Friday, 30 September 2011

The Bucket List

I've just watched the film 'The Bucket List' with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Feeman. The film is about two men, getting on a bit in years, who meet in hospital. They've had completely different lives, but now have both been given less than a year to live. They decide to embark on a trip around the world ticking items off a 'things to do before we kick the bucket' list. Their list contains a mix of tangible challenges such as seeing the pyramids and skydiving, and more abstract challenges such as laughing until you cry and doing a good turn for a stranger.

A search on google shows that these types of bucket lists have become quite a phenomenon. There are lots of people out there trying to complete 101 things (it often is 101) before they die. Many of the lists appear quite generic which seems a bit strange, as surely this sort of list should be really personal. There are some biggies that I can understand lots of people wanting to do, such as the skydiving and pyramids, but surely the majority of the list should reflect each person's own interests, likes and dislikes, etc. Although on my own list there are a few challenges that I seem to share with everyone, I'd like to think that most of the items on my list are a true reflection of me and what I want to achieve in my life.

But, back to the film. I spent a fairly enjoyable 93 minutes watching it. This is probably a reasonable length as I don't think the story is strong enough to hold out for much longer. But for that 93 minutes I was quite engaged and enjoyed the brief snapshots from Africa, France, India and so on. Would I recommend it? Yes, but only if you're not in the mood for anything even remotely highbrow.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Walking across Morecambe Bay

And that's another one ticked off. Today I finally got to walk across Morecambe Bay.

Last summer I looked into these walks, which can only be done with a guide. The usual person to lead the walks is Queen's Guide, Cedric Robinson. He's been the Queen's Guide since the 1960s and is getting on a bit now. I think he's actually trying to retire, but doesn't have a replacement. His walks are now usually only at the weekend and tend to get booked up well in advance with charity groups. I phoned him to try to get myself on one, but he is no longer dealing with bookings himself. After a bit of research I realised the only way I'd get to do this was with a charity. As luck would have it my local hospice was organising one for the first time. I quickly signed up and duly turned up on the day only to be told the walk had been cancelled because of the heavy rain over the weekend. The river that has to be waded through was far too high to be safe. As it was already September it was too late to re-arrange and so had to be postponed until this year.

This year, there was yet again plenty of rain, but fortunately it dried up in time for the weekend. Even getting to sit on the coach in Ashton bus station was further than I'd got last year. Right on time we were off, only to get stuck on the motorway going at 30 miles an hour behind a large motorcycle demonstration. Hundreds of motorcycles and a couple of quad bikes holding all three lanes up. I was beginning to think I wouldn't get to do the walk this year either. The walks have to be timed between the tides and there's no room for being late. Fortunately the driver pulled off the motorway and took us a different way so we arrived in Arnside in plenty of time.

We had three coaches altogether and some people also made their own way there. All in all there must have been about 200 of us. Arnside seemed quite nice; much nicer than Morecambe itself. (Note to self: go back and do some walking there). Right on 4pm Cedric blew his whistle and we set off. To start with we followed a path along the top of the beach and through a caravan park. After about 20 minutes we were on the sands and heading out across the bay. The walk had started for real.

The sand was just wet enough for it to start to seep through trainers and so soon almost everyone was barefoot. We never really hit sinking sand though. I know the idea of the guide is to make sure we avoid the dangerous stuff, but I thought it would actually be harder going than it was, with a bit of sinking going on. Not long into the walk it clouded over and we felt the first few drops of rain. After a quick stop to put rain jackets on, we were off again. Fortunately the rain held off and was never more than a few drops.

The River Kent was midway through the bay. I was actually expecting it nearer the end and so was a bit surprised to come across it so soon. It's quite wide and Cedric stopped us and got us to spread out alongside its shore. He reassured us that there was no current and the sand was solid. He also warned us that it would come up to our thighs and we might stand on some fish.

The water felt cold at first, but my legs quickly got used to it. As I'm not particularly tall, it did come a bit higher than my thighs. There were quite a few fish about and they were quite big. I didn't stand on any, but had a few bang into me. They felt like big pebbles each time they hit my legs. It didn't take too long to cross the river and I was quite enjoying myself by the end. Not long afterwards there was another less deep stream to cross. This one was narrower and only knee deep.

As we got to the far side of the bay the sand became strewn with little spurts of grass. These became thicker and thicker until we were completely off the sand and walking across a boggy grassland. The grass was quite sharp and as at first, we seemed to be on dry ground, everyone stopped and put their trainers back on. Very quickly we hit the bog though, and my shoes filled with water. The light was failing by this time and we had one last set of obstacles to deal with in the encroaching twilight. The boggy area was criss-crossed with ditches, most of them quite deep with thick gloopy mud in the bottom. There was a lot of very slippy, shiny black mud as well which created quite a lot of problems when trying to get a good foothold to get across the ditches. But we did it and soon arrived at the small train station in Kents Bank where our coaches were waiting.

