A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Floods

December has been the month of floods. They have hit places I know, one after another and it feels as if they have been coming ever closer.

The early floods of December inundated my home town of Kendal, amongst many other Cumbrian towns and villages. It was shocking to hear of familiar streets submerged under water, especially as the town’s flood defences have stood strong for nearly fifty years.

Glenridding, a little village in the Lake District, was one of the places repeatedly deluged by water, and is also somewhere very familiar to Pete and me. Only a couple of weeks before, we had been enjoying a meander past the gently flowing stream that runs down to the village. It has since transformed itself into a torrent of water bursting through Glenridding, again and again.

Whilst spending Christmas in the Kendal area we were able to see the town getting back on its feet, but knowing from past experience of our own area how long it really takes to recover. Then, on Christmas night, we kept an eye out on the rising river Kent as another storm hit the north of England.

The next day, suddenly our thoughts turned home to the Calder valley. News was coming in of severe flooding up and down the valley, from Todmorden, through Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd to Sowerby Bridge. We searched for information, checked in with friends and looked on horrified at the pictures of flood waters submerging our local towns and villages. The roads had all become rivers.

What made it worse was the knowledge of all the people and small businesses affected – again. It was only three years ago that the valley was last hit by floods. Everyone had rallied round to put it back on its feet and flood prevention work has since been carried out. And now it was all back with a vengeance.

piles of rubbish outside post office

piles of rubbish outside post office

We arrived home two days later to an eerily dark and silent town. We could make out dim piles of furniture outside homes. There was still no electricity in the centre of the town, although the Christmas tree in the square was lit and trying to spread some cheer.

debris from cafe and pub

debris from cafe and pub

This morning, with the sun now shining, I have wandered round Hebden Bridge. Everywhere there is still mud and piles and piles of soggy belongings. I have passed two schools with their contents piled high outside. Nowhere is open. Everywhere has been hit – from the post office to the cafes, from the laundrette to the petrol station. Shopkeepers are still clearing out their premises, three days on. Everyone is just getting on with it and those not affected are pitching in to help. Hopefully the next storm will miss us.

mud everywhere

mud everywhere

A sign in one shop window said defiantly that they would not be defeated by a bit of water. I don’t doubt it, but it will be hard work.

deceptively calm river - with layers of mud

deceptively calm river – with layers of mud

 

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Off-roading by wheelchair!

After weeks of all-day fog, rain and storms, we happened to be in the Lake District when the weather turned all bright blue skies and sharp winter cold. Pete had an idea for an explore.

We went to Glenridding, by Ullswater, where he had an idea for a little walk. It was along a path by a stream. This was not a path that immediately shouted wheelchair accessible. It was stony and uneven. In fact, it was along one of the routes that ultimately took you up Hellvelyn!

stream at Glenridding, Ullswater

stream at Glenridding, Ullswater

However, Pete was undeterred, and pushed and cajoled the wheelchair along the path. It was one very bumpy journey and the path always looked slightly smoother just a little further along …

I got out on several occasions to walk over particularly stony sections – I felt at great risk of being bumped out by the rocks at several points!

It was well worth all Pete’s heroic efforts. The stream we followed was fast flowing and lively, slipping over stones much more smoothly than us! I was outside for long enough to really feel woken up by the cold and was able to enjoy being right in the depths of the Lakes.

pink sheep!

pink sheep!

It certainly wasn’t a path to recommend for a wheelchair but it was fun to make it accessible for the day. A lady stopped us on our way back along the (very smooth!) road. She said she’d watched us making our way along the path and was glad we’d been able to get ourselves round – I think she was a little impressed!

Escape!

Recently, I’ve been escaping to the hills in my mind. I’ve been reading ‘Walking Home’ by Simon Armitage. The book tells of his journey along the Pennine Way, back to his home town of Marsden, which sits in the Pennines a couple of days’ walk south of me.

He’s a poet – I found one of his poems engraved on a stone as part of a sequence, on a previous tandem ride. And so he decided, not only to walk the route home (and a little more), but to provide a poetry reading each evening to ‘sing for his supper’ and bed for the night.

