My fundraising challenge – The Ullswater Way ‘Hike for Hospices’.

ullswater-way-map2On the 22nd and 23rd of May 2017, I am undertaking what is a significant challenge – for me anyway. I will be attempting to walk the 20 mile ‘Ullswater Way‘ in the Lake District, over two consecutive days,  to raise money for St Margaret’s Somerset Hospice and Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland. Both are charities dear to my heart, as they provide much-needed support and treatment to those with the chronic, and disabling, condition known as lymphoedema. You can access my fundraising page HERE, but I would really appreciate it if you could read on. So many still don’t know about lymphoedema and we need to change that. As a writer, I am lucky to have a platform to tell you more, so thank you for taking the time to read on.

Lymphoedema can be ‘primary’ (caused by faulty genes that affect the development of the lymphatic system, developing at any age, but most often during adolescence, or early adulthood) or ‘secondary’ (caused by damage to the lymphatic system or problems with the movement and drainage of fluid in the lymphatic system, most often caused by cancer treatment or as a result of injury). Symptoms include an aching, heavy limbs causing mobility problems, repeated, and potentially very dangerous, skin infections (cellulitis), hard, tight skin which can develop in folds and start to leak fluid, and wart-like growths. There is no cure, only management  (including compression garments and massage to encourage drainage) and many are still not able to access regular treatment, despite greater awareness of the problem following treatment for breast and other cancers.

downloadI am one of those who has needed that treatment desperately. Diagnosed, after horrible tests at the Royal Free Hospital in London, with the primary form of lymphoedema aged just 19, I was faced with a lifetime of treatment for something most doctors then had little knowledge of. I was always ashamed of my legs, which I was bullied about as ‘fat’, and found it really hard to get clothes, especially trousers, to fit (thank goodness for lycra). It was only when I moved to Somerset in 2001 that I got proper care – at St Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset –  and, for the first time in my life, could manage the pain, swelling and frequent infections that had plagued me for so many years. I saw a genetic counsellor, who confirmed that I had inherited the condition  from my father’s side of the family, and that my poor dad, and my aunties, (whose feet we always gazed at, as they oozed swollen and painful from their shoes) had gone through life undiagnosed and in significant discomfort. I discovered that my children had a 50/50 chance of inheriting it, but mercifully neither shows symptoms yet.

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailMany people who know me have no idea that I have lymphoedema now, but over the years I have had to get used to talking about it, and being ‘out there’ with it, to raise awareness. I have had the massage and the daily bandaging, as well as the ‘pump’ treatments and we all have to wear the most hideous compression hosiery every day (stockings and crotchless tights of the type we must endure have never been sold in Ann Summers…). They are horrible when it is hot, and I also have to be constantly vigilant for bites and scratches that easily lead to potentially life-threatening infections (I have antibiotics for emergencies instead of an epipen, for example). However, hiding my legs when others are wearing shorts seems a small price to pay when the alternative is days unable to put a foot to the floor.

C6PHNjWWcAAnvnwIn 2008 I did my ‘Suzie walks North with Keats’ challenge and raised £4000 in funds for the hospice and for the wonderful charity that supports us, The Lymphoedema Support Network. I was also seeking to raise awareness of the condition by walking a total of 100 miles in the Lake District over the course of a year in the footsteps of my favourite poet. This was just after I had finished treatment for breast cancer, and was therefore at risk of developing secondary lymphoedema as well. Mercifully my brilliant specialist nurse team have made sure all eyes are out for any symptoms and after 10 years I am cancer free and have no signs of lymphoedema in my arm. However, many women still live with the consequences of having lymph nodes removed as part of their cancer diagnosis, and as happened to me, they can find the condition seriously affects their mental health.

