A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Scottish Highlands and Islands: Part Three – the Outer Hebrides

Welcome back if you’re still with me on this Scottish tandem tour! Now it’s the seriously out-of-the-way stuff! We stayed for several days on Harris, at the bottom of the island of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides, and went on two totally contrasting rides.

The first was along a side road off a minor road on the east side of Harris. It was a circular route along what was called the Golden Road. We met practically no one on the 12 miles or so, apart from the odd walker, one of whom tried to hitch a lift!

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happy bike in the sunshine

The road wound its way round rocky hillocks covered in heather and passed many baby lochs which makes that part of the island such a watery landscape. It meandered near to the sea and as we twisted and turned we had repeated glimpses of the rocky shore and the inlets that wriggled their way inland.

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houses amongst the rocks

The landscape was dotted with isolated houses and tiny settlements. Otherwise, it was rocks and lochs and heather in all directions.

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bike in the heather

We had mixed weather on that ride. You could see the clouds coming in and the rain dropping down as the clouds came towards you. Then the rain was on you, and then it was gone. And then there were rainbows! Never the same weather for long!

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rainbow!

The second ride was along the western side of the island which is utterly different, with wide white beaches and mountain views looking towards north Harris. This was busier, with camper vans stopping to take photographs of the amazing expanses of beach, and the road, though mainly single track, had been recently improved.

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towards Luskentyre beach and north Harris

The road was also along the route of the West Highland Cycle Way, which goes from Vattersay at the very bottom of the Outer Hebrides, up to the Butt of Lewis. It was good to see a few fellow cyclists on the road and exchange hellos.

We did a there-and-back route from Seilebost down to Northton. It was blue skies, blue seas and white beaches all the way. Again, there were houses dotted in the landscape but there were also some rather fancy highly designed houses with floor-to-ceiling windows making the most of the views. Many had roofs made from natural materials that blended into the surrounding rough grass. Some looked quite hobbity.

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Temple cafe, Northton

We turned off the ‘main’ road at Northton, lured by a rare sign for a cafe and another for a shop. It turned out to be a very good move! The cafe had stunning views up the estuary and towards Scarista beach, and a good selection of cakes! The shop was an open ‘hut’ with an honesty box to pay for an amazing selection of home baked wares, including vegetable curry pasties and frangipane cakes, both of which we can highly recommend!

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Croft 36 shop

We also saw by far our best selection of birdlife of the whole trip that day (which had prior to that been sadly disappointing). We saw oystercatchers, fulmars, a whole flock of lapwings, and my first ever snipe. There was also a bird we couldn’t make out that kept us entertained as we sat on the beach, whilst it turned upside down and back again, over and over, riding the air currents, clearly just for the fun of it.

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towards north Harris

It was a great day in a beautiful part of the world, and there are plenty more cycle routes we can create to bring us back!

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Scottish Highlands and Islands: Part Two – Wester Ross

Onwards and northwards! From Skye, our next stop was to be at Applecross, a settlement by the edge of the sea, the far side of large hills, and with only minor roads to take us there. Despite being back on the mainland, it was harder to reach than Skye! And the journey there is part of the background to our next tandem ride.

As we began our day, the sun was shining warmly. But by the time we were approaching the climb to Applecross, thick cloud had appeared. This climb, over the pass known as the Bealach Na Ba, is not to be messed with. It is 9km long, is very twisty, and reaches 626m. It is also single track all the way (with passing places).

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visibility on the Bealach

Well, it was certainly exciting, and I gather there are good views! Our visibility, however, was just metres ahead, and despite the weather there were plenty of vehicles on the road. Hard work!

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the view from the summit

As we descended the far side, we reached the bottom of the clouds and could see a little way ahead towards the sea. Then solid cloud blocked any further views.

However, before our very eyes, the cloud gradually, gradually receded and islands began to appear, then mountains, and we found we could recognise the shapes. We were looking at the Isle of Raasay from the far side, and the Cuillin of Skye were on the horizon. We had swung right round to the other side from where we had begun our day.

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looking towards Skye and Raasay

And with the cloud lifting, the sun reappeared. It was dazzling. We had to get out into this scenery – as fast as we could!

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the beach

There was a little road heading out of the far side of Applecross and we began to cycle along it, thinking  we would be able to travel a mile or so – we really felt that we were at the end of the world and the path must surely be about to end. But no, it continued above the shoreline, past a few houses that provided the homely smell of peat, an isolated school, a playground with a magnificent view, and a couple of churches. And all lit by this magical evening sun.

