A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “Lake District”

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!

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

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!

A Christmas Walk

A Christmas visit to relatives gave me the chance to get out into the Lake District.

My trip to Elterwater brought a new and interesting complication for my brother: how do you manage both your sister in a wheelchair and your two small children, one of whom is still more interested in doing her own thing than following instructions?

river walk, Elterwater

river walk, Elterwater

Admirably, as it turned out! The hairiest part of the outing was the 100 yards or so downhill, from where we had parked the car in the village to the start of the path. My brother’s hands were fully occupied with not letting the wheelchair (and me!) run away, whilst his eldest daughter, taking her responsibility as Big Girl very seriously, clung tightly hold of her little sister as they both ran at full pelt towards the footpath. I heard my brother give a huge sigh of relief once all parties were safely the other side of the gate that marked the start of the path!

easy footpath

easy footpath

Our route meandered beside the stream which led to the lake itself – although our expedition did not get that far (due to small legs!). It was very flat and smooth, with a compact surface of fine stone – interspersed with sections of most attractive but, as usual, more bumpy, slate paving. The path was popular with all ages, as well as, most importantly, cyclists – I made a mental note to return with the tandem!

paved path

paved path

It was a beautiful crisp day and plenty of people were also enjoying the chance to get out after a few rather damp days. We were all greeting each other with cheery ‘hellos’.

Langdale Pikes

Langdale Pikes

The scenery created pictures in every direction, all lit differently by the winter sun. Behind us, the Langdale Pikes were in full view whilst, as the sun shone behind the trees, it highlighted their dark trunks. Elsewhere, a field of frost became illuminated when light finally reached it.

looking towards the frosty field

looking towards the frosty field

Not that there was much time to enjoy the views – there were small people to chase! They paddled, pushed the chair, played Pooh Sticks … and mainly did a lot of running!

across Coniston Water

across Coniston Water

There was even time to head off to Coniston for lunch at the Bluebird cafe and watch the magical light over the lake. Some of the party also managed some more paddling (and only got their feet a little wet!).

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

MS Life 2014

Wow! My mind is still spinning with everything I experienced at the MS Life event which took place in Manchester last weekend. I’m having to refer to all the leaflets I collected to remember what I did!

Fortunately, I’d read the details of the different talks that were taking place during the day in advance. It had taken me a while to decide which of the many on offer I wanted to attend. There were five on at once that I’d have liked to listen to!

the vast venue is a former railway station

the vast venue is a former railway station

So, through the course of the day I went to three talks. The first was on research taking place into myelin repair, by Professor Robin Franklin. He made the whole subject understandable to us non-scientists and, without getting carried away and bearing in mind the timescales involved in scientific research, it sounded like progress was being made.

Later, I attended a session on memory and how to improve it. That involved an overview of an online tool that has been put together by a professor of neuropsychology and is on the MS Trust website at: http://www.stayingsmart.org.uk/.

At the end of the day, when I was wilting somewhat (!), I attended a talk on pain and its management by a specialist nurse in that area. She was engaging and informative. Some of what Donna was saying can also be found in MS Essentials booklet 17: Pain and sensory symptoms. (The MS Society has a booklet for everything!)

In between, my friend, Lynne, and I enjoyed chatting with other attendees and sharing stories.  I even met a couple of people whom I’ve previously only communicated with online. Whilst the online community is fantastic, it is always good to put faces to names and to see people in person.

wheelchair dancers

wheelchair dancers

 

As we wandered through the many varied stalls, we paused to admire a demonstration of wheelchair dancing. It looked fun and you could have a go yourself. Later, we saw a couple of very professional-looking dancers, the woman in a chair and the man not. They danced very elegantly and smoothly together.

The BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) had a stand and gave helpful  tips on how to site a bird table in a way that minimises the possibility of making bird sitting targets for cats (a fear of mine as most of our neighbours have cats).

Checking my leaflets, I’ve remembered that I’ve signed up to receive information from Sportability … I’m not sure how I’ll fit any more activities into my hectic (well, severely managed through pacing!) life but I really liked the look of the quad bikes! Watch this space!

