Bob and I Rattle On. Again.

Let’s face it. This is a Christmas or New Year Tradition. Bob and I either go out to the hills and discuss how bad the next year will be. Or we do a New Year Podcast and discuss how bad the year will be.

This year we spent New Year’s eve having a nice time. And next day, we produced a podcast talking about how bad the new year will be.

You can find it here.

Enjoy 🙂

Outdoor Christmas Prezzies — This Year’s Report!

Regular readers will know that it is a well established practice for Kate to buy me a whole load of ‘stuff’ from Bob and Rose and backpacking Often the ingenious nature of these designs completely passes me by. But sometimes the ‘stuff’ is really useful — surprisingly so in some cases.  Things get a bit confused by Bob slipping in extra stuff in the hope that it will be reviewed. But on other occasions he slips stuff in as a sample for comment and I’ve got into trouble by mentioning things that are no available! I just can’t win. However, here is the ‘stuff’ from this year!

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Summer Hiking: An inspiration

There is something about walking in heat. Yes it can be exhausting but I like the way the body just works better, like a motor engine where the lubricant is at its most efficient in the warmth. Our current warm summer should be an inspiration to hikers but on yesterday’s walk — eighteen miles or so across Shropshire’s Hills — I encountered only one other walker! We stopped for a while and talked about this phenomenon. He assumed that most people thought it just too hot but up on the tops — with a gentle and lilting breeze — was he most pleasant place to be.

The earliest train out of New Street saw me walking through Craven Arms early enough for only the keenest of shoppers to be about. In this weather the hiker is advised to make an early start; strong sunshine warmed the limbs but the humid of the day had yet to excerpt its grip.

In high summer this landscape is at its most inspirational. Gentle hills rise to provide stunning views of small fields, lanes almost buried in hedgerows, copses and woodland. Horses grazed on the hills. Sheep sheltered under fine old oaks and chestnuts. Red kites glided effortlessly above patiently searching for breakfast. From the highest hills it is almost obligatory to take a breather and gaze out to the mystical land of Wales to the west.

These views have inspired many artists, painters, musicians and writers amongst them. But probably the most famous artist associated with these hills is the poet and ’Shropshire Lad’  Alfred Edward Housman. It is widely assumed that Housman was a local lad but he grew up in neighbouring Worcester and only discovered the county later in life. As a boy he would set out on summer evenings to climb local hills and to gaze out in wonder at the Shropshire landscape of patchwork fields and hills stretching out to the horizon. These images stayed with throughout the years and provided inspiration for poems and life, love, romance, death and the destruction of war. Today, these same hills remain a place to linger in the warmth and reflect on all life. Housman wrote A Shropshire Lad while living in London’s Highgate, never having set foot in his idealised county. Walk through any South Shropshire village today and it is hard to ignore any many of restaurants or coffee shops named after the county’s most ‘famous son’.

Shropshire’s landscape provides no less inspiration for a growing army of walkers and hikers. While there was no sight of them yesterday evidence of them was all around. Tracks and paths are now far more regularly walked these days than even they were ten years ago. Narrow paths have flattened and widened. Stiles and maintained and often replaced by kissing gate to make walks more accessible to many more. The evidence on the ground about the growth of hiking is matched by academic analysis of the tourism industry.

Most of the thinking about the future of tourism rests with the European Union who’s expert seminars and programmes look to capitalise on what is increasingly the major economic earner for the rural world. A friend of mine who is big on these things tells me that walking and hiking is one of the biggest growth areas in European Tourism. That the biggest growth of all is to found along pilgrim trails shouldn’t surprise us combining as they do stunning landscapes and the unmistakable heightening of spiritual awareness that comes from self powered travel through stunning landscape. But, he tells me, there is another factor in the growth of hiking.

The generation that few up in the late fifties and sixties became the first that had access to significant leisure time and who began to engage in sport and other physical pursuits en masse. Now these same folks are at the age when the strains of five a side football, running, squash and the rest, have simply taken too much of a toll. Hiking and backpacking is increasingly the physical challenge that the baby boomers are moving to.