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evening sun

It all felt rather glorious and unbelievable after our journey over the pass. Then to top it all, we stopped on a hillside overlooking a little bay, just enjoying the views, when we spotted the bobbing heads of seals below us. They were sliding into the water from a little rocky island that was reducing as the tide came in, and they dived and reappeared before us again and again. Perfection.

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perfect spot for a tandem

Scottish Highlands and Islands: Part One – Isle of Skye

I couldn’t resist writing something – we’ve been wanting to take the tandem to the Scottish highlands for some time and we’ve finally done it! It’s a part of the world that we are repeatedly drawn to. It’s where we first holidayed together and where we spent our honeymoon. It was definitely time to share it with the tandem. At last, we were able to make sufficient time to travel north into the mountains (it’s a long drive!) and enjoy immersing ourselves there.

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Cuillin ridge

We actually made several tandem rides on the trip – too many for one post! So, as my son might say, buckle up, here comes part one (of three – I hope you think it’s a worthwhile journey!).

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tandem by the Cuillin

As soon as we arrived on the Isle of Skye, we wasted no time driving straight from the ferry and making for an old road we had seen on our last visit (it’s only taken four years to carry out this plan!). The road had been abandoned once a faster route had been blasted out of the hillside on the way to Sligachan.

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Cuillin from Loch Ainort

That left the old road all for us. No one was interested in it, potholed and rough as it was. Perfect! The route skirted the shore, providing ever evolving views as we curved round towards Loch Sligachan. We could see the gentle slopes of the Isle of Scalpay, just out to sea, then the beginning of the Isle of Raasay with its small volcanic peak jutting out from a flat skyline. As we rode on we could see north towards the rocky cliffs around Kilt Rock, and on the way back the Red and Black Cuillin dominated.

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north Skye

The bike ride enabled us to feel much more immersed in the island in a way that driving through in a car couldn’t – much more akin to going for a walk. This time though we were doing something new; rather than climbing amongst the Cuillin, we were hugging the coastline, bending as it bent, and watching the tides, seeing the bright orange seaweed blanket the wet, black rocks.

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towards Loch Sligachan

It wasn’t all peace and quiet though … the midges were still out in force when we arrived, as we discovered when we sat down to try and eat our lunch. As soon as we were in one place, they pounced! Especially on Pete! We abandoned trying to eat and hurried back on to our saddles – we could outride them at least! Future stops were very brief and in places where there was a breeze, which successfully thwarted them. Ah well, we were definitely getting the full highland experience!

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midges!

(Fortunately(?) the weather cooled shortly afterwards and the midges departed, causing little bother for the rest of our trip.)

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tranquility

The next day, buoyed by the tranquillity of our first tandem ride (bar the midges), we headed further afield, to the northwestern edge of the island, sure that we would be alone again. We remembered a quiet road that we had discovered many years earlier, and that it had been a most peaceful spot.

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Macleod’s Tables

As we turned off the Dunvegan road shortly before the village we vaguely noticed that we were by no means the only car taking the turning. Hmm. Undeterred, we unloaded the tandem and rode out.

The scenery was definitely as beautiful as we remembered … unfortunately, it was no longer an unknown road at the edge of the island. It was still a single track route with passing places, as most of the island had been once of a day. That’s fine when there’s not much traffic but now it seemed that word had got out that this was a lovely place to explore and, whilst not exactly busy, it wasn’t exactly quiet either.

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Loch Dunvegan

This was when we discovered the particular challenge of a slightly busy single track road on a bike, especially on a hilly road, as that one was. Not only do you need to be aware of where the next passing place ahead is so that you can gauge whether you or the vehicle coming the other way needs to stop and use it, you also need to be aware of traffic coming along behind so that you can stop at a passing place to allow them to overtake. And all the time you lose momentum for climbing the inclines. Most frustrating! When all we wanted was a peaceful time enjoying the views (as did everyone else, obviously!).

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the loch, looking seawards

And so that tandem ride came to a somewhat abrupt end. It was hardly a disaster though – we had our lunch overlooking Dunvegan Loch and the only sound was of the odd car passing. It was all much less frustrating when we weren’t on the road and somehow it didn’t seem so busy after all once we stopped. Peace was restored.

