Thursday, 30 June 2022

Tuesday - Thursday 28-30 June

Where was Erica? She had a rest day.
Weather: Not as wet as forecast, but a few prolonged showers in the afternoon.

With a forecast of rain, and with Mick having quite a bit of work to do, we planned nothing of note for Tuesday.

I needed to go for a 10km run, and also needed to post a parcel, so I opted to combine the two in a visit to Milnthorpe Post Office. The 'running' bit didn't come to fruition, not because of Monday's 50km, but because the daypack containing the parcel was too uncomfortable at anything other than a walk. So, a 10km walk was had instead, involving a foray onto a permissive path along the sea dyke, and the discovery that, contrary to how it looks on the map, you can't get back onto the road at the other end of the path.

I'd been back at Bertie for all of 3 minutes when the rain came. Good timing!

Where was Erica? She had itchy tyres and spent her time in Grange-over-Sands trying out three different parking spots (two free, one £1.20 per day).
Weather: surprisingly fine in the morning, but with heavy and prolonged showers in the afternoon.

Our running days aren't coinciding, partly by design so that we can each support each others longer efforts. Thus, Mick was to run on Wednesday but I wasn't. I still took the liberty of chosing the location, plotting him a route from Grange-over-Sands via Hampsfell Hospice.

Hampsfell Hospice. I haven't yet tried to find why this hilltop feature is so called.

Whilst he did that, I took a walk along the promenade and through the town, enjoying in the former location the presence of information signs: I do appreciate being told something about the history of a place, or what I'm looking at.

View and information signs

We might have made more of the day, but in a repeat of my experience the day before, Mick had no sooner found me and Erica (in a different location from where he had left us) when the rain started and continued for quite some time. Once it eased, a walk was taken to a pie shop, but with the sky threatening to leak some more, we wrote off any thoughts of further activities in the area and pootled back to Bertie.

Two things of note happened once back: 1) in emptying Bertie's toilet we found that his cassette and cassette compartment weren't covered in wee! Did I mention this problem that had developed during our last trip? The not-entirely-fun half hour I spent at the end of last week, replacing the relevant seal* has cured the problem. 2) Two other motorhomes arrived within a minute of each other and both came and parked by us. This was surprising, as everyone else thus far has gone in the 'with electric' areas and we've had this entire field to ourselves. Whilst acknowledging that they had every right to join us (and neither was indecently close), I did grumble at now needing to close curtains before getting changed.

Looks like a drone doesn't it?

Not such a clear snap of it, but the tree gives some perspective. It's a V22 Osprey - an interesting aircraft that I'd not come across before. We've had a number of low-level fly-bys, with plenty of warning that they're coming as they've a distinctive sound signature.

Where was Erica? She spent a few hours in a pull-in only about 2.5 miles from where Bertie is sitting, purely so that I could avoid 5 miles of running on flat road. 
Weather: Mainly fine with just one short shower so far (albeit it rained quite a bit overnight again). 

Mick had more work to do and I had another 22km to run, so I opted to do that locally, choosing a route that would take in two features that had jumped off the map at me: Dallam Tower Deer Park and The Fairy Steps.

At first I only saw sheep in the Deer Park and thought I had been missold, until I passed this group.

Passing through an oversized gryke on the way to the Fairy Steps

The Fairy Steps, where I nearly got licked in the face by a young, overly-friendly bulldog as I emerged at the top

I felt that I should have been able to see Bertie from this vantage point. Maybe he was hidden behind some trees.

Exactly half way through the distance I was looking at the map, trying to decide where to go next, when it occurred to me that the easiest option would be simply to retrace my steps. So, back up to the Fairy Steps I went, albeit I took the bypass path on the way back. Even so, I nearly came a cropper on some wet, shiny limestone further down.

A trip via Booths had me ripping into an iced bun in a somewhat uncouth manner before I'd got more than a dozen paces out of their door (the outing took me longer than expected and I'd underprovisioned), and I feared that the detour was going to cause me to catch some rain. But no, once again, it held off until I was back. We can't continue to be this lucky!