I also had a chat to a slightly mad (but in a very good way!) fundraiser, Duncan. Duncan’s wife organises a “ten in ten challenge” – 10 Lakeland Peaks in 10 hours, whilst Duncan, who has MS himself, does his own water-based challenge, one of which has been to swim 10 of the Lake District’s lakes … now, that is what I call a challenge!

demonstrating the Mountain Trike

demonstrating the Mountain Trike

There were several stalls with some form of mobility vehicle, one with a wide range of bikes, including a three-wheeled tandem! Another was all about a Mountain Trike, which looked pretty awesome and could take you over rough and hilly terrain, and even sand! I had a go and it felt really comfortable and satisfying to use, and the engineering involved looked impressive. You use levers to pull yourself forward, and the only drawback I foresaw for me (apart from the price-tag!) was that it would be quite fatiguing after a while. Great fun though and nothing like a wheelchair!

I imagine that if you asked any two people their experience of the day it would have been different, as there was so much to do. I wished I’d had time for one of the cookery demonstrations, and I would definitely have appreciated one of the massages! I will just have to come again in two years’ time!

P.S. We also received a free pack of four nail varnishes which I have since been putting to good use!

modelling three of the four nail varnishes!

modelling three of the four nail varnishes!

Spring Awakenings

Ok, so I can stand the rain, but I have to admit that a day by Lake Windermere in beautiful spring sunshine is even better! A whole day of fresh air!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were there for an assorted family gathering, including my sister who was visiting from New Zealand, and who also has MS. Such gatherings often include congregating at the lake, since earliest memories for my siblings and me include days by the lake shore, pottering about with Dad’s (now practically vintage!) motor boat.

It was therefore essential for us to have a spin in Dad’s boat but, as a bonus,  my brother also had use of a kayak for the day. My sister was thus able to try out something that I’ve been doing over the last couple of summers, and she glided across the lake whilst someone else did the hard work!

spotting relatives amongst the reeds

spotting relatives amongst the reeds

 

Later I also had a go. I was going to paddle too but my brother seemed to be coping admirably on his own, and I thought I’d just interfere with his strokes. Besides, the drips from my paddle would have got my trousers wet!

A kayaking club had gathered for its monthly expedition and they magically came to my assistance when I needed to get in and out of the kayak.  There was none of the usual awkward shuffling into position.  Instead, I was lifted extremely efficiently by suddenly appearing arms before I even knew what was happening!

pretending to be part of the kayak expedition!

pretending to be part of the kayak expedition!

 

There was plenty to watch from the shore too. A sailing race was taking place and the yachts were cutting through the water at a good rate of knots right in front of us. You could hear the sharp rattle of sails as the boats tacked away just in time to continue down their course. We could also watch the kayaks as they paddled away up the lake.

We were treated, too, to the spectacle of the smallest members of our party running around all day with more energy than the rest of us put together. I lay back amongst the daffodils – a most satisfactory place to rest!

When I’m outdoors I really don’t need to be doing much to feel better!

 

Paddle Power

Old Man of Coniston

Old Man of Coniston

After getting back on the tandem last weekend, this weekend saw us paddling our way round Coniston Water in the Lake District. Isn’t summer just fab?! Although Pete’s knee wasn’t up to taking the strain of lugging the inflatable canoe about, we were able to hire a boat instead.

We chose a sit-on-top kayak. Well, we actually thought we’d chosen what we now know to be a Canadian canoe, which is much more well, like a boat rather than a piece of plastic sitting on top of the water! Ah well, you live and learn. Anyway, although we got a little damp, it was fun, and, incredibly, the water was warm – a record! The kayak was really nippy and we cut through the water at a good rate of knots, although it did spin around in circles of its own accord if we stopped!

our kayak

our kayak

I also found that a day on the water with a fresh breeze blowing really helped to counteract the rather intense heat we’re experiencing at the moment. It kept me at a pleasant temperature and I had the added bonus of beautiful scenery to admire all day.

approaching the shore near the boating centre

approaching the shore near the boating centre

I’ve been perusing the website of the Coniston Boating Centre since I got back and I was very impressed to see that they have a wheelchair accessible boat! I have to admit that I didn’t spot it on the day but I’m sure there wouldn’t be a problem if you rang ahead.  They also have electric bikes for hire … and I can definitely recommend those! This is the website: http://www.conistonboatingcentre.co.uk/home – just click along to Boat Hire then Motor Boats and have a look.