Pompeii on Wheels

Pompeii is one of those places that I feel that I’ve always known about, and have always wanted to visit. We’ve just been staying in Naples and I really couldn’t let the wheelchair get in the way of a visit to the ancient ruins.

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Temple of Jupiter, the forum

We had read that there was an accessible route round Pompeii. To reach it, on leaving the railway station you need to avoid being guided with everyone else towards the nearest entrance of the site. The start of the accessible route is at the far end, the southeast entrance. It’s nearly a mile from the station but worth the effort as you enter by the amphitheatre, and there were no queues when we were there. Also, you travel along flat pavements rather than potentially getting there and back via the roman streets inside.

Then we were in! – the place is huge! Just the amphitheatre is huge! I made it inside the amphitheatre but it was down a fairly steep slope so I decided to walk (and gratefully accepted a bumpy push back up in the chair!).

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the amphitheatre

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outside of the amphitheatre

Then we headed down the Via dell’Abbondanza, which has a flat pavement at the side of the roman cobbled street and for part of the way has a helpful raised metal platform when needed. You can wander along and see the rows and rows of houses and shops and get a feel for the bustling liveliness that there must have been along these streets all that time ago.

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metal walkway

There are still some pieces of mosaic to be seen and roman signs on the walls. The pools where the Romans collected water at the front of their homes are clearly visible.

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peering inside a home

Eventually, you come to the forum. Coming to it after travelling along the streets crowded with houses you get a real sense of its spaciousness and how splendid and imposing it must have been.

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the forum

The surface is rougher round this section and to fully explore the far edges of the area I needed to get up periodically to negotiate steps. Several times, as I was about to stand up, people kindly offered to lift me (and the chair) up, though I was able to manage. Mainly Americans – very friendly. This way, with many bumps, we negotiated some way up the Via del Foro – worth it for the (reasonably priced!) cafe and also to be able to peer into more, clearly elegant, homes, some complete with fountains.

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less easy parts to negotiate

Eventually, we had to give in to the roman stones and head back. I didn’t make it round the Basilica, situated next to the Forum. I had no more energy to get up and down, which I would have had to do repeatedly – and we had spent about four hours at the site, exploring and taking our time, and just enjoying being there.

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more helpful bridges between stepping stones

Of course, you’ve got to get there in the first place! That was an adventure in itself! We braved the circumvesuviana train system from Naples. Be warned – it is very busy! However, I was grateful for the wheelchair in providing me with a seat – the only way I was ever going to get one! A note – to get  to the platform at Naples we could see only  a flight of steps, not a lift – not accessible if you are unable to walk at all.

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‘beware of the dog’ mosaic at house entrance

A couple of days later we went to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. Oh the bliss of smooth floors! There are amazing bronze and marble statues taken from Pompeii and other Vesuvian sites. On upper floors there are frescoes and stunning moaiscs. In your mind’s eye you can place them in the houses of Pompeii.

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the forum

A worthwhile and easier visit than to the ruins of Pompeii itself! Also, we were pleasantly surprised that neither of us was charged an entrance fee at either place. Lovely Italians!

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innocent-looking Vesuvius, from Naples

All in all, Pompeii was quite an adventure and required a certain amount of determination – not least from Pete – to negotiate the bumps and kerbs of the ancient city. You certainly need to be able to get up and walk here and there, even on the accessible route. And be prepared to feel a little battered by the end of the day! However, the effort was definitely worthwhile.

Black Sail or Bust

It was very nearly bust!

I thought it was worth coming out of hibernation to tell you about our recent expedition to Black Sail youth hostel in the Lake District. The hostel is a former shepherd’s hut and sits at the top of Ennnerdale valley, surrounded by some of the finest fells in the Lakes. It is the sole building for miles around, accessible only on foot or by bike. We were about to test whether that included by tandem …

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Ennerdale lake

Pete in particular has wanted to stay in the hostel ever since he first did the Coast to Coast walk, many years ago. The route passes right by the hut. Now, he thought it would make a properly worthwhile destination on the tandem.  And at last, we had booked the hostel (essential!) and some time off. We were ready.

Or so we thought.

We unloaded the tandem from the car at the bottom of Ennerdale valley and hooked the panniers loaded with overnight essentials on to the bike. Pete pressed the button to check the electric wheel. Nothing happened. He rode it about a little, hoping it would burst into life. It didn’t. He opened up the battery terminal and checked the wires. He couldn’t see any problem.