As for our neighbours, they've both left and we're back to having this field to ourselves. Not sure how many caravans there are in the other two fields, as I keep seeing them arrive, but am generally out at departure time (context: I'd have to step out of the door and walk, ooh, maybe 20 paces to see, but I haven't been curious enough to cause me to do that).

(* I was meant to buy that seal as soon as we got back from our last trip, but forgot until we started packing for this trip. As a result I ended up spending £12 on the new seal and £9.40 on next day delivery. Ouch! That'll teach me not to check my to-do list. Even so, it was worthwhile for not having to mop up wee spillages.)

The Technology I Don't Need

Before I got a smartphone with electronic mapping, I was sure it was a bad idea. It would degrade my ability to use a map and compass and why did I need it when I could manage just fine with a map and occasional use of a grid reference from a basic GPS device? Then I got a smartphone with electronic mapping and soon became a convert.

Before I got bluetooth earphones, I insisted I didn't need any. My cheapy wired earphones worked just fine, even if I did have to reseat them in my ears every few paces and occasionally, particularly on a windy day, would catch the wire with a flailing arm and rip them out entirely. It was the latter occurrence that had me, one day, searching through a drawer for an old set of Mick's wireless earphones. What a revelation! I became a convert to the wireless version, but insisted I didn't need a bone conducting model. I held out on the latter point until a couple of months ago, when I had an uncomfortable run involving a hat, my hood and an earphone being pushed painfully into my ear. I finally let Mick buy me some bone conducting headphones. The ones I went for are ridiculously expensive (more expensive than any single pair of running shoes I own, although that's perhaps more a reflection on my shoes...), but it only took one run for me to declare that they were worth the money.

One more example? Before I got a fancy all-singing GPS sports watch, I insisted I didn't need one. My old Fitbit Surge did everything I needed, with the only flaw being that it wasn't waterproof. Then Mick bought me a Garmin Fenix 5s for Christmas a few years ago, choosing that model because I insisted that there was no point spending the extra on the 5s Plus, because I just didn't need those extra features. In particular, there was no value in me having mapping on my watch, because I've always got my phone with me, and thus always carry mapping. Running in so many unfamiliar places when we're on the road, I'm quite adept at navigating from my phone as I trot along.

When Mick finally decided to upgrade his watch from a Fitbit to a Garmin Fenix, he went for the higher model. As it turned out, he never used the extra features, but did have to take the significant hit on the battery life. It was the battery life that put the first nail in the coffin of that watch for him; the final nail came when Fitbit issued a recall for his old watch, that he hadn't used in a couple of years, and gave him a full refund on it. He used that refund to buy a Coros Apex, which boasts a far superior battery life compared to the Garmin.

That left us with a Fenix 5s Plus sitting in a drawer, having decided it was of more worth keeping it than we would get in resale value. And, as it was sitting in a drawer doing nothing, I thought I'd have a play with the mapping and routes features.

The better window to have done this experimentation would have been any time over the last few months. In reality, I loaded the routes on Saturday and tried out the mapping on Monday. I learnt quite a few things about how to use it in the first lap of Grizedale Forest, and by the end of that lap I was sold. Having mapping and a route on your watch is: a) a revelation!; b) much more user-friendly than I would have thought possible on such a small screen; and c) much easier than getting a phone out to check a direction (moreover, if it's raining and my phone is throwing one of its 'accidental use protection' hissy fits).

I might have to read the manual for this device and investigate some of its other features!

Given the examples above, I also need to acknowledge that when I insist the model I've got is fine and I don't need anything better, I'm probably wrong.

L to R: Garmin Fenix 5s, Fenix 5s Plus, and Coros Apex Pro.

(Harking back to my previous post, the two reasons I should have taken along my previous watch: 1) using the mapping ate the battery of the 5s Plus at an alarming rate, getting through 50% in two laps (perhaps in part because I had some sub-optimal settings selected) - it only lasted the whole day because I charged it when I stopped for my soup and sandwich. 2) The information screens I was getting in navigation mode weren't giving me the information I wanted in a succinct enough fashion, so I need to find out how to do some configuration. If I'd had both watches with me I could have had one on each wrist and been able to see where I was on my left wrist, and all the other stats I might have wanted on my right. Of course, those other stats are entirely of passing interest; my day was in no way marred by not knowing pace, heart rate or distance at a glance.)