'Walking Home' by Simon Armitage

‘Walking Home’ by Simon Armitage

So he found himself reading to varying numbers of people in out-of-the-way pubs, with an ever-changing band of companions joining him for an odd day of the walk. As for me, I found him easygoing company along the whole journey.

He made me smile as he told of days where he became completely lost in empty landscapes unable to get his bearings, of eating soggy sandwiches on damp grass, and of long days walking, finding his stride and keeping going.

He recreated the beauty of the hills and the wonder of suddenly happening on a stunning piece of scenery, usually with absolutely no one about for miles and miles.

The more I read, the more I found that, when I shut my eyes, those hills and moors and rivers and valleys were before me again. It’s been a very refreshing journey.

Wet Weather Cycling

The beautiful autumn came to an abrupt end precisely as we headed off to Castleton in the Derbyshire Peak District for our annual ex-student walking club gathering. And this year I wouldn’t be able to spend my day in teashops whilst the others got wet on the hills. No: we had brought the tandem with us. There would be no escape!

Fortunately, we had brought lots of waterproofs too.

Winnatts Pass, Castleton

Winnatts Pass, Castleton

We listened as our friends and companions planned walking routes before they set off along various paths. Meanwhile, we got into our car and drove up Winnats Pass out of Castleton. We parked near Mam Tor and removed the tandem from its lovely roof rack. It was wonderful to be able to bring the bike with us and to have our own adventure at the same time as everyone else – in the same weather!

The advantage of our starting spot was that we began by going downhill. The disadvantage was that the weather was wilder at this height. At least I knew I was outdoors!

We stopped just before the road descended steeply into Edale, and looked out over damp hills. They were very pale but at least they hadn’t disappeared behind clouds.

road into Edale valley

road into Edale valley

As we arrived in the tiny village of Edale (which nevertheless has its own railway station) we were pleased to find that the rain was so far keeping to a minimum, even if the wind was sharp. Even so, it was impossible to pass through without stopping in the village cafe.

It was a good move. No sooner were we safely inside with a warm mug of tea than the rain started to lash against the window. A second mug of tea seemed appropriate.

clouds clinging to Kinder Ridge, Edale

clouds clinging to Kinder Ridge, Edale

Our timing proved excellent. The rain stopped as we left, and the next section of our journey, along the valley bottom below Lose Hill then looping back into Hope, was dry. This was highly unexpected after what the weather forecast had predicted.

We cycled along this flat five-mile section at a good speed. It is so much faster cycling along a road rather than on bumpy footpaths as we usually do. However, I was quite happy to avoid any (no doubt) muddy and puddle-strewn footpaths.

We passed wet fields, wet cows and wet sheep – one sheep stared hard at us. (I don’t think it knew what a tandem was.) The roadside trees looked a little bedraggled – their leaves were half gone, so that they were no longer dressed in their full golden colours, but they were not yet sharp black winter silhouettes.

wet valley views

wet valley views

The village of Hope provided another teashop stop. This is a very important part of the day (not just for the cups of tea!). Besides providing sustenance, it also enables me to pace myself.

Then it was a short hop back to Castleton and (you guessed!) another teashop. Mind you, these small chunks of cycling all added up to 10 miles (including cycling up and down Castleton in search of a teashop – I can report that it has several pubs, not many cafes).

In Castleton we bumped into some of the walkers. It turned out that we’d done better than them in that they’d been out on the hills when the weather had done its worst, not safely inside a cafe like us. I’m getting to like this cycling lark more and more … the hills are distinctly lacking in shelter and cafes, whereas cycle routes tend to pass through civilisation much more regularly!

In fact, I made a startling discovery about myself that evening, sitting amongst so many walkers, as we compared our days’ experiences – I am no longer a walker; I am a cyclist!

On the Edge

We were staying in a caravan in Whitby, or rather, not in Whitby, but above and behind it, like in the old days.

Whitby, North Yorkshire

Whitby, North Yorkshire

We used to camp up here year after year – a fresh air get-away. The highlight was walking along the cliff path which hugs the edge of the fields on one side and plunges straight down to the sea just beyond a crooked wire fence on the other. We would descend the 199 steps into Whitby, mooch around the shops and walk along the sea walls, then trip back up the steps to our haven above the cliffs.