My walk ended at a village that announces itself to be a Walker Friendly Town; they are rightfully proud that they were the first place in England to carry this designation. No matter how muddy, grubby or smelly you are there will always be a welcome for you here. The true end of my journey was the Buck Inn which has been welcoming walkers for most of my adult life. The Buck remains a real pub and although the beer garden is popular and the restaurant tables may carry reserved signs there is nothing pretentious about the place. Locals include you in conversation in the most natural of manner without expecting much back. And when you leave there is a courteous thank you. There’s no need to develop faux friendship here for you will simply find the place as welcoming next time you arrive.

This solitary yet inspirational walk was just the thing to set me up for a family evening event as well as the rest of the weekend. There was only one real downside. Without thinking I had planned a walk that was water free for the first three quarters of its length. By the time I made my way up the southern edge of the Long Mynd the humidity had begun to take its toll. I decided to abandon the usual good paths down to follow the line of a small stream that cuts its way, invisibly at first, down towards one of the major access batches the cut their way through the stretched-out Eastern side of this ridge. This detour would have me in sight of cool, running, water half an hour earlier than otherwise. The water was welcome and I drank litres of it as I made my way slowly down the bed of the emancipated stream, hacking through the densest bracken that I have seen here for many years.

As the mountain streams flattened out small children paddled in the shallows and the rock pools while Mum, Dad and Grandparents dozed in their portable camping chairs. At the campsite high canopies and awnings were the congregating places for those who had little energy than to open the beer bottle. Barbecues had been lit and the Shropshire air was filled with the smells of burgers and sausages.

It was all that high summer should be.


When I was one-and-twenty

I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas

But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies

But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,

No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty

I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom

Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty

And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty

And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

Keith Foskett’s Liebster Award — My Interview !!!

A month or so ago long distance backpacker Keith Foskett initiated me into some strange, but fascinating, blog chain exercise. Basically, I have received a series of eleven questions (like a mini interview) from Keith. I have to respond to these and then refer and completely new and original set of questions to eleven bloggers of my choice.

You can see how Keith made his own response here.

Anyhow, Keith I’m sorry for the delay but there’s only so much time in the day! Anyhow, here goes!

Here are my answers. I’ll post my questions and eleven new respondents later on.


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Loosing the blogging Mojo: Time to Head Onto the Ice to Disappear?

Advancing years take their toll on all of us If you’re thinking what on earth is he on about now? Well, you are probably just to young!

There is something about the death of the brain cells that makes you face up to the big and inevitable questions of life an that lead one to thing about the blogging equivalent of euthaisia!

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Must be This Way on Tour: Scottish Trip Ramblings

I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last few days arranging the forthcoming trip to the Highlands. As ever, this has proved to be a fairly frustrating experience. Oh, to be planning a trip in France or Germany!

My biggest shock was the cost of the Sleeper Train, only discovered after two days of playing with a non functioning website. For two of us to take the sleeper to Fort William it would have cost £370 which seems to me quite an increase. Rather than do that we shall travel up the day before and stay in a Glasgow hotel before trotting up to Mallaig next morning.

Given that this alternative arrangement is £150 cheaper than the sleeper I’m left wondering whether the service is long for this world. My mate Humphrey points out that we are still in the Grouse season but surely corporate shooters don’t travel by sleeper?

Anyhow, all arrangements are now made. Other than the hills themselves trip highlights should be the Old Forge (again), Curlew Cottage (just down the road from and an alternative to the Tomdoun Hotel — will report back, staying with Sue and Neil in Netwonmore, a possible breakfast with Cameron McNeish, an overnight with Paul and Helen at Walk Highlands and two fine days of mayhem with Humphrey and Mary in Berwick.

Recently, I’ve been quite miserable at the thought that I haven’t been out much but I realise that in a few weeks I will have been walking in the Highlands four times in twelve months, which is not bad at all from Birmingham.

Still, I’m now mentally in the hills. The long range forecast suggests that they are expecting me. The forecast? Rain, rain and more rain.

The State of Professional Outdoor Writing

Recently I’ve been having a lot of conversations where the future of quality outdoor writing — and the publications that support it — has been discussed. These have got me thinking so much so that I have been prompted to produce this essay.

The catalyst for these discussions seems to have been the state of our major outdoor publications. People who watch these things tell me that circulation is falling again despite some major investment being put into nearly all of our leading outdoor mags.