Messing About In Boats

Oh Joy! The sun came out at the weekend. Even better, we were able to travel up to the Lake District and stay with my parents.

Since Pete’s knee, although improving, still requires tender care (it really ought to get its own blog!) Pete was reluctant OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAto risk using the inflatable canoe. Fortunately, my dad has a boat. Now, it does have an engine so I’m not able to count it as providing any level of exercise but it’s certainly a great way of getting a huge blast of fresh air!

We were able to head down to Windermere and launch the somewhat venerable motor boat on to a beautifully calm and shimmering lake. My brother, who hopefully won’t mind me mentioning this, is, like me, also the wrong (right?!) side of forty, did point out that the boat is as old as him. However, it still serves us well. We were able to whizz about at a good rate of knots (but definitely still within the lake speed limit!) and feel the fresh air on our faces.

Sailing2I love to stare up at the Lakeland fells that rise up around the lake edges, watch the birds scoot over the water’s surface and ogle enviously at the houses nestling above the shores. Those houses have remained the same, majestic and old, all my life; places where, in my mind’s eye, the children from Swallows and Amazons could run down the gardens to the stone boathouses and jump into their sailing boats. But changes are afoot; some of the houses are being demolished and replaced with huge homes, all glass and wood. Impressive, but yet to become characterful.

Meanwhile, I can still maintain the Arthur Ransome dream as my brother has inherited a Norfolk dinghy which has been in the family for years, having been brought back from the Norfolk Broads by our grandad. It’s the first boat I ever sailed in and is still my favourite for its sturdiness. It dates from about 1928 and creaks reassuringly when you sit in it. It’s been lovingly restored to its shining wooden glory, initially by my uncle, then in turn by my brother.

So, after the speedy motor boat ride, I was able to step back in time and into the sailing boat, where I could sit and listen to the gentle waves lap the boat’s sides. We waited, in no hurry on this gloriously sunny day, as the wind ebbed and flowed, taking us so far along the lake, then disappearing for a while, before gently blowing us along once more. Idyllic! What a difference the sun makes! sailing1

Brrr! Easter!

Waterhead, Windermere

Waterhead, Windermere

We spent a couple of days visiting my parents in the Lake District over Easter so, regardless of the stiff 15 mph breeze whipping across the lake, we decided that it was time that the canoe had its first outing of the year.

Although we have already had an outing on  Windermere near Bowness by canoe, it is pretty large, so we felt it ought to count as separate “bagging” if we launched from the top end of the lake, at Waterhead.

Carrying the uninflated canoe to the lake shore

Carrying the uninflated canoe to the lake shore

It took me about the same length of time to put all my layers on as it did Pete to inflate the boat and put the seats in ready for launching. In my defence I had on so many layers that I looked like the Michelin man – there are definitely no photos of this look!

Once afloat (another ungainly procedure – this is where having MS is a good excuse for the palaver involved!) we hugged the coast, negotiating our way past the many boats bobbing at their moorings. It’s funny how very close to the water you are in one of these canoes, and yet how stable it feels too.

As soon as we’re away, we get straight into Swallows and Amazons mode, and everything is a huge adventure. (You can see why the teenagers want nothing to do with us!) In fact, we were very soon in danger of being dashed against rocks poking their jagged edges out towards us. Suddenly, not only did the water feel very close, I was very aware of being in an inflatable canoe. However, fear not, I bravely lent a hand to avoid calamity and we were soon heading towards calmer water, and I could stop “helping out”.

We headed towards the far side of the lake, less than 2km as the crow flies, flying along very much as a crow would until we realised that we would have to make it back without wind assistance; indeed, battling very definitely against the wind. Once more, I felt it my duty to assist as otherwise we would have been knocking on the door of some unsuspecting local asking, shamefaced, for a lift back to our car.

At the cove

At the cove

So, some time later, we rounded our own Cape Horn and glided into a hidden cove, somewhere we fondly imagined that no-one had found before us. We hauled the boat out of the water (oops, that’s a royal “we”!) and set about munching our lunch. We were immediately disturbed by a rowing boat filled with six people making the same discovery and were sadly reminded (again) that nowhere is undiscovered on Windermere (it’s much more fun to live in Swallows and Amazons world though!)

