Friday, September 20, 2013

The Colours of Skaket Beach

The man in the silver car put down the windows, picked up his flute and started to play. The sweet sounds drifted across the warm sands and into the empty bay, the low tide leaving damp sand exposed for hundreds of yards.

A black photographer and an oriental model worked down in a dip, the setting sun behind her and her purple ball-gown, her face lit by a reflector and his flash.

An oriental woman with a club foot and crutches walked with her white friend, smiling at us as they went by.

Various groups of people littered the beach, annoyingly, as I was photographing Colleen and trying to get a clean and golden background.

The sun sank lower, flirting with the ocean, as the notes of Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring floated through the evening air (warm for me, cool for Colleen).  Brilliant yellows, golds, pinks and blues mingled in the sky.

The sun touched the ocean and my camera shutter crackled again and again, sometimes accompanied by flash to light up Colleen’s face, sometimes alone to get her in silhouette.

The sun disappeared.

Everyone burst into applause in appreciation.

I put my camera away.  The flute stopped.  Show over.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Unforgettable Canada

Day 1. Arrival. Quite the most spectacular thunderstorm I have ever seen, watched from the front porch.

Day 2. Walk along the Thames in London, in a beautiful park. In Middlesex.

Day 3. Go back in history one hundred years as we visit St Jacobs, a centre of Mennonite settlement (similar to the Amish)

Day 4. Family visit - meet three of my cousin’s children and their three partners and seven grandchildren. A riot does not ensue.

Day 5. Birthday cake at Grace’s house. See Cory’s magnificent cherrywood bar in the basement of his house. Eat the best steak ever (thanks, Doug). Dream about digging out a basement in our house in England.

Day 6. Travel to Sarnia on Lake Huron. See where Kathy grew up. Experience a gale coming in from the north across the lake. End the day with an excellent steak at the Keg, in London.

Day 7. Cross country to Toronto. Take a glass-bottomed lift up the CN tower with shut eyes. Lunch (steak) 1,000 ft above the nearby Toronto Porter Airport. Experience the surreal as we watch aircraft taking off and landing 1,000 ft below our restaurant.  Stand on a glass platform 1,000 ft (surprise) above the street and look straight down. Briefly.  Very, very briefly.

Brilliant breakfasts. Beverages.  BBQs. Early autumn colours. Chauffeured to and fro in the great Escape.

Canada. Unforgettable.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Coast to Coast Awards

And now ... the bouquets and brickbats from the Coast to Coast

The Golden Boot for outstanding service

There's only one finalist here: Coast to Coast Packhorse.  They over-delivered: fast, professional, friendly, and fixing any problems we had.  They booked all our accommodation, transported our luggage from one place to another, collected things we left behind.  I wouldn't consider doing the C2C without them.

Best B&B

Tough one, as the high quality of B&Bs was a revelation.  the finalists are
  • Old Water View in Patterdale, for the stunning bothy in which we stayed and the excellent and friendly advice of the host, Ian.
  • Church House Farm in Danby, for the combination of luxurious accommodation, the sheer helpfulness of Andrew and Judith and the wonderful advice.
  • St Giles Farm near Catterick. A truly magnificent house, with an enormous bedroom, gorgeous lounge and mouth-watering food.  Made most welcome by Jane and Simon.
A very tough decision, but I think Old Water View wins by the slimmest of margins, because Ian found a way for me to continue the C2C when my feet were mutinying.

Best Meal

So many good ones to choose from.  Two finalists
Intake Farm win, again by a narrow margin, because of the sheer breadth of marvellous food Judith cooked: one steak and ale pie; one chicken pie; a vast variety of vegetables; gammon and fried egg for one hiker who didn't like the pies; a superb breakfast including a perfectly boiled egg; as well as starters and desserts and two lots of custard, one especially made for a walker who was diabetic.

Jane, from St Giles Farm, also produced food that was utterly superb, but didn't have to face the additional challenge of fussy eaters.

Worst Meal

There was only one disappointing meal over the two weeks. I ordered a steak pie at the White Swan pub in Danby Wiske, expecting the normal great pub grub.  What arrived was clearly bought from a supermarket.  Very sad.

