Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Health | Hostel to Hostel Hill Bagging in the Lakes Day Two: Borrowdale to Keswick

YHA Borrowdale has to be one of my new favourite places. After all the success of Hostel to Hostel Hill Bagging Holiday Day One, a warm bed, a friendly staff team, hot showers and the most enormous English breakfast was the best start to Day Two. I love youth hostels for the basic friendly accommodation they provide: warm and comfy.

Ready to go from YHA Borrowdale

At the recommendation of someone nice we chatted to at the youth hostel we'd changed our plans slightly this morning, cutting out a cross country section in favour of the long climb to the Honister Pass. Man it was steep! Nearly 5kms later we reached YHA Honister Hause and turned for the steep ascent up Dale Head. The weather was hot and sunny - unexpected Lake District sunshine for September! By the time we reached the top of Dale Head our legs were beginning to feel the distance from yesterday and I was surprised by just how much my knees ached. The view from the top however was remarkable: perhaps one of the most breathtaking I've been lucky enough to enjoy in the Lake District. If you're after a single climb with smashing views, Dale Head has to be the way to go.

Dale Head Summit

View of the ridge to come after Dale Head

After a tea and snack break on the top of Dale Head we begun the descent to Dalehead Tarn which was so steep and so impactful on my all ready sore knees that I decided to enforce my favourite quote from the book I'm currently reading (Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession by Richard Askwith); 'Why don't we sit down and have a good cry?' If you've never tried any kind of endurance sport before you may not be familiar with the feeling I'm describing but ultimately the pain and physical toughness of the challenge we were attempting got to me and I just needed to accept that this was really hard. Down at the bottom of the tarn after a hearty packed lunch, made by the guys at YHA Borrowdale I was back on it. I would do this. I could do this.

The ridge climbs back up from Dalehead Tarn to take you over High Spy (quick game of I Spy definitely revived spirits at the summit), High Spy North Top, Maiden Moor, High Crags and on to the touristy but pretty Cat Bells before descending via Skellgill Bank. The volume of people on Cat Bells really surprised me as did the level of ascent and decent between each peak which had looked quite gentle from the summit of Dale Head and turned out to be anything but that!

Overlooking Derwent Water from Cat Bells summit

Through Lingholm Estate's forest we wandered up to Nichol End Pier and treated ourselves to catching the last ferry of the day across Derwent Water to Keswick for the mighty sum of £2.20 each. Once in Keswick we wearily wandered to YHA Keswick, currently being lovingly restored after bad flood damage but happily limping on regardless - a useful analogy of my day in fact. Dinner in a pub in town washed down with cider eased the aches and pains and by the time 9pm came round I was exhausted. Head down and straight to sleep - no alternative plans! A challenging day made glorious thanks to the exceptional weather and outstanding views.

Catching the ferry across Derwent Water

Views from the ferry

YHA Keswick overlooking the river from our room

And so Day Two Complete:
Hills Bagged: 7
Wainwrights: 4
Kms walked today: 18.7km
Total Kms walked: 48.2km
Hours out: 7½
Ascent today: 925m
Total Ascent: 2,505m

Monday, 26 September 2016

Health | Hostel to Hostel Hill Bagging in the Lakes Day One: Grasmere to Borrowdale

Ok confession time: I'm a hill bagger. It's a ridiculous hobby that I've inherited from my awesomely mad Dad who bikes miles and miles each week and then quickly nips off and climbs mountains around the UK. Honestly, it's a real thing. Check out the massive community of hill bagging geeks like me at - but be warned: it's addictive!

When the Speedster asked what I wanted to do this holiday I couldn't resist: I'd seen a blog post from YHA recently and was keen to give it a go: hostel to hostel walking in the Lake District. The Lake District is one of my favourite places in the world; a chance to be totally consumed by the glorious beautiful British countryside.

We headed North from London via train - just £30 First Class each from London Euston to Windermere, changing at Oxenholme. We're treated to Eggs Florentine on the train up with ample fresh coffee and the offer of gin and tonics as the time creeps in to afternoon. We've booked in bicycle spaces on the train so once we arrive in Windermere, after a quick stop at Booths (northern Waitrose) for supplies, we're on the bike and peddling past the lakes through Ambleside to Grasmere, a cool 17.5km away.

We check in to Thorney How, an independent hostel in Grasmere. I'm a YHA member so am passionately in support of their hostels but there just wasn't availability anywhere near Grasmere or Langdale so are forced to make alternatives. We head for dinner at Lancrigg - a vegetarian hotel and restaurant and are treated to one of the greatest meals we've ever had. We feast on vegan Moroccan pithivier and the best creme brûlée I've ever had flavoured with cardamon and rose. It's a divine meal.