Ullswater autumnNow in my 50s, I needed another challenge to keep the vital exercise programme going and ensure I give myself the best possible chance of staying healthy. I have been walking regularly (poor Barnaby dog is worn out) and have lost 3 stone in the past year and nothing inspires me more than the opportunity to take a good long walk in the Lake District. The Ullswater Way, at 20 miles, is just that. It is also in an area hard hit by the most recent flooding and has its own reasons to promote awareness of what is still very much a working community reliant on, but not wholly devoted to, tourism. I will be walking with two brothers in law and my lymphoedema nurse, Ali Batchelor, who has, quite literally, saved me from much greater disability over the years. The service she is part of, at St Margaret’s, is in dire need of additional funding, managed as it is by a charity, rather than by the NHS. The same applies to Hospice at Home Carlise and North Lakeland, who provide a similar service in the area where the walk takes place.

StmargI have set up a fundraising page at www.virginmoneygiving/suziegrogan and it would be fabulous if you could see your way to sponsoring me.  I am lucky to have access to such wonderful care. Others are not so lucky and I am hoping this walk will raise much-needed cash, and awareness of a condition still little understood and frequently poorly treated.

hospice-at-homeI know times are tough, financially and emotionally, and I do not underestimate the calls on our purses, and our hearts. But if you can help I would be SO grateful and even the smallest amount can make a real difference.

Thank you!!

Review: Top 10 Walks in the Lake District…

My regular readers (and even irregular ones…) will know that I am at my happiest when I am in the Lake District. As soon as I cross that border into Cumbria, and see the first fells in the distance, worries melt away and I feel as if I have come home.

OK, it must sound sentimental to many of those who live and work in the area, who undoubtedly have to deal with the same day to day pressures as I do back here in Somerset, and may not get the time to wander the fells full of fine feeling (I love a bit of alliteration) but I am not going to apologise for it. I am, after all, one of millions who visit the area, catch the lake district bug and return again and again. Just four weeks ago I had a blissful week of fine weather (too hot to walk one day!)  and good walking, supported by two fabulous little books in a series I have only just discovered.

The Lake District Top 10 Walks series is published by Northern Eye Books, and includes a wide range of pocket sized books perfect for the walker who enjoys a morning or afternoon walk of about five or six miles, with the sure and certain knowledge that they are on the right track to something extra special. From high fells to low fells; from waterfalls to lakesides; literary to historical; there is something for almost everyone.  This year we packed Walks to Viewpoints by Stewart Smith and Walks to Pubs (yes OK I know….) by Vivienne Crow.

ViewsAt £5.99 each they are great value. Smith’s Viewpoints includes walks to try wherever you might be based and it introduced me to areas I would not normally have considered – Great Mell Fell in the north, and Gummers How in the south. I wish I could have tried them all, but there is always the next time, and I have to mention one walk I was particularly impressed by – a low level walk around Wastwater which offered me an entirely new perspective on a lake that already enjoys the distinction of having at its shore ‘Britain’s Favourite View’. On a sunny day, near a pool created by the River Irt and on the southern shoreline after a walk through the bluebells of Low Wood, the stillness seemed profound, until I heard the gentle lapping of waves in a slight breeze. Looking up, to our right, at the terrifying screes, it was, genuinely a view to savour. On the return stretch via Greendale we met with an American couple, carrying the same book,  who had been misdirected and had started the walk the wrong way round. Apart from being a good sign that the book is selling well, I almost envied them, as the view back to the lake from this point onwards is fabulous.

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The view back to Wasdale

Crow’s Pub Walks offered us the chance to follow a wonderful walk around Great Langdale and Mickleden, my own ‘favourite view’. It starts and ends at The Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and takes you on tracks along the side of the fells and on valley paths.In the Mickleden Valley you genuinely feel tiny, as the peaks of Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and the Pikes loom over you. And, of course, the pub is great!