The walk took 3 and a half hours and was, according to Cedric, about 8 miles. The time and distance will always be different as there isn't a direct way across the sands. Cedric has to check the route out first and sticks branches in the sand to show the safest way avoiding the trecherous quicksand. The route changes with the tides and so is different from day to day. We zigzagged across the bay the whole time and I was quite disoriented by the end, not really knowing which direction I was going in. As we had to be across before the tide came in and before darkness fell, we had to keep quite a quick pace going all the way across. The walk certainly wasn't difficult and wasn't anywhere near as challenging as I was expecting it to be. However, I was still feeling quite tired by the end and was glad to get back on the coach.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cycling website

I've been googling cycling and Japan and I've come across this website

It's an English language site run by a Dutch couple who have cycled all over the world. As well as lots of details on cycling in the different countries they've been to, they also have a lot general info on cycling. I'm looking forward to having the time to explore the site properly, as I'm sure it's going to be really useful and inspiring.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

First Aid

If I'm to do the training to become a walking group leader, I first need to have a relevant first aid qualification. The one I need is a bit different and a bit more involved than the bog standard one, as a first aid necessitating incident in the middle of nowhere, well out of mobile phone reception range, is a whole lot different to being in an a situation where you can expect an ambulance within 10 minutes.

There are weekend courses I can do for this in the Peak District and at some point I'll get round to doing one. However, in the meantime I'm about to do a first aid course for school. This is a basic course over two evenings and will qualify me not only as a basic first aider, but will also allow me to teach first aid to some of my students. All good practice for when I come to do the big one.

The course I'm doing next month is offered by the Red Cross and is only about £37. But as an added bonus, school are paying, so it's not costing me anything!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Josie Dew and Japan

I've started reading Josie Dew's book 'A Ride in the Neon Sun'. As I'm toying with the idea of doing a cycle tour of Japan at some point in the future I thought it would be good for research. As none of the areas she mentions sound even remotely familiar to me (well, apart from Tokyo, that is), I've dug out my 1991 Lonely Planet on Japan, so I can look at the maps and do a bit of reading around. So far, both books have confirmed my fears that Japan is:

  • Extremely expensive
  • Extremely overcrowded
  • Extremely built up
  • Extremely difficult to navigate due to the incomprehensible alphabet
  • Extremely hard to have a varied and nutritionally sufficient diet whilst retaining vegetarian ideals.

They have also given me some new fears, such as:

  • Lots of horrible, long, dark, heavily polluted tunnels to cycle through whilst being covered in oily, dirty spray and risking being squashed by lorries
  • Dirty, polluted beaches
  • Very few campsites
  • Long, hot baths (I'm much more of a shower person).

All this and I've only just started reading the books. I'm going to have to do a LOT of preparation before I seriously think about embarking on this trip!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

It's booked

Finally. We've ended up having to settle for a caravan at a caravan park near the halfway point of the walk. There seem to be fairly regular buses along the coast so we'll take a car and do a mix of leaving the car at one end of the walk and getting buses each day. A bit of a faff, but at least we don't have to carry all our gear.

We had planned to do the walk over four days and have accommodation on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights. However, at this caravan park we can only have the caravan Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Getting there on the Friday night isn't a big deal and it means we can get an early start on the Saturday morning. But it does mean that unless we can find alternative accommodation for Monday night we'll have to complete the walk in three days instead of four. As we'll be restricted by the bus times and by the diminishing daylight this may not be feasible. But at least we're going.

I really don't know why everything has been so difficult and expensive. I find it hard to believe that demand is so high they can be like this and not see it as an issue. But equally I can't understand why they seem to be actively trying to discourage tourists.

Some of the problems we've had, besides everywhere seemingly being full, are:

  • Very expensive campsites - cheaper to stay in a hotel!
  • Campsites that state you have to stay a minimum of 2 nights - it's a long-distance walking trail; walkers will stay one night and walk on!
  • Very expensive guesthouses and B&Bs - again, there are hotels that are cheaper (just not where we need them unfortunately) 
  • The caravan park we are staying at saying we can't leave the car there on the day we checkout. We have to have it moved out of the park by 10am!

It almost makes me want to do the walk just so I can say "Hah! Beat you. I did it despite all your obstacles!"

Saturday, 17 September 2011


I've signed up for NaNoWriMo. So from the 1st November, for a month, I will be typing furiously trying to write 50,000 words for a novel I have no idea about yet. I'm consciously trying to not think about it till then as I just want to write whatever comes into my head and not worry about quality or if it even makes sense.

This may sound like a crazy way of doing things and the usual advice is to have a plan, write a draft, check the plan, blah, blah, blah. But I've always found when I start with plans I over think and struggle to actually get any words down. When I was studying, once I'd finished researching an essay I'd just sit and write for an hour. I found that not only was this good exam practice, it was the only thing that worked to actually get me started. And once I had an hour's worth of words, I'd read over it and then make my plan and do the next draft and all the rest of the blah, blah, blah stuff.

