Thursday, 30 June 2011

Muckle Flugga

I've just been catching up on Alastair Humphreys' blog and see he cycled the length of Shetland recently and finished up by camping at Hermaness on the north coast of Unst. Unst is the most northerly island in Britain (not counting 2 lumps of rock, one of which is Muckle Flugga). 

I found myself there last summer - I actually should have been in Iran, but that's a whole other story - and fulfilled (kind of) an ambition by seeing Muckle Flugga. I've always been fascinated with it ever since I first heard the name on the shipping forecast. It's basically a rock with a now un-manned lighthouse on it. But it's a far away rock with a funny sounding name and those are two things that always appeal to me. I liked it so much when I finally saw it that I ended up seeing it three times. 

The first was when I walked along the Hermaness cliffs which are fascinating enough in themselves because of their huge gannet colony and puffins. Then I went on a boat trip around Muckle Flugga and got a close up view of it. On my last day in Unst I climbed up Saxa Vord which has a military radar station sat on its top. 

I felt very intrepid as I ignored signs warning me of snow and ice. I felt very adventurous as I next ignored signs warning me that I would be arrested under the official secrets act if I went any further. I felt very heroic as I ignored signs at the top that warned me I would be irradiated if I got any closer. (I'd actually been told by locals that it was fine to ignore the signs and everyone does). I'd gone up partly because I wanted to have the experience of ignoring all those signs and partly because it has great views of Muckle Flugga. At the top I ran into the guard who goes up once a day to check on the place. He didn't arrest me, just told me where to go to get the best views and advised me not to get too close to the radar bits that really do have radiation in them. 

So I've seen plenty of Muckle Flugga and that should have been that ambition fulfilled. But at the hostel I met a few kayakers, two of whom had actually paddled out to the rock, landed and climbed up to the lighthouse. This is not allowed but, as I found with Saxa Vord, no-one seems to bother with things like 'not being allowed' in Unst. I was jealous and so decided that I have to learn to kayak so I can also land on Muckle Flugga. The sea is pretty rough so it's not just a case of learning the basics and going for it - I also have to get good at it. But this is why I have learning to canoe/kayak on my list of things to do.  

I'm going to go back to Shetland this summer after I have walked the Great Glen Way. I'll go back to Unst and gaze at Muckle Flugga from afar again. As I've done nothing about learning to kayak this year that will be the most I can do. But one year I will definitely paddle to it, climb the steps and touch those lighthouse walls.  

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Getting Things Done

I've just finished reading a book called 'Getting Things Done' by David Allen. The book is of the self-help genre and is aimed at helping busy managers and executives get their lives in order so they can achieve more and achieve more easily. The way of doing this is to have lists for everything and to break your 'things to do' down into the simplest of tasks so you always have a 'next action' on the go and feel as though you really are getting things done. For example, a task I needed to complete recently was to get a gas engineer out to do the annual gas check on the house I rent out. But I couldn't do this until I'd made the appointment with the engineer and liaised with my tenant to make sure it was convenient. I couldn't make the appointment until I'd rang him. I couldn't ring him until I had a phone number. So my 'next action' started off as 'get the engineer's number' and I achieved the task in stages rather than having it as one unticked item on my list until the whole task was finished. It makes sense to me and although I know I won't follow all of his ideas I do like the basic idea of it. I like lists and I like to feel as though I'm ticking things off even if it is only bit by bit. Since I've been writing this blog I'm already feeling more positive and in control of the things I want to do because I'm noticing little things that are actually relevant to my list, but which would have passed me by before and I wouldn't have felt like I was on the way to achieving anything at all. So, in a way, I'm already practising the 'next action' technique of organising and achieving and I like it. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Last night was my waxing appointment at the local college salon. I was called upstairs to the huge treatment room straight away and directed to a bed with a curtain round it. The whole place seemed quite manic with people dashing about everywhere. My therapist/waxist/student asked me some questions about such things as if I'm a diabetic or have a pacemaker. Then I had to remove my trousers and get on the bed with a towel stretched across my upper legs. I was ready to be waxed.

First, my legs were wiped down with a cool antiseptic liquid. Then talcum powder was rubbed over them. After that it was time for the wax. Evil smelling, pink goo was smeared over my legs and then ripped off with a piece of thin fabric. It hurt, but not nearly as much as I expected it to. Once the fronts were done I had to turn over so the backs could be done. This was a bit more painful, but still completely bearable. At this point the tutor had come in and joined in as she thought it was taking too long. She was a lot quicker than the student and so maybe this was why it hurt a bit more. My student waxer was really gentle. But soon it was over and I was slathered with an after-wax liquid and advised not to shower, swim or use body lotions for 48 hours.