What to do? We could only stay in the hut that one night and had nowhere else to stay. We had planned this for so long.

We went.

We were glad we had food, water and the emergency bothy bag with us. It gave us extra confidence to give it a go. A night under the stars was definitely a possibility.

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lunch by the lake

The inclines were suddenly very noticeable without the reassuring whirr of the electric wheel. And so were the downhills followed by uphills. I felt very helpless and heavy. I tried to feel as light as a feather and not to breathe – this would obviously work!

Pete pedalled and pedalled. It was such hard going. The stops were particularly welcome – and particularly worthwhile, as the views were beautiful. We followed the river Liza as we climbed. It was fast-flowing, swirling white over the stones. The valley slopes are planted with pines and we spent some time cycling with the tall fresh-scented trees on either side of us.

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heading up the valley

Then the chain came off. Again and again. Every time it came off I had to get off the bike, then back on again. That is not an easy manoeuvre for me, especially repeated so often. I have to ease my right foot into the stirrup with my hand, then push myself up on to the seat.

As we rose higher, the ground became stonier. You could hear the stones being squeezed by the bike tyres then breaking loose with a ‘ping’. This increased the chances of the chain being dislodged and I found myself holding my breath, hoping it wouldn’t be loosened free.

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Pillar rock

We emerged from the pine forest and the high fells started to become visible. We were particularly thrilled to see Pillar and Pillar Rock come into view; such jagged, uncompromising peaks. I was amongst the fells again and could feel my excitement grow.

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Pillar ridge

The hostel only became visible shortly before we arrived. Then it disappeared again as the path took a cruel last dip down and up. It was a mass of brick-sized sharp stones with a stream running through. We were both forced to dismount and I staggered along, holding on to the bike as Pete guided us to the end of our journey. We were accompanied by thunder and some rain for the last 10 minutes – the journey really had it all!

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Black Sail hostel with Great Gable

I had made it under my own steam, after a fashion! I’m certainly counting it! Looking around the plateau, the hut was a tiny dot compared with the fells rising up in every direction. There was nothing but green slopes and dark screes, footpaths tempting you up on to the tops and the odd sheep, braving the inhospitable upper slopes. Right in front of me were Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Green Gable. It felt slightly unreal.

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Black Sail Youth Hostel

You couldn’t get there by car. It required effort. And we had certainly put in the effort. As I sat on the bike, with my increasingly aching back and arms, I thought how that was entirely appropriate. Pete had certainly put in a huge effort, and anyone who arrived at the hut would have exerted themselves substantially to get there. It would have been wrong if I wasn’t exhausted.

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the communal room

In fact, the hut was that much more welcome for the exertion required. It was perfect – a port in the gathering storm. It was dry, it had snug beds in two dorms and provided a filling evening meal for the hungry walkers (and cyclists!). Tales of walks were swapped and experiences shared. A brother and sister were catching up through a few days’ walks together. A father was walking with his 16-year old daughter – a complete change of scene after her exams. Two Frenchmen were walking the English fells. And there was us!

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the boot-drying beam

The warden was extremely friendly – he was interested in everyone and had interesting information to tell. That included the fact that he fed the mice who lived in the wall at the back of the hut and that he didn’t sleep in the hut himself but in a tent at the top of Haystacks, the fell behind us. At 9 o’clock he said goodnight and headed up to his lofty bed. He next morning he said he’d slept well and had enjoyed hearing the rain on his tent. A true outdoor lover.

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heading back down Ennerdale valley

The next morning he said goodbye to everyone individually and made sure we were all on the right paths for the next part of our journeys. We were particularly pleased when he suggested to us that we take a different route back, on the far side of the river, which was far less stony. It took us past felled trees covered with bright green spongy moss. The air was damp but fresh after the rain and the hills peeked tantalisingly in and out of the scurrying clouds. I don’t think the chain came off the bike once.

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last view of the hostel

(By the way, the electrical fault turned out to be a loose wire inside the control box.)

