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From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

Archive for the category “Walking”

Making a molehill out of a marathon

It’s no secret that regular brisk walking – just 20 minutes or so a day is good for you and will keep you in the kind of shape you’d like to be in. But walking on a regular basis – particularly if you don’t have a dog or, like me, can simply sidle upstairs to work – can be less compelling than one supposes. That’s proved true for me. My aim to take exercise at least five days a week has looked a bit threadbare on a number of occasions. And suddenly the date of a giant walk we’d optimistically committed to at the beginning of the year had arrived. The folly of it.

Yesterday, on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, miraculously sandwiched between two duck-weather days, the Husband and I set off on a Coastal Challenge Walk. The route took us along the stunning Northumberland Caost from Budle Bay just above Bamburgh south to Alnmouth taking in seaviews, landscapes and three castles (I’m counting the views out to Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island). It was a marathon. Literally. That’s 26.2 miles. We completed it in 9 hours.

Lindisfarne Castle

Bamburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

Three castles. From top to bottom: Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh.

What kept us going? Chatting to people along the way. Keeping a couple of friends who were rather fitter than us in our sights – and walking the final leg with them. Gorgeous scenery. Excellent organisation from Shepherds Walks – who offer a range of fabulous-sounding less demanding walks as well as these stonking leg-buster challenges.  The cheerful and kind encouragement from the volunteers who manned the checkpoints. Regular munches of cheese and pickle sandwiches. And, above all, the realisation at around the 15-mile point that we really could do it. Something that we had both secretly doubted.

A reviving doughnut, Seahouses Harbour

A reviving doughnut, Seahouses Harbour

We were pretty much in permanent forward motion for 9 hours on fairly uneven terrain and today – bar a few aches and pains – our limbs are still functional. We are pumped up with achievement and the wonderful adrenalin rush that comes from intense exercise – we even braved the drizzle this morning for a cool-down stroll along the banks of the Tweed. Would we walk a marathon again? Possibly not. But we’ll certainly be striding out again for sure – enjoying the fact that our bodies are rather more capable than we gave them credit for.

Finish line

We got the T-shirt!

We got the T-shirt!

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Aim high and don’t worry if you fall short

My resolve is totally soluble. The minute I make a resolution my stamina evaporates and my willpower collapses. If I decide to lose weight I am drawn moth-like to all things tooth-decaying and girth-expanding.

Which is why, this year, I decided to set aims for 2015 rather than make Resolutions. Four aims to be precise. This means that by 22nd January – the day when, apparently, the majority of us have given up on our diet, exercise, or whatever health-giving regime we adopted on Jan 1st – I was still within the boundaries of my aims, although far from fulfilling them.

It is a mystery to me why it is so hard to do things that one believes one really wants to do. Three weeks is not long in the overall scheme of things: 21 days to break or make a habit, so some say, is all you need. Well, not in my world. It took me 100 years to give up smoking. It was Allen Carr’s “Easyway to Stop Smoking” (this was pre vapes and patches), that finally helped me beat the nicotine. Hurrah!

The first of my 2015 aims was to have at least two alcohol-free days a week. I had written ‘three days’ in my notebook but, bearing in mind that goals need to be achievable, I scratched that ‘three’ out before the last midnight chime on 31st December. For me it is easy to slip into the prototypical role of middle-aged women with an evening wine habit. And I’m not alone. A recent study in Australia found that 13% of women aged 45 to 59 average more than two drinks a day – maybe a glass with the evening meal followed by a TV tipple – massively increasing our risk of alcohol-related illnesses. The thought is that our regular snifters easily sink binge drinkers under the table. Sobering. What have I discovered so far? Not having a bevvy in the evening is easy as long as there are: 1. No stressful occurrences. 2. No joyful occurrences. 3. No visitors. 4. No going out. Oh, look, it’s not easy – but I’m hanging in with one lapsed week so far.

 

Just a glass of water for me with that delicious piece of cod.

No chilled wine for me today. Just a glass of water with that delicious piece of cod.

