Saturday, 30 June 2007
We're packed up and ready to roll our suitcases and stagger under a combination of backpacks and plastic bags to our next spot: a field by Ullswater in the Lake District. The weather forecast isn't putting us off yet. I think we have been lucky to stick to trains (and sometimes cars) thereby missing the worries of Glasgow's airport strike, and not had plans to visit poor, soaked Sheffield.
Even in this site – a gloomy underpass between town and castle the polished granite rock commands attention. As you draw closer the 14 tonne rock seems to grow in height and girth. Every sentence – and there are many carved carefully on to this vast stone – radiates furious power. As it is intended to do. For this is the final solution from the Bishop of Glasgow, Gavin Dunbar, in a bid to control the troublesome Border Reivers forever.
“…I curse them gangand (going) , and I curse them rydand (riding); I curse thaim standand, and I curse thaim sittand; I curse them etand, I curse thaim drankand; I curse them walkand, I curse thaim sleepand; I curse thaim rysand, I curse thaim lyand; I curse thaim at hame, I curse thaim fra hame; I curse thaim within the house, I curse thaim without the house; I curse tahir wiffis, thair barnis, and thair servandis paticipand with thaim in thair deides...”
This spectacularly violent cursing – and this midway within another 900 more explicit sentences – ensures that the Reivers have nowhere to escape God’s fury. Not even the dunny.
When the Bishop wrote out his curse to stop the Reivers more than 500 years ago everyone felt the fear, the word “reiver” is created from “bereaved” because that’s how the Reivers left anyone not in their anarchic group or those who dared to leave it. At the time everyone knew which trouble makers living on the English/Scottish borders deserved to quiver.
And we do now too because the stone mason/artist, Gordon Young (born in Carlisle and the bearer of a Reiver name) has carved the names of the families into the underpass, in larger and smaller letters and fonts. Here you can find Armstrong, Graham, Noble, Robson, Watson, Young and many others (100 or so) a mix of opportunistic, violent Border families – English and Scots – who ruled the area by fear. As a result Carlisle Castle has a record of being the most attacked of all Britain’s castles – there are still soldiers there. The Bishop issued his curse in 1525 but the area had been famously ungovernable for centuries, which is why the Romans built a huge stone defence across the north of England, Hadrian’s Wall 2000 years ago.
Those names on the paving stones are still owned by many local families. You may well recognise them as your best friends, the school bully, your boss, builders, brewers, media magnets (Dacre, Maxwell), politicians … everyone. The names, the history, the power of memory this evokes is quite astonishing – more gift than curse for the underpass visitor.
Just managed to pound the easy-to-follow route of Hadrian's Wall from its start to the Millennium Bridge opposite the Baltic art gallery in central Newcastle. We must all be a lot fitter as we knocked off five miles with no problems whatsoever, helped only by jelly babies (Dr Who's favourite sweet).
Lola was disappointed that we saw a small chunk of original wall at the start - and the rest turned out to be hypothetical. It's so real in our minds we're almost tripping over it though...
Luckily we were able to distract her by raving about the route along the Tyne. It is an amazing industrial journey. We saw cormorants by chemical factories, joy riders by old flour mills, kittiwakes near sand depots; helicopters above anglers catching eels and crab; and Friday-nighters downing their year's alcohol units near the electric bus that circles along the Quay and up to the Metro. It made us all realise that there's so much space in Newcastle rhere to be used - or at least there is if you have a bike, two good legs or enough cash to feed the coins-only ticket machines at the Metro. I couldn't resist snapping this name-and-shame poster. So far we've been to six Metro stations and there's not a ticket seller or member of staff in sight - and definitely nothing as useful as an Oyster card or a ticket machine that accepts notes and cards. I think this pleasure in names is a regional thing - at the start of Hadrian's Wall there's even a plaque with some of the names of the men who designed the wall (engineers not foot soldiers).
Cragside House, in Northumberland, is a Victorian masterpiece. The owner Lord Armstrong, known locally as the Geordie Genius, didn't just build a huge house he added every comfort. As a result it was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electric power - in the 1880s. In fact the first ever room to be lit up was the library, and the power was switched on by the youngest member of staff, a 10-year-old boy. Lola was definitely jealous.
Armstrong went on to give his home hydro-powered central heating, a passenger lift, rotating spits to help the cooks in the kitchen, fire alarms, phones, servants' bells and even an electric dinner gong. At the time it was dubbed "the palace of a modern magician" and Armstrong was affectionately described as having "water on the brain". Going round the house now it still seems super-comfortable. There's a Turkish Bath (aka spa); vast rooms with cosy nooks around the fireplaces to warm your toes or read a book and telephones. His passion for modern inventions didn't however stop him from hanging numerous family portraits on the walls or pictures of dying heroes mourned by their dogs.
There's also several lakes which have a wildlife benefit, but were used to keep the hydro system working. They have a very good name, Nelly's Moss, albeit this seems to be refering to a local witch not our six-year-old.
Armstrong made his money building battleships (as well as less harmful objects such as bridges and cranes), but he is best remembered for generosities such as giving Jesmond Dene to the people of Newcastle - it is an amazing park - and his former home, Cragside, is one of the jewels in the National Trust's crown. It was good to see that the NT was selling Save Cash & Save the Planet in the gift shop...
Cragside isn't the only home we've seen recently with it's own power history. At Kettlewell our host, Anna, explained that this Dales village used to have its own electricity supply until it was forced to go on the national grid in the ?1950s. In a flatter part of Yorkshire the house we stayed in had solar panels to heat water and at our Aberdeen stop-off we are looking forward to enjoying the insulating properties of a turf roof.