Prettiest place

The C2Chas a wealth of lovely places: almost every mountain and beck in the Lake District; the views into the dales from the moors; so many lovely woods and forests.  However, for me the prettiness and serenity of the Swale valley is my favourite memory.  Other views are more spectacular, but the beauty and peace and isolation of Swale Dale are unsurpassed.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

For you, Seanie, the walk is over

Two hundred miles. 500,000 steps. One lost pedometer. Sixteen strip maps. One lost map.

Several Table Mountains of climbs.  

23 blisters. Seven MegaOws of pain. Four aching feet.

Too many English Breakfasts. W-a-a-a-y too many stiles crossed. About a dozen lovely dinners. One steak pie, obviously bought from Tesco.

More than a dozen welcoming B&B owners. Four great Australians.

Several friendly bees coming to say hello as we crossed the Yorkshire Moors.

So many chocolate box views into the dales from the moors. One heart-achingly beautiful dale.

Two new phrases "Cake o'clock" and "Beer o'clock" (thanks, Rob from Melbourne).

Many lovely Yorkshire and Cumbrian beers.

Especially good weather.

11 End-of-day baths. Hot, glorious, soak-away-the-pain baths. Three showers.

Too many bogs.  But far fewer bogs than usual, thanks to dry weather.

Lots of wethers. (Look it up).

3,141,593 sheep. Zero house-trained sheep.

Two camels (no, I was not hallucinating; they were dromedaries). Two deer.

One grumpy farmer and his wife.

Two houses with flagpoles flying the Union Flag.

One unusually cool and dry August, thank heavens.

One great view over Robin Hood's Bay.

Coast to Coast done. 

One item off the bucket list.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Yorkshire sanity test

They have a very unusual test for sanity in North Yorkshire.

They ask you if you would like to do the Lyke Wake Walk.  This is a trail that goes from Osmotherley to Robin Hood Bay, about forty something miles. (Regular readers will know that I am normally fairly precise, but my right foot fell off about three miles ago and I am a little light headed.)

Where was I? Oh yes, the Lyke Wake Walk. Forty something miles from Osmotherley to the North Sea. At Robin Hood Bay. Did I mention that already? Oh, sorry.  

Anyway forty miles plus. Let's say seventy kilometres. Up hill and down dale. In one day. Let me explain the hills and dales using the standard international unit of measure, Table Mountain. This is equivalent to climbing and descending Table Mountain, three times.

Did I say this had to be done in one day?  Well it does.

About twelve miles along the route there is a bench, upon which the weary may rest. It is dedicated to the memory of someone who died doing the Lyke Wake Walk.

Now, hold that thought. I am unable to do so, owing to excruciating pain in my remaining foot.

On the earlier parts of the Coast to Coast walk, one frequently notices RAF fighters flying overhead. I will report on this in a future dispatch; let me simply ask you to remember it for the moment.

So: the Lyke Wake Walk and sanity.

In North Yorkshire they ask if you would like to do the Lyke Wake Walk.  If you say "yes" they put you on a watch list, since you are clearly unbalanced. 

And just one twitch at the wrong moment and they send in the RAF.

Meanwhile, SWMBO and I have just finished the longest leg of our C2C. 20.6 miles; three Table Mountains. Just eighteen miles tomorrow and twelve the following day. 

Un morceau de gateau. 

Monday, August 05, 2013

The prettiest place in the world

Perhaps you have visited the glorious Italian Lakes. You may have been to Sausalito, across the Bay from San Francisco, from where you can see this beautiful city in all its glory, especially on a summer evening.  If you are very lucky you might have traversed the Merced River, in Yosemite.  Or the magnificent Sydney harbour.  The utterly delightful South African Cape. The mighty Victoria Falls after the rainy season, when the water thunders over the gorge, creating a cloud of spray you can see ten miles away.

However, I doubt you have ever come across anything quite so charmingly pretty as the Swale River valley in Yorkshire. This is idyllic, a honey drop of heaven, hidden between Keld and Reeth.

You can easily miss it. If, as many do when walking the Coast to Coast, you take the more challenging (and hence to many, irresistible) high route, the prettiness will be lost to distance, as you gaze down from 2,000 feet or more.

However, I am delighted to have been rewarded for my laziness.

As one leaves Keld, you cross a beck or two and encounter a lovely waterfall; not particularly tall or wide, but pretty both to the eye and the ear.  This is just a sign of things to come.  Descending into the valley you see that Swale Beck has broadened into a river, similar to the Merced in some ways. Green pastures frame it, and rocks line the edges as well as making islands in the river from time to time.  The water chuckles over these stones and rocks, the loudest sound for miles as there are no roads nearby. You might find cows for company but nothing else other than the passing hiker, often Australian.