NaNoWriMo actually encourages my way of writing. (Though I think I'm maybe supposed to have an idea of what I'm going to write about). It's a month of quantity and not quality. So I'm just going to go for it and see what happens. It'll be a test of my patience and dedication to actually sit down each night and write. If I can't do this and write when I don't have to care about the quality then I'm really going to struggle to write anything in the future where quality is important.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Norfolk Coast Path

After speaking to my friend in Norfolk again, we decided to walk the Norfolk Coast Path instead of the Peddar's Way. We like the idea of being beside the sea. Her husband will drop us at the start on the Saturday morning and pick us up at the end four days later. For the three nights on the path we thought about camping, but Valinda doesn't have a tent. We've looked at accommodation and got quite excited by the choices. The first night would be in a hostel and the second in a caravan. Neither of which is particularly exciting, but on our third night we would stay in a windmill. This would be our last night and so would be a nice treat.

Valinda has tried to book everything only to find everywhere is all booked up. Yes, we know it's half term, but it's the end of October in Norfolk for God's sake. What's going on? The one campsite she tried had a minimum stay of two nights, which seems quite bizarre for a campsite on a walking trail.

We still want to do the walk, but may end up borrowing a tent for Valinda and wild camping. At least we still have plenty of time to sort something out.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


This isn't on my list, but is the kind of thing that could have been if I had thought of it earlier. A friend is celebrating her 40th birthday this year and instead of a big one-off celebration she decided to have 40 'events' with 40 different friends or groups of friends. My event was zorbing.

I drove down to Nottingham last night to stay with her. This morning we headed to the outskirts of Loughborough for our, courtesy of Groupon, bargain zorbing experience. I'd deliberately not googled it beforehand as I didn't want to freak myself out. I was fine until we got there and saw the large balls bouncing down a very steep hill. Yes, bouncing. I was expecting rolling.

At the top of the hill we joined a queue and watched the people ahead of us squeeze through a very tiny hole to get into the balls. First panic, how am ever going to get through that hole? It actually wasn't as bad as it looked, albeit it was very undignified. Second panic, how securely am I going to be strapped in? The guy doing the strapping was very reassuring and made sure everything was tight and secure. Then he strapped Al in opposite me.

We were getting all psyched up and ready to go when another guy popped his head in through the hole and said there was a problem with the harness and it would have to be changed. As we unstrapped, Al moved her (shoeless) foot and somehow managed to burst the ball. As the ball deflated we had to quickly ooze ourselves back out through the tiny hole. Third panic, is it possible to suffocate inside one of these overgrown pieces of plastic?

We were given another ball and started the strapping in procedure again. This time everything was ok and the barrier holding the ball in place was lifted. We were off. A nice slow start. But it quickly picked up speed. I was going backwards which was actually the better position as I was always feet first, whereas Al was head first. Each time the ball rolled our bodies to the bottom, the ball bounced and it hurt. I hadn't expected that. It doesn't hurt when you bounce on trampoline, so why inside the ball? We also hadn't expected the heat. Daft really, as we were inside a type of greenhouse, but we just hadn't thought about it. Even before we set off we were already hot and sweaty.

Rolling down the hill seemed to take much longer than walking up had done. Once at the bottom we squeezed ourselves out again and decided not to have a second go. Al had pulled her shoulder and so it wouldn't have been a good idea. I was glad I'd done it, but I think once is enough. I don't think I'll be in a rush to do it again.

After leaving the zorbing place we drove into Loughborough and sat in a lovely coffee shop for a while recovering. Then we had a wander round before going for a late lunch in a wonderful Turkish restaurant. All in all a good day.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

More walking

 I spoke to a friend this evening. She moved to Norfolk about 6 years ago and so far I haven't got round to visiting her. Now that I've completed the Great Glen Way I've been thinking about which path to take on next. I'm still not ready for a very hilly, long one, so thought that the Peddar's Way and the Norfolk Coast Path could be good choices. And I could visit my friend at the same time. My friend is keen to do the Peddar's Way with me and said it starts about 10 miles away from her house. So we've tentatively pencilled in half term.

She also mentioned that she would like to climb Kilimanjaro before she is 50. As this is also on my list, we can now start thinking about it together and motivate each other. It's something I really should have done years ago when I lived in Africa and spent time in Tanzania. But I wasn't fit enough and couldn't afford it. These are still issues now, but if I can focus then I can start working towards it.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Summer Ice Hotel

I've just read that the Ice Hotel in Sweden is going to be open in the summer. Usually this is a winter experience only as it melts each spring and has to be rebuilt the following year. Now a smaller version is to be built inside an art centre so visitors can stay in the summer and experience the midnight sun. No chance of seeing the Northern Lights though. And I don't think I particularly want to stay inside an ice hotel inside another building. It just wouldn't be the same at all.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Time or Money

I love this quote:

What I realized—not just about myself but about the world—is that time and money are commodities with an inverse relationship; to get one you need to spend the other. And I realized, for me, time is a more valuable commodity than money, so I’d rather hoard free time than extra money. Most travelers end up feeling the same way and its one reason why they find the return home so difficult, our society is built on the premise we should want more money so we can have more things, even if we don’t really have the free time to use those things.

—Brook Silva Braga