I keep reading newspapers that maintain that it's getting easier to install solar - for instance planning permission may be dropped - but if the system remains as complex, convoluted and ridiculously expensive as it is now most of us will continue to think that creating your own power, by sun or water, is just a game for the super creative or uber-rich - the Armstrongs of today - rather than a logical local solution which helps tackle climate change.
Friday, 29 June 2007
At St Mary's lighthouse, Whitley Bay, we all go into different worlds. I'm thinking Virgina Woolf; Nell is recalling The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch, Lola is excited to find that in 1995 Enid Blyton's Famous Five were filmed for an ITV version of Five go to Demon Rocks. In the lighthouse itself, an 150-step spiral staircase clings to the tower sending Pete into a Hitchcock style panic and has to close his eyes to get back down. It is quite scary, but at the top the views are amazing - to the North there's six or more wind turbines at Blyth and to the south the handsome white dome of the now disused Spanish City funfair at Whitley Bay.
The lighthouse was opened in 1898 and had a distinctive light (which flashed twice every 20 seconds) that could be seen for 17 miles. Now it's automatically organised but in the days when a lighthouse keeper was needed the c/v requirements included basic literacy, numeracy and a full set of working teeth.
The tide cuts off the lighthouse twice a day and so when it goes out you nip across the causeway. If you get the timing right you can search for beasties in the rocky pools. We found lots of kelp (oarweed with a holdfast rooty bit at the bottom), some limpets and the claw of an edible crab. The lighthouse is now run by North Tyneside council and has some fascinating displays of ship building, stuffed birds of the seashore and games for any age. Both girls did a brass rubbing and arranged some limpets into the shape of a starfish and a dolphin. They were so destracted they didn't even want stuff in the shop. That's what I call a result. Best of all they really believe that home is an island.
We're breaking ourselves in slowly to the challenge of walking 84 miles along Hadrian's Wall http://www.hadrians-wall.org/ by visiting the start (or the end) in Newcastle upon Tyne. You can get to Wallsend easily on the Metro (like the London tube) and that's where the surprises start: the signs are in Latin (see pic)!
I learnt Latin at school but really only remember the first lesson given by a grumpy teacher who resented telling us that:
"Latin is a language,
As dead as dead can be.
It killed the ancient Romans
And now it's killing me!"
But at Segedunum http://www.twmuseums.org.uk/ the Romans' life in the comforts of a fort is made very real. The bath house - with communal loos (lavatores) and an underfloor heating system (hypocaust) are there to see. You can also go up nine floors to an observation tower and see an overview of the Roman fort where the soldiers and their horses lived. The north side of the site is sliced through by a busy road but looking the other way you can see an original chunk of wall next to the cranes of the Swan Hunter shipyard.
Inside the museum there are loads of computer games including one where you make up a menu for a visiting Roman dignatories. Lola choose snails, then dove, followed by egg custard. I thought dormice, then suckling pig, then omelette with honey poured over the top might be more disgusting. But in the end Nell's choice of squid stuffed with calf brains made us say yuckus louder!
It just proves that school dinners aren't that bad.
Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of many countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola
We left the kids alone on a rainy day and what do they go and do? Yes that's right they organise a game of scrabble. There were no fights between Jasper, Ned, Lola and Nell, just focussed silence. Nell won with a score of 54. "It was when I put down JAM that I started winning," was her match report.
I'm sure travel writer Tim Moore's wonderful journey around London, Do Not Pass Go, wouldn't have been created without his endless wet childhood holidays.
Back in April manufacturers produced an express version of Monopoly and Scrabble to stop teenagers getting bored. If climate change leaves us with so many more torrential days it could be that it's the board games which we rescue from the floods.
Thursday, 28 June 2007
Our first mission in Newcastle is to go to Chinatown and eat all that we can at one of the 60-dish, all day buffets on offer. After guzzling noodles, seaweed, egg fu yung, stir fried veg, bean sprouts and chips (!) there's a downpour so we decide to cancel the trip along the Quay, and then over Newcastle's fab millennium bridge to the Baltic art gallery. Instead we go to Life - a newish science show, very near the station, that is an absolute cracker. Here science is push and pull, repeat what you did, ask questions, try on, try out. Before the two talks given by young blokes in red aertex shirts (just like the ones staff wear at Woolies, see pic above) on the difference between humans and chimpanzees & stars in the night sky we have enough time to:
- find out that Karachi traffic police are likely to go deaf because the city is SO noisy
- stand under a heat lamp and feel the desert burn
- try and harpoon a seal
- brush dirt and stones off a skeleton
- walk like a gorrilla (with big gorrilla gloves)
- design a human and then watch it walk (mine lay down defeated by its pelvis)
Imagine controlling 32 large dogs. Now make it mathematically more interesting for yourself by calling two dogs one couple - so that means you are looking after 16 couple. Now put yourself on a bike and hold a long trailing whip that seems determined to tangle itself around the spokes and gears. Learn a new set of phrases (a north London 'oy' just won't do, it's got to be 'hard on', 'git over' and at least two more that I never managed to get my tongue around). Remember to get up very early so there's not time for a stimulating cup of black coffee, and then head off along the lanes for an hour or so with these dogs all the while dodging rural traffic and making sure they don't make a break for it. That's what Lola and I did when we joined the West of Yore on hound exercise for an hour and a half last Wednesday.
Just in case you've forgotten, hunting an animal with dogs is illegal in Britain. You are allowed to take them for a walk though. However, as it is June and foxes (vixens are the females) have young cubs even if hunting was legal there would not be hunting at the moment. The end of August used to be the start of cub hunting and 1 November the start of fox hunting proper with the season finishing four months later at mid-end March. It's a little bit shorter than the football season.