As I've now been waxed I could tick this one off my list. But I think I'll keep it in the 'in progress' category until I've been brave enough to have full leg, bikini line and underarm waxing done. As the college closes for the summer next week, it won't be until at least September before I can do this.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Morecambe Sands Walk

Walking across the sands of Morecambe Bay is something I've had in mind for years. The sands shift with the tides and become lethal, sucking unwary walkers down to their deaths. The most well known case of course being the Chinese cockle pickers a few years ago. Because of the nature of the sands no-one should attempt the walk without a guide. Luckily, such a guide exists. Cedric Robinson is the official 'Queen's Guide' and has held the role for over 40 years. He usually only leads walks at the weekend now and only over the summer season. All the walks are also charity walks so it's not possible to just turn up and join one. 

I decided I really wanted to do this walk last year as I'd found out it was probably going to be Cedric's last year in the job. Although no doubt there will be a new guide to follow him when he does finally retire, it won't be quite the same. As luck would have it my local hospice (Willow Wood) was organising a charity walk of the sands for the first time. So I signed up and was all set to go. The weekend of the walk, it rained. It rained a lot. It was still raining a lot when I turned up for the coach on Sunday morning. The organisers did a last check with Cedric before we set off and he said he'd have to cancel the walk. Because of the huge amount of rain, the river we would have to wade across was dangerously high and fast flowing and unpassable. As this was one of the last walks of the season it wasn't possible to re-arrange another for that year. But we were promised that we would be able to reschedule for this year and Cedric would still lead the walk. 

Well, my new sponsorship form has arrived and the walk is set for mid September. Surely it can't be cancelled a second time? It's got to happen this time.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Waxing appointment made

My web design course isn't running next Tuesday so I thought this could be a good time to have my first waxing experience. As the college salon, staffed by trainee beauty therapists, only has appointments at certain times it hasn't been convenient until now.

I popped in on my way to class this evening to make an appointment. Whilst I was there I also got a patch test done as I'm thinking of also getting my eyebrows and eyelashes tinted. For insurance purposes they have to do the patch test first to make sure you don't have any weird reactions. The receptionist mixed a few chemicals and then painted a purple blob on my arm. As it is meant to be a dye that lasts for a while and doesn't wash off I'm expecting questions from curious students the next few times I have short sleeves.

Leg waxing, eyelash tinting, whatever next? I'm finally turning into a girly girl. I don't think I'm quite ready to trade my walking boots in for a pair of stilettos just yet, but watch this space ...

Monday, 13 June 2011

To bivvy or not

I'm thinking about bivvies. I'd love to try sleeping in one, but as I don't know anyone with one that I can borrow, I'll have to buy my own before I can try it. I briefly toyed with the idea of getting one to sleep in for when I walk the Great Glen Way as it would be a lot smaller and lighter to carry than my tent. But as it'll probably rain and could well be cold and there's sure to be zillions of midges at some point (it is Scotland after all) I think a week in one might be too much. No matter how much I resent carrying my tent during the day, I'll be really glad of it at night. I'll have room to spread out and cook and sit up and read and feel protected from the weather and the midges. I've used it in really strong Icelandic and Shetland storms and it's had no trouble surviving and I've always been warm and snug inside no matter what the weather's doing outside. So the tent it is. 

I'd still like to get a bivvy though. A year or so ago, I read Ronald Turnbull's The Book of the Bivvy and found it an informative and interesting read. More recently Alastair Humphreys has had a bit of debate on his website about which are the best bivvies to get. 

Once I get one, then I'll have to think about where to take it to get the full bivvying overnight experience. 

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Other blogs and websites

There are a few websites and blogs that I monitor frequently. One is Alastair Humphreys' website. He pushes the whole motivation thing a bit heavily at times, but he is quite inspirational and I've picked up a few ideas from him. When I checked out his site today he had a link to a website belonging to a Swiss couple who spent eight years cycling round the world, more than a year of which was in Japan. This section of their website seemed quite interesting as cycling in Japan is an idea that's starting to ferment at the back of my mind. Unfortunately there wasn't a lot of detail, but they do have some amazing photos. 