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Walking in Great Langdale to Mickleden

Now, I have a few problems with my legs [let’s do a bit of awareness raising here – it’s called primary lymphoedema and I inherited it from my dad. It causes my legs to swell, become very heavy and at risk of serious infections and I have to wear sexy (if you are a bit weird) high compression stockings to manage it. It is a bl**dy nuisance but I have had it a long time and I don’t let it rule my life] which can make walking difficult. I can walk for miles, but ask me to climb a difficult stile, or slip down a steep gravel path and a normally word conscious woman will be cursing with the best of them. So I have to be cautious what I take on. This is perhaps the only caveat with some of the walks – Stewart is a fit landscape photographer, and Vivienne also has masses of experience so when they say a walk is steep, it most certainly is. The walks took me quite a bit longer than suggested in the book, and after consultation with my much more experienced brother in law I discounted a couple as a bit ambitious for me. This makes it doubly important to take the relevant OS map with you as the publisher recommends, and even though they might seem a relatively manageable length and  supported by well written and accurate directions, it is still possible to get lost. The photographs are beautiful (I have my very own Stewart Smith print on the wall at home), but taken in the best conditions, so make sure you still go properly prepared for all weathers.

I would heartily recommend both these books, and intend to buy others in the series. So many books of circular walks are too big to stuff in a pocket, and these are just the right size. After a week they are already well-thumbed, and I still go back to them to remind myself of the walks we did. Do give them a try – they are available from the publisher and all the usual outlets as well as nearly every outdoors shop in Cumbria.

 

Going ‘home’ -The Lake District as therapy

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View over Mickleden

Next week we have a week away. Well I do – I am not sure how much of a holiday my husband really thinks a week in the Lake District is, although we share a cottage with two of his numerous brothers and it is good chance for a catch up over a variety of wonderful Cumbrian beers. For me though, it feels like a visit home; the other 51 weeks (or 50 if I get to sneak in two trips up) being a kind of exile for me.

My first visit was with my family when I was in my mid-teens, and it was love at first sight. We stayed in Midtown House in High Lorton, travelling over the Whinlatter Pass into Keswick and rambling around Buttermere. My dad had early onset Parkinsons so we were never going to get to the top of a mountain, but that made no difference. We made more trips up, until I married and had my own family and started my own traditions. It has come to mean the world to me.

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Dow Crag (Photo – WainwrightRoutes.co.uk)

The week after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, in my early forties with two young children, we went up for a week and stayed at Torver, near Coniston. We were all in shock, and I knew I was going home to an immediate mastectomy, but a week in the Lakes was just what I needed. I climbed to the top of Dow Crag, and felt that anything was possible. I stood in the Langdales, looking over the Mickleden valley, and felt like a tiny speck in the mists of time. I vowed then that nothing would stop me going back, and I have stood in the same place, many many times since. Depression, anxiety – everything seems to melt away at the first sight of the fells.

downloadI raised over £4,000 for charity walking in the footsteps of the poet John Keats through the Lakes, despite the fact that much of his route is under the A591 and Thirlmere (I found a few detours!), and a trip up is always the best motivation to get a bit fitter. As we get older we are finding things hurt a little more a little sooner, but this year we are planning a few walks from Stewart Smith’s Walks to Viewpoints (Lake District – Top 10 Walks) and Pub Walks: Walks to Cumbria’s Best Pubs by Vivienne Crow in the same series. We know our limitations, but the experience of reaching the end of a walk – whether it be round something or up something – is worth every ache and pain.

I am going to try and keep up a little journal of the trip next week. I don’t usually write much when I am up there. But this time I will try (no pressure).

I would love Cumbria to be my home, but whether that happens, or not, it feels like the place I want to spend all of my days.

 

 

 

 

Four seasons in one week: on a love of the Lakes and sunburn in September

This morning I was sitting inside at the PC, by french windows opening on to our south-facing garden. After thirty minutes I looked down at my left arm to see a distinct patch of sunburn. As far as I can recall I have never been burned by the sun in my dining room before and as it is now very late September the world feels slightly odd. I have always found Emily Dickinson a kindred spirit in confusion, and the first four verses of this poem express perfectly how I feel at present:

INDIAN SUMMER

Emily Dickinson [1830-1886]

These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, –
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!

Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

Irony is not lost on me. Last week I wrote of my love of the cool days of autumn and discovered that many other people feel as I do about the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. I complained that I would love it more should it stop raining and hey presto, it is now 27 degrees celsius in the shade. It is actually too hot to sit out.