The hunting set has lots of obscure names and terms to trip up newcomers. The dogs are always hounds. Their tails are sterns - which they don't wag. When they are just weaned the puppies spend a few months with a family to learn some manners. The Master, my old friend Richard, points out Madonna and Mayfly who stayed with him and his four sons so are particuarly fond of children. Lola soon finds that this bitch couple (note this is a correct term so I don't have to put money in the swear box) like to lean up on her. But it is cheeky Butler who Lola likes best. Hounds have particuarly evocative names - like the lemon-coloured Hellfire - usually of two syllables. The Master knows all these of course, but Lola is in a class at school of 14 couple (28 kids) so she thinks I'm just silly when I struggle to try and match names to faces.
Lola and I are vegetarian so you might think our interest in foxhounds strange, but since we started keeping chickens we've lost two hens and two chicks to foxes (despite double-thick chicken wire and a padlocked hen house!). In short, we are not great fans of foxes. We don't
just see them at home, we smell them too. Poet Ted Hughes called it: "the sudden hot sharp stink of fox".
Even the Yorkshire-based Master is amazed when we tell him about the London foxes that hang around in hoodies in our garden, day and night, waiting for a slip up. Everyone in our inner city neighbourhood has a fox horror story - the mauled guinea pig, the headless pet cat, the rabbit replacements.
Man v Fox is an age old battle. As for its solution, hunting, well most people have strong opinions. They love it or loathe it. Fortunately none of the vehicles going past us seemed to dislike us, so we got the pack and our bikes home safely. Going out on hound exercise is an astonishing lesson in how to control a lot of dogs at the same time & provides a fascinating insight into a countryside obsession since its beginings in the late 18th century.
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
Sellafield nuclear power station is desperate for good PR. When we phone to ask if the visitors' centre is open they immediately send a minibus to pick us up from the suitably apocalyptic looking Sellafield station (where the rust on the phone - see pic - comes from sea storms rather than fall-out). Yes, we've all gone fission. Alan our driver has worked at Sellafield for 21 years and happily chats about his son. The plant still employs 9,000 local people even though it's being decommissioned and many Cumbrians are avidly pro-nuclear.
The Dr Who-like visitors' centre, all silver piping and corridors, contains more friendly staff and is free to enter. The children receive free pencils, wrist bands and 'bangers', pieces of card and paper that make a pleasing bang. It has interactive games (ie you jump on various circles to represent each power source) devised by the Science Museum and an area for the kids to make badges and draw.
The displays are surprisingly even-handed, with the argument that nuclear power is green carbon-free energy balanced by a section on the risks of nuclear terrorism; the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Russia that resulted in 28 immediate deaths and an estimated 10,000 cancers; Sellafield's (then Windscale) own near-catastrophe that may eventually result in an extra 30 cancers in the area; andthe fact that no-one knows how to dispose of nuclear waste safely for the next few thousand years. Should you go? Well there are few other visitors, you get loads of free gifts, a vague idea about atoms, and a lift back to the station. It's a surprisingly enjoyable trip. Plus of course, the kids all leave with a healthy glow.
On our walk we went to a deer field and we saw buffaloes. The buffaloes were hairy and I saw a hairy man one. We've just seen Daisy walk over the cattle grid. And the cat followed us along the lane. He's called Tigger. It was a good walk.
On the wettest June day ever (25-06-07) my friend Fleur and I lure the five kids in our care (aged 6 – 13) out of the house with a wet walk down by the bison.
Fleur’s clever like this, at her last home (also in Yorkshire) the treat was to go and check up on the wallabies that lived at the bottom of the drive. Today the only role the bison play is to tempt the kids out of the house because once outside the children soon find that its more fun bumping into each other, removing rainhats and making such noisy conversation that the bison, and the deer (being bred for venison dinners) scamper to the furthest edges of their field near the castle. They definitely add something special to the backdrop.
An hour later we arrive home tousled and happy and able to occupy another half hour trying to find enough spots around the house to dry off soaking jackets and damp trousers.
Today we went to a blacksmith, with 2 horses called Charlie and Drummer, Fleur, Sally , my mum and me. My sister , nell, didn’t come ‘cos she’s allergic to horses. The blacksmith was called Martin and was very nice, sweet and kind. The horse he was shoeing was very difficult, so he did a very good job.Drummer was being very annoying all the time. They used burning flames to put the shoes to put on the horse’s feet. I didn’t think the smell was that nice but other people did.
It was a very good day out.
Monday, 25 June 2007
We're staying in Kettlewell, a tourist honeypot in the Dales well-known thanks to the film Calendar Girls, and are lucky enough to be guided by a friend, Anna, around Wharfedale and over to Gordale Scar and Malham Cove. I've wanted to see these two dramatic cliffs - the first made famous by James Ward's painting of the same name (see it in the Tate) and the second by Pete's tales from his geography field trip 30 years ago.
There's a field studies centre above Malham Tarn which boasts the highest manned weather station in the UK. Readings are taken from the Campbell-Stokes sun recorder, the Stevenson screen (looks like a long-legged bee hive) and a rain guage at 9am GMT every day of the year. It's also a good place to get field guides to the hay meadows which at this time of the year are crammed with wild flowers. We tick off buttercup, sorrel, bistort and pignut amongst the gently waving grasses. The air feels tingly clean, the curlews are calling and birds start up from the meadows - larks, wheatear and finches. It's all very beautiful and old-fashioned. Predictably Lola and Nell put in a request for ice-cream, soon.