Whitby's red roofs and the 199 steps

Whitby’s red roofs and the 199 steps

Whilst we regularly return to Whitby it had been a long time since we‘d stayed on the cliff top as tents were no longer welcome at the site. However, we had been very pleased to take up the offer of staying in a friend’s caravan.

harbour wall

harbour wall

Our first day was taken up with enjoying the open views from our bolthole – miles of green fields and wide blue skies, with a glimpse of Whitby Abbey in the distance; and refamiliarising ourselves with the piers, cafes and shops of the town.

... with perching cormorants

… with perching cormorants

Although I think I’ve had my fill of the cobbles in the old part – painful bumps, deep fissures that the wheelchair (and Pete) struggled to manoeuvre out of and such numbers of people to negotiate!

In the evening we returned to enjoy the views by night. It was now distinctly autumnal but so fresh, making you feel very alive.

harbour at night

harbour at night

The next day, Pete did an early morning check of the footpath and returned to say that he thought it was negotiable by wheelchair from the site right along to Whitby Abbey, above the town.

approaching Whitby Abbey from across the fields

approaching Whitby Abbey from across the fields

This was great news. I had been pushing away those memories of all the coastal walks we’d done round here, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the caravan was right next to one of the footpaths along which a steady flow of people passed, clearly enjoying the walk.

wheelchair-friendly footpath

wheelchair-friendly footpath

I didn’t need to think of that any more. Soon I was on the path myself, peering through the fence and following the line of steep cliffs careering down to the sea hundreds of feet below. The tide was out and we watched tiny people walking their dogs across the flat rocks. And we simply watched and listened to the sea.

cliff edge

cliff edge

After about half a mile we reached the ruins of Whitby Abbey, and shortly after that, having bowled through Dracula’s graveyard, we found a bench overlooking the town. From here we had spectacular views of the harbour, the maze of houses with their red roofs, and, of course, the sea.

cliff top view

cliff top view

It was great to be back on top – and I didn’t have to negotiate the 199 steps either!

September Sunshine

Well, I may still not be up to a tandem ride but I’m feasting my eyes on the beautiful moors when I can – and making the most of this September sun!

A visit to the Packhorse Inn above Widdop gave me the chance to enjoy the glorious scenery, lit by endless sunshine – is this really Yorkshire? In September?

moorland at Widdop

moorland at Widdop

I’m so pleased I’ve been able to get out into this lovely September weather – sometimes sitting in the garden, sometimes out on a drive like this. My fatigue will pass and I will get out cycling again … we have plans! In the meantime, the views are still great!

by the Packhorse Inn

by the Packhorse Inn

 

Heather Hills

Sometimes it’s fine to simply enjoy our local countryside by car. I wasn’t up to cycling but the weather was lovely. I couldn’t stay inside.

So we simply packed a picnic and set off in the car. It was beautiful! The sun was shining and the moors were carpeted in bright heather. How could I not be happy!

heather moorland

heather moorland

We stopped at a lay by right on the Lancashire/ Yorkshire border. That suited me fine – I feel like I have a foot firmly in each county, having been born in the first and live in the second.

border way marker

border way marker

Just above us was a stile, and, a few scrambling steps beyond, we could set out our picnic, right by a clear gurgling stream. We were immersed in the moors and felt we had them all to ourselves, yet were only yards from the road.

perfect picnc spot

perfect picnc spot

I closed my eyes and the stream was definitely louder!

A cyclist pedalled past, crying out ‘Yorkshire!’ as he crossed the border. Slightly unexpected, but it made us smile.

views in all directions

views in all directions

Taking the Air

I was feeling sorry for myself. I was exhausted and had gone straight back to bed after a very brief early morning appointment. My legs were refusing to take me anywhere. I was forced to lie down and rest, and rest, and rest. Sooo dull, with little sign of any positive effect. And the skies were grey – again.

There was something of an explanation for this. I had spent a good deal of time the previous day in the garden, weeding, cutting back branches and uncovering walls that had become clogged up with moss. It had been lovely and very rewarding – much more of the garden was now visible again.

I suppose this was the down after the high, but it was no fun.

