Friday, 31 August 2018


Greenbelt 2018: Acts of the Imagination

Thirty years ago I was one of five teenagers turning up to our first Greenbelt Festival. Sixteen years old, and deeply impressionable, my life changed that weekend. I'm delighted it did.

I've been back to the festival every year since, and after ten years started to help organise it. 2018 is the first time I've not had any volunteer role in twenty years; this year I was a regular punter.

As ever I saw a lot of different things at the festival, but this year one act stood out perhaps more than any other has over the years: Pussy Riot. The Riot Days gig was the best thing I've ever seen at Greenbelt. It was a theatrical version of Masha Alyokhina's book, presented in the form of a punk gig. The gig told of Masha's part in Pussy Riot's infamous Punk Prayer, and her incarceration and challenges to Russia's harsh criminal justice system. It was loud, chaotic, shouty (in Russian with English subtitles), rude and a shock to just about every sense.

It was also liberating and challenging.

For example, is Putin's courting of the Orthodox Church any different to Trump's alignment with Evangelicals? Or for that matter, is it appropriate for me to say that I believe that the Christian faith is incompatible with voting for the party of individual personal wealth?


Two phrases really stuck with me: "Freedom doesn't exist unless you fight for it every day" was the penultimate line of the gig. But on the previous day when asked in an interview what the Greenbelt audience could learn from Pussy Riot, Masha simply said: "You are the motherland of punk". We don't need to learn. We need to act.

Two hours after the gig there was still a long queue for signed copies of Masha's book. Most seemed to be young, impressionable teenagers. I've never been more proud to have played a small part in Greenbelt's story. Long may it continue to upset, disrupt and inspire.

Posted by pab at 21:11 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Monday, 13 August 2018

Pennine Bridleway

Settle → Birkwith

ribble.jpg Distance: 17.42 miles
Ascent: 725 metres
Duration: 5 hours 12 minutes

« Not walked | Not walked »

This morning — just like four weeks ago — I found myself facing the end of a long weekend with a good distance ahed of me let to walk, and the prospect of rain coming in. At least this time I had the sense to have breakfast at my hotel before heading off, but that meant maintaining a pretty stiff pace all day.


Flowerpot Bo Peep shepherded me out of Settle, and after traversing the hillside I was soon crossing the River Ribble on the floor of the valley. A roundabout route on the other side took me along old green drove lanes from village to village, before finally ascending the flanks of Ingleborough.


The Pennine Way doesn't climb the hill itself, but the landscape it crosses is equally splendid, with vast limestone pavements reminding me that Malham Cove isn't the only place to see this remarkable rock formation.


In the end I made it to Horton-in-Ribblesdale with plenty of time to spare, and the rain didn't start in earnest until I was safely tucked inside the Crown Inn with a late lunchtime drink. One by one Pennine Way walkers (and one end-to-ender) wearily made their way into the pub, soaked to the skin having hauled themselves over a cloud-shrouded Pen-y-Ghent. Hopefully the camaraderie in the bar made up for the lack of a view from the top.

Once again I've had a great weekend; it would've been perfect had I not left my iPad in the station waiting room on my way home.

Posted by pab at 15:38 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Sunday, 12 August 2018


Le Vent du Nord

It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the best gigs take place in the cities. Settle's Victoria Hall convincingly disproved that theory tonight.

le-vent-du-nord.jpgIt was midweek when I noticed that the quintessential Québécois quintet that Emma and I saw three years ago in Glasgow were playing in this Yorkshire town tonight.

The gig was tremendous: fiddles, hurdy-gurdy, mandolin, keyboards, accordion, tap and all. I suspect Le Vent du Nord aren't capable of pulling off anything less than a thrilling, joyful performance.

victoria-hall.jpgThe real star for me though was the Victoria Hall itself. Claiming to be the oldest music hall in the world (though I'm aware of at least two others that lay claim to that crown), it's run by volunteers, has a lovingly curated artistic programme and equally diverse selection of drinks at the bar. The hall felt like the centre of a community of which I was proud to be a temporary member. I'll be back.

Posted by pab at 22:40 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Pennine Bridleway

Barnoldswick → Settle

alpaca.jpg Distance: 18.87 miles
Ascent: 592 metres
Duration: 5 hours 45 minutes

The parallel path
« Not walked | Not walked »

white-moor.jpgOnce again the weather has been kind to me. Sure, I didn't get the wall-to-wall sunshine of yesterday, but more importantly on a day that had a forecast of non-stop rain, I remained unexpectedly dry. After the prolonged heatwave, it appears as though normal service has been resumed when it comes to the weather.

aire-gap.jpgIt's proving increasingly difficult for me to describe the Pennine Bridleway without reference to the Pennine Way. When I realised that today's leg started and finished with hills, but was otherwise across farmland, I remembered the route from Ickornshaw to Malham across the Aire Gap. Today I've crossed the same geological gap, about five miles to the west.

settle-milestone.jpgThe best of the walk was the end: the long climb after Long Preston, and the drop into Settle. Between these two the character of the landscape changed to moorland, and with dark clouds brooding in the east it felt dramatic and exciting, something that's generally been missing elsewhere on the bridleway. The fact that the Settle milestone is to be found at the top end of town on this track perhaps indicates its importance as the old traditional route across the moors.

alpaca-pot.jpgSettle itself is a lovely town, full of nooks and crannies, and well worth an explore. It's right in the middle of its annual Flowerpot Festival, with constructions made from flowerpots decorating every building and corner of the town. I've been through Settle on the train so many times but never stopped.