Eating no meat or fish for two days a week has proved surprisingly family friendly despite the fact that we’re all rabid carnivores. I’ve often written about my discomfort with the ways we produce and dispatch animals, so this was a logical extension. Eat less meat but know its provenance etc. Actually, we’ve been so delighted with lentil curries, bean stews, spinach and feta pies (if you’ve never piped spinach and ricotta into cannelloni, erm, just do it!), that we’ve surpassed the aim most weeks. Although I have been a tad naughty with a splash of chicken stock in soups and the occasional stray anchovy on a salad, I’ve become quite the carrot hugger.

I've become quite the carrot hugger.

I’ve become quite the carrot hugger.

Exercise five days a week – even if it’s just a turn around the walls of Berwick. The Husband and I wildly and optimistically committed to a coastal challenge walk in May. It’s 26.2 miles from Budle Bay to Alnmouth – you’re supposed to complete it in 11 hours. Today we thought we’d managed three miles but it turned out to be 2.5. We may need an extension.

Getting out and about is proving quite a challenge for us.

Getting out and about is proving quite a challenge for us.

Finally, to rise at 6am on two days a week. I know that’s not early for many people, but it’s an hour before I usually see the sky. The three times I have managed it, I’ve got an enormous amount done in that precious hour. And, yes, you read correctly. Three times. But this, I think, is the thing about aims: unlike resolutions, aims don’t crash and burn when you slip. They sit there, waiting for you to edge towards them – even if, like Alnmouth in relation to Budle Bay, they seem more elusive mirage than attainable goal.

Somewhere under a rainbow

A treat to pop out this afternoon after the torrential rain and find that Berwick truly is a place under a rainbow. Snapped with my mobile phone.
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The birds, the bees… and a spot of Tai Chi

Is it just me or is there more nature happening this year? More bees, more birds and, yes, more reproduction. I’m having a bit of a love-in with nature at the moment. And, as so often happens during such spells of intense awareness and appreciation, serendipitous encounters contrive to enhance the glow.

At a friend’s house, I happened upon a book by the writer and broadcaster Richard Mabey, “The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn”. The friend was good enough to lend it to me. It turned out to be a library book – which could have been complicated. Thanks to Berwick Library for keeping things simple: our library’s a fabulous resource, please love it and use it. Mabey’s essays are a thoughtful exploration of the harmonies between science and romanticism through nature’s lens and an excellent counterpoint to the idea that science and romanticism must always be at loggerheads.

Richard Mabey’s inspirational book

Having hens at the bottom of our garden means regular sorties to deliver scraps, check for eggs, deal with poo, massage Vaseline into scaly legs and, most recently, a broody hen that stands no chance of raising a brood. This is how we know the crows talk about us. Like the vultures in “Jungle Book” they telegraph along the treetops: “Caw! Here they come! Caw! They’ve got leftover porridge. Caw!” It wouldn’t surprise me to find them wearing bibs and holding knives and forks by the time we reach the hens.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to find the crows wearing bibs and holding knives and forks.”

Bees interpret scent cues across substantial distances, passing on the gen to other bees. According to Mabey lead free petrol residues react with odour molecules messing with the bees’ ability to interpret scent, which may be a factor in their decline. Happily, our raspberry canes have been mesmerisingly and slightly terrifyingly alive with bees this year. For the last four years, The Husband has been building a structure to protect the raspberry canes from birds. Four years! “It needs done!” I cried, avoiding eye contact and shoving him into the humming cauldron. And, hey presto! the berry protection strategy is complete. No bees or husbands were harmed during implementation, the bees pass freely, the birds are largely kept at bay, and I will eventually get to grips with the intricate hook and eye system.

Despite berry deprivation, our garden birds are bursting with natural fulsomeness – families of blue tits, starlings, dunnocks, sparrows, great tits, blackbirds and wrens are all making a go of it just outside our window.

