Sunday, 14 December 2014
Regular visitors will know this happens from time-to-time: I've fallen behind with the blog again. It took a new acquaintance asking me whether I had a blog to remind me that I've three months of write-ups to complete.
I will endeavour to catch up before Christmas. There's lots to tell, but I suspect the story might be told by a staccato voice in order to get any words out.
Thursday, 18 September 2014
A split decision
It seems we're as split as the nation. We'll be fascinated to see what the result is tomorrow morning.
One thing seems clear: which ever way the vote goes, there's an opportunity to build something new in Scotland, be it an independent country or a part of a refreshed federated union of nations. We're glad to be here north of the border for the week. We'd love to remain for longer and participate in helping the nation move forwards.
Cockburnspath → Tyninghame
Familiar, forthcoming foreign?
« Eyemouth | Aberlady »
Just north of Cockburnspath the beautiful dell of the Dunglass Burn marks the boundary between the Scottish Borders and East Lothian. The Berwickshire Coastal Path ends here and is replaced by the John Muir Link, a relatively new waymarked path that links two coast-to-coast routes: the Southern Upland Way whose eastern terminus is Cockburnspath and the John Muir Way which ends in Dunbar. It'll be many years before we reach their western termini at Portpatrick and Helensburgh respectively.
Once again the mist obscured the worst of man's sins on this stretch: Torness nuclear power station and Thorntonloch caravan park. (Here we saw a St George's Cross being flown high above a static van. It seemed dangerously out of place.)
The high cliffs that we've been walking on for two days have ended, replaced with dunes and heathland reminiscent of East Anglia. It seems I'm not the only one to have made this connection: the sands of Belhaven Bay stood in for Suffolk in the BBC's recent film Castles in the Sky that recounted the development of radar.
Being Referendum Day I was delighted that we ended outside a Polling Place, in the village of Tyninghame. By the time we start tomorrow we'll know whether in a couple of years' time we'll be walking in a foreign country.
Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Eyemouth → Cockburnspath
For much of today we were shrouded in mist. I wonder how many feel the same way about the referendum. The choice that has to be made is clear: Yes or No. The trouble is being able to see further than a short distance ahead; whichever way you look the way forwards is unclear. Walking through the thick mist and fog for a day was hard enough; it must be difficult to go to the polling stations tomorrow with the same lack of clarity.
This was always going to be the hardest walk of the week, and the weather didn't help.
We tucked our heads down and just ploughed through it. So memories of St Abb's Head — which should be a highlight of the Berwickshire coast — are as limited as the visibility was. I suppose one positive outcome of the mist is that the extensive caravan parks at Hairy Ness and Pease Bay were obscured from view.
Sadly also obscured were the rock strata that have famous geological significance. We never did see Hutton's Unconformity, which surely is one of the most intriguingly named natural phenomena of the east coast.
Eventually we found ourselves above the charming harbour at Cove. This sanctuary is reached by a steeply descending path that begins in Cockburnspath, running down the cliff and through a hand-cut tunnel to emerge at the back of the beach.
The Berwickshire Coast Path is very well sign-posted, to the extent that only twice today could we not immediately identify the onward route. Despite the lack of a view we were able to recognise that this is a jewel of a coast path. If only we could've seen more!
Tuesday, 16 September 2014
The Border (Marshall Meadows) → Eyemouth
Of late many people have asked me the Scotland Question. This is the week I provide my answer: yes. Yes, we will be walking round Scotland too. (What do you mean, "there's another Scotland question"?)
Today's short walk then was a declaration of intent; an opportunity to get the legs warmed up again after seven months off. This week of all weeks had to be the time to start walking round the North Country.
The sky was as grey as it was back in February as we posed for a photo on the border. Passing through the gate we said "goodbye" to the comfort blanket of England and Wales' Public Rights of Way and "hello" to the liberating Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Maps will no longer show green or red dotted lines for permitted routes; instead, pretty much all land can be walked across. It will be a while before we're used to this!
