Duke of Edinburgh Award

Why I don’t want to go camping and walking this weekend.

The Duke of Edinburgh group from school have their camping and walking training expedition this weekend. It’s something I’ve been keen to get involved in ever since I’ve been a teacher but has never happened. As soon as the call went out for staff to help out this weekend I volunteered. Then I didn’t hear anything. I had been looking forward to it and it will be really useful for me to be involved in this as it could be relevant to my future plans (so I wasn’t volunteering just to be altruistic!) …

… then just before Easter I got the chance to do a free post-grad course that is relevant to my teaching and could widen my options later on. Great, except the one day Saturday school clashes with the Duke of Edinburgh weekend. I thought I could still manage both if I went straight to the campsite from college on the Saturday evening. At least I’d still get to spend the night camping and be involved with the walks and orienteering on the Sunday. But now I have so many other things to do, I’m actually hoping everyone has forgotten that I volunteered and I can spend my Sunday catching up on other things instead. Things like marking, doing my homework for web design, reading and planning for my uni assignment, gardening, ironing, cleaning, sorting through paperwork, and so on.

Not as exciting or as much fun, but I’ll feel a lot better to have it done. Especially as I’m planning to go down to Exmoor the following weekend for the half term week. I really need to get my life under control then I can relax and enjoy my free time.

The Ramblers

Joining the Ramblers and finding out their office staff aren’t very good at map-reading.

I’ve recently rejoined the Ramblers. I was a member a few years ago and although I only ever went on one walk with them, I did like the magazines and I like the idea of supporting them as a pressure group. They do a lot of good work keeping public footpaths open and fighting for rights of way. When my membership expired I couldn’t afford to renew it. I’ve always intended renewing but never got round to it. Now that I’m getting serious about walking and a future life involving the outdoors I thought it a good idea to rejoin.

My welcome pack has just arrived. I’ve got the latest magazine and a note saying I should receive the new handbook in the next few weeks. Unfortunately they seem to have signed me up to the Upper Wharfedale group. From what I can make out the walks all seem to be aimed at people living in Leeds and Bradford and their surrounding areas. There must be a group closer than a couple of hours drive away! I can’t remember which group I was assigned to last time; maybe Stockport or Derbyshire? So I’ll have to contact them and ask them to find me a closer group. It’s a tad concerning though that a national association involved with maps, distances, areas and so on doesn’t seem to know that Manchester isn’t a suburb of Leeds!


Why do people pay to have hairs ripped out of their skin by the roots? I really want to know.

Waxing might seem a strange thing to have on a list of things to do before I’m 60. Not much of a challenge, some people do this regularly and have done for years. But I never have. I’m quite intrigued by this aspect of personal grooming and why people would pay to have hairs ripped out of their skin by the roots. It’s a cross-cultural phenomenon, though in some cultures other substances such as sugar are used instead of wax. What exactly gets waxed (and how much of it) is both culturally and fashionably determined.

This really seems like something I should experience for myself, yet I’ve never tried it. Partly this is through fear of physical pain, but also it’s because of the fear of financial pain it will cost my bank account. Waxing is not cheap.

Each time I go to college to do my web design the walk from the car park takes me past the hairdressing and beauty therapy department where there is a functioning salon. I had a look online at the treatments and prices on offer and it is cheap. There are two prices depending on whether you have a junior or senior trainee. They also offer other treatments I’m interested in such as eyebrow and eyelash tinting and massage. So it’s convenient and cheap – really no excuse now to not get this done.

I’ll start with my legs and will probably just get my lower legs done first. Then I’ll assess and decide whether this is enough to complete this challenge or if I should do more and get other bits waxed as well before I can count it as complete. I’ve just found a video on youtube of someone having a Brazilian bikini wax. It took ages, looked even more painful than I’d imagined, and her ‘bits’ got redder and redder as the procedure went on. So I don’t think I’ll be going that far. But who knows? Watch this space …

Hathersage Walk

A circular walk from Hathersage

Jean, the mother of a friend from Kent, has just spent the weekend with me. She wanted to see a bit of Manchester, but most of all she wanted to do a walk from Hathersage as she missed out on a trip there with her walking group earlier in the year. We planned to do the walk on Saturday, but changed it to Sunday when we saw the weather report. This turned out to be the right decision as we got a wonderful day, whereas on Saturday it had rained heavily for most of the day.

One of the tasks on my list is to get my walking group leader’s qualification. I would like to start on this fairly soon and to do it I need to log walks I have done in 3 different areas of the country. The Peak District will definitely be my main area as this is my regular stomping ground. I haven’t walked for months though. Firstly because I’ve been incredibly busy and secondly because I had an accident involving a car and a house that put me out of action for a while. So as it was my first time walking seriously in a few months we didn’t choose a particularly strenuous walk.