Hibernation

I’ve decided to place my blog into hibernation. I started it as I wanted to share the difference in outlook that our tandem had brought to my life, now that MS is part of it. I hope that I’ve been able to get across how it’s helped me, not only to get outside again, but to actively try to be out in as many different ways as possible. And not just to be outside but to be immersed in the countryside once more, to get muddy and rained on and to smell the grass in sheep-nibbled fields again.

enjoying a summer evening

enjoying a summer evening

I don’t want to become repetitive so I thought I’d take a break. I shall only be taking a break from writing the blog though – definitely not from having adventures! We shall continue to cycle, bumping along uneven paths, to track down more bird-watching haunts and to splash about in the canoe. I might even try something new again if something catches my eye. I know it would be worth my while.

by Hebden Water

by Hebden Water

In the meantime, I’ve loved hearing from other people who have tried out new ways of adventuring, be it by adapted cycle, tramper or horse riding.

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

a little damp on the Camel Trail!

We have a weekend away coming up with EMpowered people which I’m looking forward to. It will be good to mix with others who have similar tales to tell again, and to swap our experiences. There are many more Lakeland tarns to glide across and the wheelchair is getting used to being pushed along unlikely paths.

muddy Pennine paths

muddy Pennine paths

Then there’s the Paralympics coming up soon, and when I start to feel a little bit inadequate in the face of their superhuman efforts, I can remind myself of just what I am achieving. Just as the Olympics inspire people to try something out, the Paralympics remind me that I have adapted my life to get out there and do something – there will be no hibernating for me!

tandem happy amongst the sheep

tandem happy amongst the sheep

Water Above and Below!

It had seemed like good idea – a trip to the Lake District, taking our inflatable canoe. We had not expected a weekend of rain, not in July!

We decided to abandon the idea of going on the water on the Saturday – pumping up the canoe, putting the seats and oars together, and then spending time on the water, all in the rain, wasn’t appealing, even to us two hardly souls!

We took out the chair, and had a little pootle along the lane in the Langdale valley, glad of our top-to-toe waterproofs, even for that trip. It was nice to see people coming down off the fells, dripping wet but well waterpoofed and looking happy to have successfully managed a hike. I can’t say we were envious though!

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Ullswater, Lake District

The next day brought a chink of dry weather, with the impending threat of more rain at any moment, as assessed either by the grey clouds above or the dispiriting analysis on the weather app. Should we be brave (or foolhardy) and risk a canoe trip on Ullswater? Would the rain hold off long enough even to enable us to get the canoe ready for launching?

We decided to be brave (no, not foolhardy!). I kept glancing nervously at the sky as Pete pumped up the canoe – it took effort and I didn’t want it to be wasted, especially as I wasn’t much help. I managed to clip the oars together (!)  and Pete did everything else.

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pumping up the canoe

Finally, we were ready and it still wasn’t raining! Then we were on the lake, floating near to Glenridding Pier. The wind was blowing towards us – strongly. That wasn’t helpful. It was pretty hard work making headway in the direction we wanted. I paddled a bit but really Pete was the engine. And we couldn’t stop to admire the view as we started going back the way we’d come dishearteningly quickly.

Eventually, we made it to a sheltered spot near the reeds. From there we could enjoy watching a few swans diving about, as well as a large group of Canada geese that were sitting so still on the bank that they were effectively camouflaged, and we almost missed them.

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rain bouncing off the water

Eventually our luck ran out and the rain began. Fortunately we’d had a good stint on the lake by then and were happy to head back (with the wind now helping!). It was even fun to watch the water bouncing off the lake surface just a few centimetres away. It was quite dramatic.

It had been worth the effort after all. Wet air is still fresh air and we felt pretty invigorated by our efforts!

On Top of the World

The North York Moors always feel like a slightly forgotten area of the country. It really shouldn’t be! It’s an area of beautiful open moorland where your eye can wander for miles, getting lost in the heather or soaring high with the curlews into wide open skies.

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North York Moors

Pete has had a plan for some time to get us back there with the tandem and, now that we had our invaluable bike rack, we had finally made it! There’s an old railway track that cuts high across the moors, above Rosedale and skirting round Farndale. That was our cycle route for the day.

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old railway track, above Farndale

We parked close to the Lion Inn at Blakey, which sits high and lonely, looking across Rosedale, a lone building in a sometimes unforgiving landscape (it’s often cut off by snow in winter). We had tried to stay overnight there but were told that it was booked up until September, weekdays and weekends alike! – it’s right on the Coast to Coast footpath and is a popular stop for tired walkers (we can vouch for its charms after a long day’s walk!).