Another website I check regularly is that of the Walking Englishman. He really inspires me to create my own website though I know I'll never be in his league. At the moment he's a few weeks in to an 80 day, 1000 mile walk through Scotland and England. Most days he's updating a blog about it. The update I read today was about the small part of the Great Glen Way he's walking, including Neptune's Steps and the route into Fort William. If I walk the GGW in the summer I'll be doing it the other way round to this, but it's still more information for me that will help me to prepare. 

I do like it when the blogs and websites I look at link in to what I'm doing at the moment. 

Friday, 10 June 2011

Julia Bradbury's Canal Walks

Julia Bradbury isn't my favourite walker and I'd rather be out walking myself than watching a tv programme about it. But occasionally she walks in a place I'm particularly interested in and so I'll download the programme on iplayer and then try to make enough effort to actually watch it. She's now doing a series on canal walks and the first was featuring the Caledonian Canal and the first part of the Great Glen Way. As this is where I'm hoping to walk in the summer I thought I should download it. 

I've just watched the programme and I did find it quite worthwhile. It's useful to see what the places actually look like as then I'll be better prepared when I come to walk in them. She also gave some history about the canal which was interesting. 

The canal was built by Thomas Telford and was on a scale that hadn't been seen before. It joined up the west coast to the east coast utilising the lochs that were already there. It was the first canal big enough to take more than just barges and was meant to aid fishing boats in their journey from coast to coast as it would save them having to go round the more dangerous coast to the north of Scotland. The canal got public funding which was also a first, because the government were keen to invest in the area to stop migration and encourage business by making the area more economically viable. 

The canal ended up being way over budget and taking about three times as long as originally planned. Some things never change! By the time it was ready and functional advances in shipping meant the north coast could be more easily and safely tackled and the railway system was taking over from the canals. So this amazing example of engineering was never used to its full potential and ended up being a bit of a white elephant. It looks stunning though and provides a great walk or cycle and is set to be the UK's first long distance canoe trail as well. So at least it's appreciated and well used even if not for the original reason!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Great Glen Way

For my long distance walk I've decided to walk the Great Glen Way. For it to count as the challenge on my list I have to complete it in one go and not just as a series of individual day walks. I also want to do it whilst carrying all my own gear. As I'll be camping each night I'll need to carry a tent, Thermarest, sleeping bag, stove, pans, etc as well as few toiletries and a couple of changes of clothes. 

My walking in Exmoor last week was the start of my training towards this. I've been worried about my knees and whether or not they'll hold up to walking consecutively over a week. I'm also not sure if I'm fit enough and strong enough to carry all my gear. I tried to carry a fairly heavy bag each day I walked in Exmoor and after a while I did 'forget' I was wearing it. My bag on the GGW will be a lot heavier though and more bulky, so I'll have to do some training with this too. 

My knees are going to be the biggest problem. I had to take two rest days in Exmoor. Each time was after a 15 mile walk with a lot of descent. I'm not too bad on the uphills - I can take short breather breaks if I need them - but the downhills are real killers. I walked slowly and used two poles but still had a lot of pain and swelling and later on stiffness in my knee joints. 

One of the reasons I've chosen the GGW is because it's only 73 miles so I should be able to keep most of my walks along it to a 10 mile maximum. Also, the first few days walking will be fairly flat. By the time I hit the descents I should have a lighter pack (I will have eaten away at the weight) and be more than half way there. I'll take my poles and a stash of ibuprofen and will hopefully be able to complete it. 

I'd like to combine my wild camping task with the long distance walking task. There are actual 'official' wild camps at some places along the route. Do they still count if they're official? On some nights I will have to find my own wild camp though, so whether or not the official ones count, I'll still be completing this task. 

I've been googling the GGW to try to get as much information on it as possible. I've found a detailed blog from a few years ago, some general information sites and a very good photo diary on flikr. The photo diary in particular is good because it means I can see what the various bits of the route look like and how feasible it will be to camp along the way. 

Now I just have to do more training, get a map and a guidebook, sort out train tickets and arrange to leave my car with a friend in Glasgow. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Wild Camping

As I walked along the Exmoor stretch of the South West Coastal Path I thought about how I would do the walk if I was doing it in one go rather than as a series of day walks. Most camp sites are a bit of the way off the path so would add a few miles walking to each day. Not something I'd particularly want to do. There was actually one campsite that the path went through and it had signs up saying hikers could camp for one night only on their way through for £4. Usual price being a mind-boggling £13 a night! It did say that this was for 2 people, but as there was nothing about prices for individuals it sounded like if I'd stayed here instead of Porlock I'd have had to pay for a non-existent second person as well as myself. 