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Monday 29 June - Grizedale Forest

Where was Erica? She spent the day at Moor Top car park at Grizedale Forest where, true to the information on the Forestry Commision website, the Pay and Display machine is currently covered and parking is free.
Weather: Contrary to the forecast, surprisingly sunny and dry. Bit breezy later in the day, but not the windiness of yesterday.

It probably goes without saying that the main focus of this trip is running*. It's now less than a month until my event, and just over a month until Mick's. Given that Mick's event is in the Lakes, he will benefit from training on the course - hence our choice of location for the next two weeks. For me, I can run anywhere as long as it has some undulations, but somewhere other than home is my preference (for the amount of ascent I need, my options at home are severely limited, particularly as we're now fully in nettle season).

Today was, for me, the longest run in my training programme and my chosen location was Grizedale Forest. I'd plotted two 10km routes, and I planned to start with one repetition of each, then choose my favourite to repeat 3 more times (total: 50km).

After a night of heavy showers, we woke to the sound of drumming on the roof. In other circumstances, I might have deferred the outing, but there are benefits to doing a long training run in the rain. A ridiculous amount of stuff was thus loaded into Erica (I didn't want an 'Oh, if only I'd picked up X' situation), and at around 0830 off we set for the 20-mile, 35-minute drive to Grizedale.

Our entry into the empty car park was greeted by another shower. It soon passed and, incredibly (given the forecast), I felt about five spots of rain for the whole of the rest of the day, instead having sunshine for much of it.

Mick joined me for the first lap, which involved a small unintentional detour. He also joined me for my final lap, which involved a tiny unintentional detour (even though I really ought to have known the route by then).

From the same viewpoint, laps 1 and 5. 

My second lap on the east side of the forest was soon aborted due to storm damage and I scurried back to the west side for the rest of the day. No hardship - it was a pleasant route.

Mick had soup, a peanut butter and banana wrap, and a cup of teateatea** waiting for me after lap 3, and more soup after lap 4. I also ate snacks every half an hour whilst on the move, and got through about 400ml of Tailwind per lap.

My main triumphs of the day were:
1) the amount I ate and drank, such that I didn't suffer a dip in energy at any point. In fact, my final lap was faster than my first.
2) the lack of damage to my feet, with just two tiny blisters, on the ends of toes on my right foot. One is literally the size of a pinhead, the other about two pinheads.

The main anti-triumphs of the day were:
1) the back pain. I woke up on the final morning of our last trip with a sore back, for no obvious reason. It's been sore off and on since, and I didn't spend yesterday in an entirely comfortable state. When we got back to Bertie I did some yoga moves and sciatic flossing, and it's okay again today.
2) the something-behind-the-knee. Gahhhh! Eleven months later, and it's back. I only felt it for the last 4km, and it wasn't as bad as last year, so hopefully it will settle down in the next 3.5 weeks. At the moment, this feels like the biggest threat to my 24-hour race.

The only other snap I took. Not sure what I was trying to capture. 

The main lessons learnt:
1) Know how to use your technology in advance! (I'll write a separate post about this)
2) If you've got a spare gps watch, take it with you! (Given that I'd taken along 4 entire changes of clothing and five pairs of shoes, so I had options if something wasn't working out, it's ridiculous that I positively decided not to take the spare watch along. It would have been useful for two reasons.)

(*I'm using that term loosely. Both of our objectives are based on run/walking, so there's a lot of walking done on every outing.
**I tend to refer to any hot drink that involves steeping something in hot water as 'tea', and I don't generally drink caffeine. To distinguish real tea from these drinks, we call it 'teateatea'. Originally it was 'tea-flavoured-tea', which becamed shortened to 'teatea', then somehow, over the years, it gained an extra 'tea' in the middle.)

Sunday 26 June - Milnthorpe

Where's Bertie? He's sitting in a field at a Caravan Club certified (5-van) campsite outside of Milnthorpe, where he has paid for a 14-night stay at a cost of £8 per night. Electricity is available, but at £4 per night, we've opted against. Otherwise, the only facilties are a tap, drain and bins. (Exact location: 54.24777, -2.80235)
Where's Erica?: Erica is sitting right behind Bertie, but in her guise as a car, not a campervan.
Weather: Sunny intervals, but strong southerly wind.