Some publishers that I’ve spoken to are slightly bemused by all of this. Economically, we are still going through a difficult time and we know that many people are still taking cheaper holidays and looking for healthy and cheap pursuits like walking. It seems to me that both hill walking and leisure walking and more popular than ever, certainly if I judge from the well defined nature of many paths that were in the past more difficult to discern. If more people that ever are taking to the great outdoors why are we not seeing this in circulation terms?

The answer to this conundrum might well be found in this new internet-drive, multimedia, age. It is now easier than ever before to get hold of great audio and video content and others often to point to the outdoor blogs as a source of (occasionally) great writing. Of course, there is some great material out there written by bloggers although it is inconsistent in quality and often difficult to find. Others, point to the failure of the major print titles to properly understand how to build a really effective website which draws new readers and customers. This is certainly true. Our major publishers seem happy to spend money occasionally on commissioning website face overs but they seem reluctant to employ the dedicated online editorial staff that are necessary to keep content and discussion fresh, lively and dare I say it controversial.

Our outdoor publications may have an air of decline about them. A few weeks ago I found myself chewing over some of these themes with fellow hill walker and blogger Alan Sloman. Alan was not so sure that the print versions of some of our titles would survive. He felt that their future may well lie exclusively on the internet and that in the online world they might find it easier to broaden the basis of its coverage. It was a fascinating discussion in many ways but both Alan and I were quit sure that it was critical for us to retain quality outdoor journalism and really top-notch outdoor writers.

In this post I want to consider just why it is so important that we preserve quality and professional writing and try and appreciate just how critical high quality publishers are to the mix.

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Why I’m in love with Clare Balding

An up front confession. I’m in love with Clare Balding. OK, perhaps not in a physical kind of a way, which would be pretty fruitless as Clare is one of the UK’s more famous lesbians. No, I adore the way she goes about her work.

I’m sure there are mornings when Clare gets out of bed the wrong side, curses about the world and generally lets rip at the idiots she encounters during day. But Somehow this is id difficult to imagine. Clare cuts through everything with her cheerful and positive disposition. People with cheerful and positive dispositions — those who exhibit these seemingly 24/7 — can often be unbearable, especially those with North American origins. Us Europeans like to be grumpy, to express contempt for idiots and generally not impressed by very much at all. Of course, we also quietly like to think of ourselves as more superior. (Apologies to North Americans of a cheerful disposition of which there are a number who regularly appear in these parts.) Somehow, Clare is one of those real rarities over here, someone who just cuts through everything with her cheerful and positive nature.

The secret to Clare’s success it seems to me is that she actually, really and truly likes people and all backgrounds, shapes and sizes. Is it no surprise that just a few weeks after finishing her work on the BBC Olympics Team she was jointly fronting Channel 4’s Para Olympic output. If this was anyone else we might suspected that Clare had simply jumped ship to make the most of her very recent success. But Clare is one of the few broadcasters in UK who seems to be able to wonder across the networks at will. There seems to be no question of tying Clare down to a unique, one-network contract. Indeed, I can think of no other household name broadcaster who gets aways this. Of course, Clare has now reached the status of national treasure. She has just received an OBE but surely it won’t be long before she’s made a Dame by Her Majesty. No doubt, Dame Balding will still be gracing the airwaves (or fibre optic cables) deep not her nineties.

Clare’s interest in all people makes her a very versatile broadcaster. Yes, here she is on Channel 4 covering her own sport of horse racing but we seem to have no objections seeing her pop up and work on rugby league (a particularly northern British sport culture) or on Olympic Swimming. Even I thought she was an odd choice to front up the BBC’s Olympic Swimming coverage, but thank goodness she did as she was able to take our minds off various weak presenters including demented Aussies. Apparently some of these co-hosts had achieved a lot in the Olympics but, let’s face it, they were quite boring and simply not up to working live.

Clare is also a keen walker and the purpose of this post it to really bring to your attention the current season of Balding’s Ramblings, one of the less known gems of the BBC’s radio output.

The current series of Ramblingsgoes out at 6.00 a.m on Saturday morning which is yet another illustration of how the BBC doesn’t understand what is a major participative pastime and what isn’t. Still, we have the iplayer.