The town is also home to the Victoria Hall, said to be the oldest music hall in the world. Fortuitously there's a show on tonight that interests me, so here's another first on a walk: a post-exercise gig. Should be good.

Notes for future walkers:

  • The signpost was missing at the foot of Brook Lane west of Halton West, but the turning is easy to find if you're got an eye on the map — it's immediately before Town Farm.
  • There isn't a signposted route in Long Preston. I stayed on the B6478 until just after it crossed the railway before picking up a path behind the houses on the left. After crossing the A65 at the village green, the route out of the village is Green Gate Lane, tucked away on the left.
  • The route in Settle is similarly vague. The best option is probably to head downhill until you hit the main square although I think the formal route stays on the highest road, just skimming the easternmost edge of the town.
Posted by pab at 15:30 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Pennine Bridleway

Worsthorne → Barnoldswick

solitary-tree.jpg Distance: 16.48 miles
Ascent: 781 metres
Duration: 5 hours 26 minutes

« Not walked | Not walked »

My wish was granted. Today's walk was the best I've had so far on the Pennine Bridleway, and will be something I'll remember for a long time. Gone were the stony tracks that were such a feature of earlier legs, replaced with finer cinder paths, and even some meadows.

be-nice.jpgOver to the east — looking resplendent in the sunshine — I saw Ickornshaw Moor, the first real challenge for us on our Pennine Way attempt last year. To the north the unmistakable shape of Pen-y-Ghent was visible on the far horizon, another foe from September.

wycoller.jpgBut there wasn't the slightest hint of hardship in today's walking, accompanied as I was by glorious sunshine. The highlight was the little village of Wycoller, with its delightful ancient bridges and fords, its ruined Hall and it tremendous tearoom.

musghyll-guide-stone.jpgDo you get the feeling I enjoyed today? On the whole I've not been inspired by the Pennine Bridleway, but I'd gladly come back and repeat today's leg.

Posted by pab at 19:00 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!

Friday, 10 August 2018

Pennine Bridleway

Mankinholes → Worsthorne

calder-valley.jpg Distance: 14.10 miles
Ascent: 737 metres
Duration: 4 hours 26 minutes

« Not walked | Not walked »

They were huddled together, talking animatedly as they looked at a phone. "Pennine Way?" I asked. They nodded. "You'll want to go this way," I said, encouraging them to continue down the track they were on. "Then why does does the sign show that way?" Asked the young European woman, pointing to a National Trail waymarker showing the path I'd taken out of the dell in Callis Wood. Her male companions (who admittedly had initially said they didn't want help) looked as me as if they'd just played a trump card. I pulled out my guide book. "Pennine Bridleway. Different thing."

i-am-real.jpg"Is there anywhere ahead we can buy a map?"

I showed them where I thought the famous Aladdin's Cave of May's Shop was and we talked a little more before heading our separate ways. To be honest, I was quite jealous at the thought of doing this long trek on the threshold of adulthood.

The Pennine Way and the Pennine Bridleway are intertwined on this section, at first crossing each other, then running together in three separate places. Using the same acorn waymark and having almost identical names, there are plenty of opportunities for confusion (especially when you factor in the odd missing or misplaced signpost).

coming-storm.jpgThis intertwining was a delight and a challenge for me. I enjoyed the easier route of the Bridleway out of the Calder Valley, but then felt frustrated at how circuitous a route it seemed to take to reach Lower Gorple Reservoir. This was compounded by the sudden downpour that started as I reached Badger Lane. The rain skipped straight over the gentle shower phase and hit with a thunderclap which announced the arrival of plump raindrops, soon to be followed by hail, dumped from the sky.

hare-stones.jpgThe showers eventually cleared, and my spirit lifted as I saw the reservoir wall ahead of me and recognised not déjà vu, but a clear memory of walking this way before, back in September last year.

Were it not for the Europeans, the rain and the reservoirs, today's walk would have felt a lot less interesting. Ultimately it was mile after mile of stoney track. This seems to be the defining characteristic of the Pennine Bridleway: a good surface for horse and bicycle riders to enjoy, but for walkers it's a long plod whose main goal is to cover distance. I hope tomorrow is better.

Posted by pab at 18:35 | Comments will be back one day. Please email me instead!