The feeling of peace is palpable. If I could have heaven on earth, it would be a quiet day spent here, the sound of running water soothing the ears, a view "where every prospect pleases".

This has been the highlight of the Coast to Coast so far.  So much of what we have discovered have been beautiful parts of England which you cannot reach by car, or would bypass at speed.  This is not particularly profound, but the discovery of rural beauty in Cumbria and Yorkshire has been a revelation.

I am glad I am not carrying 10 - 15 pounds of camera gear, but I hope to return with it soon.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

O lucky man

I am so lucky.

I do not care about the tips of my toes, which painfully bang against the front of my boot with every step I take, because I am so lucky.

I am lucky with the weather. Four days out of eight are completed and it has not rained. Downpours are forecast for tomorrow, but I do not care because they may be needed to save England in the Third Test.

So I do not care about the searing pain in my calf muscles every time I climb over yet another stile, because I am lucky.

I am extremely lucky, for example, that I was not part of Harold's army that marched in four days from London to Stamford Bridge , which is about 200 miles. It's called a forced march, which sounds about right to me because right now my kneecaps are seized up and I am not sure I can make it the 200 yards to the pub for dinner.

I am very lucky that we have met so many lovely people on the way: Elaine, the charming proprietor of the Bollam Cottage B&B in Kirkby Stephen; Elaine (a different one), who runs a tea shop in the middle of nowhere between Reeth and Richmond and who makes the best chocolate cake north of Johannesburg; Rob, the allegedly sane teacher from Melbourne, who when I asked "Isn't the best thing about teaching the opportunity to thrash the kids?" looked straight at me and said "if you think like that, mate, you are probably not cut out to be a teacher."  And these fortunate meetings stop me from thinking of the pain in my back or my neck.

I am very lucky that I have my favourite wife with me to cheer me up so that I don't spend all day going on about the pain in my soles from walking miles along tarred roads. I am extremely fortunate that the gorgeous views have distracted me from my aching bones.

And, somehow I feel I will be even luckier on Thursday evening when it is all over.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

It shouldn't happen to a wet

I can touch my toes easily.  I just sit on the stairs as I put on my socks (the only way I can get them on nowadays) and I can easily reach all the little piggies.

This, it appears, is not enough.  There are 11 days to go until the Great Walk across the Yorkshire Moors and Dales (110 miles, 175km) and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (SWMBO) is concerned that I am not fit enough.  So she institutes a programme of exercise, base on the notorious 5BX regime of the Canadian Air Force.

"We'll start with touching your toes" she says. "Feet apart, legs straight - no bending the knees! - and bend over and touch your toes, or the floor."  

She demonstrates, placing both hands on the floor.

I copy her.  Both hands end up opposite my knees, which is fine with me but not with SWMBO.  She thinks I am joking.  I think I am (a) in pain and (b) stuck.  The son walks in and sniggers.  I suggest he tries to do better and, to my delight, he can't.

"Now sit ups", says SWMBO.  I sit up.  That was easy.

"No, on the floor, Sean!"

I am wiser than to object.  I sit on the floor, with a very straight back.  Maybe she will stop scolding me.  I am unable to cross my legs but I hope that if I sit up, very straight, she may not notice.

"What are you doing?" she asks.

"I am sitting up", I point out reasonably.

"Do what I do" comes the order, as she hooks her feet under the sofa/settee/divan (delete as appropriate, depending on your class) and she sits up and lies down and sits up and lies down, over and over.

I think it was Newton who said "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." Well I am not sure which bit is which, but as I lean back using the wobbly fulcrum of my bottom, the sofa starts to move.  As does ... well it's not really my six pack ... perhaps more like a 15 pack or so.  Still I manage one sit up before I decide the risk to the furniture is too great.

"Right, now.  Push ups."

I lie down, on my back.  Perhaps she won't notice.  I slowly raise my arms, as if with great effort.  In truth me and my 15 pack are still recovering from the sit up.  There is a big sigh, a long suffering sigh.  I know it's not me sighing.  I don't have the energy any more.

As if from a distance, I hear a stomping sound, like a herd of wildebeest galloping across the Serengeti plain.  That is SWMBO leaving.  I know I will pay for it later, but right now I just don't care.