never seen a snake in the wild.
The next morning I lay in the silence of nature, next to my daughter. The early morning sun warmed our faces and she smiled silently at me - the smile of someone who has (for once) slept well in a tent. This incidentally is quite possibly a major turning point as getting a decent night’s sleep has been tricky for her in a tent, but more of that another time.
The bite marks were weeping and walking was painful.
I had forgotten about my snake encounter, until I moved my ankle and felt some pain. The marks were red but there was no swelling. It wasn’t until we had packed and started walking back to the car that it started to stiffen and the pain started rising.
By the time I had got home it was aching and slightly swollen. It was at this point that I began to accept what had happened. It abated after a rest in the afternoon but by the evening, having worked a few hours in the garden, it was throbbing, and sore.
My wife convinced me to go to A&E where they didn’t feel the infection was visible enough to prescribe antibiotics. By the next morning I knew I needed something more than a painkiller. I was confident there was no venom (even if it had been an adder I ought to have reacted by now, unless it was a dry bite) but my ankle was red and tender and although the swelling was still minimal, the bite marks were weeping and walking was painful.
I have never got an appointment so quickly in all my life. Perhaps it was from curiosity, rather than any real sense of urgency, but I must thank my local surgery for seeing me immediately and prescribing antibiotics instantly.
As I have mentioned before my wife has an irrational fear of snakes, so this is a particularly bizarre thing to happen in our household, especially only a week after Emma and I were looking at snakes in the local nature reserve. Four days have passed now and the antibiotics have kicked in and, whilst Emma and I have found it all to be a bit of an adventure, the chances of her mother ever spending a night out with us in the wild has receded further.
At least it's something to tell the grandchildren. Of course I may dress the story up by then...
If last week was action-packed then the pace didn't relent this week. Read on for news of my walking trip to Norfolk.
Emma has continued to take part in 30 Days Wild through her school - they have been learning to identify trees amongst other things this week - and outside school hours we have been exploring wild corners around our home.
Going to Godmanchester nature reserve to look for snakes is always a favourite with Emma. They are fascinating creatures and the fact that Mummy is so irrationally scared of them adds some amusement to proceedings. This serpentine theme continued into the weekend as we came across the sloughed skin of a snake whilst visiting some open gardens. It has been added to the list of things we will examine under the microscope.
Walking in Norfolk
I spent the back end of the week in North Norfolk, walking inland and then on part of the Norfolk Coast Path. I have visited this area once before, but never had the opportunity to do at this at my ideal pace - on foot.
From the wild flowers to the windswept beaches this was a perfect way to experience the natural beauty of our land. Wandering through the picture-perfect villages, along the sand dunes and through the pinewoods during the week is a real treat. Places like Wells-Next-The-Sea can be overrun during the holidays so a wild camp and then a walk along this coast when it is absolutely deserted is precious. It is of course the reward you get for going even slightly off the beaten track or at unpopular times - you see nature and the landscape in a state of purity that can be difficult on this crowded isle.
I slept beautifully, the wind whistling over my sleeping bag, hares nibbling away at the grass a few metres away and broody oystercatchers wheeling around just over the dunes, squeaking like trainers on a gym floor.
It has been an action-packed few days. I spent two days walking in the Eastern Chilterns, getting closer to nature and enjoying the therapeutic effects of travelling slowly, under my own steam.
Today's blog post is a little video I made from this beautiful 29 km round trip, from Hitchin through the Wildlife Trusts Barton Hills Nature Reserve and back.Read More
Get ready to shoot me! We picked wildflowers. You see, I think the educational value of doing so outweighs the negative impact... at least if you do it with common sense.
The last few days of 30 Days Wild have seen us devote some time to wild flowers; finding, identifying, picking (judiciously), pressing and planting.Read More
We have a distinct lack of nesting birds this time around. Last year we had robins, blackbirds and wood pigeons all successfully rear their young in our garden.
Where have all the birds gone?
Since my last blog post, Emma and I have spent some time comparing this year’s garden with last year's.Read More
I never thought Emma seemingly dismissing 30 Days Wild, just three days in, would please me so much, but her sentiment was both unexpected and absolutely true.
Yesterday, as we tramped the dank mosquito-infested swampland that is Raveley Wood in rural Cambridgeshire, flapping our hats around vulnerable legs like a cow might swish it’s tail at the pestering flies, my wife was hassling me in the nicest possible way..Read More
30 Days Wild is here and this is what you can expect to see on my blog.
Last year for 30 Days Wild I blogged everyday for the whole month of June. Emma and I came up with the idea of "A Wild Alphabet" and dedicating each day to a new letter. It took a bit of planning and in truth it took a lot of work.
I have been asked on a few occasions what theme we would choose to follow this year and up until now I had no idea. But because of extra commitments this year I have decided to blog once or twice a week summing up our activities in The 30 Days Wild Gazette.Read More
The fear was real when I said this to my husband, about halfway through the first day of our mid-March walk along the South Downs Way. We’d spent the morning slogging through mud: the path from Lewes to the Way was well trodden (by horses) and churned into a messy graveyard of chalky, gooey muck.Read More
A few weeks ago I gave an assembly at my daughter’s school. On a few occasions I have spoken to rooms full of journalists and at conferences but nothing made me as nervous as a room full of primary school children.
What if I didn’t know the answer to their questions? Fortunately I was giving an assembly about 30 Days Wild and, fortunately, I was joined by Liz Carney from The Wildlife Trusts who did have all the answers to the children’s questionsRead More
My unhappiness reached such a low level, like many people, I began to feel I was ill with depression and I believed my only choice was to take antidepressant pills. Fortunately for me, I received a piece of direct mail that introduced me to the power of my mind and the importance of learning how to manage my thoughts. I was also introduced to the need for goals.Read More
Using valuable land as a waste management dumping zone is becoming a serious environmental problem. The build up and release of greenhouse gases from land waste poses a serious environmental impact risk that could lead to a dangerous shift in ecological balances and adversely effect human health. Changing our current course in waste management toward more practical, sustainable solutions is the only logical step forward if we hope to combat the effects our waste is having. The question is, how?Read More
In June 2016, I set out with my friend Alfy Weston to do something that nobody had ever done before: kayak the length of Angola's Kwanza River, from source to mouth. Over the next 33 days we kayaked, hiked and waded through some of last truly wilderness areas in Sub Saharan Africa. Starting high up on the Bié Plateau, which provides water to the Okavango Delta, we made our way down the river to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean coast, just south of the capital Luanda. We transported over 100kg of expedition gear along 984km of kayaking and 300km of hiking. During our expedition we were attacked by hippos, sank in rapids and were even arrested and threatened with deportation by Angolan security forces.Read More
Lots of folks think that trail running is only for the badass, hardcore runners of the world, and that’s simply not true. Trail running - like running, in general - is open to everyone. You don’t have to be a pro mountain or trail runner; you could even consider yourself a “roads runner” but still run trails each week or month and benefit from it.
If you’re new to trail running and are stumped on where to get started, consider my recommendations below, a primer, if you will, for trail running. Taken together, I think my recommendations will help get you on the right foot, right away.Read More
Sweat is anxiety leaving the body. I don’t remember much about the drive along Loch Ness to the hills above the isolated white cottage that is the Cluanie Inn nestling in the depths of Glen Sheil the steep sided Highland glen. In the hour or so it took me to drive from my home in the Highland capital I took little notice of great expanse of water I drove beside, my mind spinning in turmoil.
Everyone is beset by some sort of struggle. It can be a myriad of things like family conflict, addiction, health or workplace stress. For me, on this spring day, it was the sense of being let down that persecuted me. I had applied to take my workplace pension two years early. At first, I’d been led to believe that it was a mere formality; that I’d simply have to apply to get my pension released.Read More
I spent four nights over the Easter weekend in Iceland with my family - a wonderful early birthday present from my impeccably brilliant genius of a wife. I have long wanted to go there.
But four days in Iceland is like dipping one crispy salted pretzel in Nutella and eating it. You can’t stop there. You need more...Read More
For me time spent in the hills, mountains and generally in the honest embrace of nature is an unquantifiable tonic. It has helped me to re-balance my life and to look after my mental health in the last couple if years.
Brought to you by Adventure Uncovered and led by the remarkable Alex Staniforth, Mind Over Mountains is an event which focuses on the connection between mental wellbeing and hillwalking...Read More
A storm had brewed through the night and was still releasing it’s menacing self on one memorable winter morning, it was 5am and dark outside. a comfortable pillow and a warm blanket tempted me to stay all snuggled up but a calling from the sea is a calling to which I can not say no.
I saddled up on my bike and made my way to the sea, the wind slowed me to almost a walking pace. I should have known at this point that danger was on the horizon, however a part of me knew I was going to dance with the thundering waves.Read More