A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “Pennines”

Bright Skies

What a beautiful end to November! We had experienced three solid days of fog and I was beginning to despair of ever seeing the sun again. Then Sunday dawned: the mist had lifted and the sky was clear blue. Even better, I was off to archery!

It was wonderful to be outdoors. I was even too warm in my carefully put on layers as I sat, putting my bow together, bathed in sunshine.

archery under blue November skies

archery under blue November skies

It is exactly a year since I completed the beginners course and decided to become a member of the archery club. I’m so glad I did. It’s such a friendly place and provides a wonderful setting to spend some time outside.

and surrounded by woodland

… and surrounded by woodland

It was quite odd to see the new members setting up on the field, having just completed the course themselves, and thinking that that was me a year ago. I’m not sure I’ve improved greatly in that time, but that wasn’t ever the main aim. Others certainly have improved, and I’m sure the new people will too. But I’m mainly enjoying mixing with new people, learning something new, and not dwelling on what I used to do.

my archery chair

my archery chair

I’m very pleased to say that I’ve been able to go to archery for three weeks on the trot – I think it’s January since I last managed that! That is definitely the up-side to having had a quieter life recently.

However, I’ve been quite disappointed with my form week on week – instead of improving, I’ve got steadily worse! Experienced members have been really supportive, though. I think it’s a known ‘thing’ that people put pressure on themselves and so get worse (apparently!). They also reassure me that the important thing is to enjoy coming. That it so true … though I’m going to try a heavier bow next time just to see if that helps!

a perfect sunset to end the day

a perfect sunset to end the day

I have started to notice that I’m less wowed by the feeling of happy fresh air tiredness that I get from archery or tandeming or gardening. Don’t get me wrong, I really, really appreciate it, but it doesn’t take me by surprise as much as it did initially, when it stirred a memory from some time before. Now, it is something that I experience relatively frequently and it feels more of a continuation of the outdoor part of my life, which had had a blip in it for a while.

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Lighting up November

We had a lovely shared Bonfire Night on the terrace at the weekend. It’s the perfect way to coax me outside after dark once the clocks go back. As soon as the nights grow longer I don’t want to leave the house. I just want to snuggle inside, keeping warm.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So I’m always glad that Bonfire Night comes along when it does. It reminds me that the dark is not an encroaching blanket but is vast and open, especially when lit up by fireworks; and that you can enjoy a winter evening as much as a summer evening.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This year, there was a well-stocked bonfire with neighbourly contributions but we had to admire it on the move somewhat as the wind changed direction every few minutes, so we had to keep moving pretty sharpish too. All good fun! Gradually we settled to a comfortable distance and could enjoy the flames lighting up the sky.  We still managed to let off a good variety of fireworks, from the soft and gentle to the very loud; and mulled wine kept us warm.

keeping watch

keeping watch

Then, with our ears reverberating with bangs and our clothes full of wood smoke, we all retreated indoors, to continue our evening with chilli, parkin and pear cake – yum!

 

Le Tour Arrives in Yorkshire

The day arrived at last! Le Tour de France was going to pass along our very own Yorkshire roads! Roads that I drive along on a regular basis – through the places I live and work – c’etait incroyable!

After many changes of mind, and much consideration of how we could get there, we decided to make our way to Côte d’Oxenhope Moor, a hill climb above the village of Oxenhope and just beyond Haworth, the place made famous by the Brontes.

helicopter hovering over Oxenhope Moor

helicopter hovering over Oxenhope Moor

Our expedition required a frighteningly early alarm call – 4.30am! This was because our daughter was a Tour Maker and we had to drop her off at her gathering point half an hour away and get safely back over the roads before they closed at 6.30am.

constructing summit race finishing point

constructing summit race finishing point

We then made the most of our early start by cycling along the unusually empty moorland road until we reached the summit itself. Men were busy building the signage showing the finish for the summit race but there was scarcely anyone else there. Still, it was still only 7am. It was hours before the race would pass by.

relaxing by the roadside

relaxing by the roadside

We set about selecting our viewing spot from pretty much anywhere we wanted to along the roadside. It was all very relaxed. We chatted to the dozen or so other early risers. One chap had cycled over from Bradford, about 15 miles away. He had been at Leeds the day before for the Grand Depart, and had also managed to catch the race again that day, in Skipton. Not content with that, he was then going down to London for the following day’s racing!