This trip is something of a departure from our norm in two ways:

1) Heretofore the longest time that we have stayed in one place in Bertie (or in his predecessor Colin) was 7 nights. That was in Silves in Portugal when we went to a campsite for 1 night and ended up staying for 7. Otherwise, our stays are usually 1-3 nights.

2) We've brough Erica along for everyday transport. Aside from the fact that Lake District roads aren't built for relaxed driving of vehicles of Bertie's size, there are at least two roads we'll want to use on this trip that have 2m width restrictions, and whilst Bertie is slender for an A-class motorhome, he's still slightly wider than that.

We could have made the trip with just Erica, but, being so small, she's not a comfortable option for trips of more than 5-7 days. That left the options of only coming for a week (or doing two separate 1-week trips), or booking ourselves an AirBnB for a few days in the middle. Researching the costs, the answer was apparent: bringing both Bertie and Erica had more advantages, and was more cost effective, than any other option.

As for the location: it was the cheapest campsite I could find within a reasonable drive of the places we will want to go.

So, on Sunday morning, we both set out to drive north, but not at the same time and not using the same route. Mick took Erica and routed via Halifax to see his mum. I took Bertie via my sister's house. Our timings weren't too bad, with Mick arriving at our agreed layby (we thought we'd arrive at the campsite together, to make a joint decision as to where and how to park) fifteen minutes before me ...except it turned out, when I got there, that he wasn't in our agreed layby at all, but in a different layby on a different road* - an issue that was soon resolved.

The bonus of the strong southerly wind I mentioned, was apparent by the end of the journey, with Bertie having averaged 37.8mpg on the way up. It'd be nice if that wind could be equally strong but northerly when it comes to home time!

Bertie and Erica on tour together

(*With the wonders (or scariness) of modern technology, we'd both shared our Google Maps locations with each other, so at any time during the day either of us could see where the other was. It's a very handy feature.)

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Thursday & Friday 16 & 17 June – Royal Leamington Spa and Warwick

Where was Bertie? He spent Thursday night in a surprisingly quiet car park in Royal Leamington Spa where it cost £7 for a 24-hour ticket. We also paid £2.60 for an additional 2 hours on Friday morning.

Weather: Thursday – sunny and mid-twenties; Friday – sunny and hot, topping out at 30 degrees.

We left Stow-on-the-Wold before breakfast on Thursday, as our intended first stop was only 5 miles along the road in Moreton-in-the-Marsh – better to get there and get parked before the car park got too busy, we thought. A fine plan, thwarted by the car park not being Bertie-friendly, so Moreton was scratched from the agenda and onwards to Royal Leamington Spa we went (which had been our end-of-day destination).

No problem parking in Leamington, with our chosen car park being almost empty. Breakfast filled the time until the museum, in the old pump rooms, opened and a walk along the river and through the pump room gardens took us there. It was a worthwhile visit and kept us entertained for the rest of the morning – particularly good value, being free.

We might have stayed longer and ventured up to the first floor of the museum, but our stomachs were demanding attention, so we wandered into town for some lunch, before taking a circuitous route back to the pump rooms to do the 'Discover Old Leamington' self-guided walking tour, per a leaflet I’d picked up in the Information Office.

We’ve done a lot of walking tours, mainly in Spain and Germany, and this one was far and away the worst ever. In fact, it was so bad that its badness became an entertaining quality of its own. Early on it told us to look for the Spar and Post Office, telling us they were on the site of the oldest hotel in Leamington. My expectation: these new businesses (which, incidentally, are now closed down anyway) had been established in the building of that old hotel; reality: a semi-modern monstrosity of a building. All we were looking at was where there was once a different building that is now long gone. With the tour continuing in the same vein, I was almost ready to abandon it after three (of 15) points of interest, yet by then I was intrigued by whether there was anything of merit included.

Of the (alleged) points of interest on the tour, this was one of the 3 I could argue had some merit. It had a blue plaque! John Ruskin once stayed here.

A prime example of the quality of the tour – we were taken down a dead-end side street to see Frank Whittle Mews. What has this modern building, with no aesthetic merit, got to do with Frank Whittle? Absolutely nothing, other than being named after him.