We started off parking in Hathersage and buying sandwiches (oven bottom muffins) and eccles cakes in the local bakery to have for our lunch. Jean was surprised to see signs on the local pubs and cafes saying ‘muddy boots and dogs welcome’. Muddy boots and dogs are usually not at all welcome in Kent!

Our walk took us across fields to join up with the River Derwent, which we then followed for a while. Our walk book did a slightly bigger loop, but this would have taken us away from the river and it was so nice walking along the bank it would have been a shame not to. We walked through a wood alongside the river with bluebells to one side of the path and wild garlic to the other. This meant lots of stops for photos and to munch on the wild garlic flowers. We crossed at the stepping stones and had fun taking more photos as we jumped across them.

We then headed up away from the river. When we came across a field of cows with a sign telling us we could buy ice cream from these very cows we felt obliged to take the slight detour involved to get to Thorpe Farm, home of Hope Valley ice cream. Well, it would be rude not to wouldn’t it? Especially when they’d gone to all the trouble of putting signs up. So after choosing our cow we strolled down to the farm. The ice cream (or hot chocolate if it’s a cold day) is made on the farm with milk from the cows. What a great example of diversification! After enjoying a very large cone of panacotta, chocolate and coffee ice cream it was with heavy legs we set off again. Really, it seemed to have gone straight to my legs. 

We continued walking to get to the northern most point of our walk which was near Green’s House. A local artist called Lyn Littlewood has a studio here and she had signs up saying she was open. I last did this particular walk 7 years ago with Louise, Jean’s daughter. We called in the gallery then and Lou bought a painting for which we later had to call back to collect with the car. It was only when I went in the gallery this time that I realised she only actually opens her studio one weekend a year. What a coincidence that both times I’ve done the walk it’s been when she’s been open! The garden was also open so after a look around the studio we walked round the garden so I could pinch ideas for my own tiny yard and garden.

When we left Green’s House the walk headed south more or less in a straight line all the way back to Hathersage. When we stopped to look behind us we could see the magnificent Stanage Edge outlined against the horizon. We dropped into a wood and found a well-placed bench by a foot bridge where two small, but speedy streams joined. The whole area was full of bluebells and dappled by the sun. And we had it all to ourselves. We knew we wouldn’t find a better place to have lunch so stopped to eat our oven bottoms.

As we continued our walk we passed more of the halls thought to have belonged to the Eyre family. We’d seen some earlier on in the walk too. This was the family from whom Charlotte Bronte borrowed the name for her most famous character and novel. They owned seven halls – they’d had to buy them for their children. No-one’s exactly sure which seven they are now, but they have a pretty good idea. Although these halls are nice and fit in with the area we did pass one on our right that can only be described as a monstrosity. It was a collection of over manicured gardens, precisely placed over-large Italian style vases, a long (very long) drive with horse head sculptures on the over-large gates … everything stood out like a sore thumb and was a total blot on the landscape. The only thing that could be said to be good about it, is that it is a good example of how money can’t buy taste! 

Rant over …

Towards the end of our walk we called in at Hathersage Church to have a look at Little John’s grave and to have a cup of tea and a slice (ok, a wedge) of victoria sponge. There are quite a few Robin Hood connections in the area, the Little John grave being just one of them. It’s thought feasible (if he existed at all) as in 1784 when the grave was opened a thigh bone that could only have belonged to a man over 7 feet tall was found. 

This was our final stop and after our cake we walked back into Hathersage and to the car. We’d walked just under 7 miles and it had taken us 6.5 hours! This was because of all our stops. We’d had a great day though and felt like we’d done much more than just a walk.

Volcano Book

Getting some inspiration for my lava quest.

I had to go into Manchester for the dentist after school and as I had a bit of time to kill I popped into a remaindered book shop. I was quite excited to find a hardback book full of colour pictures of volcanoes for £2.99.

I first got interested in volcanoes when I travelled in Indonesia a couple of years ago. I saw several steaming, grumbling and smoking volcanoes but no actual lava. The nearest I got was Merapi which is really active. You have to go with a guide if you want to go into the danger zone (very Top Gun) but even with a guide it’s not possible to go to the rim which is in the forbidden zone. The morning I was there it was spewing lava. I could hear it grumbling. I could feel it rumbling beneath my feet. But did I see lava? No. The morning I was there the lava was pouring out of the other side! So now I’m on a lava quest.

In recent years both Merapi and Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland which I saw the following year, have had full blown eruptions. I missed both. Just to rub salt into my wounds I got stuck in Antwerp over Easter last year because of the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud. Not that that was such a bad thing. I got an extra week off work and got time to explore Antwerp. But both times I missed the lava. One day I’ll see it, I know I will.