Friends recently guided us on a scenic circuit in the Cheviots – somewhere I really haven’t spent enough time. Mabey describes a moment when, listening to the nightingale’s song, it was as if, “the bird was in my head, and it was me that was singing.” “Yeah right.” I thought. Until the Cheviot walk, that is. Our ramble rolled through scrub and heather where the birdsong was genuinely tumultuous. The skylarks were particularly abundant, dropping like leafy musical notes to their nests. And, yes, the refrain wasn’t only outside, it was somehow also inside me as I walked. Shelley, in To a Skylark says, “Pourest thy full heart/In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.” And there’s the rub. Counter to what Shelley says, nature – birds singing, bees pollenating, animals reproducing – isn’t an accident. All that ‘art’ has a ferocious purpose – attracting, repelling, sounding the alarm, and ultimately being.

The Cheviots: A fabulous place to wander with friends.

The Cheviots: A fabulous place to wander with friends.

I’ve been popping along to Castle Vale Park Viewpoint in Berwick on a Wednesday morning for an hour of free Tai Chi (every week til the end of August 2014). It’s part of park manager Kate Morison’s drive to ensure the newly refurbed park spaces are used for positive purposes. High above the Tweed making its way to the sea, the flowing movements of Tai Chi seem particularly apt. As we shift and sway, nature gets on with doing its stuff around us. No more or less than usual – just noticed more by me.

The view we enjoy whilst doing Tai Chi and, coincidentally and extraordinarily, the one I enjoyed with Colin Firth when he visited Berwick on a recce for the film The Railway Man.

The view we enjoy whilst doing Tai Chi and, coincidentally and extraordinarily, the one I enjoyed with Colin Firth when he visited Berwick on a recce for the film The Railway Man.

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(A version of this post first appeared in The Berwick Advertiser in July 2014)

 

Out of Berwick – delightful spots to visit (and escape the Berwick Fury)

It’s the time of year when The Husband and I like to grab a glass of evening wine and meander down the garden, chewing the metaphorical cud as we go. And, there’s been quite a lot of cud to chew lately what with one thing and another.

Sundowner moments are rather precious: time to catch up and wind down, take in our marvellous surroundings and simply to be. However, there are a number of relatively taboo subjects in our household right now. What with The Husband being on the town council. Many of the things we enjoyed mulling over – festivals, being a Portas town, local shops, buildings and gardens, Berwick itself – are, these days, topics laced liberally with anxiety and a desire to skip over the wall to other shores.

Sometimes it's good to get away - now matter how beautiful Berwick is

Sometimes it’s good to get away – no matter how beautiful Berwick is

So, in the interests of health and sanity, I am heading away from politics, from loud and publicly vented spleen, and from those who have the stomach to take the body blows. Although why any sane-minded person would want to be a town councillor, I cannot fathom. Ooops. That sounds a bit like, ‘I told you so!’ and, when The Husband became a councillor, I promised those words would never pass my lips. So, here are some family friendly places a few paces or wheel turns away from our feisty town.

Chain Bridge Honey Farm. Four miles out of Berwick – learn about bees and bee produce. I read on Facebook recently that a cream made from farm honey had triumphed over dermatitis where numerous prescriptions had failed. Tumble down the hill to the historic Union Chain Bridge – in 1820 the longest wrought iron suspension bridge in the world. Today you’re more likely to hear the call of a goosander (or perhaps glimpse an otter) than the thunderous sound of Captain Brown’s carriage crashing across his bridge, proving to the 700 bystanders that the structure would support their weight and save them the slog to Berwick one way and Coldstream the other.

Half a mile along the river is the 18th-century neo-Palladian mansion, Paxton House. The adventure playground (with zip wire) tucked into the woods above the river ticks the kid box. The house contains tales of doomed love and plantations and a fine collection of Chippendale. Plus there’s a café – and people who dress up. And it’s river-trip season (check timetables) – why not take a boat from Berwick Quayside and sloosh along to Paxton – spying out fishing shiels and wildlife along the way?

Boat trips along the Tweed from Berwick Quayside...