Eventually, I had a brainwave: to force myself outside with a cup of tea and a book. If I could pull myself up some of the steps in the garden, I wouldn’t need to go anywhere else all afternoon. I didn’t even need to read, just have a change of scene.

reaching my garden perch!

reaching my garden perch!

The minute I got outside, I knew I had made the right decision. I made it up to a seat a little way up our unhelpfully steep garden, now knowing that it would definitely be worthwhile.

I sat down and breathed in the air. It was so much lighter and fresher than inside. I could feel it spreading through my head, clearing it, refreshing it. It was remarkable. So simple, so effective; literally, a breath of fresh air!

I sat drinking my mug of tea, watching the birds flitting about, never stopping, hopping from hedge, to branch, to feeder, then off into the next garden.

Later, when I looked up from my book, I caught a squirrel watching me from a fence post. He didn’t move. We stared at each other, motionless.

being outstared!

being outstared!

I haven’t decided if I like this squirrel – he is very cute and his agility is amazing. But he is quite partial to the bird food which we put out for … the birds! Not squirrels!

Exploring Welsh Lanes

And so the tandem joined us in Wales. It was great to have this option of freedom with us, thanks to the new tandem bike rack – details of which Pete has now had chance to add to the About the Tandem page. The trouble was that we also had our offspring with us – only joking! – of course it was lovely to have them with us. However, they certainly didn’t want to be seen cycling with us – especially on a tandem!

The problem was easily solved with straightforward bribery, and so we abandoned them for the day and escaped!

Criccieth, North Wales

Criccieth, North Wales

We were staying in North Wales, by the sea in Porthmadog, and discovered a cycle route that took us to Criccieth, a little further along the coast. It seemed to hug the edge of the line of hills behind the coast.

We set off enthusiastically and were soon on a lovely country lane, away from the main road. Unfortunately, it then started taking us uphill. And every time we turned round a bend, there was more uphill! Of course, it was fine for me, I just sat on the back looking over the hedges at the sea, trying not to weigh very much! It wasn’t quite so much fun for Pete!

Eventually, the lane flattened out and we knew that the rest of the way had to be downhill – much more acceptable! Before that though, we sat in a field, looking towards the mountains. It was more like the start of the moors than a field and was very peaceful.

peaceful Welsh scenery whilst picnicing

peaceful Welsh scenery whilst picnicing

The way to Criccieth after that was lovely, with lots of downhill and we were now both able to admire the views!

We had travelled more than expected when we got there (over eight miles) and we hatched a plan in the teashop for me to get a taxi back. However, once we eventually tracked down a taxi number, we were put through to an answerphone! Plan B entailed me cycling back with Pete – but this time along the more direct main road.

looking out to sea, Criccieth

looking out to sea, Criccieth

Despite initial misgivings, it worked out fine – we could use a cycle path for part of the way, the route was shorter and the views were still lovely. And I survived! I did an amazing 15 miles that day … and took it quietly the next day!

PS – I can’t resist telling this non-tandem tale of a contrasting day on holiday.

On one day, the rest of the family climbed the fearsome ridge of Crib Goch, to get to Mount Snowdon …

Crib Goch, Snowdon

Crib Goch, Snowdon

… whilst I spent a beautifully peaceful day reading by the shores of the lake at Llanberis.

Lllanberis

Lllanberis

How to keep everyone happy on holiday!

Cycling Along the Pennine Way

Well, it was just four miles each way along the Pennine Way, but still! There I was, on – well, amongst – the Pennine moors, with the wind really blowing on my face. It felt really good!

Pennine moorland

Pennine moorland

This new, exciting route was made possible by our new purchase: a tandem bike rack! We’ve been talking about getting one for ages and finally got round to it. It’s great! More details will follow when Pete is able to update the About the Tandem page, but in the meantime this is a peek of what it looks like.

the new bike rack

the new bike rack

It is going to open up so many more possibilities, not least taking it to Wales on holiday. I’m being distracted: back to the moors!

We had driven to the White House pub at the edge of Blackstone Edge, towards the end of the third day of the Pennine Way if you are walking the whole route. We were able to get on to a wide gravelly path that headed north, winding round to give us a different view of our familiar Calder valley in the distance.

looking across the Calder Valley

looking across the Calder Valley

It never ceases to amaze me how many views there are in this part of the world. The hills and valleys twist and turn so much that there is a new angle and a new view every few minutes. It’s extremely good value!