"They've never quite got over the Disaster," was the description we were told of the people of Eyemouth — our destination for the day. Our reporter wasn't sure what the Disaster was, but pretty soon in Burnmouth a bronze sculpture of people scanning the horizon explained more. On 14 October 1881, communities along this coast were decimated when a storm took the lives of almost 200 fishermen and a significant percentage of the local fleet. Each of the villages that lost men has a similar sculpture.
Eyemouth today remains a town focussed on its harbour. Seals swim freely amongst the boats, performing for the tourists who throw them scraps. Overlooking the harbour is the "House of Secrets". In its garden a TV news crew were making a film about the referendum. Behind them the lifeboat negotiated its way into harbour.
This boat is the focus of Eyemouth's biggest tourist event: the Herring Queen Festival. It provides the transport which brings the newly appointed Queen into the town, ladies-in-waiting at her side. The festival takes place in July, but pride in the event was still evident today with various houses around the town bedecked with plaques declaring them to be the place of residence of various key participants.
It's been a short walk, but a good welcome to the next stage of our coastal trek.
Monday, 15 September 2014
Weaving a Union
Today I drove from the west coast to the east. And as journeyed I zig-zagged back and forth across the Scottish border, placing a stitch in England and another in Scotland at each of the twenty-four places a public road crosses the border.
Here are the two dozen roads. Each photograph was taken in England looking towards Scotland.
Two thing were evident from today's trip.
First, the border is a stunningly beautiful place, even in today's drizzle. From Gretna where "No" campaigners have been constructing a "Hands across the Union" cairn to Lamberton where the A1 thunders across the invisible dividing line, this is a landscape I scarcely know.
My second observation is that after a few crossings I began to forget which side I was on. On occasions the English side of the border felt Scottish with tall pine forests while the gently sweeping pasture to the north felt English. The border line became invisible in places; at a few of the crossings it wasn't marked at all.
On Friday we'll discover whether or not this will become a new frontier. Either way, I'm inclined to start planning a walk that mirrors today's drive.
The most unusual part of the journey was the twelve-mile unsurfaced Kielder Forest Drive. A lot of fun although a little nerve-racking in a Honda Jazz, particularly when I got to what appeared to be a roadblock manned by Gherkas on exercise.
Thursday, 11 September 2014
A frequent reaction when people learn of the Coastwalk is to ask me where the best bits have been. It's a difficult one to answer, but I do secretly harbour a list of places I'd like to revisit. Today I've ticked one of those off.
I scarcely mentioned Sunderland Point on my write-up of the walk from Morecambe to Lancaster nine years ago. Although I only spent a couple of minutes walking through the cluster of cottages it left its mark on me and I've longed to return.
Ordinarily Sunderland Point is reached by a tidal causeway. The tide was in today so I instead parked a mile to the north-west at Potts Corner and walked along the edge of the salt-marsh to a track that leads to the village. Back in 2005 I'd cut across to the village on this track but today kept walking along the edge of the marsh.
Eventually the land runs out and the Point is reached. After scrambling round its rocky end I dropped onto the beach and made for the houses.
I'm at a loss to describe the village; is it melancholic, beautiful or stoic? Perhaps all three. Cut off by the tide it was deserted, peaceful and enchanting.
Sunderland Point is by no means a tourist destination, but it's a place I'd recommend anyone visit. Go when the water is high. Walk from the north. Pay your respects to Sambo.
Tuesday, 26 August 2014
I loved being part of the Greenbelt team in Cheltenham. But this year I've loved even more being a normal punter at the first festival of the millennium to be held in a green-field site.
It was really rather wonderful. Long may Greenbelt be green.
Saturday, 23 August 2014
It's time to present the questions for last week's answers.
Last week Martin persuaded me to do a short talk at Greenbelt. It's not a topic I would've thought presenting in public, but here goes. This is the text of what I'd intended to say. The full seven minutes were recorded for posterity so later in the year we'll find out what I actually said.