Boat trips along the Tweed from Berwick Quayside…

...a great way to see things from a different angle

…a great way to see things from a different angle

Plenty of walks lead you out of Berwick. One of my favourites circles the cliff edge by Berwick Caravan Holiday Park towards Eyemouth.  Although peering in windows is fun, the real views come later. About 30 minutes out of Berwick you’ll find the Needle’s Eye, a spectacular natural rock arch. This time of year cliffs are packed with nesting seabirds (kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills). You might spy puffin but the Farnes, a short sea ride out of Seahouses, is way more reliable for puffin spotters. Extend your walk from Needle’s Eye to Eyemouth and St Abbs for more coastal treats.

The Needle's Eye in the background - a short step north along the coast from Berwick

The Needle’s Eye in the background – a short step north along the coast from Berwick

In Eyemouth is the splendid Gunsgreen House. The hands-on displays and stories of smuggling skulduggery are compelling. Stroll over the estuary for fish and chips on the Bantry, some nosh at Oblo or a Giacopazzi’s ice cream. Yum.

There are many more delightful places just over Berwick’s threshold – hop on a bus to Holy Island, continue to Bamburgh for the castle and tales of sea heroine Grace Darling, mosey to Ford and Etal for steam trains, castle and a functioning corn mill.

Sometimes you need a nudge to get out and admire the exquisite things just beyond your doorstep. As the Berwick fury shows no sign of abating, I may be gone some time.

Plenty of spooky smuggling secrets to uncover at gorgeous Gunsgreen House, Eyemouth

(A version of this post was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on 1 May 2014)

Putting the ‘fun’ into run and other unexpected associations with stars and suchlike

Have you noticed how people tend to associate themselves with others’ good deeds/intelligence/bravery/creativity and take pride by proxy? David Cameron calling Nelson Mandela ‘Madiba’ is an example. Through use of Mr Mandela’s pet name, Mr Cameron is subconsciously or consciously trying to grab a few rays of Mr Mandela’s glow. Maybe, just maybe, 2014 will be the year our current PM will bring peace, humour and a statesmanlike presence to world politics. And maybe as a nation we can bask in reflected glory. Maybe.

In that spirit, I would like you to know that I had lunch with Kate Humble (BBC TV Naturewatch series) the other day. The Husband and I were heading cross-country on a bit of a pre-Christmas mission. Have you ever broken your journey to partake of a light lunch (The Old Bakehouse, West Linton – very nice) and stumbled across a TV crew and presenters, some dressed as elves and Santas, tucking into a Christmas meal? Surreal as it is, that’s what happened to us. Honest. Someone once suggested that I look a little like Kate (it’s the hair). However, Kate’s petiteness, button nose, and media sparkle are unlikely to rub off on me, despite my name-dropping.

Kate Humble

We were en route to Ayrshire to sample the sumptuous delights of Michelin-starred Glenapp Castle. Even more thrilling, we were going to view the Geminids. Those of you who have been caught up by the brilliant news that Northumberland’s own Kielder Observatory and surrounding area have achieved Dark Sky Park status will probably have the gen on the Geminids – a seasonal cascade of meteors, clearly visible to the naked eye during a couple of nights in December. The Husband and I had a hot date with freelance science communicator, writer and astronomer, Steve Owens, and were hoping for a cloudless night – we lucked out. Steve briefed us in the warmth of Glenapp Castle (with the sounds of the meteor shower playing out through an app on his phone!) letting us know we’d probably see fewer meteors than on a clear night.

Glenapp Castle Hotel

And so it was that we lay trussed up in blankets, atop sun loungers, on the manicured lawns of Glenapp, under the moody Ayrshire sky. We looked like stranded Farne Island seals. It’s hard not to give a football-crowd-type cheer each time you see a trailblazing flash in the sky. We saw 30 or so in a couple of hours. Apologies people of Ayrshire.

Geminids – a photo from National Geographic

So, stargazing looks set to become a new hobby for 2014 – and forms part of The Husband’s birthday surprise (you’ll have to wait and so will he!). Last year we celebrated his rapidly augmenting years with a trip to Edinburgh and I fell into the trap of saying ‘yes’ to a challenge I should have, well, run a mile from. I agreed to do the BUPA Edinburgh Great Winter 5k Fun Run. A friend recently commented that, ‘Fun and run aren’t two words that I’d put together.’ Be that as it may, I have spent the best part of 2013 preparing for this wretched run – three times a week, rain or shine, along river and round coast.