The path was flat and kind to us except for the several gates which we managed to open and close without either of us dismounting – quite an art! But worth doing as I find it tiring getting on and off, fitting my feet in and out of the pedal covers. We shuffle backwards and forwards with me holding on to the gate and giving it a firm shove once we are safely through – a bit tricky but quite satisfying!

gritstone outcrop

gritstone outcrop

I was very pleased to find a poem engraved on to one of the giant gritstone boulders that are scattered across the landscape. There are several poems dotted across the moors from Marsden to Ilkley as part of the ‘Stanza Poems’ written by local poet, Simon Armitage. I certainly hadn’t expect to be able to get anywhere near any of them! This was ‘Rain’ – apparently inspired by the weather. I’m saying nothing, except, well, it wasn’t raining when I visited!

'Rain' boulder

‘Rain’ boulder

The path follows by the side of two or three small reservoirs cut into the moors. They seem very ‘relaxed’ reservoirs somehow – there is a shoreline rather than a wall at the far side of them and they seem very much part of the landscape.

We were unable to travel further than four miles as the path became a walker’s footpath at that point. However, we were able to see across to Stoodley Pike before turning back – well worth it!

Stoodley Pike

Stoodley Pike

Camping Wild(ish!)

It’s been nagging at the back of my mind for some time that the thought of going camping doesn’t appeal in the way it used to. Too much hassle for a body that has limited strength and energy. But the thought of sleeping outdoors still appealed in an abstract way …

dreaming of camping!

dreaming of camping!

Meanwhile, I’d been trying to arrange a night away for us at Tan Hill Inn in North Yorkshire. When I rang to book us in they laughed and said it was booked up for months but we could camp outside if we liked. I started to ponder … One night camping right outside a pub sounded like an acceptable way of resolving my problem.

And so off we went!

We headed north, past the Ribblehead Viaduct where we saw lots of people who were midway through the Three Peak challenge. Then it was on to Hawes, where the odd polkadot could still be seen fluttering on bunting, in memory of last year’s Tour de France. We stocked up with provisions for our night’s camping: bacon, bread, milk. Then it was time to go on.

Passing out of Keld, the road climbed and the landscape grew emptier. We passed beyond the stone barns of Swaledale and up on to the moors. The landscape was vast and wild.

leaving behind Swaledale's stone barns

leaving behind Swaledale’s stone barns

I hopped in and out of the car a couple of times to take photos but struggled to keep the camera steady in the strong wind. I quickly got back inside. We had definitely got on to higher ground!

open moorland

open moorland

At last, we came across Tan Hill Inn. It stood alone on the open moors. There was nothing else for miles around. I couldn’t even see any sheep.

We were blown inside by the wind. It was packed with people! There were bikers, walkers and cyclists. More people came in with presents, ready for a celebration. It was all a bit mad!

Tan Hill Inn

Tan Hill Inn

We found seats not far from the fire – it might have been July but its cosiness and warmth were still very welcome. Once Pete had put the tent up out on the moor at the more sheltered side of the pub (definitely camping wild – no facilities here!) we settled into our seats for the evening.

camping wild

camping wild

The reason for wanting to  come to this particular pub was that it is the highest pub in England at 1732 feet above sea level – it certainly felt that high! Also, we had camped there before (many years before!) when we had been walking the Pennine Way. It is an even more welcome sight after a long day’s walk! So it was good to be there again – and camping again!

the Pennine Way outside the inn

the Pennine Way outside the inn

The evening ebbed and flowed most pleasantly. The initial crowds, popping in as part of a day’s ride, headed off. People came in for a bar meal, more came for the party in another part of the pub, and groups of young men came and went, carrying camping gear. They were celebrating a 30th birthday and were camping out like us.

perfect fireplace!

perfect fireplace!