Making decisions about a writing course.

I’ve always liked the idea of being a writer – work when and where you want to, write about things you’re interested in, get to do things that other people don’t, and so on. However, I realise that I might not like the reality as much as I like the idea. Having constant deadlines, having to write in a way an editor wants me to rather than the way I want to, trying to sell my work, and so on. But unless I try I’ll never know. A few years ago I started to think more seriously about this and managed to get paid £100 for a 200 word article I wrote for the Times Educational Supplement. Then life got incredibly busy again and I never got round to writing anything else. I’ve always kept travel diaries, but haven’t really written anything else. So if I do get seriously involved in writing I think it would have to be travel writing in some form or other (I would include outdoor activity type writing in with this though).

A friend who lives in Bali has been writing for her local paper for years. She’s written on education in past, but mainly writes a review and what’s on type column these days. She’d like to get more involved in writing and has found a correspondence course with the London School of Journalism that she is interested in doing. I had a look at the course online and there is a travel writing version of it which sounds really interesting. I don’t necessarily think a course would be a guarantee for me becoming a wonderful writer, but it might focus me and give me some direction in styles and markets.

I was fully intending to apply for this course in the summer when my web design course finishes, but then I got the opportunity to do a post-graduate certificate in specific learning difficulties which is paid for by the TDA. After a bit of thought I decided to go for it. How often do you get the chance of free education these days? And it’s an area I’m interested in and may open up more job opportunities for me in the future. It’s an awful lot of work on top of everything else I’m doing, so now I have to decide whether I can really take on the travel writing course as well. There’s no point doing it if I’m not going to do it properly. But I don’t really want to postpone it by a year. So in the next month or two I have a big decision to make.


The pros and cons of learning to ride a motorbike.

I’ve always liked the idea of riding a motorbike – having all that power in my hand and being open to the elements instead of hidden away in the tin box that is a car. I’ve been on the back of few bikes and it’s been ok but nothing special. I want to be in control. In the last couple of years I’ve had a go at driving (riding?) a skidoo and a quadbike and enjoyed both.

I’m not really sure how much I’ll like the practicality of motor biking though. When it’s bad weather I want to be tucked away in the warm dry environment of my car and when it’s good weather I really won’t want to be wearing all that hot sweaty protective gear. I’d still like to give it a go though.

Without having a bike I don’t know how good I’d be able to get. I could have a few lessons at a place where they provide the bike, but it’s only by riding regularly on my own bike that I’d get to be good and really know if I like it or not. If I had my own bike there’s the problem of storage. Maybe I could store it in my future hostel?

On my web design course I’ve become friendly with a woman who has a bike and is a member of a group of women bikers. They often go out riding in the Peak District together. So she could be a good contact for my future biking life!

Web Design Course

Why I want to learn how to create my own website.

Ever since I first started learning how to use a computer in the latter half of the 1990s I’ve enjoyed them, found them fascinating and wanted to learn more. As I’ve got more and more hooked on the internet I’ve wanted to understand more about how it works and how it is put together. So this is one reason for my enrolling in a web design course. The other reason is so I can put together my own website for the hostel I plan to own one day.

I started a beginner’s web design course last September at the local college. On this course I learnt the basics of HTML and got quite a good understanding of how websites are created. I enjoyed it and finished in February with a distinction. This motivated me to sign up for the intermediate level course which began immediately after the first course and runs until July. On this course I am learning how to use Expression and Java, amongst other things. I’ve found it a lot more difficult than the first course but think this is mainly due to being so tired and exhausted all the time. I have no time to practice at home and by the time I get to college I’m half asleep. Yesterday evening I was quite alert as it was the first day back at school after the Easter holidays and I’ve had a good rest and feel really relaxed. What a difference! I understood everything and feel that I did quite well. So there’s hope for me yet!


I want to learn to play the drums, but what sort of drum should I go for?

I don’t play any musical instruments but have always felt that I should. That it would make me a more complete person in some way. I’m not naturally musical and actually think I’m tone deaf, but why should I let a little thing like that stop me.

I’m interested in a few instruments such as the guitar, piano and violin, but the one that really interests me is the drums. I love the sound of drums and there’s just something appealing about having a legitimate reason to bash the hell out of something. What a way to get rid of any frustrations!

