A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “Pennines”

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

Up, Up on to the Moors!

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

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steep start over tricky terrain

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

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bluebell haze

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

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looking up towards the hills

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

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collecting spring water

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

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suitably rugged-looking tandem!

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

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enjoying the views

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and in this direction!

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

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escaping sheep!

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

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at Grain’s Bridge

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

 

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.

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

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

A Sociable Ride

The weather was as wet as the forecast had predicted. It was no day for a bike ride. Unfortunately, we were committed to one!

We had agreed to join the EMpowered People group on a ride that was passing close to our home. So we could hardly back out! We found every piece of waterproof clothing we possessed and waited for the call to inform us that they were on their way so that we could join them.

signs of EMpowered riders!

signs of EMpowered riders!

Unfortunately, there was a slight breakdown in communication so that we could only catch up with the other riders at the cafe stop in our local woods. We tried our best to catch up before then but they were just too fast!

The rain was very sharp and cold against our cheeks. We were soon very much awake! Once in the woods, we were slightly sheltered by the trees and bounded along at a good pace. Before we knew it, we were descending to the stream as it flowed past the mill cafe.

Rachmi loving the hand cycle

Rachmi loving the hand cycle

We knew they were inside from the wide variety of bikes parked outside. It was good to see people again. There were about six EMpowered riders and a good number of support riders. Everyone seemed to be enjoying being out and no one complained about the weather – except to say they were looking forward to a warm shower when they got home!

ready for the return journey

ready for the return journey

It was great to cycle back with the others, being part of a group of riders. It made it all seem livelier and more sociable. In fact, it was all over far too quickly and we had to say goodbye as they continued on their way.

Their total ride was about 15 miles, and we cycled about 5 of them. I have to confess though that I realised that that was quite enough when I got home – I flopped for most of the rest of the day. But it was generally a happy flop (apart from the frustration to not being able to do anything else all day) and we certainly wouldn’t have had our adventure if we hadn’t agreed to go as part of the group. So the commitment definitely paid off!

our tandem is well guarded!

our tandem is well guarded!

Canalside Cycle

It was cold and the sky was hidden under a solid bank of cloud. But it couldn’t be helped – we were definitely going out on the tandem. I’d not been able to get out properly for what felt like ages. Tedious reasons: Pete’s Knee and a virus. And whilst the snow was pretty (for a day, anyway!), it wasn’t compatible with using the tandem.

icy waters, Rochdale canal

icy waters, Rochdale canal

So, dull weather or not, we were going! We wrapped up well (I had on six layers, and three for my legs!). It was a while since we had made use of the canal and we decided that this flat route would be a good one to get us back out again. I left the car at the station and then we were off.

Signs of the cold spell covered the water – breaking ice stretched over many sections. I felt even colder. Several barges were moored along the path but there was little sign of life, just a few geese padding along the ice. The canal felt asleep, hibernating, but it was still beautiful and restful.

We cycled on, passing the odd group of few walkers. It felt like there were just a few of us who knew of this path. A couple of mountain bikers sped past, covered in mud (as they should be!).

homely barges

homely barges

My layers did a pretty good job of keeping out the cold – it’s a distinct concern when you aren’t expanding lots of energy pedalling. However, I was wearing thin footwear and the cold really got to my feet. It made me very aware I was outdoors, so there was some good out of it (she said desperately!).

But when we had our soup stop I held on to my cup very firmly. I felt the warmth extending down to my poor feet, and acting as a hot water bottle on my hands. Pete insisted on giving me one of his fleeces as he assured me he was warm enough after his exertions (so lovely!). It was the vital seventh layer! I was now perfectly snug and I did a good job of forgetting about my feet, cycling on happily and enjoying the quiet landscape.

canalside soup stop

canalside soup stop

After a tasty lunch in Todmorden we carried on for a couple of miles with the aim of dropping me off at Walsden station to get the train back to the car.

One of the great things about this route is that you get the chance to appreciate lots of Victorian engineering – there are many locks along the way as height is gently gained. You can also spot the old lockkeepers cottages as you pass. Sometimes there’s a little hamlet around the lock, then it’s out into the wilds again.

railway bridge near Walsden

railway bridge near Walsden

Past Todmorden we were able to admire a wonderful Victorian railway bridge complete with turrets, crossing above the canal. And the sun came out!

We had to employ a slight change of plan regarding the train – there was only one train an hour from Walsden (with a long wait until the next one) so we headed back to Todmorden where there were two an hour – and one was almost due! We sorted a ticket out as fast as we could then I turned towards the platform … only to be confronted by a tower of stairs. There was no way I was going to get that train; it would be a very slow haul up the steps, especially after being on the bike.

Then a man who had just got off the train saw me and ran back to the guard to say there was another passenger on the way, and the guard waited the train for me. These kind acts gave me an extra glow to go with my tandem glow!

sunshine!

sunshine!

Gardenwatching

I decided to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, organised by the RSPB (https://www.rspb.org.uk/). This involved watching the birds in our garden for an hour over the weekend and recording which ones I saw during that time. I thought I could manage that!

We have a perfect spot in our back bedroom to sit and watch. Also, Pete had bought me a special birdwatching hat for my birthday, which he assured me would enable me to see more birds!

essential birdwatching equipment

essential birdwatching equipment

So I got myself prepared with the essential equipment of binoculars, birdwatching hat and mug of tea, and sat and waited. And waited.

I saw a neighbour’s cat prowling along a wall. I watched leaves quivering in the hedge (it’s surprising how like birds they look!). I watched next door’s hens pecking contentedly.