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looking across Farndale

Enjoying memories of aching feet, limbs, hips … everything (!), we set the bike upright, with panniers slightly fuller than usual, and headed off on a new adventure amongst the moors. Since we were travelling a little further than usual (17 miles there and back) and were in a more isolated landscape than usual, we had packed a very small lightweight tent for emergencies – in case Pete had to leave me and go for assistance. I’m pleased to say there were no emergencies!

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sheep on the track

As we cycled along, the odd grouse bustled out of the heather, looked at us in a startled way, then scuttled off across the path and back into the heather. Above us a group of skylarks swooped and twirled in high spirits. There were layers of moors as far as the eye could see; and the cry of a curlew and the distinctive silhouette of lapwings overhead confirmed that we were definitely out in the wilds.

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western edge of the North York Moors

Our destination was the Ingleby Incline at the western edge of the North York Moors, where the Moors drop away down to the Cleveland Plain. We stopped at Ingleby Top, where the railway line took a steep drop down to the valley below. The line was used from the 1860s to the 1920s to carry locally mined iron ore to the furnaces of Middlesbrough. As wagons containing the iron ore descended the Incline, they pulled up empty wagons, using a wire cable wound round a large drum.

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Ingleby Top

Now nothing of this huge operation remains, save for a few foundations, hidden by nettles, and, of course, the track which is now a bridleway and open to cyclists to use!

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nettles taking over!

We did meet a few cyclists – including one who had just cycled up the Incline! However, the overwhelming feeling was of having these wonderful moors to ourselves. And it was the tandem that got me there, so far from the built-up world; I could nestle amongst the heather and watch the scraggy sheep with their wool coats hanging half on, half off, who stared back at me in a slightly disinterested way. This is living!

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towards Westerdale

Up, Up on to the Moors!

The weather promised dry and clear, so we simply abandoned the house and all those tedious jobs to escape to the hills. It felt long overdue. Mind you, it wasn’t quite so simple for Pete who had to pedal the heavy tandem up steep paths to get there, even with the help of the electric wheel. Respect!

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steep start over tricky terrain

Our journey up through Crimsworth Dean took us through woods flecked with bluebells, and trees stretching skywards out of the steep valley. We climbed steadily until suddenly we could spy the hills up ahead. They were still above us but gradually the path’s gradient eased a little.

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bluebell haze

As Pete toiled in front of me I took time to appreciate just how lucky I was to be able to be travelling like this through the heart of the woods and beyond. I felt like I was in a modern day sedan chair, gliding along above the path, able to take in the woodland flowers, the smells, the sounds; even more so, now that the crank shaft has been adjusted so that my legs move round minimally.

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looking up towards the hills

Then we were beyond the tree line and out on to open fields, empty except for the odd flock of hardy sheep. I heard a curlew and knew we were out in the wild. Magic.

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collecting spring water

We had travelled as lightly as possible – even excluding water – as there was a spring where we could fill our bottle to be able to make some tea using our portable stove (of course that was an essential item!).

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suitably rugged-looking tandem!

We sat sipping our brews and enjoying the views oh, for ages! There was an occasional plaintive cry from a sheep. The curlew circled above, and the sun lit up different parts of the hillside as the clouds came and went.

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enjoying the views

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and in this direction!

Eventually we got back on the tandem and took the now descending, stone-strewn path over what cyclists call a ‘technical’ section. Very hairy, more like! The tyres slipped and slid over the loose stones and we very nearly came a cropper at one point. A bit too exciting!

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escaping sheep!

We stopped at the bottom by Grain’s Bridge to enjoy a last tranquil stop and look back over the route we had travelled. A couple of lambs stared at us from a safe distance but hurried off behind their mother when we (Pete!) made a sudden movement. We had the place to ourselves again. The only sound was the water flowing below as we dangled our feet over the bridge. Contentment!

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at Grain’s Bridge

Tramping in the Lake District

I’ve just had a really great day out: scooting about along Lakeland paths in a Tramper!

Tarn Hows, Lake District

Tarn Hows, Lake District

We were at Tarn Hows on a beautiful spring day and had booked one of these four-wheel all-terrain mobility vehicles from the National Trust. I collected it from their information point at the tarn’s car park then we headed off on the circular walk around the tarn.

The Tramper

The Tramper

It’s a lovely walk, and one I have done many times over the years, so it was fantastic to be doing it once more. It takes you from beside the water’s edge, through shady woodland and on up to higher ground so that you get a great view of the tarn from above.