There was a slight lull for half an hour but it was all bustle again before we knew it. A girl singer provided entertainment later in the evening. Later still, one of the birthday lads began quietly strumming a guitar. Eventually, we decided it was time to find our tent.

happy customers

happy customers

It was now pitch dark – no street lighting here! Fortunately, we made it to our tent without incident. As I snuggled into my sleeping bag and Pete fell to sleep immediately, I discovered that my shoulder was on its own little slope which was pushing me towards Pete. I felt I had to cling onto the mattress to stop myself from falling on to him! It was going to be long night!

And then the birthday lads started singing along with their guitarist. Lovely songs – but not in the middle of the night! And sometime later, having heard a large array of songs, I heard a huge argument between four other campers. It was all happening at Tan Hill Inn!!

Thankfully for me, Pete woke half way through the night and agreed to swap over sleeping positions, so we each got a little sleep.

breakfast bacon with a view!

breakfast bacon with view!

It was all forgotten in the morning though, as it was breakfast time – the best bit of camping has to be the bacon butties for breakfast! These were excellent, as was the view from the tent. A most satisfactory night’s camping.

Big Skies in Morecambe

On a recent visit to my parents, I had the chance of a day out in Morecambe, Lancashire. I’d particularly wanted to visit the Midland Hotel there, which is an Art Deco building that had fallen into disrepair before being recently renovated back to its former glory.

Morecambe, looking towards the Lake District

Morecambe, looking towards the Lake District

I’d scarcely visited Morecambe since I was a child when I remember regularly running along the prom whilst a sea breeze tugged firmly at my coat. The wide prom was still there, and the breeze was still fresh, but I had no recollection of the endless curving view across Morecambe Bay to the blue-tinged Lakeland fells in the distance. It was simply panoramic!

Midland Hotel

Midland Hotel

We gently made our way along the prom to the hotel. I was not disappointed! It is so elegant with its smooth white walls and its curves which complement the sweep of the shoreline.

hotel entrance

hotel entrance

We made our way inside to have a morning coffee and found more elegance coupled with a relaxed atmosphere. And views! Through the long windows we could look out across the sunny bay. It was beautiful.

long hotel windows to maximise the views

long hotel windows to maximise the views

As was the decor. Dad and I had a little mooch round, and I was really impressed by the bar, all pinks and reds.

looking out from the bar

looking out from the bar

I saw someone taking photos of the ceiling above the spiral staircase. I had to have a look too … and then I also had to take a photo!

spiral staircase from below

spiral staircase from below

Outside, we had a walk down the stone pier which has a bird theme. As well as a large metal sculpture of cormorants, more are perched at intervals along the railings.

cormorants at start of pier

cormorants at start of pier

And a feature I totally appreciated: there are breaks in the cobbles so that those on wheels can have a smooth passage along. Full marks for that!

cobblestone gap along pier

cobblestone gap along pier

The sea front is so long and the parking opportunities so numerous that you can choose how little or how much you want to do and park accordingly. There is plenty of space to run if you are young and energetic like my four-year-old niece who came with us and illustrated the point admirably! It is flat and bump-free if your form of transport is a pram or wheelchair. Or it makes a lovely cycle ride along the whole bay if you prefer. And all with plenty of sea air!

fishing boat in the bay

fishing boat in the bay

Edinburgh on Wheels!

We had decided that a weekend away in Edinburgh would be good for us all to do (Pete, me and the offspring) so I booked the hotel and we started looking forward to it. It was many years since I’d been and what I remembered were the wide streets, the old buildings and the Royal Mile.

Then I started to think some more … wasn’t Edinburgh the hilliest city we could have arranged to stay in … were we completely mad?! I decided that if I was going to make the trip then going with three healthy and helpful members of the family was the way to do it.

towards Calton Hill, Edinburgh

towards Calton Hill, Edinburgh

I really made the most of my support team: Calton Hill – no problem! The Royal Mile – no problem! Miles of Edinburgh streets – no problem! (Okay, total exhaustion by the end but totally worth it!)

There are a few steps at the start of Calton Hill which I successfully negotiated and the upward slope thereafter was well within the capabilities of my pusher – and it was only just off the main thoroughfare. There were great views at the top, as well as a cluster of great monuments, and the slight rain showers didn’t dampen our spirits.