This was going to be a long hour.

Suddenly, there was a flurry high above and two magpies sat in our tree for a couple of minutes. Quickly noted!

I drank some tea and nibbled some snacks.

waiting ...

waiting …

A robin hopped across the garden from the hedge to the compost bin and back again. Noted!

Then the robin went mad!  It hopped back and forth, hid in the bush for a bit, then flew off into a neighbour’s garden. Then it was back. At one point there were even two at once in the garden. It felt like there were many more. Now I had a new problem – this robin was too fidgety for me to take a photo!

Then a blue tit, or maybe more, flitted by – it might have just been one busy one. As I watched, it actually pecked at the fat ball of food we’d put out.

yesss!

yesss!

Along the hedge, almost too fast to see and looking very like fluttering leaves (but they weren’t!), a couple of thrushes chased each other, weaving in and out of the branches. I put aside the binoculars – I couldn’t dart about fast enough with them and kept losing the birds. It was simpler just to watch the dancing display in front of me.

At the end of the hour, when I had given up hope of seeing her, a little wren made an appearance. I’d only seen her for the first time a couple of days previously so it was wonderful that she made the survey, just in the nick of time!

I was very pleased with my efforts, or rather that of our feathered visitors, and to be able to take part in this 36-year-old survey.

Snow Day

It snowed and snowed and snowed all day yesterday. It was so peaceful. There was no one else in the house, I’d phoned work to say I’d be working from home, and I was cosy and safe, with no reason to go outside.

snow covering

snow covering

Every time I looked up from my desk I could enjoy the fat, white flakes falling silently, blanketing everything. Knowing that I didn’t have to go anywhere made all the difference. I could simply enjoy the view.

rabbit finding snowfree spot

rabbit finding snowfree spot

If I do have to go out in the snow I become ridiculously stressed, worrying about falling over or the car skidding out of control. My muscles tense and I worry until I’m safely back inside.

Yesterday, I could just watch as the snow piled softly higher. It was very calming.

hidden steps

hidden steps

Later, I did venture outside – just a few steps into the garden to say hello to the rabbit and to feel the cold on my cheeks. Then it was back indoors for some warming soup!

snowy owl

snowy owl

A Wild Ride

This is a post that requires the use of imagination! There are no pictures to accompany our first outing of the New Year … it should become clear why!

It was New Year’s Day and it felt appropriate to be getting out on the tandem. The only trouble was, the weather looked pretty unappealing. The forecast was for more rain later. As there wasn’t much rain at that moment, just a blustery wind, we thought we’d better get on with it.

Braving the elements

I was about to pack my waterproof over trousers when I began to feel drops of rain. I decided that it would be more sensible to wear them! I was glad I did. Although the rain continued to be light, the wind was cold. In fact, I was glad of all my layers.

We cycled briskly along the path, not stopping at any of the tempting scenic woodland views – not the moss-covered rocks or the crooked, bare branches, or even at the usually compulsory bench stop!

A welcome break

It was a case of pedalling on till we reached the cafe, then falling off and into its warmth. Much, much later, fortified by soup and tea, we braved the elements again, mounted our lovely tandem and headed home.

Goodness, the weather was fresh! A light rain and accompanying sharp wind kept my faculties alert. I reached home feeling much more awake than I’d left. In fact, that was the curious thing about this trip. I’d been anxious about going out at all as my legs had been feeling weak recently, probably due to less use as I’d been laid low with a cold. However, my legs certainly felt no less bad for the outing and my brain felt much more alive! (I even found the energy to write up A Christmas Walk!)

Thank you to the tandem

I am bouncing with energy, well, mental energy, but that’s a good start! And all thanks to the tandem – I couldn’t have stayed outside for as long without it (or had so much fun – yes, honestly!) and I know that the little bit of exercise from turning the pedals has done me a little bit of good too!

Meanwhile, outside, the weather really did worsen as forecast. It was wild! Lashing rain and strong winds hit the windows. I felt, well, I’ll be honest, quite smug! We had been out, been blown about and got safely home, all before the wild weather really began!

And an apology

Sorry that there are no photos – I think they would have been a letdown after this description (!), even if I had been able to stop and take any. Probably the pictures in the mind are better … and, who knows, perhaps more dramatic than the reality!

A Winter Wander

It was a bright and frosty winter’s day but there was no-one about to enjoy it with. I was itching to get out and make the most of it – you never know how long such weather will last.

peering at sheep

peering at sheep

There was nothing for it – I would have to go it alone! I dug out my battered walking boots, scooped up my walking poles and headed cautiously out.

I was extremely glad I was wearing my woolly scarf, cosy gloves and thick coat – it truly was a clear, and therefore very cold, day! There’s a little path out on to fields near to our house which is within my reach if I take things carefully.

the frosty path

the frosty path

Even though the sun had been melting the ice all morning, there was still a white sprinkling on the path. I made full use of my poles for balance, and stomped my boots on the grass at the path edge rather than the suspiciously shiny stones up the middle – it was good fun, spiking the grass and manoeuvring myself up the side of the field.

my trusty walking poles

my trusty walking poles

However, the best bit was the sight of the sheep munching contentedly in the field. They were all bashful, I’m afraid, and shied away from any close-up camera shots!

Bizarre though it sounds, I also really enjoyed feeling my hands freeze when I took them out of my gloves to take photos – I definitely knew I was outside!

simply sheep!

simply sheep!

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