We had picked a perfect day and, although I wasn’t moving and creating body warmth in my sturdy seat, I didn’t get chilled – even through the shady woods. The light made its way softly through the still bare trees, dappling the grassy tussocks. It really felt like a fairy dell, quite enchanting!

through the woods

through the woods

And the Tramper was magnificent, powering up the inclines without a hint of complaint – it felt great! It was so good to be in control too, and, with some reassurance from Pete that he didn’t mind, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to speed up, slow down and stop where I liked.

powering up the hills

powering up the hills

Of course, I ‘walked’ along beside Pete too but I hadn’t appreciated the difference between tootling along at a sedate pace beside him at his normal walking pace, which was a pleasant gentle exertion for him, and the fun of that extra speed for me. It was only a couple of miles an hour extra but it just gave that extra buzz and more wind in your face and hair flying about! Of course, I was very safe in my handling of the vehicle – keeping an eye out for others strolling along the path and avoiding the deepest muddy puddles.

simply enjoying the ride!

simply enjoying the ride!

We stopped for a little while at the far corner of the lake where the sun was speckling the water in bright shards of light. It was mesmerising.

tranquility

tranquility

On we trekked, up and down the undulating path and along to more open views.

Eventually, we had to hand back the Tramper but it really was a great way of getting out. The ‘ups’ would certainly have been too steep for a wheelchair so it was the perfect answer. Highly recommended! You can get more information about hiring one here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tarn-hows-and-coniston/features/take-a-tramper-at-tarn-hows

Camel Riding

start of Camel Tail, Padstow

start of Camel Tail, Padstow

… along the Camel Trail in Cornwall! We have just taken the tandem on its longest journey away from home yet. We were staying in Padstow, which is at the start of the cycle route along the Camel estuary.

low tide in the Camel estuary

low tide in the Camel estuary

We went on a ride from the beginning of the trail along to Wadebridge, following an ever-changing view as the tide gradually ebbed, revealing many levels of wet sand, and rivulets heading out to sea. We sat and watched oystercatchers foraging about in the shallow water, and even saw a little egret – we were very proud of that sighting!

little egret

little egret

The trail was popular, not only with cyclists of all ages, but walkers too, many of whom had their dogs scampering along beside them. And all along the route there were many primroses – more than I’ve ever seen before! I’m used to seeing the odd cluster half hiding under a larger bush, not banks of them splashing the grass bright yellow.

banks of primroses

banks of primroses

close-up!

close-up!

We supped a refreshing cuppa bought from ‘treats on trikes’, a portable bike kiosk by the side of the path. The weather was somewhat cooler than we had hoped that morning and the warming tea was most welcome!

It was five miles to Wadebridge and a good place for me to have a longer reviving stop. Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated when we got back outside for the return journey.

'treats on trikes'

‘treats on trikes’

At this point, the electric wheel came into its own – Pete pushed the magic button and we whizzed back in double-quick time! The rain splashed sharply on my cheeks as we went along but it’s always a good way of knowing you are definitely outside!

The extra adjustment of the crank shaft was also noticeable, both in reducing the rotation of my legs so that I was using significantly less effort, and in the increase in comments that ‘hey, you’re not pedalling at the back!’. I used to think they were just jokes but now I’m beginning to think it’s a genuine cry when they see that my legs are moving so much less than Pete’s!

bridge at start of trail

bridge at start of trail

I should add that we had some lovely sunny days whilst we were in Cornwall too, and the views were glorious!

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high tide, in sunshine

From Back to Front

Potential frustration: the sun was actually shining but I’ve been struggling with a real lack of energy reserves lately. A tandem ride would knock me out too much. So, what to do?

The sun kept tantalising me by stretching its rays over the patio outside the back door. It was the first time this year the sun had been high enough in the sky to reach this far. I couldn’t ignore this moment!

So I stole outside with my little gardening bag containing all my tools and began digging about in the earth. I did a little planting and some leaf collecting and, as I did so, caught the smell of the soil as it was churned up fresh in my hands, and listened to the birds, twittering loudly but largely invisibly from the hedge.

It did me the world of good.

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a daffodil peeks out into the sun

Later, a friend popped by and we had a good old catch-up. It was great. However, afterwards, I could not stop thoughts from whizzing about my head (nothing untoward, just non-stop). They seemed to be ricocheting around like balls in a pinball machine. It was starting to undo my lovely day.