National Monument, Calton Hill

National Monument, Calton Hill

The younger members of the party clambered around the National Monument which is pretty impressive up close. And all of us, as enthusiastic Proclaimers fans, just had to recreate their iconic album cover for ‘Sunshine on Leith’, looking moodily over to the coast towards Leith. Totally embarrassing but quite hilarious at the time!

with apologies to the Proclaimers!

with apologies to the Proclaimers!

We spent a sunny Saturday morning conquering the Royal Mile on our mission to get to the castle – a distinct effort was required by the team to get me there. Once we arrived at the castle entrance, wondering how we’d manage the next steep cobbled path inside, I was approached by a steward who said that I could be taken by car into the castle right to the top. Excellent!

I waited with a 92-year old woman who had walked to there under her own steam(!). We were taken by car round the side of the castle, through a tunnel which was bored through the ancient rock in the 1980s, and emerged at the sunny summit, with no effort required!

We generally mooched around enjoying the amazing views over the city, admired the huge gun, Mons Meg, and watched the ever growing crowds making their way into the castle.

views across Edinburgh from the castle

views across Edinburgh from the castle

My driver(!)  had said that there was disabled access to see the Crown Jewels. I thought that this possibility ought to be investigated. We approached the entrance to the exhibition but all I could see were a narrow turret, steep stairway and long queue … not promising.

However, our daughter was not to be deterred. She went in search of a steward and came back (Miss Fixer that she is) with information and assistance. There was a secret entrance – we were taken via a lift right into the depths of the castle and emerged near the front of the queue. A very friendly but firm steward in the Jewel Room ensured that I had a great view of the displays. After we had finished, the whole queue was halted to enable me to exit via the lift. This must be how celebrities feel!

Although the collection is modest, the jewels are beautiful and an important part of Scottish history. The way through is narrow and the queue was long, and I would definitely recommend going on a quieter day than we did, especially if you can’t call on the VIP treatment.

Edinburgh streets

Edinburgh streets

In the afternoon the younger group headed energetically up Arthur’s Seat whilst we meandered at a slower pace down to Princes Street. There, I was able to lie on the grass and rest whilst listening to cheery jazz musicians. It was so good to lie down!

I was having a great time but was finding just watching the sheer number of people exhausting. I’m not used to being around crowds!

A friend had given me a recommendation to visit the Royal Botanic Garden and it was sounding ever more attractive as an antidote to the business of the morning. Fortunately, we could break up our journey by stopping off at our hotel en route as it was probably a 30-40 minute walk from the centre.

riverside cottages, Stocksbridge

riverside cottages, Stocksbridge

At every step we travelled north, the roads and footpaths grew emptier. We had wide Georgian streets flanked with parks to ourselves and before long we found ourselves in what felt like a village within a city, in Stocksbridge. There was bustle here, but of a much more relaxed Saturday kind.

We passed streets of cottages and followed a river. On we went, over cobbles (ouch!) and negotiating some unhelpfully high kerbstones, until we eventually arrived at the Botanic Garden.

ancient hedge, Royal Botanical Garden

ancient hedge, Royal Botanical Garden

It was wonderful, a real haven of calm so close to the city centre – definitely worth the journey. It was late afternoon when we arrived so it wasn’t too busy but there was so much space that I’m sure it would be difficult for it to actually look busy.

There were wide paths, lawns spotted with trees, hidden spaces behind hedges and well-tended bushes in full flower.

We’d been advised to visit the Queen Mother Memorial Garden. It was a circular garden, tucked away behind a 100-year-old hedge, and commemorated the Queen Mother’s long life, marking off the decades on flagstones with notable dates. All around the edge were little alcoves to sit in, hidden from everyone.

Queen Mother Memorial Garden

Queen Mother Memorial Garden

Elsewhere, there was an amazing conservatory, and next to it lay Britain’s largest plant fossil, of a tree that grew 320-340 million years ago.

330-million-year-old tree fossil

330-million-year-old tree fossil

Although the cafe was just shutting as we arrived, we were able to sit outside looking out towards the Edinburgh skyline. No hurry, no rush. Perfect!

impressive glasshouse

impressive glasshouse

Just a note about accessibility – I would not have been able to get about as I did if it wasn’t for my energetic pushers. I wouldn’t recommend the city for self-propelled wheelchairs – the kerbs were a real challenge. I don’t recall seeing any other wheelchair users and definitely saw no mobility scooter. However, taxis would certainly be way of getting about and the castle did well considering its great age.