Malham Cove was carved into the Craven Fault by an enormous waterfall. It's long gone but irresistably reminds the adults in our party of the water that pours over Victoria Falls. Anna has recently been on the Zambia side of this (its on the border with Zimbabwe) and flew around the falls in a microlight. She shows us photos of her doing a loop above "the smoke that thunders" in a vehicle that looks like a bicycle with a lawnmower engine.
Later we picnic above Malham Cove - not far from the site where a pair of peregrines have again successfully bred two chicks - surrounded by the happy yellows of eggs & bacon (meadow vetchling), delicate wild panises and hawkbit. After lunch we pad over wild thyme to look for fossils in the limestone walls. Nell finds it hard to believe this area used to be under the sea (millions of years ago), but once you pick through the heavy pale and grey stones looking for traces of fins and leaves, shells and coral stems it's hard not to view the National Park's classic stone walls as old lumps of dead coral that you sometimes see "decorating" aquariums.
To round off the day we get locally-made ice cream and then I take the girls fishing on the shallow beach under the bridge - a spot on the River Wharfe recommended by the lovely shopkeeper in Kettlewell. We don't think about climate change at all until the rain starts. Twenty-four hours on it's still beating down and the weather reports another three days of low pressure wets. You'd think the girls had done a secret raindance on their fishing trip... but they promise me they were only gone to practise bubblegum blowing...
Friday, 22 June 2007
When William Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes became a best seller he was supposed to be rather bad tempered that he'd managed to ruin the tranquility of the places he loved by sending tourists to all the best spots. Of course it was totally his fault - he argued forcefully that the Lake District mountains were a better colour, more favourable size and general artisitic appearance than the dramatic Swiss Alps (despite some of these mountains being twice as big). Thanks to him visitors to the Lakes liked to claim it was better than Switzerland. This is one of the reasons that Skiddaw is still sometimes dubbed Keswick's Matterhorn.
The revamp of Wordsworth's boyhood home in Cockermouth by the National Trust is masterful http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-wordsworthhouse/. The girls and I spent a happy morning dressing up as Dorothy and William, trying out the toys and quizzing the servants about life in 1777 (ie, the 18th century or Georgian times). We discovered that the loos were often disguised as chest-of-drawers; that the table cutlery was laid facing downwards not up (there's a new trend for the home decorating mags to pick up) and that even young girls wore stays (boney bodices that make it hard to bend...).
William (aka Nell)'s favourite toy was the heavy doll with human hair.
Dorothy (aka Lola)'s favourite toy was the wooden hobby horse which she used to gallop around the room before demurely putting on a white linen bonnet and did a row of knitting.
It's my birthday and I'm very happy because I've just been to a heavy horse centre and I sat on a huge Clydesdale horse called Robbie who also starred in a film I really like, Miss Potter. I also go to go in a horse and cart, pulled by a Fell pony called Poppy. On the drive we saw a hare.
Last night I saw about a million (10 says mummy) bats flying around catching insects under the bridge near our house. Bats are cool and really fast.
Thank you friends for calling me or sending me things today, you are the best. Love Lola
Two more peaks to write home about. Beinn Achaladair (in Scotland) near Bridge of Orchy begins with a walk from Achaladair Farm, which has its own castle ruin and graveyard. One of the Campbells rested here before heading off for a hard day’s slaying at Glen Coe. I’m climbing with Tony from Duilletter. We discuss what we think about while solo climbing. Tony says girls; I confess that as a happily married man it’s more often grills. We climb up a river valley into a great amphitheatre of shattered rock.
As we climb on the great tongue of rock towards the summit we are buffeted by huge winds. As we approach 3,600 feet our fingers go pink and we don every item of clothing we have. Without gloves I’m unsable to up a zip or shoelace. And this is Scotland in June; but worth it for the views across to Ben Nevis, Rannoch Moor and to the south the endless ridges of mountains as far as Ben Lomond. Amazingly, we’ve climbed all day without seeing another human being.
A week later (in the Lake District) it’s a much easier ascent from Honister Pass in the Lake District to Dale Head. The Honister Rambler bus stops here and the slate mine has been reopened too. You can go underground, put your purchase on the slate and even buy tea and pasties before ascending.
After an hour’s hard climb there are stupendous views across the Newlands valley. Then I take a ridge walk across to the summit of Robinson and a path down steep rocks and then boggy sphagnum moss into Buttermere – which in the sun with its twin pubs and café and white cottages looks like something out of a Richard Curtis movie. All topped off by a bus back to Cockermouth and a pint of Three Hares in The Bitter End, a pub with its own micro brewery on the premises. Cheers.
Nell says: "Wind is good for the world."
For a journey with a difference take the train from Carlisle to Barrow-on-Furness to spot the wind farms. Even if it's raining you should be able to see more than 30 turbines and to ensure the conversation goes with a spark you get to look at (or visit) the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site.
The first Munro of the trip has been bagged (10 June). What type of bag to place over Ben Lomond? A Waitrose bag from Holloway Road of course. Munros are Scottish mountains taller than 3000 feet, catalogued by an anorak called Munro. Ben Lomond is 974 metres (3195 feet) high and the most southerly of Munros. With its twin shoulders and broad head it dominates the eastern shore of Loch Lomond.
There’s a clear path from near the Rowardennan Youth Hostel. This is slightly easier than the Ptarmigan ridge route which Fraser, who runs the hostel, claims to have ascended “barefoot in a kilt”.