Using the bothy bag!

Using the bothy bag!

After a leisurely lunch stop we made an exploration of the mouth of the River Brathay, wondering about the possibility of a trip downstream another day … we’ll see. It was very mellow and gentle, and we watched families walking along the river as we paddled by.

Once back on land a trip to the teashop warmed us up sufficiently to be able to feel our limbs again. Brrr! Easter!

On the River Brathay

On the River Brathay

Thinking Differently

I’d been living with MS since 2004 and was feeling the increasing frustration of not being able to get out into the countryside with my husband, as my legs were no longer prepared to carry me any distance.

Pete, clearly not prepared to let this be a permanent problem, hit on a solution whilst we were on holiday in France, where everyone was enjoying travelling to the beach by bike. He arrived back at our tent one day, having hired a tandem for us to try! I have to say, I was sceptical at first; I hadn’t been on a bike for many a year and now I was expected to ride on the back of something when I couldn’t see where I was going and wasn’t in control of the brakes.

However, after a few anxious squeaks (by me, not the bike), I had to admit that it was fun, cycling along special cycle lanes the few odd miles to the beach in the sun. I mastered the art of letting my legs move round on the pedals without actually putting any weight down and so minimising my effort. I could see that I was successful when Pete looked more tired than me as we dismounted.

First steps, west coast of France

First steps, west coast of France

We didn’t initially consider getting a tandem ourselves. After all, we live in the Yorkshire Pennines; there are lots of hills there. It would be a silly idea. So for a couple of years we just hired a tandem for a sunny two weeks. At least it was something, and I looked like everyone else as I pedalled away; no stick, no wheelchair.

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

Taking it easy near Lake Annecy

In the meantime, not to be thwarted by our home geography, Pete kept thinking and came up with the notion of canoeing. Again, the Pennines are not known as great canoeing territory. The solution was to get an inflatable canoe and escape to the Lake District when we could. We discovered that it is feasible to travel there and back in a day, and still have a lovely few hours out on a lake. My parents also live up that way so we can even claim a bed for the night. We’ve had memorable days on Coniston, Windermere and Ullswater … and there are many more to try yet. It’s becoming something of a challenge to “bag” them all.

One great day out was to canoe about half-way down Ullswater with the wind behind us to Howtown, pack up the canoe into its, not exactly portable, but manageable, bag, and wait for the steamer to take us back up to our car at Glenridding.

Ullswater, near Howtown

Ullswater, near Howtown

An important trick that I’ve learnt in order to minimise fatigue is to only paddle when I feel like it, generally when other boats are nearby, so that it looks like I’m pulling my weight, but otherwise just dipping in a blade now and again, to “help out”. Fortunately, Pete is great at doing all the hard work, which also includes getting the canoe inflated and deflated.

It then occurred to us that maybe it would be feasible to use a tandem round where we live if we used the car a little, either with me driving to the start of a flatter route and Pete cycling solo there, or putting it on a bike rack. After all, I’m never going to give Bradley Wiggins a run for his money; I’m just tootling short distances of about five miles. So, we took the plunge and bought a mountain tandem (yes, they do exist!) a few months ago.  They come with lovely fat tyres which absorb a lot of the bumps. To make it as suitable as possible for me we fitted a crank-shortener to the back pedals which makes it much less tiring (since my back pedals still have to go round in time with the front ones). In order to minimise any complaints about my sore backside, we also got a very wide springy seat and a seat post with a spring shock absorber which is very helpful over all the bumpy paths.

Moors near Widdop

Moors near Widdop

So far we’ve made several trips in the local woods, had a bit of an epic trip following a reservoir road amongst the moors and a cycle along a canal towpath. The railway follows the same route at that point and we left the car at a station so that I could travel back by train but, after a good rest and refuelling stop at our destination, I was really chuffed when I made it back again too.

We have plenty of stops to admire the scenery and rest, and cafés are always popular, or flasks of tea. I stagger off the bike feeling utterly exhausted but extremely happy. I am out in the countryside again, smelling the earth and feeling the fresh air in my eyes. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and, whilst part of the tiredness is fatigue, that speciality of MS, most of it is the same as that old feeling of happy tiredness from having been outside on the fells all day.

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