Friday, August 01, 2014

Yorkshire Day, I believe . . .

It seems it's Yorkshire Day!  Happy Yorkshire Day, one and all! tells you some things about it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Public footpaths

Anyone who reads my blogs will know that one of my major obsessions is walking, usually along the UK's  fantastic network of footpaths.  This is an experience difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in other countries. Our Ordnance Survey maps are pretty darned good too!

When I first started lowland walking, as opposed to hill walking, many of the footpaths were hard to find, badly signed, or blocked by growing crops. This has improved enormously over the past twenty or thirty years, and most farmers accept that walkers have rights of way, and make the paths clear to help us keep to them.  It is not always easy, even now. Apart from the occasional bull in a field - legally with a herd of cows, apart from certain breeds, which make many of us apprehensive, some farmers fail to make the rights of way clear.  Most of them do, and I have no objection to seeing the words "Private. No public access" - this often helps to clarify the route. And believe me most of us don't enjoy getting lost and wandering through farmland randomly seeking a way through! 
Of course we as walkers have to play our part, and make sure that we close gates - sometimes with two catches if that is how we find them. We were caught out by this recently when the first walker didn't communicate with the last one through.
Fortunately the farmer concerned was happy to point this out to us, and tell us why. The cows rub against them and sometimes this opens gates with only one fastening.  He also wondered what we'd learned today, and why anyone would want to go walking through his fields at all. But all this was done in a friendly and reasonable manner - on both sides.
We had a different experience some months ago, when we couldn't find a path, although it was marked on the OS map,  and wandered into the farmyard to ask. The farmer told us we had no right to be there, and refused point blank to help us find the path. I contacted the local authority to check whether there was a right of way.  When we returned from the opposite direction a few months later,  all was clear and easy to follow.
Maybe this man had the attitude I've seen expressed on occasions - that public footpaths are an outdated survival from the times when agricultural workers had to walk to work and use the quickest route. Nowadays there is no need for them and they simply provide access for criminals and ne'er-do-wells.

A completely different problem is the way that footpaths are now frequently chopped into pieces by the modern equivalent of fast flowing rivers - major roads. Some lucky places have a tunnel or a footbridge which doesn't add too much time to the walk. it can be both annoying and unpleasant to have to take a half-mile diversion alongside a noisy road. In other places there is no alternative but to wait patiently for a break in the traffic - that's fine if you are just a small group of adults, but I wouldn't like to do it with a large group, and certainly not with children.

A side-effect of this is that certain routes are very rarely used, and stiles can be neglected, broken or overgrown - all of this is an extra disincentive to walking there. We are constantly encouraged to be more   active, and walking should be a simple way to achieve this. It shouldn't be an extreme sport of jungle-hacking, awkward stile climbing and traffic dodging.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Le Tour en Angleterre

We decided against braving the crowds around Yorkshire for the weekend of July 5th,  but got hooked on the TV watching the cyclists tearing around some familiar scenery. 
So good did everywhere look that on Monday 7th we made the journey over to Cambridgeshire - about an hour's drive - and found ourselves a spot near the village of Hinxton a few miles south of Cambridge. 

The route was full of people without being overcrowded, and we enjoyed the atmosphere as the end of the publicity 'caravane' drove by, with much hooting and bleeping.  
A flying keyring was our haul from this!  
No, not the keyring.
Next came various police motorcyclists and then the Skoda cars which we'd already spotted turning off the M11 to Cambridge. 

Lots of families with youngsters, as well as cyclists who'd travelled a few miles for a different sort of day out.
The two breakaway cyclists hurtled past, and the peloton came into view, zipping past in a whirl of colour and noise from the roadside.

After the excitement a local cycling club rolled by, a little more sedately.
Once the road was clear cyclists took advantage of the road closure for a leisurely ride on a usually busy route.
Time to go - not easy to find a decent place to eat on the route we'd chosen. The local pub was serving, but we thought they'd be too full.  The next one we found was closed - surely not a great business decision, and when we made our way to Royston, the town centre had nothing we wanted. 
Still, we had our trusty coffee making kit, and found a quiet road for a break, then headed back to the A14 and westward. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Dorset Knob Throwing and Nettle Eating

Two peculiar customs we heard of during or shortly after our recent stay in Dorset. Neither are exactly ancient in origin . . .

The Bottle Inn in Marshwood is where they hold the Nettle Eating Championships in early June. This year we missed it by a couple of weeks! Just as well, we might have been tempted to take part - though I think not.

The contest started with a pub argument between two farmers in the late 1980s.
"My stinging nettles are longer than yours."
"Oh no they're not"
"Oh yes they are."
"I'll eat yours if they're longer than mine."
"Right you are. We'll measure them."

And the rest is history.  The contest lasts for an hour, and competitors are presented with 2-foot long stalks of stining nettles.  They have to pluck the leaves from the stalks and eat them. No one is allowed to leave the contest. No bathroom breaks or they're disqualified. After an hour the bare stalks are counted and the winner is the one with the greatest length of stalk. 

It's all done with a charity beer festival, along with plenty of live music.

The other tradition started even more recently, in 2008. The village of Cattistock, between Dorchester and Yeovil, needed to raise money for local sporting facilities, and came up with the idea.

A Dorset knob is a spherical biscuit, actually a small roll of bread dough baked three times, rather dry and crunchy, something like a rusk or French biscotte.  It shape lends itself to throwing.  The biscuit itself was first produced in about 1880, by accident, by the Moores family, whose bakery business began at Stoke Mill Bakehouse (now a lovely holiday cottage near Bridport).  The bakery business is still run from a shop in Morcombelake. 