It soon offers views of the numerous islands scattered over the loch. There are numerous other climbers, all seemingly discussing departmental office politics with each other. Fellow walkers stop to say “Hiya”, “How ya doin'?” and “Morning!”. It’s a long upwards slog but as you head towards the summit those coming down offer words of encouragement. If only we could apply the mountain code to the city. You might be heading up Highbury Hill to be greeted with comments of “Humid, isn’t it?”, “Not far to go now!” and “I can feel last night’s beer!”.
The walk offers a chance to reflect in silence. Climbing mountains helps you realize the smallness of humans compared to the landscape, the futility of their material aspirations and particularly Sheffield United’s.
Like most mountains Ben Lomond has numerous false summits, my thighs ache, my shirt is saturated with sweat, but the final glimpse of the summit cone speeds exhausted legs. Cloud drifts across the tops and you can feel the dampness on your face. How much better to be in among the clouds feeling them, rather than just flying through.
Occasionally the mist gives way to reveal the full length of the loch, precipitous crags and wild moorland to the east. “Look out for the beasties!” warns a fellow female walker. Bizarrely the summit cone is covered in breeding insects which look like horse flies. The midges have bagged this particular Munro too and make forays for my flesh, but it’s still a shame to leave.
The route down and provides the best snippet of conversation of the day from two ascending Scotsmen. “Stephen wanted to run up a mountain in his kilt to reconnect with his Scottishness…”“Aye, the last person I saw running up a mountain in his kilt was wearing tights underneath to keep the midges off.”
Scotsmen in kilts and tights avoiding midges… surely enough to give anyone a kilt complex.
Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Now that recycling is a part of most people's psyche - or at least with the weekly doorstep collections in London where we live there's no excuse for it not to be - it comes as a HORRIBLE shock to discover how terrible recycling collections are in some parts of the country still.
Obviously reusing is the best option, but lots of people don't seem to have even got recycling...
After the hottest day on record this year (26 degrees) most of the campers crowding Loch Lomond, now a national park, seemed to drive home leaving their rubbish behind. On just one small bay I picked up SIX bags of rubbish, including disposable BBQs, full tins of beans and packets of bacon. As there's no recycling down the long, winding lane to Rowardenan all this gets dumped in landfill. No Australian or Kiwi would do this - in the USA national parks visitors even tupperware their poo out.
It was a relief to find that mountain walkers don't seem to dump litter in the same way - on Skiddaw I found just one sweetie wrapper (yes, I picked it up) and Pete says Ben Lomond was litter free.
Wherever we've gone it's been hard to get rid of the rubbish we've collected. In Argyll & Bute - an area the size of Greater London - the supermarket at Oban has a couple of recycling bins and at Dalmally there are three bottle banks (for clear, green and brown glass) beside cattle crushes that have been unused for so long they have sprouted foxgloves. In the district of Stirling there were no alumnium recycling spots for visitors, cans can only be recycled in the domestic collections. This is mystifying as Scotland has millions of visitors who'll be struggling to get rid of their drinks' containers responsibly.
Further south, in the Lake District, Cockermouth town council allegedly plans to close one of its public glass recycling spots because it's inconvenincing mums on the school run (this sounds so crazy I wonder if I read it right).
None of the big train/bus stations we've been through - Euston, Glasgow, Workington (though it holds the record for being the first UK-purpose built bus station with covered roof!), or Carlisle have recycling facilities either for water bottles or coke cans.
If you are unlucky enough to live in a place where you still struggle to recycle you could try contacting your local Friends of the Earth group http://www.foe.co.uk/ which is sure to be up on what you can do to help sort it out.
"I like Scotland best because it's got Highland Cows."
"I went on a land-rover safari to see all Donald's cows and calves. It took ages to get there and Mummy got wet opening the gate so I got wet too. We saw lots of deer on the way. When we found the cows there was a bull called Seamus. But I like Angus best. He's a bull too, but he's only two years old so he was kept in the barn. And I groomed him."
Hearing the bagpipes is a classic part of the Scottish experience – for the old Duke of Argyll it was also his preferred method of being woken, which offers a novel idea for your phone ring setting.
In the Highlands I met some fantastically talented children, some as young as nine, who play the pipes and drum at competitions. The Inverary & District Pipe Band are trained by a genius piper, Stuart Liddell, but they have to put a huge amount of work in - if your bagpipe isn't played for 15 minutes or so everyday the bag part of the bagpipes (made from a sheep's stomach) goes stiff and the sound just isn't the same...
The band's next big event is the British Championships in Northern Ireland (23 June).
Without the talent of children in bands like the Inverary & District Pipe Band visitors to Scotland would have to fall back on elevator tape tunes and the rather cheesy settings provided by busking pipers in tourist car parks next to Glencoe or Culloden battlefield. To see the bagpipes expertly played look out for the local celidhs, at the Highland shows, one-off dates at various caravan/camping sites and the hotels.
Just as it finally turns dark and the main course dishes are being cleared a bat spins into the dining room. The pipistrelle circulates round and round the central light avoiding hats, heads and big hair despite its speedy motion. Nothing seems to be able to get it to leave, and its speed is making all of us whoozy. Nell, sitting on my lap because she can’t get back to sleep, is transfixed by the bat. She is convinced that it is related to the swallow, nesting in the porch, which flew in while dinner was being made.
The animals have gone crazy today. There were so many midges in the dining room before the 11 of us renting the shooting lodge sat down to dinner that they had to be removed with an industrial vacuum cleaner. I guess they’ve set up home inside it now which will be an unpleasant shock for the unfortunate person who gets to empty it.