Fortunately, before we started the tour, I’d taken a diversion to the other side of town to have a look at Lansdowne Crescent – a crescent of town houses built in the heyday of the Spa town, in the same style of those seen in Bath…

…and we’d also walked through the town where there were historic buildings of (it seemed to us) more historic interest than those included in the tour.

The day was hot by the time we got back to Bertie, which was a little unfortunate from the point of view of my need to go for a run. I set out at gone 5pm in the end, leaving Mick to make tea (salad – too hot for anything cooked), and went and sweated up and down the river and Grand Union Canal.

Fountain of the Day – The Hitchman Fountain, erected in 1869.

Home for the night, but as car parks within a few minutes’ walk of a town go, this one was surprisingly underused and perfectly quiet overnight.

A sweaty start to the day with runs along the Grand Union Canal to the east of Leamington…

A good brood!

…then showers and breakfast before driving 1.5 miles to take advantage of the free parking at Tesco just outside Warwick (I’d assumed there would be a 3-hour parking limit, but
there wasn’t, so we could have moved there first thing, rather than paying for more parking in Leamington Spa) for a quick look at Warwick.

I went on a school trip to Warwick Castle somewhere in the region of 40 years ago, but otherwise neither of us knew anything about the town other than that it’s ‘historic’ (a fact known because we’ve countless times driven past the sign on the motorway that advertises ‘Historic Warwick’).

Yep, it is historic!

Entrance to the castle, which is as far as we went on this occasion

I would like, one day, to return to the castle, but this wasn’t the day for it, so we made do with looking at the entrance courtyard as we explored some of the town’s side streets.

Another quick lunch out (this last week has been like a veritable holiday; seldom do we eat out so much), then it was a brisk walk in the heat of the day back to Bertie and the drive home – a slow and frustrating journey on a Friday afternoon.

We’re not due to be here very long before we’re off again for another trip-ette.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Wednesday 15 June - Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold

Where's Bertie? He's in a car park in Stow-on-the-Wold. We paid £5.30 to park here during the day, but it's free overnight (and, kindly, the machine has credited us with the 21 minutes that today's payment took us into the free period, and added it onto tomorrow's departure time).
Weather: Gloriously sunny and hot.

I feel like we've had an unusually successful day of touristing today, as a result of which I've taken a lot of photos. How am I going to be concise? (I ask like it's something I regularly achieve!)

I'm sure you'll not be surprised to know that the day started with runs. For knee protection purposes, Mick stuck to even surfaces today, whereas I had plotted myself a route taking in parts of the Diamond and Monarch's Ways, as well as a couple of other local paths. It turned out to be a bit of an involved route, crossing field after field, but it was all lovely (except maybe the three cattle fields, and particularly the one where sucklers and calves were all standing right in front of the exit stile) and, even where the undergrowth was high and the path hemmed in, nettles were curiously absent.

Snaps from the run. The village was Clapton-on-the-Hill.

Showers, coffee and crossword, a bit of housework, and 1pm was upon us, which felt like the latest time we could reasonably stay at the Football Club without paying for another night. So, we left and drove the 5 miles along the road to Stow-on-the-Wold.

Lunch was our first priority on arrival (not entirely true; first we faffed around finding the best available spot in the sloping car park), which was followed swiftly by our first walk around.

Without the waterway running through it, and being more towny, it's not as visually attractive a place as Bourton, although by the number of coaches and tour groups, it's just as popular a tourist destination.

Look at all the different levels in that roof line! Such character and individuality in the buildings. The price tags in the estate agents are, accordingly, eyewatering.

Our first walk around didn't reveal a great deal of interest aside from admiring a vast array of pretty and interesting buildings. However, Mick had seen a sign as we left the car park suggesting five points of interest worth visiting, so we returned to check out what it was we should see. Only two points seemed worth a look: the well, and the 'Tolkeinesque' door of the church.

The well? Well! This was Mick's opinion on 'was it worth the walk all the way down here?':

In the field opposite is evidence of an Iron Age fort, although very little of it is visible with the greenery blocking the view at this time of year.