 

Back in the Saddle

It was one of those dull overcast days where you just wanted to stay in all day … preferably under the duvet! But we decided that the best way to counter this was by pushing through the heavy weather on the tandem. Looking up at the threatening sky, we did waiver a little!

In order for me to have a different experience and to get further afield, I drove up the valley to Todmorden, leaving the car at the railway station. Pete cycled there on the tandem (to the obligatory cry of ‘you’ve lost your passenger!’ from a passer-by).

Canada goose with goslings, Rochdale canal

Canada goose with goslings, Rochdale canal

We then found the canal towpath and headed forth. I soon felt better for being out, even if the weather was a little cool (in June!! Not allowed!). There were many Canada geese with fluffy goslings to enjoy, and a few other cyclists were also using the route.

Just on the edge of Todmorden is the highest canal wall I have ever seen. The train runs just beyond the top of it. It is an immense pile of bricks! More amazing Victorian engineering – I really am in awe of it all!

towering wall along the canal

towering wall along the canal

It’s a wonderfully rough and wild landscape, sometimes passing by the backs of people’s houses, their gardens stretching right down to the towpath. It’s unlandscaped, even scruffy in parts, but very restful.

We spent many happy minutes watching swifts (we think – they were very fast!) flying non-stop up and down the water, high and low, swerving, swooping, never still. It was quite mesmerising.

peace

peace

Our destination was Hollingworth lake, about eight miles away, on the outskirts of Rochdale – and after three miles that felt like a lot too far! However, we could only do half the distance along the canal as, from its highest point onwards (around the border with Lancashire), there are an evil set of narrow gates which make it practically impossible to take the tandem through, as we found out on an earlier trip that way.

It turned out all right in the end though as, although we had to cycle half the distance by road, it was a far quicker half and it left me much less time to worry about how I was feeling! I have to say that lunch at journey’s end was extremely welcome and it was a while before I felt like communicating!

Once I’d recovered, I watched the sailing boats jumping across the lake in the now brisk breeze, then went back inside the warm cafe to wait for the train.

sailing boats on Hollingworth lake

sailing boats on Hollingworth lake

The station at Littleborough is only a mile or so from the lake and I made it there without a problem, now fortified by food and a mug of tea. Pete waved me off on the train and had the task of cycling the whole way home by solo tandem. He used the electric motor more than usual due to the now very threatening clouds (or so he tells me!) and found out just how long the battery lasts … to the bottom of the very steep hill leading up to our house (ouch!).

Adjustment

I’ve come to a decision: to not go to archery any more. Well, to not think about whether I can fit going to archery into my weekend any more. I haven’t actually been able to go for a while now, and it’s not always been because of the weather!

I’ve found that if I do go, that tends to be my activity for the weekend and, if I’m planning to go on a Sunday, then I have to remember not to be over-active on the Saturday. For example, probably not going on a day out, and definitely not going on a tandem ride. It’s just taken up too much thought and there are other things I’d like to have time to do.

enjoying the garden

enjoying the garden

I really enjoy being in the garden and it is at least as tiring as archery (I mean, provides as much exercise!), gives me just as much fresh air, and I’ve usually got something to show for it afterwards too – even if it is just a pile of weeds!

As you know, we’ve been on birdwatching expeditions too recently … and I really want to get back on the tandem. I don’t know where the time has gone!

I’ve really enjoyed doing the archery and particularly meeting new people. I really didn’t expect my trip to the Paralympics taster day two years ago to lead this far! From having a go at archery that day, I decided to take a local course. I had no expectation of taking it any further but the people were so friendly that I thought why not join for a year and see how it goes … and it went really well!

successful weeding!

successful weeding!

I didn’t ever become very accomplished but I enjoyed myself and got outside on winter days where I didn’t really expect to leave the house. And I actually enjoyed the biting cold! (For a while!)

It has also reminded me that I can keep on trying new things … though for now the garden beckons!

 

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