My brother had to stop casting for 10 minutes when a wren landed on his rod. Not much later a buzzard came hunting down the river banks – something he’d never seen before. At the same moment, 20 miles away, (spooky eh?) I was admiring the route Lola and I had just covered on our taster walk along the West Highland Way when a chaffinch flew on to my map and wobbled there so long that Lola was able to finish the ice cream cone she was enjoying (and she’s the slowest eater I know). I can now tell you with authority that male chaffinches are very pretty – puffed out pink chests and blue grey vests, some even have eye markings that look as if they are wearing dark glasses.
The huge mountain dominating the Lakeland town of Keswick is Skiddaw. Unlike most mountains you don’t need a map up as there’s an easy path to the summit. But the route still climbs a massive 931 metres high (more than 3,000 feet). Over the past year our family has made several unsuccessful attempts to climb it – only to be driven back by rain, cloud, connecting bus links and a mystery vomiting outbreak. No wonder we think of this mountain as the most challenging in the world, Everest.
Weather conditions were perfect: cool and clear on the fell slopes and up at the top enough whispy cloud and freezing wind to know you are just about at the top of Britain. The girls powered up using pear drops (lola) and minstrels (nell). Fabulous distractions included fell runners (training to complete 43 peaks in 24 hours…), plus chats with a fit woman who had recently coaxed her five-year-old up Snowdon in Wales, a Dutch couple wheeling their pram down the mountain and anyone with a dog.
Yet again the animals were stars. On the way up it was the Herdwick sheep (a Lakeland breed) which helped lure the kids towards the summit, and just when we were in the “death zone” – that bit at the top where logic says turn back, but emotions insist you must go on even if it’s certain death to continue (think Mallory in his tweeds on Everest) the caterpillars turned up.
This month only on the highest slopes of Skiddaw (and apparently Hellvelyn too) there are thousands, maybe millions, of brown striped antler moth caterpillars chomping through the grassy hillside. It’s a phenomenon that occurs once a decade – utterly amazing to see until you get blasé about the quantities. The girls gave several a hitch-hike in their wooly hats (Catriona, Katya and the singer/songwriter Cat Stephens) up the slopes until they were suitably disgusted by the discovery that caterpillars do many green dot poos.
After three and a half hours Lola bagged the summit first, Pete at the tail end. As Nell pointed out this was because he was so busy “talking to dragons”. Lola who is developing a penchant for sarcasm added that he only talked to the ones in claret and blue…
If you want to climb a mountain with kids then this is the one. Or hedge your bets and go up Snowdon which has a train service to the top, and a café! All the training you need is the daily walk to school…
11 June 2007: Today, fourteen years ago, my dad rescued a German tourist from certain death near the Devil’s Pulpit. Despite having to forego a few minutes of his precious casting time Dad managed to throw a lifeline to the man who had slipped on these notorious rocks and fallen into a treacherous bit of the River Orchy.
The incident is recorded in the blue leather bound estate fishing book kept in the bothy used by salmon fishermen. Most of the entries detail which fly was used, which spot proved successful and condition of the hen/cock (fish) as it comes up to spawn, but on this particular day Dad wrote: “Fresh German. No sea lice.” The weight – 150lb – might also be a give away. Sitting in the bothy with it's whisky-history atmosphere I can imagine my Dad’s wicked expression as he made this entry in such a splendidly deadpan manner.
“When you pick up your medicine ask to see the Assistant Post Master with a tail,” says the irrepressible Dr Adrienne Swan as we leave her clinic. Lola is already feeling better at having been given a treatment at the Dalmally clinic (25 miles from Oban) that includes a large chunk of Green & Black organic milk chocolate before and after the antibiotic she has just been prescribed… We have been found an afternoon slot – something our own doctor might well struggle to find if we’d turned up the same day asking for treatment – which interrupts Dr Swan’s filing. But she doesn’t seem to mind, and in addition to the treatment we also learn that she is soon off to Liberia to work in a rural clinic for five weeks.
“I haven’t flown for five years, but I figure what I’m doing in Liberia cancels out the flight.” It’s clear she’d stay longer if it wasn’t for needing to find someone to look after her dog Munro, or pay the mortgage. As a bonus Dr Swan also gives Lola her first Gaelic lesson…
maidainn mhath (say mateen vah) – good morning
feasgur mhath – good afternoon
oidhche mhath (say oichee vah) – good evening
Back in the pharmacy Lola’s recognized as the little girl who wants to learn Gaelic – we were looking for a phrase book or even printed tea towel or postcard earlier in the day - and so the introduction to the Assistant Post Master is both a treat and a lesson. “This is Ruhr (a golden retriever) which means rust or dark brown.” Ruhr puts his paws on the counter and gives a melting expression which leaves all the shop’s customers in a state of ooh and aah. Both Lola and I decide we want to move here, but of course if we did we’d want to spend all our time at the doctor’s. So for our health’s sake we better stick to the more brusque, albeit efficient, treatment that we thought was universal in Britain.
PS: Three days later we are back at the doctor's as Nell has picked up tonsilitus as well... (fyi [19 june] both children are now well)
“Are we in Scotland yet?” asks Nell at around 3am on the night train from Euston to Glasgow. Stumbling into the corridor, I look out of the window. “No idea Nell, it’s all black. But maybe we are… now let’s sleep a little longer.” If I wasn't so knackered I'd be telling her about Venice (Orient Express) or the lions and Cape Buffalo tracking the Blue Train (South Africa) or derring do and revolution as we sped through the night from Moscow to St Petersburg (Russia).
Nothing excites kids more than riding on the night train. The illicit thrill of arriving in Euston in your pyjamas, then boarding the train at ten o’clock, a whole hour before departure. Nicola and Lola (who isn't well) are in one cabin; Nell and I are next door.