Last May the contest and an associated food festival attracted around 5 000 people.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bridport West Bay - a dip in the sea.

19 June 2014.

We'd spent a short time in West Bay before the walk to Golden Cap. The water looked tempting, but we hadn't brought our swimming gear. Memories of a cycle ride to Cromer from a few miles inland some years ago told us that swimming in cycling shorts and then wearing them to ride isn't the greatest of plans and probably much the same is true of walking clothes. 

The next day we packed swimsuits and towels, and decided to ride to West Bay, maybe swim a bit, sketch a bit, nip into Bridport to look for a present for a four-year-old, and generally chill out.

The first swim had to be faced before coffee, and though the water was not as balmy as Cromer had been it was less cold than some we've known.  The air was warm as well so no shivering fits on emerging! And we have photos to prove it.

Coffee at the beach café - much classier than Charmouth's. And a sight of a Harris hawk which deters the gulls. They were making one hell of a racket at the sight of the hawk, though its handler claimed it wouldn't predate anything as large as a gull.

We cycled into the town, a lively place, and managed to find presents and a card, and arrange to pick them up by car later.

A picnic lunch and an hour or so sketching near the harbour, a ride along the seafront, and another dip brought us to five o'clock, so we decided to buy fish and chips, from one of the stalls  rather than make the effort to cook dinner after a fairly active day.

We bought Dorset Apple Cake again and took it home unsquashed!

Most photos by Harry.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Swanage and Durlston - June 16 2014

The road from Bridport to Dorchester has fine views of the coast, and the rolling hills. Between Wareham and Swanage you pass Corfe Castle, with its unbelievable setting. I don't think I've ever seen castle ruins looking so castle-like.

Swanage itself has the familiar air of English seaside towns - a cool breeze, people paddling with shorts on or skirts lifted delicately over the knee,  apart from the odd brave person in a swimsuit. Then we have ice-cream stalls, cafés and of course the dreaded amusement arcades.

Vivid memories - the blissful expression on Hazel's face as she went round in the teapots, and Joseph's was nearly as good.

Others: Joseph's mega meltdown when he couldn't keep losing more money on the twopence machines, and the feel of seawater and sand between my toes. Seems all the boy wanted was the lollipop he didn't win. . .

I went to buy goodies for lunch, bread from a bakery, the rest from Budgens supermarket.

Then it was back to the cars, and we decided to visit Durlston Castle Country Park. Easy peasy, the signs are there until we reach the town centre, when suddenly the powers that be expect you to know the way. We do a quick extra circuit of the town centre, then make a false turn before choosing the correct route. After a mile or so, there's another sign. Brilliant labelling, Swanage!

We're hungry now, so we eat, then make our way to the castle - built between 1887 and 1891 by George Burt, owner of Durlston Estate. He hoped to develop the estate as a spa, and he was one of those enterprising Victorians with a fascination for science and learning, as a walk round soon shows.
Picture by HH

Joseph's fascination with stairs distracts us from our original objective of the coffee shop, and leads us through an exhibition of original artwork by local artist Joe Colquhoun for the comic strip, Charley's war, and out to the Great Globe, a 4 ton Portland Stone construction with a sea view. Plenty of opportunities for him to use his new mini binoculars to peruse the boats on the sea, and a helicopter which flies over. And lots of scrambling up and down on steep grass.
by HH

The Great Globe (HH)

The Southwest Coast Path runs through the Estate, and we follow it past a tree which demands to be climbed, and then Tilly Whim Caves - too dangerous for humans now because of rockfalls, but all the better for bats and birds.
Joseph is very keen to run on towards the lighthouse.  I go with him and Harry Esther and Hazel follow with the pushchair.  The wall stops and we have a rougher track down and up. Hand holding is enforced.The Lighthouse is now holiday cottages.  

Alas, you can't visit the light, the old one is wrapped and out of use - they use LEDs now. No we can't get in - not even to meet Sky High and Huggy*, whoever they are. (Even though they texted us to say we should meet them there - a grandmotherly ploy to keep us moving). We'll have to rearrange the meeting with them at the car park.

On the way back we find ourselves falling behind the others - no tempting objective in view, but distractions all the way. 'I'm just building a nest for my binoculars.'   'That's a Joseph path' - one I've marked out as safe for a hands free few yards.  'I need to climb the tree.'  I parcel out two or three minute permissions until it's close enough to tempt him with the café. But the others - no, not Sky High and Huggy - send a text that they're in the car park. A carton of juice and a piggyback later, we rejoin them.

*Fly high and huggy from a Cbeebies game!

I should have a few more photos to add. Taken by Harry.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Slower walking

I have been to a couple of nature reserves this week - and spent a bit of time in bird hides just looking.
The Egleton centre at Rutland Water with its many lagoons and hides is always worth a visit.
I was there for three or four hours, and saw lots of the usual suspects - ducks, geese, coots, common terns, great crested grebes and also egrets and a glossy ibis.
There are usually a few people around to chat and share their knowledge, and yesterday was no exception - many thanks to the ex-engineer from Nottingham for letting me peer through his telescope as well.

Today I went to Pitsford Water Nature Reserve. (click to read the details)
I've been meaning to investigate this for a while and for the princely sum of £2.50 it's well worth it. I didn't have the zoom lens, and saw nothing unusual but plenty of grebes, swans with cygnets, coots with chicks, and lots of tern diving and skimming the water. There was a large hornet at one of the hides - I didn't hang around there for long. Other insects were in evidence too, damselflies, dragonflies and butterflies of various sorts - speckled wood, and one tiny blue among many others. 
Hardly any other people to be seen. It was good to walk more slowly on such a hot day.