As a whole drum kit will take up too much room, I think I should start with something like a bodhran or bongo drums. I bought my nieces one of each for Christmas and so had a go of them then and quite liked them. A couple of nights ago I almost went back on to the same website I got their drums from to order myself some, but decided to hold off for a month or two as I’ve had a lot of other expenses recently. Then towards the end of a school meeting today the Head of Music mentioned that her department had lots of bodhrans that never get used and she’s looking to get rid of them. Straight away I asked if I could have one, as did a few other people. So I think I’ll be getting a free bodhran when she gets round to sorting them out. I asked if she also has any bongos going spare but she didn’t think so. We all have to get rid of so much stuff before we move into the new building next January that I think there will quite a few more instruments up for grabs as well. Hmm, wonder what else I could learn?

I’ve had a look on the internet for a ‘teach yourself drumming from scratch’ guide, but they all seem to be more for regular drums. I’ll keep looking, but also may have to look for lessons in the future. I don’t want to be a brilliant drummer (I know there’s no chance of that), but as long as I understand the basics and can bash out a bit of rhythm I’ll be happy.

Cycling Japan

Why cycling round Japan might be a good idea.

I’ve wanted to go to Japan for years. I have Japanese friends who returned to live there a few years ago and visiting them gives me even more of a reason to go to Japan. Why haven’t I gone already?

  • When I’ve had time to go on holiday I’ve been busy visiting other places instead
  • I’d like to go for long(ish) time and so haven’t had long enough holidays off work
  • It’s very expensive
  • It’s difficult to get around and really do anything without knowing the language and a lot about the culture.

So, if I’m going to get around to ticking this one off my list I have to get over these four main issues.

The first one isn’t so major. I’ll make time for it at some point. I have plenty of time to get to all the main places I want to visit before I’m 60 and still have time to visit others as well.

Now I’m a teacher I have 6 weeks holiday in the summer. Spring and autumn are meant to be the nicest times to go as I’d get to see either the blossoms or the autumn leaves. But I could cope with missing out on those as long as I got to see the country. I’m not sure if even 6 weeks would be long enough, but I may get even more time in the future if my hostel and freelancing life plans work out. So issue no.2 is fast disappearing. 

The expense is a problem I still have to really deal with. Some people say it’s not as expensive as I think especially if I’m not staying in luxury hotels. Which I definitely wouldn’t be. I recently read an article in a travel magazine about cycling round part of Japan. Now that would be a really cheap way to get about. I could camp (hopefully – I don’t know much about the camping situtation in Japan), carry lots of packets of instant noodles, and get to out of the way places without it costing me anything.

The problem with the cycling solution is I’ve never ridden really long distances before and never carried all my gear on a bike. I would like to do this though, which is why doing a long distance cycle tour is also on my list of things to do. By doing my cycle tour in Japan I could tick off 2 challenges in one go. So now, I need to think about practising and training. I bought a cycle rack for my car at Christmas so I can take my bike out to the Peak District and cycle some of the converted railway track trails. I do want to cover these as they are very scenic, but they make for boring walking. They will make a good start for my cycle training though. As I’m too busy to even get out walking or go to the gym at the moment I don’t know when this will happen, but hopefully before the summer.

The fourth issue with my going to Japan is the culture and language. I have a friend who is a Japanophile (is there a proper word for that?) and has studied the language for years. Even she had lots of difficulties when she visited. The language is written in a mix of Japanese, Western and Chinese characters. Although she knew the Japanese and Western characters, all the Chinese characters made things very hard to read. Also there are so many rules for every little thing you do. Because foreigners don’t know the etiquette it makes it very difficult to achieve even half of what a Japanese person can in the time, and there are many things you miss out on completely.

Starting my visit by staying with my Japanese friends may be a good move as I can learn a lot from them. Akiko is pretty adventurous and not your typical Japanese woman so she may even be persuaded to do a bit of travelling with me. I’ll need to learn a bit of the language, though I have no plans for that just now. I’m studying a couple of other things at the moment and need to get them out of the way before I take anything else on. I can make a start on the culture though. I’m not starting from zero as I already know quite a bit (not nearly enough, but more than your average British person). I’ve just bought The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture which is a bit out of date but still a good place to start according to the reviews on Amazon. I must also read my Josie Dew books about her cycle tours of Japan. I like her books but I’ve never got round to reading these two even though I’ve owned them for years.

And still on the cycling theme – I’ve just come back from the Netherlands which is the world’s most cycle friendly country. As I go there most years, I could do a bit cycle tour training there. There are plenty of places it would be great to cycle round for a few days and I could carry all my gear to practice. I’ve done some cycling there in the past (including this visit) so I know how easy it is. A great place to start.

So these are my Japan visiting and cycle touring plans so far. When I start writing them down like this I feel like I’m actually getting somewhere. When they are just ideas swimming around in my head it doesn’t feel like I’m actually doing anything towards my goals. But actually, they are all ticking over all the time in the back of my mind.