Nell thought there might be a double bed in the compartment, some kind of grand four poster affair. But she’s even happier to discover we are in a cosy two-berth cabin with bunks, crisp sheets and blankets. We explore the table that opens out into a sink, discover mini toothbrushes and toothpaste, and climb up the ladder to my top bunk and enjoy an illicit midnight feast of Marks and Spencer salt and vinegar crisps. “We’ve got tables!” declares Nell, discovering that a table pulls out of the wall for bunk eating.
The other great thing about night trains is that they have a bar; the only one where you can get a seat on a Friday night in London. While Nicola minds the kids I retreat to the bar and return with a single malt whisky and chardonnay for mum and dad. Having read Nell a story I settle into my bunk and pour a wee dram while below Nell turns the various cabin lights on and off.
Sleep is rhythmic, punctuated by the movement of the train and slow stops in sidings. But then at six am we are awoken by the guard with a croissant, cake and dessert-thing each, coffee for dad and orange juice for Nell. We unwrap each carefully in a picnic breakfast, before dragging our bags on to the platform. “Are we in Scotland now, daddy?” “Yes we are, Nell, hooray!”
Go to sleep in London, wake up in Glasgow and breakfast in a bunk – there’s no other way to travel.
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
We just walked a bit of the West Highland Way (we did five miles, the whole is 95 miles from Glasgow to Fort William)... Mummy said it would be flat but it was very hilly so I got very tired and hungry. I saw lots of black slugs, they are slimey to pick up. We saw the lochan (small, wild lake) where King Robert the Bruce's sword was supposed to have been thrown. I am almost as tall as that sword (I know this because there was an engraving of the sword on a rock nearby). Scotland is very different to London. It's so calm and peaceful and very, very green. I am starting to see colours now: purple (heather, foxgloves and thistles) and yellow (buttercups, broom and gorse). It's also got a good chip shop at Tyndrum - the Real Food cafe. We liked Greg's tip about the station cafe at Crianlarich too, yum.
Sunday, 10 June 2007
8 June. We hope to get a taste of many countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood.
In a nutshell: We are staying at Glasgow's best kept secret - in other words everyone knows about Rowardennan and the amazing beaches and coves all along Loch Lomond's east side. There are cars parked everywhere, mini tented cities occupied by revellers in midge nets and community policemen patrolling. The SYHA (Scottish youth hostel association) http://http//www.syha.org.uk/SYHA/web/site/home/home.asp is packed with Germans climbing Ben Lomond (the high road) while many of the other nationalities seem to be walking the West Highland Way (the low road). Mind you it's a perfect Saturday for getting away from the big smoke: 21C degrees and sunny. Not sure if this is a sign of climate change as people say that in Scotland "summer comes in like a bicycle" (fast) or creeps in (one day in July). Now that I know how close Glasgow is to this lovely area there would be no contest if I ever had to choose between living there or in Edinburgh.
From Lola (8): So far we've seen a dog wearing a life jacket, a dead fish head and a boat capsizing. We're also staying by the biggest loch in Scotland, Loch Lomond. Yesterday I had a temperature of 102F degrees. Mummy thinks I have tonsalitis but she doesn't know how to spell it...
From Nell (6): I went on the night train and it was so fun http://www.scotrail.co.uk/slprinfo.htm. We slept in bunks (berths) and a ticket inspector gave us breakfast in bed. I wanted to hear a Scottish accent but at Glasgow station it looked like London. I didn't believe we were in Glasgow, but then when me and mum went into a shop I heard it was true. I saw a bird's nest with eggs in its nest that looked like little stones. There are loads of wildlife around the youth hostel, and this morning the fire alarm went off.
Thursday, 7 June 2007
1) FROM JAPAN
Wow. You found Vancouver in London. Can you find Japan in England? I am sure
you can find a nice Japanese garden somewhere over there. Cheers,
Stacy & Motoki Kurokawa (Nicola's Canadian cousin)
2) FROM PERTH, AUSTRALIA
Well done gaining a reprieve for those trees! The Council cut a nice tree down from the verge outside my place earlier in the year, it was overhanging the footpath, but wasn't a danger 2 anyone, and I really liked the tree. They have planted another tree now tho.