Who would have thought anyone could have made a success of a simple programme where the presenter simply goes rambling and interviews walkers as they go. (Well, Bob and I did and for a while we were scandalised — we thought it was yet another big corporation attempt to piggy back on the Podcast world without wanting to support it; we were probably right about that.)

It was Bob who introduced me to ramblings when — I think — it was just available as a podcast. It took me a while to appreciate it properly and to recognise that its success was built on the focus of very ordinary people going about a very ordinary (if popular) pursuit.

As the series progresses there have clearly been moves to develop the format a little. Clare still often goes out and about with walking groups but also mixes things up now with some programmes that focus on the work or perceptions of one individual.

A couple of weeks ago the series focussed on a walking group in the South (or cluster of groups) where people came together, partly, to meet future partners — a kind of rambling soul mates type of operation. I have to confess that some of those on the programme seemed like those people who you really want to avoid when spending the night at a youth hostel. But Clare can make even the most boring of bastards seem sympathetic characters and by the end go thirty minutes even people like me start caring about them.

Yesterday mornings programme was built around a walk with author Robert MacFarlane, the author of Mountains of the Mind, THe Wild Places and The Old Ways. Their walk was not a particularly adventurous one, the stumbled out of Robert’s house in Cambridge and out on the old routes that eventually joined the Icknield Way and the other routes that run along the chalk downs of Souther England. But in conversation, Clare was able to highlight some of the key principles and philosophy of The Old Ways.It was a rather good way of introducing MacFarlane’s ideas and passions to people who will never ever pick up the books. This is one of things that pubic broadcasting is for.

The Ramblings Website includes an extensive library of past episodes that can be played or downloaded.

If you are new to Ramblings, take a look at Clare’s top 30 programmes, many of which are available to listen to online. Included in this list are fine programmes with individuals as diverse as Andrew Motion and Toyah Wilcox and fine group walks in the Wicklow Mountains, the Pentland Hills, Glen Tilt and on Dartmoor and Kinder Scout.

You may have well seen our Clare on the telly but I think the best of her misrepresented in these radio programmes.

An if Clare is reading, I reckon a programme rambling around Balmoral (a fine place to amble) would just about clinch the deal on the Dame thing.

The Unforgiven Mountaineer

Thanks to Al Sloman for bringing this blog and post to my attention. He is obviously using his convalescence well!

This is a nice nudge to those of you that like collecting Munros, bothies and so on! I’m glad you enjoy yourself but spare a few thoughts for those of us who are little more rambling in our though patterns 🙂

The Unforgiven Mountaineer

From Winter to Summer with Indecent Haste


In just a few days we seem to have gone from winter to summer, bypassing sprain entirely.  A few days ago I was struggling down to the South East wearing a Rab Vapour Rise top not only to provide some welcome warmth but to protect me from an almost arctic wind. Yesterday, out on the hills, it was all sun screen, Tilly Hats and languid warm weather walking.

One advantage of this sudden movement from the cold to the hot and the wet too the dry was the vivid nature of the landscape. Grasses were luscious and green, blooms looked in great shape and tree blossoms were strong and punchy despite (I suspect) them being several weeks late in appearing. I approached what seemed from a distance like fields of rape seed only to find that they were really meadows decked out with the most amazing displays of buttercups. In woodland bluebells were not only clinging on but they looked splendid. It is a measure, I suppose, of our struggling spring that the bluebell woods seemed just as vibrant as they did on Wenlock Edge over a month ago now. Add glorious sunshine to this wonderful, natural, tapestry and the landscape spread out in front of me seemed to be presented in an almost natural polarised light.

I chose my route to make the most of these conditions. I walked through lovely meadows, along hills which gave me a great vantage point of fabulous, gentle, rolling hills and then onto the Long Mynd from its base in the South. Climbing to the ridge I found that the uplands were in just as impressive a condition with sunshine picking out the greens, golds and purples of the heather and the gorse. To preserve a sense of solitude I picked a long and quiet descent which ensured that I remained undisturbed all day. Back down low I realised that this was one of those walks were the lush fells and woods of the lowlands trumped the drama of the high land.

It has taken a while to arrive but if summer continues like this it will be splendid. This good weather is set to continue through the weekend. It might be a good idea to think of using some of this time to escape to the hills and the country.

Plowden Woods

Minton Batch