I looked outside and the sky was still uncharacteristically blue. I went and sat on the front step and breathed. I listened to more birds chatting and heard the distant sound of aeroplanes. The odd person walked by, enjoying the day.

Then, feeling slightly daring, I closed my eyes. I began to concentrate more thoroughly on my breath. I started doing some yogic breathing, filling my belly, then breathing up into my chest and lifting my shoulders. Slowly, I reversed the movement, and continued. Gradually, I could feel my mind clearing, fewer thoughts were circulating. When I opened my eyes again, I felt stilled.

The feeling stayed all evening:  a sense of calm and of my body and mind having been completely refreshed. And I’d only travelled from my back door to my front door all day!

Water, Water Everywhere

It wasn’t raining, it wasn’t snowing and even the wind had dropped.  We really were able to go for a tandem ride!

It was even good to be rooting around in the cupboards for warm woolly jumpers, waterproof trousers and gloves – it meant that we were actually going out!

All along our route there were signs of the months of rain, from the numerous full puddles to the water seeping out from under walls at the foot of sodden hillsides. Everywhere, extra streams criss-crossed the ground. It really has been a very watery winter.

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swirling water

Just in case we were missing the rain (and we weren’t!), we were treated to a sharp shower but it was swiftly followed by a splash of sun  … and some blue sky! We couldn’t believe it!

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the drier and brighter weather. The woods were thronged with people; families with their children, dogs and their owners and young couples. The cafe was heaving, and pots had to be quickly washed to keep up with demand!

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sun shining on the woods

The stream through the woods was more like a river. It swirled and ran at speed before us. There were clear signs that it had been even higher from the flattened grass along the sides. The stepping stones were submerged beneath the swollen water.

As we headed back I noticed daffodils growing amongst the trees – no flowers yet but the promise of them.

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submerged stepping stones

This had been a refreshing outing.

Also, on a bike-related note: Pete has shortened the crank shaft further since I was last aboard and now my legs make even smaller circles as we cycle along. So, although I now look even more like I’m not pulling my weight at the back (which might be true!), I have even more help.

Almost Snowbound

The rain stopped at long last and we made plans to go out on the tandem. However, we were thwarted once more … this time by snow!

It fell softly overnight and looked beautiful over the hills but it meant we could not cycle.

enjoying the winter colour

enjoying the winter colour

However, I was not be deterred! I donned my walking boots, held on tight to my walking poles and left the house. I’m lucky that there is a lane immediately by us and I was able to tentatively amble along it a little way.

The distance didn’t matter. There was much to enjoy.

snowy hedgerows

snowy hedgerows

The snow clung attractively to the hedgerows, the air was fresh (and not too cold) and I was able to say ‘hello’ to several people who were also pleased to be out.

I could hear people (children) shouting happily among the snowy slopes and, close by, caught the sound of melting snow dripping on to leaves.

... and walls

… and walls

I didn’t want to come back inside when I got back to the house so I persuaded Pete to bring me a cup of tea and sat on the bench enjoying the clear bright sky lifting my spirits.

Rain!

I walked to a puddle today. It has continued to rain or promise to rain ever since the Boxing Day floods. There has been no hope of a tandem ride – and anyway, the canal is not fit for cycling at the moment after the flooding. The skies have matched the mood round here at the moment – gloomy and despondent.

the puddle

the puddle

That’s not to say that people aren’t pulling together – they are in spades! But you just look at the amount of damage and the cost, and can’t help but wonder whether the Calder Valley will get itself back together any time soon, and when Hebden Bridge will be back to its bustling colourful self.

There are some very positive signs: the cinema is open again – upstairs only and you need to bring a blanket! A few shops have been able to open their doors and two of the flooded schools are hoping to open again this week. However, one school’s pupils are having to decamp elsewhere as their building won’t be fit for months, and there are rumours of some businesses saying they’ve had enough.

So, all you want to do is get outside in some cold bright winter sunshine. Except there hasn’t been any. Zilch!

sodden field

sodden field

Anyway, I really had to leave the house and feel some outdoor air on my face. I got my coat and my walking poles and walked to the nearby field. I got wet. I got blown on – and it felt pretty good. Even if I was looking at a puddle. But I wasn’t looking at raging flood water coming down the hillside and the sodden view summed up these holidays rather well!

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