We leant our bike against the fence and put up our tent – we were very well prepared! And then we got serious: time for bacon and mugs of tea using our stove. Perfect! Getting up at a ridiculous hour was starting to have its advantages!

camping on Oxenhope Moor

camping on Oxenhope Moor

We enjoyed the early sunshine and beautiful views, marvelling at the unexpected possibility of camping out on moors that we usually simply drive through. We also took the opportunity to catch up on a little sleep!

the endless row of bikes

the endless row of bikes

Gradually people started to gather. Nearly everyone seemed to have cycled, and the line of bikes leaning against the fence grew impressively throughout the day. Some people walked up and a few made the short journey up from the temporary campsites that nearby farmers had set up. People picnicked by the roadside and chatted companionably. There was a real feeling of everyone coming for a relaxed summer’s day out.

the crowd begins to grow

the crowd begins to grow

We wandered up to the summit finish line to photograph ourselves. A friendly policeman took a photo of us together.  I tried some road graffiti but it was a total failure; I didn’t have enough chalk and I started writing “Allez!” too far to the right and ran out of road – my exclamation mark ended up on the kerb. Ah well, I tried!

at the summit of Côte d'Oxenhope Moor

at the summit of Côte d’Oxenhope Moor

Helicopters, together with motorbikes whizzing past at high speed, marked the arrival of some action. Suddenly everyone was standing up and waving flags. The caravan of advertisers’ vehicles sped past, some of them throwing out freebies (we did very poorly at catching anything!) and there was lots more enthusiastic waving and cheering. We no longer had our excellent view down the hillside – it was full of people standing in the middle of the road!

advertisers' floats

advertising float

unable to catch a freebie!

unable to catch a freebie!

There was then a lull whilst I caught another quick nap (I had to make the most of our tent!), with the odd sponsor’s car hurtling past, horn tooting.

waiting

waiting

the leader

the leader

And then … they were here! One rider was in the lead, flanked by two motorbikes, and soon after him two more cyclists pedalled furiously by in a race for the last of the two points available at the summit. I could even see one of them win. I actually saw a proper bit of racing!

the race for second place

the race for second place

Another small breakaway group followed. Then there was a small gap, followed by a screech of whistles, a flash of a motorbike in front of our faces and then the peloton was upon us, a single unit of furiously cycling legs, spread uncompromisingly across the road from kerb to kerb. I stepped back involuntarily, shocked and awed at the power of the mass of shiny crouching bodies that swept by, right in front of my nose. It took my breath away.

the peleton in pursuit

the peloton in pursuit

the peleton is upon us

the peleton is upon us

We managed to pull ourselves together sufficiently to watch the riders curl away as the road twisted its way round the edge of the moor. And then they were gone. They were followed by a long succession of team cars all adorned with a full complement of spare bikes. And that really was that! Phew!

We needed another cup of tea, so went to sit by the tent and contemplate the day whilst everyone collected their bikes and slowly made their way home. The countryside was peaceful once more.

and on they go

and on they go

The whole weekend was an amazing success! Everywhere there have been fetes and parties, the sun shone, the crowds were brilliant, Yorkshire looked beautiful and our tent made it on to the television! Everyone has been swapping tales of their own day and all the tales are happy. We all have fantastic memories of a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

Le Tour Bunting

Cragg Vale bunting

Cragg Vale bunting

Cragg Vale, in addition to being the longest continuous incline in England, has now just beaten the world record for displaying the longest string of bunting! It is 12,115 metres or 39,750 feet long and is made with 52,939 flags. Phew! Another Tour expedition was definitely required!

hanging bike

hanging bike

It was well worth the effort. The whole road, leading up from the village of Mytholmroyd, right up Cragg Vale’s steep ascent, and on up on to the open moors beyond, was bedecked, not only with home-made bunting, but also with yellow bikes, stuffed cyclists and a field with a cyclist imprinted into the grass.

field with cyclist

field with cyclist

We slowly made our way up the five-and-a-half miles of winding road, avoiding the cyclists toiling around us (cyclists are multiplying by the day!), marvelling that the bunting was still with us, all the way! As we climbed, I wondered how the bunting could reach the exposed summit. There were no handy telegraph poles up there!

more bunting

more bunting

We found out soon enough: they were simply attached to the fence posts at the edge of the moors. Somehow they looked just right, with the cotton grass waving behind them. A unique sight!

wild bunting

wild bunting

It was a beautiful evening and the sun was just beginning to lower over the empty moors, softening the beautifully desolate landscape.

lone cyclist

lone cyclist

We watched the steady trickle of cyclists coming up the road, knowing, but not quite able to believe, that this was nothing like what would be happening here and for miles around, all too soon!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Le Tour is Coming to Yorkshire!

Yes, the Tour de France … in Yorkshire! The Grand Depart takes place here on 5th and 6th July. It’s a crazy idea … but fab!

book shop, Hebden Bridge

book shop, Hebden Bridge

There have been subtle signs over recent months that something is happening, such as the increasing number of cyclists to be seen climbing the steep hills round here (and, slightly disconcertingly, more of them have been wearing lycra: this is not necessary!).

As Le Tour draws near, towns are being decorated in yellow or covered in polka dots, and yellow bikes are appearing in shop windows. In Hebden Bridge, the decorations are fun and varied.

organic vegetable shop

organic vegetable shop

People have been discussing where they will be watching the peloton and, more importantly, how they will get to the point where they can watch … and what time they need to get there. (Frustratingly, this will require more thought for me with having mobility issues, but we are hoping to arrange something vaguely complicated involving the tandem … I will report back after the event!)

hairdressers

hairdressers

I was very excited recently to see Chris Froome and other members of Team Sky whizz past through Hebden Bridge as they test rode the route. Well, I think it was them – I saw four skinny blokes flash by in light blue lycra! A glimpse of what it will be like on race day I fear, though without the amazing atmosphere I’m expecting.

library

library

Earlier in the year our two local television news presenters from Look North, Harry and Amy, rode the entire route over a week on a tandem to raise money for Sport Relief. I went along to cheer them – how could I not support fellow tandem riders?! I saw them battle their way to the top of Cragg Vale (at 5.5 miles, the longest continuous gradient in England, as anyone round here will tell you!). It was an early taste of the rising excitement that the event is generating.

florists

florists

At my work next week there are various bike-related activities, including a time trial up Cragg Vale … I think I’ll be cheering people along rather than participating in that! I might be able to take part in the Wear it Yellow day. That is, if I can find something yellow to wear!

jewellers

jewellers

I’m going to see what else I can find connected to the Tour between now and next weekend. I’ve got to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event on my doorstep. I know the riders will go past in a flash, but it’s the buzz around it that is just as exciting!

shoe shop

shoe shop

A Perilous Mile!

Who would have thought that a journey of less than a mile could be so much fun! We decided to explore a stretch of footpath along Hebden Water which had recently been levelled and so was accessible by tandem. It was still a dirt path, but was more even than it had been.

packhorse bridge

packhorse bridge

First, we had to face the challenge of getting the tandem over the packhorse bridge – the same one I have to negotiate to get to the archery field. It was quite exciting(!) and the bike slipped over the worn stones as we descended over the brow of the deceptively steep bridge, but we maintained control and turned right on to the path itself.

at 'the beach'

at ‘the beach’

We used to live close by this spot and would often use it as our ‘back garden’, spending summer afternoons by the stream, and if the weather was particularly good, would bring our portable barbecue. It was lovely to be down there again and we stopped many times. Our first stop was at ‘the beach’, where the bend in the stream creates a bank of sandy stones. I didn’t want to move! It was so long since I had been there, and I didn’t think I’d be able to get down this way again – it would have taken a lot of effort to walk along the path, and many pauses. Yet again, I was grateful to the tandem.

enjoying the riverside wild flowers

enjoying the riverside wild flowers

the remains of the  uprooted tree

the remains of the uprooted tree

Eventually we moved on, but not far. Pete told me that the way ahead had been practically inaccessible for months as a huge tree had fallen across the path during the powerful winter storms. The route had now been cleared but the remains of the uprooted trunk lay beside the path, at the ‘booming bend’. Another stop was essential. The tree trunk with its exposed roots is quite magnificent and, again, it was wonderful to see another familiar spot once more. The stream twists round here too and the water, when in full flow, ‘booms’ around the corner.

booming bend

‘booming bend’

the excellently muddy path!

the excellently muddy path!

We continued on our way, being grateful for the fat mountain-bike tyres, as the track became very muddy. I love such sections as I know that I’m properly outdoors!

We passed the bowling green, tucked away behind a rough hedge, then negotiated a little bridge to continue our journey on foot for a short section, with me using the tandem as a steadying aid. The reason we couldn’t ride was that the path cut along a narrow raised route at that point with a ditch on one side and the rather fast-flowing Hebden Water on the other, both with something of an unappealing drop if you didn’t keep a perfectly straight line!

We were now passing along a part of the path that I had totally forgotten about, and it was magical to rediscover it and to have memories from 20 years ago (eek!) stirred. There was more to come – the sound of water thundering by told me that we were at the weir. Again, totally forgotten! How could that be?!

the narrow footpath with peril on either side!

the narrow footpath with peril on either side!

We used to walk along this route when the children were little. It was varied and a good length for their small legs, and there was the promise of a teashop at journey’s end. I particularly remember snow-covered paths … (My daughter has just turned 18 (eek again!); maybe that’s what has set me off reminiscing!)

the weir

the weir

Back in the present, we were facing a possibly insurmountable obstacle. A wooden plank created a path over an old wall. The problem was that there was a right angle at either end: not great for a tandem, and with one member of the party having minimal strength and water gushing below. The wall was all that remained of an old mill that had used the weir, and was now covered in moss and was totally enveloped by the landscape.

We were contemplating Pete going back and finding another way round and meeting me a few yards further on, when we were rescued by another walker. He manhandled the bike with Pete and lifted it safely round.

a challenge too far?

a challenge too far?

We may have to do the alternative plan another time but I would definitely want to try somehow to do this route again. It had everything: peril, mud, beautiful scenery, and all beside a stream that skipped and twisted its way down to meet the river Calder. All in less than a mile!

New Year Bites

Hebden Water in Hardcastle Crags

Hebden Water in Hardcastle Crags

It wasn’t raining and it wasn’t blowing a gale … indeed, the sky was blue and tempting. It looked like I would be able to get out my new Christmas helmet and we could set off on the first expedition of the year. (Hooray!)

at Walsden

at Walshaw

We headed off for the woods of Hardcastle Crags, making good progress now that we were used to the bumps of the stony track. The sun slanted through the trees and I took full advantage of my non-steering back seat to look at the beautiful shapes made by the bare branches. Very happiness-inducing!

Fortified by soup at the cafe in the woods, we then headed up the steady incline, until we were above the trees (thanks, again, to the electric wheel!) Then we continued along a rough road, stopping in the isolated hamlet of Walshaw to enjoy the views in every direction and to peer into a barn of wintering sheep. We were rather envious of them –  stopping in this  exposed place made us realise just how cold it was, despite the sun!

towards Widdop

towards Widdop

We looked along the road as it disappeared over undulating moors to see where we might explore on another day, then turned back on ourselves. However, instead of heading back down into the woods, we kept our height and bounced along the top road. We passed a few walkers, all, like us, enjoying being able to get outside during this welcome break in the stormy Christmas weather.

peering in at the cosy sheep

peering in at the cosy sheep

As the sun lost some of its height, (too soon at this time of the year!) its light softened, creating beautiful yellowy oranges in the sky and in the fields below, whilst to the west the light was sharper and brighter, interspersed with long shadows cast by the hilltop houses. We stopped to take it all in but, despite our warm flask of coffee, (we remembered this time!) we had to hop back aboard the bike quite swiftly as the weather was definitely not getting any warmer!

The only problem with getting up on to the tops is the descent afterwards – it is quite steep and very bumpy, though I think I must be getting more used to it as I didn’t find it too bad this time. I am becoming an experienced (back-seat) rider!

looking west

looking west

Two Day Eventing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA promising weather forecast left me spoilt for choice as to how to spend the last weekend of November … a tandem ride or a spot of archery? Well, not one to shy away from the risk of overdoing it, I opted for both (not at once, I hasten to add – though that is quite an image!)

We headed for the Rochdale Canal on the Saturday for a flat cycle along the tow path. We set out around the middle of the day to maximise the chance of the low sun reaching us over the hillsides. However, we hadn’t factored in the angle of the hills, and the first part of the journey was a little chilly … not helped by someone (naming no names!) forgetting the lovely warm flask of tomato soup he had prepared (oops, might have let slip there!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll along the canal, shiny copper leaves coated the water. The day felt on the cusp between autumn and winter, which was quite apt as the month was on the turn, and the air was invigorating once we became acclimatised! We stopped at a lock to take in the view and imagine drinking the soup. Eventually, the sun found us.

The route was very peaceful; it felt a long way from the bustle of people doing their Christmas shopping. We passed various allotments, rising out of the rough scrub at the side of the path, often next to a dilapidated canal barge. The only sign from any of the barges that they weren’t abandoned was the odd curl of smoke escaping from a stove as we cycled past.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe plan was to travel along the canal to Todmorden, have a good rest (and refuel!) and return the same way. Unfortunately, as we discovered, the towpath was closed about a mile outside Todmorden, so we had to do an about turn and complete the last part of the journey along the very busy road – we had found the Christmas shoppers! It felt even busier in comparison to the canal, and wasn’t fun. We decided to return home that way though rather than messing about switching routes, and it did have the virtue of being quicker!

The next day, although I still felt a little tired, I headed off to the archery field. There, I spent a happy hour or two shooting arrows, chatting, drinking tea, watching my form deteriorate and generally enjoying being outside.

I did spend the afternoon very quietly … and the following day … !

A Grand Day Out

IMG_0909My patience has been rewarded! All those weeks of being sensible and saying no to bike rides have paid off: we had a proper off-road, hill-climbing, high-level, sun-kissed adventure at the weekend.

IMG_0908We cycled from the edge of Hardcastle Crags, near Hebden Bridge, through the wooded valley of Crimsworth Dean and up on to the open moorland above. This was truly a trip back out into the countryside. We were travelling along rutted pathways surrounded by gentle sloping hills.IMG_0891

It was a trip only really made possible through the power of the electric motor. There were steep climbs as we pedalled up on to the higher ground. I would have felt like a dead weight on the back without the motor and I don’t think Pete would have appreciated the ascent at all.

It was wonderful to be able to travel along the high-level track with open IMG_0910views all around, maintaining the height we had gained. We had several stops to fully appreciate our surroundings, and, as we had brought our own stove (the “pocket rocket”), we could have plenty of mugs of tea as we relaxed in the last rays of summer sun. When we ran out of water, there was a handy stream where we were able to top up our supply.

The mountain bike tyres and springy seat were also put through their paces – the descent was (a bit too) exciting! The bike bounced and slithered over rough stones whilst I gripped tightly on to the handlebars. I watched the ground intently and saw no countryside at this point.IMG_0905

At the bottom I gingerly dismounted and slowly uncurled my fingers from the handlebars. We had reached a bridge crossing a gently flowing stream and I flopped beside it. It was another perfect spot for a rest and we felt no need to move for quite some time.

Our journey finished with a terrifying ride down from Pecket Well to Hebden Bridge along next year’s Tour de France route. (The Yorkshire leg – honest!) Now I know just what Mark Cavendish and co will be experiencing!IMG_0915

After Sun

Hmmm … it looks like I’ve been getting a bit over enthusiastic with the tandem. The temptingly flat French cycle paths have come back to bite me. I’ve been feeling in need of a holiday ever since I got back from my holiday!

We have been out on a pleasant five-mile-jaunt along the Rochdale canal but after a couple of miles I was saying that I couldIMG_0829 do with a stop shortly, quickly followed by a request that we stop right now! Oooph! It was still a lovely afternoon out, and very peaceful; we didn’t see many people all the way to Sowerby Bridge. It’s a very green and wooded stretch, partly following the river Calder. The route is less IMG_0825scenic where it follows the railway, but at least we got to cycle over a railway bridge, and, more scenically, the river.

However, that ride and more general exhaustion mean that I have had to reluctantly admit that I might have been overdoing it. Not enough rest periods in between being more active. But who wants to be sensible on holiday?! So, not having been sensible on holiday, I’m having to be sensible now I’m back home. Otherwise known as leading a very dull life – for much longer than I really think is a fair price to have to pay.

So, it’s back to little drives out to wooded cafes and sitting on the doorstep, catching any last moments of summer sun. Could be worse, I suppose! IMG_0833

The Tandem Goes West

Whilst Chris Froome was powering up the last mountains of the French Alps en route to victory in the Tour de France, we were in the middle of our own epic adventure … 13 miles along the Rochdale canal. Now, let me quickly add, that was the longest trip we’d ever undertaken by tandem!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was relieved that the temperature dropped for us, as I’d not even been able to leave the house the previous day due to the heat! There was a fresh breeze, perfect for cycling, and we made good progress along the tow path.

We really appreciated the electric motor for all the sudden inclines around each lock (and there were quite a few!) Otherwise, the terrain was varied; occasionally smooth, often bumpy, sometimes bone rattling as we crossed the many overflow chutes that looked very quaint and cobbled but, ouch! They really hurt!

the highest broad lock in England

the highest broad lock in England

I even managed a summit! I haven’t got to the summit of anything for quite a while, and wasn’t really expecting to do so that day either. Well, we reached and crossed the Highest Broad Lock in England, no less!

The route was peaceful, and the surrounding countryside was wild and empty. The odd barge gently glided by and we passed a few walkers, a couple of fisherman and several other cyclists – even another tandem! It was great to be just another cyclist (obviously much better to be on a tandem though!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We did encounter a few challenges towards the end of the journey, west of the Highest Broad Lock in England. Suddenly, we were expected to negotiate very narrow “gates” to continue on our way. Other cyclists could either just about wriggle through the tiny gap or hoick their bikes above their heads and walk through. That wasn’t so easy with a tandem, especially one with a weighty battery on the back!

the tandem-unfriendly gap

the tandem-unfriendly gap

We managed to jiggle and haul the bike through a couple of them. Then we were met by the third: this one had the added twist of being at right angles to the path, which wasn’t very wide. We managed, but it was a struggle. The irony was that there were gates on either side of these narrow gaps … which were securely padlocked! A notice stated that you could unlock them with a RADAR key but who would think to take one there, even if they had one?!

Ah well, with these obstacles safely overcome we were soon at journey’s end: Hollingworth lake – and a cafe! I was then able to hop on a train back to the start, and pick up the car which I’d left at the station. Meanwhile, Pete rode home along the road – he didn’t fancy tackling the squeeze-through gaps on his own … or the long flight of steps we’d had to descend along that section of the route.

cricketers by the canal

cricketers by the canal

The following day, I was distinctly aware of the efforts I’d made as I was aching in quite a few places! But, mainly, I was feeling very pleased with my achievement!

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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