Day One of the trip itself dawns bright and fresh and off we set. Day One involves 19 peaks - Little Castle How, Castle How, Great Castle How and Blea Rigg are ticked off easily and we make it to Stickle Tarn by 11am. I've got my flask so we treat ourselves to a quick break with some delicious cup-a-soup. Post-break a bit of a surprise as we start the climb to High Raise via Pavey Ark and Thurnascar Knott and the climb is super tough! Our Ordnance Survey map has a bit of a joke with us after High Raise and we get horrendously lost crossing cross-country rather than finding the path between High Raise and Black Craggs which sees us accidentally head back to Maiden Moor and then on to the Black Craggs ridge. The scramble up Rossett Pike is fun and then we head down to Angle Tarn and after a quick debate we decide to have a go at Bow Fell. We ascend via Ore Gap and find a place to stash our heavy packs then quickly nip up Bow Fell via Bow Fell North Top. Back to Ore Gap, packs collected and on to Esk Pike, pausing in the shelter for a break and to test out our new posh camping stove which takes just 2 minutes to make our early afternoon cold weather snack of whisky hot chocolate.

Revived we head off along our final ridge of the day Allen Crags, High House, Red Back Top, Looking Steads and Glaramara. And at Glaramara the weather decides it wants us off the mountain and rains in a way I'd forgotten was possible. At one point I genuinely consider if someone is throwing a bucket of water over me it's literally that bad. We attempt a fast descent via Thorneythwaite Fell to Borrowdale but it's hard going after a day of so much ascent. Head torches go on as night begins to fall and after a suspiciously difficult final footpath on the flat we make it to YHA Borrowdale, our home for the night. Technically we've missed dinner but the staff couldn't be nicer and ensure we get an enormous helping of vegan chilli for the amazing price of just £7.50. Boots and clothes safely stowed in the drying room, we fall in to our bunkbeds in our private room (which cost us the princely sum of just £33 for the two of us) and fall in to deeper sleeps than we've known in a long while.

And so Day One Complete:
Hills Bagged: 19
Wainwrights: 9
Total Kms walked: 29.5km
Hours out:  11
Total Ascent: 1,580m

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Baking | When is Bake Off not Bake Off?

As apparently are 10 million other Brits, I'm thrilled that the Great British Bake Off is back on our screens. Weeks of silly entertainment, the chance to be brutally judgmental and a staunch belief that I could bake anything in the technical challenge makes it one of my favourite shows on television.

Celebrity spin offs aside that is. And more recently TV licenses aside.

I am quite passionately frugal so the recent shock of the introduction of TV licenses to BBC iPlayer viewing was a bit horrifying. I work close to my Mum so can easily bike to hers to catch the latest episodes but still this series Bake Off hasn't felt quite like Bake Off. Maybe it's all the extra programmes that have been thrown in - personally I don't want to watch a random group of 'celebrities' basically unable to bake a simple sponge. And while An Extra Slice is a good idea (if you've not seen it it's the Apprentice style Your Fired show hosted by Jo Brand), all the comedy thrown at the show makes it a bit cheesy.

The joy of Bake Off is classic British fun - feeling you are partaking in an old fashioned programme but with clever modern updates to keep our interest. And essential to that are three things:

1. Bake Off being available to all on the BBC
Because part of the vintage charm is a whole community tuning in to BBC1 in the evening and watching it with friends and family and hopefully, oodles of home baked cakes
2. Bake Off being hosted by Mary and Paul
Because they are part of the dynasty - they are the pillars of the Bake Off tower and without them it would be just another reality show hosted by minor 'celebrities'
3. Bake Off being co-hosted by Mel and Sue
Because they ask the questions that I think and they stick their fingers in the raw cake dough to have a taste - and really that child-like inquisitiveness is essential to the show.

So hearing this afternoon that Love Productions had sold Bake Off to Channel 4 was sad. Mostly it was sad because it won't have the same family friendly feel on the commercial giant that is Channel 4. And also because the new relationship will launch with a celebrity special - putting the 'normal' bakers in second place. And finally because the loss of Mel and Sue from the programme will change the heart and essence of Bake Off.

Surely we should have all learned lessons from Top Gear?

The world needs more presenters willing to stick their hands in the mixing bowl. Mel and Sue - Great British Bake Off won't be the same without you.