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.

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!

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.


A Very Poetic Happy Christmas from No Wriggling & Talking Books!

Merry-Christmas-EveWell – just two more sleeps till Christmas Day – why does the time pass so quickly when you are an adult, yet Christmas seems to take forever to arrive when you are a child? Even though our children are now at University there is still an Advent Calendar pinned to the door and it seems barely a week since I opened the first door – yet here we are – on the Eve of Christmas Eve….

My final Talking Books show for 2013 was on 10Radio on Friday and it was a very festive edition, with other presenters chiming in with a reading. There was music too, and I got a request in, at last (I usually offer my guest the opportunity to choose the track we play out with). I chose ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ by Jon and Vangelis, which was a Christmas record back in 1981, although it is rarely played as one. It certainly makes me feel wonderfully Christmassy, as does ‘Gaudate’ by Steeleye Span and ‘Stop the Cavalry’ by Jona Lewie, which we also played. With poems by Carol Ann Duffy and John Betjemen and readings from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens we linked through the music to the last reading. I chose a piece by Elizabeth Bowen, from Home for Christmas, and read it just before we played the Jon and Vangelis. Home is somewhere we all seek at Christmas, whether physically or metaphorically and the reading offered a wonderful (a word I use too often on my show, I realise – I must get the thesaurus out…) message.

We also got a little bit political when the piece from A Christmas Carol – where Scrooge is approached for money for the poor at the start of the book – was resonant of recent Government policies and the proliferation of food banks. Alongside the Carol Ann Duffy poem about war it became clear that the very nature of our humanity can be reflected upon at this time of year, and should be.

As a celebration of the season I would also like to add a lovely poem, called ‘little tree’ by E.E. Cummings, a poet who could be controversial – in both style and subject matter. Even the printing of his name is the subject of scholarly discussion. However, here he writes so precisely that one can almost hear the child’s conversation with the tree about to grace the house and we can feel, with him, a solace in the loss of it’s natural habitat as it takes on a new role at the heart of the home. Simple and real.

little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

I love it. It is my Christmas message to all those of you good enough to read my blog (which I admit has had less of my attention this year as I concentrated on writing Shell Shocked Britain) and to all my friends on social media. Thank you for your friendship – it means such a lot to me.

Give a book for Christmas! Talking Books does the perfect present…

booksChristmasWell we are nearly there – just a week left to do your Christmas shopping and find the gift that will really mean something to the recipient, offering pleasure that will last well after the 25th December. Okay – there may be a few electrical devices that will offer a similar sensation but in truth – what is better than a book?

On Talking Books, my show on 10Radio, last week I discussed books as gifts for Christmas with my resident book expert, Julie Munckton. Julie works tirelessly to support local bookshops through the website, which offers an alternative to the faceless Amazon via your own local high street bookshop (or your favourite bookshop in any part of the country) and she really knows her stuff. Twenty five minutes sped past as we offered hints and tips for presents across many subjects – from fiction to gardening and from history to biography. Whether you have a loved one fascinated by football or a fan of Dr Who, into soap stars or the natural world, Victorian gothic fiction or a cosy mystery – there was something for everyone. We even looked at incredible jolting chairs and cures for dimples via the Quackdoctor.

Continue reading “Give a book for Christmas! Talking Books does the perfect present…”

Sorry Nigel Farage – Talking Books loved ‘Talking France’…

20130429_211424Well, my holidays are over for 2013. Unless we win the lottery in the next few weeks I will now spend the rest of the year wishing all my friends ‘Bon Voyage’ and envying them their breaks from the daily routine (or what passes for routine in this house.) We had three nights in Paris to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary, followed after just five days by a week in the Lake District. Very different trips, but equally enjoyable. Paris is a wonderful city to stroll around and in three days I walked as far as I ultimately did in the Lakes – around eighteen miles. I enjoyed delicious food on both sides of the channel and now have to adopt a strict low-fat, caffeine free diet in order to unclog all my vital organs.

All this time off has meant that work has been, largely, left behind resulting in my need to quickly shake off post-holiday blues and get back to writing. I also have tons of admin to do, but that never ends and to get it done is just a matter of avoiding distractions. Ha!

One thing that I did have to miss was my radio show ‘Talking Books’. I should have been ‘on’ the day we set off for Cumbria but was given leave and others stepped in. I would like to think I was missed, but with just three programmes to my name I doubt it. Luckily, I have the fabulous Fire River Poets in the studio this week (Friday 24th) which will make sure we get people listening again quickly.

51rgSCBy0NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_However – back to the 26th April and the ‘Talking Books Talks France’ show. I deliberately chose the subject matter to get me in the mood for Paris, and to pick up a few hints from my guest, Trevor Snow, who organises walking tours of France and has written a book – Best of France – detailing some of his favourites.

We talked of many things, Trevor and I, on the show. He was a wonderful and very knowledgeable guest; a true Francophile. He offered some of his favourite authors who write about France, or who use it as a backdrop for their writing (most notably the novels written by Peter Mayle). As usual we looked at those suggested by my social media pals, who enjoy classics by Camus or Dumas for example or contemporary fiction by Joanne Harris, or the detective novels written by Fred Vargas. We also talked about French literature and why so many of us read authors such as Balzac, Gide and Maupassant in our angst-ridden teens. My favourite is Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier and thanks to Trevor I can pronounce the title correctly for the first time. Of course, I know some who can read French literature in the original language. Sadly with Grade E O Level French I could barely read Spot Goes to France….

I also got a mention in for The Chase by Lorna Fergusson, which I started before my holidays and finished really quickly on the plane home, gripped as I was by the thrilling story, very different from the usual tale of ex-pats in the Dordogne. I heartily recommend it.

What preparing for this programme really brought into focus is how many people adore all things French. I know I do and Paris was very welcoming. Yet we came home to all the fuss and bother about Europe and the ghastly, greasy Nigel Farage suggesting that Europe is some kind of threat to the very soul of Britain and Britishness. Frankly, I don’t think those Mr Farage finds so threatening care about Britain as much as politicians, full of pomp and pompousness, would like to think. The French get on with their own lives, experience their own problems and enjoy all the lovely things French culture can offer. Standing around in tweeds without a chin rubbing people up the wrong way will get us nowhere Nige. Not an image of Britain I would want to promote.

As always I give you the chance to ‘catch up’ so here is the link to the show:

Do listen in to this edition of ‘Talking Books’ if you have a chance. It was great fun to do, although I still get a few nerves, especially when asked to read out a question for a French quiz. Thanks for stepping in Trevor!

Ho Ho Ho – a Happy, healthy Christmas from No Wriggling!

vintage-christmas-261314Just a quick post to wish all those who follow my blog and any who just drop by the very merriest of Christmases and the happiest and healthiest of New Years.
This has been a good year on No wriggling. One post alone received over 20,000 views – a record by some way – and I am very grateful for your support of my writing.
This isn’t a review of the year, but 2012 also saw my first book published (called Dandelions and Bad Hair Days- Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety) by Dotterel Press and another commissioned (Shell Shocked Britain) by Pen and Sword Books. So I can now legitimately call myself a ‘writer’. Thank you!
Anyway I thought I would send you a Christmas message via John Betjeman, who in this poem pretty much sums it up for me. Continue reading “Ho Ho Ho – a Happy, healthy Christmas from No Wriggling!”

My Most Beautiful Thing…

How to choose ‘My Most Beautiful Thing’? How do I meet a challenge set by writer Fiona Robyn for her Blogspash over at Writing Our Way Home today? Is it actually possible to have just one thing that you count beautiful above all others? I have two children – must I choose just one? My husband is wonderful – but beautiful? Hmmmm.

So my choice cannot be human; and in any event no other human is truly ‘mine’.

I am not a great one for buying beautiful ‘things’ either, although there are some wonderful books I would be lost without. My sister and daughter covet beautiful shoes and handbags, but they aren’t something I can get too enthusiastic about. It isn’t a money thing, although I can’t afford them, it is because I just can’t carry them off. I trip in high heels and I need a small sack to carry all my paraphernalia about. TKMaxx don’t seem to do pretty, small sacks as yet.

Continue reading “My Most Beautiful Thing…”

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”

Liechtenstein – life, beauty, history and THAT national anthem…

View from Vaduz castle

Whilst on my recent trip to Liechtenstein I sent a postcard to my blog. It was written as I felt a little homesick one evening, and included some ‘fascinating facts’ that might help a few pub quiz enthusiasts out there: the capital city, the main exports, the currency and the language spoken for example. However, I am conscious that to leave readers of my blog with the impression that these are the main points of interest in this fascinating, pocket-sized state (it is the fourth smallest in Europe) would be to do Fürstentum Liechtenstein (Principality of Liechtenstein) a great injustice.

Continue reading “Liechtenstein – life, beauty, history and THAT national anthem…”

A postcard from Liechtenstein

How many people can name the capital of Liechtenstein? Or tell me where it is in relation to other European countries? What languages are spoken? What are its major exports and its unit of currency? And how is it faring as economies all over Europe struggle?

I am spending two weeks in this lovely country as the guest of my son’s godmother. At eighteen she came to stay with me, and my new husband Peter, in Brighton & Hove for nearly 5 months. She came to improve her English and having stayed in touch ever since (my son is very proud to be one of the few British children with a godparent in such a glamorous sounding place) I am now here helping her children learn it too.

Continue reading “A postcard from Liechtenstein”

Castle Drogo – a 20th Century granite masterpiece. Shame about the visitor centre….

On Sunday I went to Castle Drogo, which is just a few miles further on from Exeter in the SW of England.  Having joined the National Trust a month ago during my visit to the Lake District the first really warm weekend of the year gave us the excuse we needed. We had to start taking advantage of the fact that living here in Somerset we are within an hour of some of the most beautiful houses, gardens and coastline in Britain.

Castle Drogo is not just the last castle built in England;  it is possibly one of the last private homes to be built of granite and it is an imposing building, almost fortress like from the outside. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe, retail tycoon and founder of the Home and Colonial Stores, it was actually built between 1910 and 1930. Drewe had discovered that he had as an ancestor a Norman baron named Drogo de Teigne and apparently determined to build a castle on the acres that had once belonged to the baron.

Although the outside appears strongly influenced by medieval design, inside the rooms are warm and comfortable and very much of their time. From the very beginning it was a castle with all the latest home comforts – central heating, electricity and lifts for example  – although poor Julius Drewe had only one year in the completed building before he died in 1930.

Continue reading “Castle Drogo – a 20th Century granite masterpiece. Shame about the visitor centre….”