But, to get back to the main point, if I was walking this section in one go I would have had to wild camp on some of the nights. Much of the walking was through wooded areas that sloped upwards and downwards either side of the path, so there was really nowhere to fit a tent. This was particularly true on the first day's walk when the only flat, clear bit seemed to be at the section where the path crossed the path leading to County Gate. This was a bit of busy area and so not ideal. 

Between Minehead and Porlock it would have been possible to camp on the moorland, but this would have meant a very short day's walking. The other stretches of the walk were similar in not having many appropriately placed areas to wild camp in. 

I'm planning to wild camp on the Great Glen Way in the summer, so I hope it's easier to find places than this! 

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Peregrine falcon

I drove home from Exmoor via Cheddar. I'd walked around here a few years ago, but hadn't been in the caves. As I like caves I felt like I'd missed out. I spent most of the day here and bought a day ticket which gave me admission to both sets of caves, the museum and an open top bus tour through the gorge. 

First I went into Gough's Cave which I walked through with an audio guide. Unfortunately the audio guides, which are included with the price of the ticket, are aimed at children. It would have been nice to have had an adult version giving me facts about the caves rather than telling me 'when my parents are ready' to do this, that and the other! The caves were well worth seeing though, with lots of interesting formations. There were racks of cheeses maturing inside too. 

Next I went down the road to Cox's Cave and the Crystal Quest. The name itself had me a bit worried and I was right. I know I was in Cheddar, but do things really have to be this cheesy? The cave was a lot smaller than Gough's Cave and most of it was some kind of adventure quest with dummies and voices and sound effects leading you through in search of some kind of magic crystal. 

The museum was quite interesting as was the bus tour through the gorge. The guide pointed out a layby where the RSPB had a telescope set up watching a couple of peregrine falcons who had nested at the top of the gorge. When I got back to my car I drove back to the layby and stopped for a while to chat to the RSPB people and check out the falcons. I was just too late to see the male fly off and the female was nowhere to be seen. I decided to stick around for a bit and was glad I did. After a while the male reappeared and flew round for a bit before coming in to land. Once back on top of the gorge he was very difficult to see. But patience paid off and he took off again for another fly round before settling in a much more viewable position. 

He was wonderful to see, but if I'd been there without the RSPB pointing things out and making them obvious I'd probably have never noticed him. I've been trying to learn about birds for a while now. It would nice to know what it is flying past me when I'm out walking and I should be learning about all things nature-ish for my walking group leader's qualification. I find it hard to identify birds as when I look in a bird book they never quite look the same. I've thought about joining the RSPB on and off for a few years now, and I think I really should. Their magazines might help me with gaining knowledge and I'd be quite happy to support them. But as I've spent way too much money lately, it will have to wait a while. 

Friday, 3 June 2011

Combe Martin to Ilfracombe

My final day's walking was a short one at just over 5 miles. I parked in Ilfracombe and took the bus back to Combe Martin. It was the same bus I'd picked up to go to Lynmouth yesterday so my walking start time was much earlier.

I'd had chance to have a brief look round Ilfracombe before catching the bus, but wasn't impressed. It looks like a run-down seaside town with an abundance of cheap shops and takeaways, but little in the way of character. Not what I was expecting at all.

I started walking from Combe Martin by following a sea front path which quickly led on to the road. This is a main busy road and not particularly pleasant to walk along. After a while I was able to leave the road and get back on to proper paths. After walking round a bit of a harbour the path climbed and I was able to sit for a while at a wonderful viewpoint. It felt great not to have to be clock watching and instead to be able to sit and enjoy the view.

This part of the path is flooded at high tide

Honest! It's England!

The view from a well-placed bench
Soon it was back to road walking again. The final section of the path took me back to the coast where I again enjoyed good views from a well-placed bench before descending back into Ilfracombe.

Although this was only a short walk today, and it had some not so good bits along road, it still took me most of the day. This is because of the amount of time I spent sitting and admiring the view along the nice coastal parts of the path.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


On my days off from walking I went on a book hunt in Minehead's charity shops and tourist office, and Dunster National Trust shop and got myself a few bargains.

