A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “MS”

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!).

IMG_2363

the amphitheatre

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Image1

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.

IMG_2367

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_2380

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

IMG_2356

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.

Advertisements

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 …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Lakes1

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

enjoying the views

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

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

 

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.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: