A Breath of Fresh Air

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

Archive for the tag “Yorkshire”

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

 

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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

Birdwatching Aplenty!

We had a tip-off for a suitable birdwatching site! It was an RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings. A check of the website told us that there was a mobility scooter for hire, which could be booked in advance – so that’s what I did!

coots ducking and diving

coots ducking and diving

It was a lovely spot with different areas suitable for different bird species. The paths were flat and either gravelly or made from duck boards.

We headed for a small pool where children were busy pond dipping. Just beyond them, we could see coots flitting about. Adults were feeding their young and we even saw one collecting nest material to place on a splendid nest, seemingly suspended on the water.

coot nest

coot nest

Along another path a feeder screen partitioned the trees from us. There were holes in the screen at heights suitable for everyone. Well, we just had to stop and peer through these holes ourselves! Feeders hung from several branches and there was a steady flutter of wings as blue tits, great tits and sparrows feasted. We were also very chuffed to catch a glimpse of a woodpecker for a couple of minutes.

peering throught the screen ...

peering throught the screen …

 ... at feasting birds

… at feasting birds

We then headed out towards a larger body of water where I was delighted to see avocets wading gracefully in the shallows, with their impossibly slim legs and their long curved beaks. I’ve only ever seen them in books before. Wonderful!

avocet foraging

avocet foraging

and another!

and another!

Pete’s day was made when we saw a great crested grebe sauntering along the water, surveying the world around him with his magnificent ruff of feathers around his head.

imperious great crested grebe

imperious great crested grebe

We spent several happy hours meandering about – there was a cafe too with space to sit outside (always a bonus!). Having the scooter was great too as it meant that I was independent and Pete could look after just himself, and we were able to be outside in a rural setting, amongst footpaths and trees … and lots of birds!

Changing Scenes

We’ve just returned from our annual ex-student walking weekend, this time in Kettlewell in North Yorkshire. I’ll admit it, I just socialised!

I did get out to Hawes for the day with a friend who ‘sacrificed’ going for a walk herself to come with me. (No sacrifice really, I think she’ll admit – but thank you, ‘I don’t do hills’ Julia!)

sheltering sheep, Kettlewell

sheltering sheep, Kettlewell

The only fresh air I experienced on the weekend was being wheeled from one cafe to another and from the hostel to the pub, which suited me just fine! Especially when I saw how cold and windswept everyone looked as they gradually returned from various walks that seemed to have involved being clamped under low cloud for much of the afternoon.

We did experience our own wild weather in Hawes when we ventured out of our first cafe after a couple of hours’ catch-up on news. It coincided with the heavens opening and us getting very wet in the space of a couple of hundred yards. After taking emergency shelter in a shop we decided it was lunchtime and we really ought to find another cafe … and that was how our day passed really – in a most acceptable fashion!

fields above Kettlewell

fields above Kettlewell

The journey to and from Hawes took us past gently sloping fields, fast-flowing streams, and trees only just beginning to turn, and there were still several yellow bikes hanging from trees and pubs to remind us of the fantastic summer weekend of Le Tour. We even stopped to watch as bursts of water were blown up a waterfall by the strength of the wind.

We were staying in the YHA hostel in Kettlewell, the venue for several of our reunions. However, it’s likely to be our last one there as the hostel is up for sale – such a shame. I remember once, a few years ago, arriving back from a walk to be greeted by a pungent smell of pumpkins, and a roomful of happy children with one very happy dad, all making splendid Hallowe’en lanterns which became our table decorations for the evening.

Kettlewell youth hostel

Kettlewell youth hostel

There’s been a slightly different feel to this year’s gathering – caused by a lack of youngsters. After years of babies, who grew into toddlers, then primary age children and, most recently, tall teenagers, suddenly they’ve almost all disappeared – they are either (officially, at least!) adults now or are busy doing their own thing at weekends. It was almost like old times (but with more creaking limbs and less energy!). Although it felt quite strange at first, by the end of the weekend I was managing to cope quite well with the lack of responsibility!

Gannets Galore!

Bempton Cliffs

Bempton Cliffs

Pete and I always enjoy a spot of bird watching and, whilst on holiday in Scarborough, we had a day out down the coast at Bempton Cliffs, an RSPB reserve. We hoped to see some gannets, having been impressed by the beauty and size of the odd ones we’d spotted on past Scottish holidays.

The reserve was tucked away down an ever-narrowing country lane, surrounded by wide green fields. Once at the site, from the car park we followed a pleasant path which headed towards the sea. The first part of the path was amply wide enough for a wheelchair and, although made of a gravelly surface, it was fine for being pushed.

immature gannets

immature gannets

Suddenly we found ourselves at the land’s edge, confronted by the most amazingly dramatic cliffs! (There was a wooden fence which protected you, without getting in the way of the views.) There was a cacophony of noise and we started to focus on the masses of birds wheeling about, circling over the sea then turning back to the cliffs where hundreds of them were perched precariously on rocky ledges: we had found the gannets!

gannet landing!

gannet landing!

There were more than we could possibly have hoped to see and we just stood (or sat!) for some time, simply enjoying the amazing spectacle. It was incredible to see that so many gannets came to this one spot to nest, that these sheer cliffs were exactly what they wanted.

gannets with young

gannets with young

An RSPB man was at the viewing area and had his high-powered binoculars trained on the cliffs. We were able to look through and saw kittiwakes nesting on a very small ledge. As we grew more used to the swirl of birds we could distinguish the black wing tips of kittiwakes amongst the many gannets.

We decided to go further along the cliff path as there was another viewing platform not far away. The path became a little more ‘interesting’ for the wheelchair. The gravelled part of the path was more of a groove with higher grassy sides. It required either the wheelchair user or its pusher to have strong muscles. Fortunately Pete was able to cope!

narrow path

narrow path …

It was a lovely path so I’m glad we were able to manage. It followed right along the cliff edge, with hedgerows to one side and blue sky above, which grew to a summery haze as it headed out to sea.

with beautiful views

with beautiful views

The view was worth the effort too. We could see back along the cliffs which curved in and out along the coastline, and were able to look down on to a large ledge where gannets were nesting. They flew back and forth, and we were able to see younger ones, with black plumage, as well as adult gannets, sitting by their nests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over the front edge of the cliff we seemed to be right above the gannets and were able to look straight down on them, tracking individual birds as they wove their way around on the air currents.

looking south

looking south

We knew that it was too late in the season for puffins (they are gone by the end of July) but we did hear that odd ones were still about. We looked more closely and, way down below us, we suddenly noticed that some of these birds genuinely were smaller, not just further away, and were doing a suspiciously puffin-like furious flapping! That was a lovely added bonus.

We found a bench where we could munch our sandwiches, and were in no hurry to move. The day was surprisingly restful. There weren’t many people about, the sun shone over a stunning coastline, and it was very relaxing to sit and simply let your eye follow the flight of the birds.

The Tandem Goes to the Seaside

 

Now that the tandem is part of the family, we decided to take it with us on holiday to Scarborough. It was too heavy to manoeuvre it on to a roof rack but could be fitted on to a rack on the back of the car once the wheels had been removed. It was still a bit of a challenge but one that Pete was up for!

the tandem at South Bay, Scarborough

the tandem at South Bay, Scarborough

The bike was able to take us on trips from one end of the bay to the other; too far to have wanted to travel using the wheelchair and, of course, much more fun!  On a couple of days when we’d persuaded the teenagers to do their own thing (I’m not sure how much persuading was actually needed!) we headed to the spa at the bottom end of South Bay and found a quiet, sunny spot to enjoy the views before sauntering along to the restored Victorian cafe (or brasserie) with its spacious proportions – all high ceilings and relaxing atmosphere.

We then cycled the entire length of the bay, past the South Bay beach, with its colour and bustle, along Marine Drive (very bumpy over the cobbles!), past North Bay and its surfers, and as far as Scalby Mills. There, the heat of the sun forced me to hide inside a pub for a refreshing drink!

at Scalby Mills

at Scalby Mills

We took the high road back, stopping at Blenheim Terrace, off Castle Road, to survey the fine views. We were able to look down on the route we’d just taken and across at the splendid castle, standing firm on its ancient rock. There were plenty of helpfully placed benches to use and we sat happily on one for some time, enjoying the beautiful blue sky and glistening sea.

The journey was about four miles in all but exceedingly good value for the distance! We had hoped to do some more adventurous rides: along the old railway line outside Scarborough that goes north to Whitby, and along a bridleway in the North York Moors. However, I wasn’t up for such escapades this time (heat and fatigue, I think). They will just have to wait for another occasion … and we didn’t really miss not doing them!

above Marine Drive

above Marine Drive

Getting My Hands Dirty

Last night, I lay on the settee, utterly exhausted, my legs lying useless in front of me. However, I felt totally content: I had spent the weekend gardening. Obviously, I hadn’t been ‘gardening’ to the extent that most people mean by the term but it had sure jiggered me probably more than it does most people – and I’ll bet I got at least as much pleasure out of it!

I love geraniums!

I love geraniums!

This summer, Pete and I have been around more than usual for one reason or another and we have turned our eye to the garden, or the jungle that it had rather become. We were lucky to have more time at the same time that there has been less rain (unlike two years ago when it never stopped) and Pete’s Knee wasn’t playing up (unlike much of last summer).

more geraniums

more geraniums

So, armed with new tools, we have been able to fight back the brambles, grass and next-door’s ever-encroaching hedge, and parts of the garden that I’ve not seen for three summers have now reappeared! It’s been marvellous, and we’ve even had sun to enjoy it with.

I content myself with smaller amounts of clipping but have many bramble scratches to attest to my efforts! I’ve also been eyeing up a space close to the back door that has now appeared thanks to Pete’s major attack on a particularly virulent section of hedge.

This weekend I had the chance to go to the garden centre with a friend and I went armed with a list and plans for the new corner! It was lovely to be able to buy some plants again and work out what would work where. (I have learnt through trial and much error over the years but am very much still learning!) Once home, I set out my wares on the garden table.

my purchases

my purchases

Then I sat for a while in the lovely shade, deciding whether I could brave the sun and do some digging. Eventually, I broke cover and managed to dig one hole and plant one plant before retreating, beaten by the heat. I did manage to find a home for the owl I’d not been able to resist though!

garden owl

garden owl

On day two, I was in the garden before the sun and made the most of the actually rather fresh and breezy (and rather pleasant) day, and got all the other plants bedded in before allowing myself to take any notice of my body’s loud complaints. When I did sit down on the garden chair I couldn’t move from it for a considerable time. It didn’t matter though, as I had no desire to do so: I had a cup of tea in my hand and was in a good position to appreciate the extra splashes of colour that had appeared.

Verbena and Diascia

Verbena

Veronica

Veronica

Later, having shuffled inside to the settee, I watched the conclusion of the Tour de France. Since all those riders had made the effort to cycle round Yorkshire, I thought I’d make the effort to watch them on the television as they continued their Tour in France. It was crazy to keep on thinking, after one week, after two weeks, after three weeks, that these were the same riders who had cycled down our local roads – and were still cycling in the same race! Madmen! It was good to see Vincenzo Nibali on the winner’s rostrum, having first won the yellow jersey at the end of the day on which we saw him (I use the word ‘saw’ very loosely!).

As a bonus, when I woke up this morning I discovered that it had rained in the night so I reckon I don’t need to water my new lovelies today … possibly! Which is fortunate as my legs are still refusing to play ball. Now that’s not allowed – I’m much less keen on another day of immobility! I’ll just have to take another cup of tea outside and remind myself that it will be worth it: this will pass and the flowers will stay.

Diascia

Diascia

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

A Tour of Le Tour

I couldn’t resist – I just had to see how other parts of Yorkshire were preparing for Le Tour de France! (Not a sentence I expected to write a year ago!) So we hopped in the car for a drive round as much of the area as we could reasonably manage in one day. It was a bit of a zig-zag, following our own route, and crossing freely over from Day One to Day Two sections. (How wonderful that there is so much beautiful scenery to detain the riders for two days!)

Tour de France bunting

Tour de France bunting

In Horton-in-Ribblesdale, which is a little off the route, the cafe owner was unsure how he would be affected – would no-one visit that weekend because they were worried about road closures, or would there be a mad scrum for bacon butties?

polka dots in Hawes

polka dots in Hawes

In Hawes, which nestles near the foot of Buttertubs Pass (or Côte de Buttertubs as the official route describes it!), has festooned itself in bunting to welcome Le Tour. In recognition of the fact that Côte de Buttertubs is one of the categorised climbs on the route, and therefore counts towards the King of the Mountains jersey, the village has gone polka dot mad! Shops have been painted white with red spots, all the bunting is spotty and flower pots are themed red and white. It is very cheery and welcoming.

polka dot bunting

polka dot bunting

not everyone went for polka dots!

not everyone went for polka dots!

We then headed up the Buttertubs Pass ourselves – by car! There were a few brave cyclists tackling the climb, but even at the lower part of the steep ascent they were struggling, and some had to give in to pushing. It made you realise just how crazy fit the Tour riders are.

Due to a late start on our own tour, it was fairly late in the day when we arrived at the summit, and we had the place to ourselves. It was beautiful and wild, just us and a few sheep. I felt very lucky to be able to savour the views and the solitude. It was very difficult to imagine just how different the scene would be in a week’s time!

Côte de Buttertubs

Côte de Buttertubs

We munched a picnic tea (until beaten back by ferocious midges!) by the Buttertubs themselves, which are scarily deep limestone holes just metres from the road, and contemplated just how easy it would be for a rider to crash over a barrier and into one of those deep, deep holes. In fact, I have seen a programme about how the local mountain rescue team has been practising a rescue from one of those potholes (more concerned about a spectator than a cyclist, I think … but, still!)

admiring the Buttertubs

at the Buttertubs

We then wended our way backwards along the Tour route, past fields and farms and villages, with beautiful empty fells rising gloriously on either side of the limestone walls. And all along the route, our journey was punctuated by dots of yellow. Yellow bikes were perched on roofs, and yellow bunting fluttered from gates and windows.

Driving along the route, knowing that elite cyclists would be hurtling down these roads in a week’s time, made you look at them with different eyes. You really noticed how narrow some of the route is, and how twisty, and how steep are some of the hills – both up and down – and just how close are the unforgiving-looking stone walls!

Our favourite village was Bainbridge, where pale yellow bunting hung along every roof, and little t-shirts grew from one bush and mini knitted jumpers decorated one house. I didn’t get a picture as you couldn’t really capture the loveliness of the whole scene in one shot (and we were tired – it had been a long day!).

We made a final stop at Skipton, which was worth it for the church. All the grounds were full of yellow bunting and a giant t-shirt decorated the tower!

Skipton church tower

Skipton church tower

I am now full of Tour de France spirit. Allez, allez!

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

Target Practice

You may remember that I attended a Paralympic Sportsfest event a few months ago (Being Inspired) where I tried out lots of sports (with varying degrees of success but much fun – especially on the horse!) and particularly enjoyed the archery. Afterwards, I was put in touch with a local club (http://www.whiterosearchers.co.uk/) and signed up for a course near to where I live. It was due to begin, distantly, in the autumn. Well, it must be autumn (even though the leaves are very much still green and on the trees) as last weekend, the course began!IMG_0920

There were 20-odd of us, ranging from about aged eight to, hmmm, reasonably mature. We were placed into groups of four or five, and each group had its own instructor. We were shown how to string a bow (not sure I’ll remember for next week though!), did a few (very!) gentle arm-stretching exercises, received some safety advice and then we were away!

I was really chuffed with my first shots and, in fact, did pretty decently generally until I started to tire, when the arrows seemed suddenly to mysteriously ping away to the outer rings of the target! There was a general feeling amongst us beginners that we were getting worse rather than better as time went on – there were a few tired arms by the end.archery092013

I was able to shoot from a stool that was kindly provided, and I sat down safely out of range in between my goes. After a while though I could feel my brain starting to shut down, plus I didn’t really want to end ignominiously with no arrows in the target area at all(!), so I sat out the last few rounds and watched. It was great to have a much better excuse than everyone else for my deteriorating form!

However, I shall be back next week, fully rested and ready to start afresh … apparently it feels like that with what we’ll be learning. Bring it on! (I think!)

Electric Wheels

An exciting moment: the inaugural trip on our newly-adapted power-assisted tandem!* The sun was shining, it was a weekend and the tandem was ready. We hopped aboard and headed for our local woods. It’s our most reliable route and, importantly, has a cafe at journey’s end.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a very strange feeling to be flying through warm air, wearing shorts and being in Yorkshire; I associate warm-weather tandeming with France! I got over the feeling very quickly and was soon enjoying seeing the trees in full leaf, hearing the birds singing and smelling the summer air.

The electric motor whirred quietly and satisfyingly when needed. It was very helpful to Pete on the uphill parts of the path. He felt that his knee would not have been up to the trip otherwise. So our bike is now adapted for both our disabilities; though hopefully Pete’s is temporary! Ultimately, the aim is to get up on to higher ground than would be possible with only one person pedalling for two. An exciting prospect!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the meantime we enjoyed a sunny cafe stop, watching the world go by – for quite a while! It was wonderful to be out of the house on a small adventure under our own steam.

As I dismounted when we arrived home, the journey (all five miles of it!) hit me rather suddenly. I realised that it was a while since I had undertaken such a trip and that for me it was the equivalent of an athlete’s training run (well, that’s what I tell myself anyway!) I don’t think an hour sitting in the sun helped either! I always forget on the first day of summer that time spent in the full heat of the sun results in hours wilting under a fan. Well, it’s at the back of my mind but I can never resist that first blast of too much heat. It’s just about worth the payback. And we are itching to be out again!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA* Details of how we added the electric wheel are on the About the Tandem page

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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