I've got a few bird books but never take even the smallest of them out with me when I'm walking as I don't want to carry the extra weight. Then I see a bird and want to know what it is. I look it up when I get home but by that time I don't remember exactly what it looked like, just that it was small and brown (usually). My bird books have about twenty small, brown birds in them so I end up no wiser. 

So when I spotted the 'I Spy' bird book in the tourist office I pounced on it straight away. It's meant for children and is basically a tick list so they can tick off the birds they see, but it's small, light, has clear pictures and basic descriptions and was only £2.50. I was so pleased I bought the one on wild flowers too. 

 I also picked up a printed out copy of the Southwest Coast Path Association's guide to the section of the path I'm walking. It has quite a lot of detail and should be quite useful. 

Then I found a big, softback geology book which seemed quite simple. Most of the geology books I've looked at are categorised into sections that you have to understand before you can find anything. I really need an idiot's guide to get me started off and so hopefully this will do the job. 

One of my best finds though, was in the secondhand bookshop in Porlock. I found a Reader's Digest book on being a countryside detective. It's big, chunky and hardback so definitely not one for the backpack. But it'll be good to have in the car or to read at home. It beautifully laid out and is very simple; pefect for my level of inexpertise. it tells me what can be found where and how to find it. Wonderful. 

So all in all, a very productive couple of days book hunting.  

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Lynmouth to Combe Martin

This was my hardest day's walk. It didn't help that I had a late start. I didn't want to be rushing to get the last bus like I was when I walked from Porlock to Lynmouth so I decided to leave my car in Combe Martin and get the bus back to Lynmouth and the start of my walk. This also made sense with the bus times as the last bus back from Combe Martin was very early. However, the first bus of the day only leaves Combe Martin at 9.40 and doesn't arrive in Lynmouth till an hour later.

I got to Combe Martin in plenty of time and found a place to park my car. I had a bit of wander round looking for the bus stop but it really wasn't obvious. The timetable just said 'seaside'. I asked a lady walking her dog, but she was a bit unsure. Then I asked in the sandwich shop where I bought a sandwich for my lunch. The woman had a rough idea but again wasn't completely sure. Then I asked a road sweeper who didn't even know the buses were running. This particular service only runs in summer and had only begun the previous week. Luckily, just then a bus arrived going in the other direction, so I quickly ran across the road to ask the driver and he was able to point out the correct place to me. I was soon joined by another walk who was having a similar problem.

The bus seemed to take a long time and it was quite daunting to realise that I had to walk all that way back. Once in Lynmnouth I had a bit of a look around as I'd not had time to see anything last night. Then it was up the steep track, criss-crossing the funicular railway to get to Lynton way above.

At the top the path turns right and west to follow the North Walk. It's starts along road but quickly becomes a path leading towards the Valley of Rocks. This is an area of strange rock formations, feral goats and a liberal sprinking of goat droppings. This part of the path was quite busy with families and older people out for a stroll. The path heads towards Castle Rock - an obvious outcrop with a nearby car park meaning lots of people. It was so sunny and warm I sat on a bench for while and chatted to a woman who was just there to see Castle Rock.

The path then joins the road which leads towards the Toll House and then to Lee Abbey. The road goes alongside the manicured grounds of the Abbey before heading into woodland. A short while later the path joined the road again. Soon though, it was back on tracks and over stiles to reach the coast. The wind had really got up by this time and it was so strong I tucked my sunglasses away thinking they might be blown off the top of my head where I'd stuck them. The walk along the side of the cliffs was stunning with amazing views in both directions.

The path turned inland and dropped down to sea level at Heddon's Mouth. At the inner end there is a pub and a car park so this part of the path had lots of people including people with wheelchairs and pushchairs. I didn't need to walk all the way up to the pub as about half way up the valley there was a bridge crossing the river so I could walk down the other side to reach the sea again. It zigzagged very steeply upwards and I'd soon regained all the height I'd lost. I followed the coast on a very exposed and windy section before turning inland across fields and then moorland to reach the rises of Great Hangman and then Little Hangman.

Finally it was back down sheltered paths to reach Combe Martin and my car. It was a long day, with lots of up and down including reaching the highest point on the whole of the SW Coast Path. But I'd seen some breathtaking views and felt like I'd had a year's supply of fresh air.

13 miles
Graded as strenuous by South West Coast Path Association