What both of these Points of Interest lacked, that could have transformed our visit, was information signs. Had we been in most European countries, there would have been an information sign or two telling us something of the history of both features (and doing so in multiple languages; based on our observations, Dutch and French would be appreciated hereabouts).

The church door itself would have been relatively unremarkable, if it hadn't been for the two huge yew trees acting as sentries:

I can see why the church yard was full of tour groups photographing this

Unlike the tour groups, we also went into the church where they had provided multilingual (but not overly informative) information sheets, as well as signs interpreting most of the stained glass window scenes.

Pretty street immediately outside of the churchyard

After all the bustle earlier, the streets were relatively deserted by the time we made our way back to Bertie, and my stomach was suggesting that teatime was almost upon us.

Tuesday 14 June - Bourton-on-the-Water

Where's Bertie? He's sitting on a patch of grass behind the club building at Bourton Rovers Football Club, for which privilege we have paid £15, including access to a toilet, water and a drain.
Weather: Some cloud in the afternoon, but otherwise sunny and warm.

I slept until gone 7am! Bliss! A lazy start then ensued. Over breakfast I started looking at possible destinations for today. The original plan for this trip involved us heading over to Cheddar*, however, for a number of reasons**, it no longer entirely made sense to do that. After much map-poring, I settled on Bourton-on-the-Water. We've both driven through some of the Cotswold towns in the past, but neither of us has ever really visited the area and, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't any significant diversion from the most direct route home.

The drive through Burford on the way to Bourton had me exclaiming "Isn't it pretty?!", and Bourton hasn't disappointed either, even if it was, during our afternoon wander, rather too busy. Being a hot day, a huge number of people we passed were eating ice creams, and with the number of ice cream vendors, I wondered how many ices are sold each day. Later I got a partial answer: the chap selling ice creams from a chest freezer on the front of a bicycle, from the Cotswold Ice Cream Company, said they sell 8-900 per day. The ice cream is made just across the road on a daily basis and once that day's allocation is gone, that's it - they have no more to sell. In the whole town there must be many thousands sold on a warm day.

Pretty and people. I'm sure many of the people in this snap were carrying ice creams.

We had no plans for what to do with ourselves, but when we came upon the Motor Museum, we impulsively bought tickets (£7 each) and went in. It's apparently the #1 tourist attraction in Bourton, and whilst it's far from the best motor museum we've ever been in, it was diverting enough. It was, however, a bit cluttered with some slightly random displays (it reminded me of the place that I refer to as the Concordeski Museum in Germany).

Emerging back into the late afternoon, Mick had a cream tea on his mind, and given the choice between the place whose chalkboard offered a 'large scone' or the one boasting 'an enormous scone' he chose the latter. The scones were indeed large, and good quality too.

No clotted cream on mine. Cream is, in my opinion, an odious substance.

We walked back to Bertie via a far longer route than was necessary, taking a path via the ponds/lakes that sit behind the Football Club, taking us past the campsite where we had wanted to stay, if only they'd had a pitch available (just for the location, it would have been worth the £3 more than we are paying here). I shall investigate more paths in that direction in the morning.

For now, as I type this, Mick is in the football club bar, watching England play (lose to, as it turned out) Hungary. I'd feared the tables outside the bar would be busy with noisy revellers into the night, as there's a Motorcaravan Club rally going on on the football pitch, but the few people who were using the outside tables were exceedingly quiet and had all gone by 2030. (It turned out they close at 2130 anyway. They did let Mick stay to see the final whistle, but he was the last one out and they locked the door as soon as he was through it.)

(*Cheddar was on the agenda for 3 reasons: 1) when we omitted the circuitous route via the Gorge on our LEJOG walk in 2008 we did so on the basis that we would return to visit the Gorge properly, yet 14 years later we still haven't been near the place; 2) I saw a video a few weeks ago of someone running across the top of the Gorge and through the Mendips and immediately declared we needed to go and run that route ourselves; and 3) That route goes over a Marilyn I've not yet bagged.
**Primarily: 1) this was originally supposed to be a 3-week-trip, but latterly got cut down to 2 weeks; 2) the length of the run I want to do in the Cheddar/Mendips area doesn't fit in with my training plan for this week; 3) it's far enough out of our way to need a good reason to go there.)