Pam XXXX (Pete's Australian sister)
3) FROM OUR NEIGHBOUR, LONDON
Have a wonderful low carbon time. Perhaps you can count this as balancing my hyper carbon time! Love, Stephen
4) FROM A FARM NEAR MONMOUTH, WALES
Come & stay? Test our new compost toilet? Sleep in the woods? We will cook too! It all sounds exciting & wonderfully bonkers. :) I'm envious... Ruth
5) FROM THE MAN OVER THE ROAD - GO TO FRANCE
Monet's garden in Dorset at http://www.waterlily.co.uk
French style wine estate in Surrey at http://www.denbiesvineyard.co.uk
French chateau in Buckinghamshire at http://www.waddesdon.org.uk
French abbey with a tomb of a real French emperor (Napoleon III) in Hampshire at http://www.farnboroughabbey.org/home.php , from Greg
6) FROM A UNIVERSITY TOWN, CAMBRIDGE
Hey! Pls do come and see us in Cambridge, we can fit you all in and I love the idea of not having to cook a meal, although the kids can now do BBQs. You have been on my mind for yonks. let me know when you will be Down our way. Dotx
7) FROM GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
Don't forget Venice (Birmingham - has more canals ;) on your travels. And Ayres Rock (Malvern- pre-Cambian rocks, more than 500 million years old ;). I am now living in Geneva (since Nov 2006) and have been doing some exploring myself.... By bicycle :)Have also visited the smoke of London a couple of times (boooooo.... Nasty carbon Iknow!) so was planning to make contact sometime. Bon voyage, Barry x
8) FROM TUNBRIDGE WELLS
If you find yourself in Kent in your travels come and stay. Hurstmonceaux is just down the road - couldn't sound more French and has a fab observatory. Think the blog looks great and good on you guys for doing something positive. Have fun, Diana x
9) BIGGING UP OXFORD
Britain exotic ?? How could that be? Surely you could fit the oxford botanic gardens and puunting through mesopotamia with the goddess Isis into your itinerary. You could even camp in our back garden - although we do have room to fit all of you (just about) in the house if it gets rainy. hope you Keep those midges at bay in scotland - midge malaria, never heard of it. Great news about west ham too. xx Lucy
10) GO TO A FOLK FESTIVAL BY THE SEASIDE
First week in August - be there and be square! The festival's smaller than it was a few years ago, so focussing more on British music but there should still be plenty of international stuff there to add to your world tour: a Brazilian samba troupe, Romanian dance ensemble, le Bebert Orchestra from Quebec, the Bollywood Brass Band (from London!) and so on.We've been a few times, and don't really bother doing many of the formal concerts as there is just low key music and dance stuff happening all over the place - pub beer gardens, town square, along the prom, .... - as well as children's and family activities every day (and a beach and ice creams). Maybe see you there bon voyage, Andrew
Wednesday, 6 June 2007
Nell (6) has never flown, Lola (in the pic) and I haven’t been on a plane since 2000 (seven years!) and now we have three months to get around the world in a carbon lite way. We're doing this by staying in the UK pretending to be in other parts of the world from the Arctic to the Yemen. As the man at the Daily Telegraph newspaper's travel section said: "it's either mad or genius."
Staying in the UK is great for the local economy, and we will use local businesses and public transport whenever we can. But because accommodation can be pricey in the summer, especially in the Lake District, we are housesitting, houseswapping (more detail on this as we travel) and staying with friends. At times we will be camping, renting a cottage or using B&Bs… You can help us travel to 80 countries - just order mint tea in a Lebanese cafe, eat pizza in an Italian restaurant or go to the US by watching a baseball game - and then tell us about it.
If you haven't decided what to do for your summer holiday, or happen to be near us you can join the adventure. This is where we will be:
8 June: Orient Express (plus a bit of Harry Potter) aka night train to Glasgow
9 June: New Zealand also known as (aka) YHA Rowardennan on Loch Lomond, Scotland
10-15 June: Arctic, aka village near Oban on the River Orchy
16-22 June: climbing Mt Everest (Nepal) via Skiddaw in the Lake District
23-24 June: Nigeria aka village near Skipton, north Yorks
25-26 June: North American Praires via a village near Bedale, north Yorks
27 June – 1 July: Yemen & Roman time travelling along Hadrian’s Wall in Newcastle (east end)
1-5 July: Canada & Chile, camping by Ullswater, Lake District
5-14 July: Germany & Baird family history around Aberdeenshire
15-16 July: Visiting the only polar bear in the UK, plus Edinburgh highlights
17-22 July: chance to be free spirits – where do you think we should go?
23-24 July: probably back to Hadrian’s Wall (west end).
25 July – 2 August: Roman time travelling along & Great Wall of China, aka Hexham
3-10 August: France via Devon & the plastic bag free town of Modbury
11-26 August: possibly Brighton, Hornby or Wakefield. Which place do you like best?
27 August – 2 September: to the home counties (Herts) with a trip to Stansted airport’s bank holiday departure lounge…
5 September: school starts
Tuesday, 5 June 2007
Children are suffering from nature-defecit disorder reports the Guardian. Well if that's so it's a shame as Lola and Nell can be occupied for hours in our grubby back garden playing with stones, locating snails and catching newts. Though it's very small, they have to be brave to spend time out there because a number of foxes use our garden every day. We think the foxes call our garden the outdoor hen cafe and constantly wait for us to be lax with our hen coop. Sadly it is easy to be outwitted by foxes. Two of our three chicks ended up as fox snacks this year.
During half term we visited Enid Blyton's former home in Buckinghamshire. Old Thatch http://www.jackyhawthorne.com is the classic English country life dream - a listed, thatched cottage with a stunning garden off a foxglove-strewn lane near the River Thames. Fairies have to live there. Way back it was a pub where highwayman Dick Turpin stabled his horse Black Bess. Now it is an exquisite garden designed by the current owner, Jacky Hawthorne.
While I tried to imagine how Blyton (creator of Noddy, Amelia Jane, Famous Five, Secret Seven and catch phrases such as "lashings of ginger beer") wrote 6,000 words by tea time and looked after two young children my girls explored the garden. They were soon distracted by the pondside drama caused by a spider's web in the arum lillies. Two bright blue damsel flies were entwined in a huge web so the girls decided on a rescue mission. It took them ages to untwist the silken cords and then another half hour to find a suitably safe spot to let the damsel flies recover. I'm not sure they thought me very kind when I said they should leave the insects on top of a plant so a bird could scoop them up and feed them to their hungry broods...
Still as the four million of us tuning into Springwatch found out when we watched the big baby owl swallowing its tiddly sibling, whole(!), after its mum failed to go hunting because of the heavy rain, nature provides spectacular opportunities for rescuing, comforting, prodding and grossing out.
Wherever you live you can join in by looking at http://www.bbc.co.uk/breathingplaces (instead of using up all that time on Penguin Club); watch Springwatch on TV or just go outside. See how long it takes to find an ant, a bee and a cabbage white butterfly and then tell us! Good luck.