"You look incredible!"
People are friendly at Greenbelt but I wasn't expecting this.
I've many friends here that I only see once a year and I'd forgotten: this time last year there was 50% more of me. I've changed.
Mostly people ask the same questions:
"Are you well?" Yes, Very healthy thanks.
"Are you trying to lose weight?" I guess so.
"What's your secret?"
One of those friends suggested I take a few minutes to answer the last question publicly.
So here goes: "How technology can help you lose weight faster than you might imagine."
BMI is a scary concept isn't it? In December last year I was obese. To join the minority of people in this country who are a healthy weight (only 1 in 3 of us!) I had to shed four stone. One stone seemed an insurmountable challenge. Was change possible? Could it fit with my life?
It started with a hunch. I've never been particularly inactive (I walked 500 miles recreationally last year) but I felt I just needed to get out a bit more.
The latest mobile phones can track motion, so perhaps an app could help. The first I tried was Nike+ Move. It awards you Fuel for your activity, and you can compare one day with the next to see how you're getting on. I got hooked on trying to improve my weekly average and soon topped the UK leaderboard. It was amazing what an extra half an hour's walking in the morning did.
The problem is, I didn't always have my phone in my pocket.
Various companies have fixed this: they've taken the motion detection electronics and squeezed them into wristbands, clip-on gadgets or little widgets that nestle in your pocket. One birthday later I ended up with this: a FitBit One tracker.
It's really quite a simple device. It's a pedometer. It counts steps. So far I've taken 7,410 steps today. Since I've also told it my height, it can estimate how far I've walked: 3.06 miles. It's also got an altimeter, and it reckons I've climbed the equivalent of 15 flights of stairs.
The gadget synchronises with an app on the phone so I can see these figures there too, and I can compare one day with the next. Each day I try to walk at least five miles and climb ten flights of stairs.
It's got another trick up its electronic sleeve too. And it's and age old one. Having told FitBit my age and weight, it can convert my day's activity into an estimate of the number of calories I've burned: 1,385 and counting.
I use the app to keep track of the calories I've eaten, and the theory goes that so long as I burn more than I eat I'll lose weight.
If you tell FitBit what your goal weight is, and how hard-core you want to be, it'll give you a budget so you can see how many calories you've got left each day. Too few? Go for a quick walk found the block. Too many spare? Eat cake.
You can even hook it up to digital bathroom scales that record your weight automatically so you don't even have to track your progress. (Side note: don't weigh yourself in my house, although I'm surprised at just how many visitors do.)
Is it really that easy? I tried it for two weeks in January. It seemed to work.
Eat less. Exercise more. Who knew? Why did no one tell us?
Of course we all know the secret. The trick that FitBit and others pull off is that they bring all the critical information together in one place. Information is power.
After four months I'd lost four stone. I'd changed. I'd joined the healthy minority.
I'm reluctant to say FitBit is the secret. It's not a panacea This device did not make me lose weight. I did it myself. But at times it's been hard work.
It's hard counting calories when eating out, though many restaurants publish nutrition information online.
Trying to track calories consumed at a festival is futile. This weekend I'll be queuing at Cambrian Organics with everyone else.
But come Tuesday I know what I need to do to get back on track.
So if you - like I did last year - feel you could spare a pound or two, there's three things I'd ask you to remember.
Information is power.
Change is possible.
You are incredible.
Thursday, 21 August 2014
Over the next few days I'm likely to meet a good few people who I haven't seen in a year.
If those encounters are anything like others I've had recently, there are a set of questions that are bound to come up. Here are the answers.
- No, I'm quite healthy thanks.
- Yes, deliberate.
- Twenty-six kilograms.
- Eight inches.
- Eat a bit less, walk a bit more.
If you get to The Treehouse at the right time this weekend you might catch me explaining what the questions are.