Continue reading “Four seasons in one week: on a love of the Lakes and sunburn in September”

On my way to Ambleside: Stock Ghyll Force with John Keats

On the eve of my week long holiday in the Lake District, I thought I would post this excerpt from a journal letter John Keats wrote to his brother Tom, back in London, in the early stages of his walking tour in the Lake District and Scotland with Charles Brown in 1818.

I too will be staying in Ambleside, and will take the walk up to Stock Ghyll Force (‘the Ambleside waterfall’) as Keats does in this letter. His description is vivid and fresh as he describes the different shapes the water takes on as it thunders over the rocks and it easy to see how it inspired him to say ‘I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write, more than ever….’

Like Keats I disagree with William Hazlitt, who thought such scenery made men feel ‘little’. John Keats, who was only around 5ft 1inch tall, forgot his ‘stature’  ‘completely’ and I also lose myself in the sublime landscape, feeling with the poet that my mind is at last at rest.

Continue reading “On my way to Ambleside: Stock Ghyll Force with John Keats”

Savage Grandeur & Noblest Thoughts? Well I gave it a go…

Where does the time go? Last weekend I was sitting in a room overlooking Coniston Old Man in the Lake District, miserably contemplating the long journey home to Somerset. I was full of enthusiasm for writing a blog post about my few days away, putting up a few photos and generally musing on the general fabulous-ness of my favourite corner of the world. Although I did post a poem inspired by a previous visit to the North Lakes, the world of work imposed itself upon me all too quickly and my blog has suffered as a consequence.

No matter really; it is never too late to write about what inspires us through life and besides, part of this post is about one terrific reason to go back up to Cumbria as soon as time and finances allow.

I watched Sheila Hancock on The Art of Watercolours on Sunday 20th February. It was lovely to watch and an interesting hour’s television but it seemed once again to follow the increasing tendency of BBC documentaries (particularly I noticed in the recent Faulks on Fiction) to assume we like to see moody shots of celebrities looking dreamily into the distance. However, it seemed to tie in with an exhibition that I simply didn’t have time to see when I was up in Grasmere last week.

Entitled Savage Grandeur and Noblest Thoughts, discovering the Lake District 1750 – 1820 it takes further the issues touched upon by Sheila Hancock.  Revolution abroad encouraged artists and writers from Britain to take a closer look at areas of outstanding beauty closer to home, resulting in a flurry of watercolour and oil paintings; sketches, books and prints that inspired an ever-increasing number of people to visit The Lake District. Unfortunately time did not allow me to take a closer look, but the Wordsworth Museum website suggests it will be an interesting look at this radical period in art and literature through the eyes of those visiting the Lakes through the eras of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. It draws on works held within the Wordsworth Trust’s collection, and my only reservation is the phrase ‘The exhibition will be complemented by a computer-generated guide to the scenery depicted in selected exhibits’…..Hmmm.

Continue reading “Savage Grandeur & Noblest Thoughts? Well I gave it a go…”

On my return from the Lake District – putting my poem out there

I love the Lake District, and seem to feel my mood lift as soon as I cross the border into Cumbria. Where others want to emigrate to sunnier climes I long for the  random weather of the fells and valleys; yearn for a trek that can seemingly take you through all four seasons and where you should never leave home without your waterproofs. I know I have the proverbial ‘rose-tinted’ eyewear on and that local people would have a view on my southern softy attitude to the realities of living and working in the area but after three days there this week I feel so much better. The sheer wonder at the beauty of the landscape releases something in me; anxiety lifts and the fear of incipient depression is not so scary.

So as I prepare a longer post about a fabulous exhibition that is on up there (the Lakes as they were discovered between 1750 and 1820) and daring to put out the photos I took this time – not on my SLR but on my phone camera – I thought I would pluck up the courage to post a poem I wrote on a previous visit. It has been nestling quietly on my ‘writing’ page here on this blog but now I feel I have to get it out there. It may feel quite different from the tone of some of my other writing and sits more easily as a mental health post – I am not a poet after all. But I would be really grateful for any views you might have on it.

Continue reading “On my return from the Lake District – putting my poem out there”