And now the joy is nearly here. Berwick Bloke (a lifeboatman with Berwick RNLI and my challenger) and I will be speeding (or shuffling in my case) our way round Arthur’s Seat on January 11th. We’ll be raising a bit of cash for the fabulous RNLI who risk their lives to look out for those in peril on the sea. After that date I will never have to trot my aged bones up Bankhill again. Yes, 2014 will be the year that I truly give up any attempt to be athletic.And, by association, that means you can too.

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POSTSCRIPT: We did it! And actually it was fab. So far we’ve raised around £900 for the excellent RNLI – there’s still time to sponsor so please do consider popping over to my giving page. All contributions – big and small – gratefully received. http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JackieKainesLang

A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser in January 2014

Walking through the pain, the rain – and anything else on the path

We enjoy loads of beautiful views on our training walks – but the scene on the ground isn’t always so lovely

Did I mention I’m doing the Edinburgh MoonWalk? On the night of June 9th, five days before the Olympic Torch passes through Berwick, I shall be pounding the streets of Edinburgh, wearing a decorated bra and a determined expression. The good news is that I won’t be alone. I shall be in the company of thousands of similarly clad women (and plenty of men too).

Many, like Paxton Friend, will have had breast cancer, or be undergoing treatment even as they walk.  According to Cancer Research UK 1 in 8 women will be affected, and it’s growing faster in Scotland than anywhere. Reports (World Health Organisation) show that many breast cancers could be prevented by reducing alcohol, change of diet, exercise and, most importantly, keeping a healthy weight. For many, the MoonWalk is the first step to a lifestyle change. It will be an emotional and exhilarating night. After all the training and blether we’ll actually be doing it – walking 26 miles. Fast.  The atmosphere will be brilliant –embodying Walk the Walk’s motto: raise money, raise awareness, get fit and have fun! And, yes, we’ve set up a fundraising page – do give if you can. Thanks!

London Daughter, two former school friends and me before our one and only team walk so far

I was prompted to do the London MoonWalk eight years ago after my mum had breast cancer. Staggering over the line, London Daughter declared, ‘I shall never do that again!’ I’m chuffed she and her two former school friends are joining me. But virtual training is tough. So I advertised myself on Facebook asking the people of Berwick to train with me. One response was all I needed – and that’s what I got. Step up Paxton Friend.  Our four or five-mile walks have become 12 miles; 15-minute miles, 12-14-minute miles. We’ve invested in ‘technical’ footwear to support our high insteps and rolling gaits. When family chat lulls, we do body checks: ‘Have you got that achy thing in your toes?’ ‘No, but my shins are throbbing and one of my glutes is pulling.’ Training makes you hyper aware of every little ache and pain.

It also makes you hyper aware of your environment – the terrain you’re walking on, and the scenery that whizzes by. The Husband insists I’ve lost the ability to simply walk and enjoy my surroundings. He’s right that I even treat putting the bin out as a training expedition. However, my powers of observation are alive and kicking.

Living around Berwick it’s hard not to be aware of litter hotspots such as the Nile Delta of cans down the bank above the Tweed, beneath Meg’s Mount.  Others are less obvious but equally unpleasant. There’s a lovely circular walk along the Tweed via New Road and back along the other bank from the picnic site at East Ord. It’s blighted by the stream of detritus you have to pick your way through beside the A1. Do people think litter evaporates when thrown from a moving vehicle?

Nile Delta of beer cans above the Tweed in the heart of Berwick

The other day, at a well-known fast-food outlet on the outskirts of Berwick, the car in front received their goodies through the window. Moments later, wrappers flew out. Did they realise what they were doing? Do they know that councils spend thousands of pounds of our (and their) money clearing litter? If ‘dine and dump’ were an Olympic sport – we’d be in the running for a medal.

Sight for sore eyes – litter along Goody Patchy, the disused zig-zag railway track above Tweedmouth down to Dock Road

When I was a gal, my mum would reduce us to tears if a scrap of sweetie paper so much as fluttered from our tiny, chilly fingers. At school ‘litterbugs’ were thoughtless creatures worthy of contempt. Whilst Paxton Friend and I are engaged with a campaign that enables a whole cross-section of society to choose to do something positive for themselves and for others, it’s kind of ironic that, each time we go out, we are faced with the evidence of people choosing to do something that has a negative impact on everyone.

(A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on 3 May 2012)

Training to walk: a blueprint for life

Sometimes I wish there were a route finder for life. Something small and neat that you could whip out of your pocket at key moments. It would be so much easier to make choices if you knew where they would lead, how they would work out, and how long the ramifications would last.

Perhaps that’s why giving and taking things up at New Year is so popular. After all, how dangerous or hard could it be to commit to regular exercise, or lowering your alcohol intake, or phoning your mum weekly for 365/6 days? I read somewhere that almost half Americans make New Year’s resolutions but only 10% keep them. Hats off to the 10% – I don’t think I’ve ever made it through February.

With my lack of persistence in mind, I decided to set two goals for the year, one of which will take me through the first six months and then, hopefully, continue in some form for the remaining six. I’ve signed up for the Edinburgh MoonWalk in June. It’s organised by Walk the Walk, a charity raising awareness and funds for breast cancer. London Daughter and I did the London version eight years ago (we had a little reunion to enjoy the night walk supporting Hospice Care Northumberland in Berwick in 2010). The MoonWalk is a gruelling 26.2 miles starting at midnight and finishing as soon as your little legs can carry you round the circuit. The hallmark is that everyone wears decorated bras as they power–walk. That, and people’s stories – perhaps a date and name on a bare midriff remembering a loved one, or a simple one word status, ‘clear’ or ‘survived’ – marks this event out for me.

Entering the  MoonWalk is not entirely altruistic on my part. You need to train for it. Since we moved up to the great outdoors from London, I have found it harder to exercise. It’s a funny thing but, now we have walks and walking on our doorstep, we do less of it. In London walks of reasonable length were more easily incorporated into everyday life. Walks to the bus stop, tube, shops or park. When we first moved to Berwick, each day was an opportunity to walk the town’s walls, or the shore, or along the river. Taking time out to walk and enjoy our beautiful surroundings was justifiable as part of our moving process.

Swans – the only wildlife I was quick enough to capture on camera on a recent walk in Paxton – the oyster catchers and yellow hammers eluded me.

Walking is a time consuming pursuit and, 18 months on, it seems self–indulgent to simply ‘go for a walk’. Several people have suggested a dog. Well, The 10–Year–Old would burst with joy and The Husband would leave. Anyhow, isn’t it daft to feel one has to justify an activity by creating a new one? And there’s the poo. So, moving swiftly on…

Paxton Friend’s dog. I still don’t want one!

Since fast walking is my exercise of choice, my prevarication about ‘going for a walk’ has proved fatal to my waistline and general wellbeing. So I figured that walking a marathon would galvanise me to action. My new Paxton Friend and I are quartering Berwick and Paxton, chatting as we go.  We try to push ourselves a bit more each time – faster and further.We both walk alone too (Paxton Friend has a dog) – and agree that we feel perfectly safe doing so. Although walking at night is a different matter and one we will have to address if we’re to continue to train effectively. Funnily enough, lone London night walking feels less exposed if you pick your circuit well.

Paxton Friend and dog

And that’s one of a number of things I’ve discovered about resolutions and ambitions through my training so far. A realistic plan and good support are key to making progress and keeping engaged. And plotting and planning routes is fundamental to not getting lost – confirmed by a Saturday morning spent roaming around the cliff tops looking for the coastal path between Berwick and Beal. Of course there’s a map. And next time – I’ll take it with me!

View from Canty’s Brig, Paxton

Do take a look at The Barn at Beal.

(A version of this article was first published in The Berwick Advertiser on Thursday March 1st 2012)

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