Inversion – a two wild walk via the summit of Fountains Fell

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I was beginning to feel the winter blues drift into my airspace so Mrs W suggested it would be good for me to get out for a wild walking weekend. It has been a while since I was last out.  The first thing to check was the mountain weather forecast; this showed something rather unusual. A cloud inversion was expected in the Yorkshire Dales for the whole weekend. Foggy in the valleys but clear blue skies were to be expected on higher ground. Another impact of this is that the usual reduction in temperature with altitude scenario is reversed, with it warmer on the tops of the peaks than down in the valley. The dichotomy of sitting indoors looking out at the fog vs. walking on fell tops bathed in sunshine was enough to rouse my lacklustre enthusiasm. The route I chose is shown below:

Fountains Fell Route - Dec-21

The elevated moorland between Ribblesdale and Airedale only rises to 400-550 metres, but this was enough. As soon as I reached 360 m, I punched through the cloud into warm sunshine. Whilst it makes meteorological sense, it is still an odd feeling to walk out of the top of a cloud and suddenly feel a whole lot warmer. The precise height of the top of the cloud had not been forecast, it was just said to be ‘well below 700 m’ so there was a chance that I may not have been clear of the cloud until I was on my way up Fountains Fell. Walking up into the sunshine really lifted my spirits. I’d walked this section of path before and remembered the impressive limestone crags to the North of the path and was jubilant to see them again in glorious sunshine.

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My route took me to Malham Tarn and joining the Pennine Way around the Tarn before starting the gentle climb to the top of Fountains Fell.

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You have to divert off of the footpath to get to the actual summit which is about 700m SW of the highpoint of the footpath – unsurprisingly many had made this diversion before me. I knew from a review of Geograph photos that some flat level ground lay just to the West of the summit. Here I would like to plug Geograph to anyone planning a camping enhanced wild walk. Details on a 1:25k OS map are really helpful in shortlisting good spots to camp, but the pictures, they speak louder still.

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To my delight there was a nice level rock free spot right next to the summit cairn which allowed me to orientate my tent to have a view of both Pen-Y-Ghent and the possibility of a sunset over the top of the cloud inversion which was filling Ribblesdale (Yorkshire), the Ribble Valley (Lancashire) and its tributaries.

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After harvesting water from a small rivulet near the summit, it was time to get my legs into my sleeping bag and split my time between reading my book and drinking in the view. Because I’d started at sunrise and managed a fine pace I was fully set up a good 45 minutes before sunset. The sun was setting behind the cloud inversion thus it was not possible to take any pictures until it was kissing the horizon. After that words fail me, so I’ll leave it to a slideshow of how the colours changed over the next hour.

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My bladder woke me at 0230 but I opened my sleepy eyes to an unexpectedly bright light. I wondered if it was a torch but no, it was an extremely bright full moon! At 0630 it was time to make a brew and get packed up for a rather longer second day. I figured I’d rather walk the final stretch to the car (day 2) in the dark than pitch a tent in the dark in an unfamiliar location (day 1) so I started my walk from Langcliffe rather than Stainforth. In the summer I’d start from Stainforth to even the distance to 14 miles each day. I left my summit camp just as the sun bobbed above the Eastern horizon. First stop was Pen-Y-Ghent.

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From there I headed to the Western Side of the Horton Road (B6479). The limestone scars between Horton and Wharf looked inviting on the map. Here I have to confess to a navigational inexactitude. I kept following a well trodden path that stopped being the true footpath. I only noticed this as it faded out one kilometre into my error. The valley into which I should have headed to was filled with cloud / fog and I was already a long way off of my route so I thought I’d continue around the edge of the scar tops, enjoy the fine view and then hope to find a gentle slope down to the Wharf road.

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The map suggested to me that SD790, 700 looked a promising point to lose height, and indeed it was. I would not, however, recommend this to others due to a lack of convenient gates in the drystone walls that I needed to cross. The path free route I took across the tops was not arduous (deep heather often is, but this was not deep nor the ground uneven), was very attractive and legal as open access land. Had time been on my side, it would have been better to continue to Moughton Nab (SD798, 697) and pick up the footpath down to the road.

After this, the rest of the day is what I’d class as a ‘walk out’ – something to be done quickly to finish the day. I’d really enjoyed climbing Pen-Y-Ghent and seeing all the limestone formations. It was time for a swift pint then to drive home. Here I should give a shout out to the landlord of the Craven Heifer at Stainforth who keeps his beers extremely well and who poured me as good an example of Thwaites IPA as I’ve ever had. It’s not a modern style IPA, but still the hop oils shone through very nicely.

Being pro-active about your mental health – jogging for the soul.

We are all recognise the concept of the value of routine exercise for physical fitness. Some people run, others swim, still others go to the gym and workout. Even if you are closer to your couch than you are to 5K today we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

…we are all familiar with the idea of being pro-active about our physical health.

As we entered this pandemic in the Spring of 2020 a thought came to me. I would need to be proactive about my mental health. Here in the UK we are within months of the other side of the pandemic, and am reviewing how well my approach has worked for me. Whilst considering this it came to me that whilst there are many messages about being proactive about keeping physically fit, I’ve heard little said within the mainstream media or from the NHS about being pro-active with our mental health.

I’ve heard little said…about being pro-active with our mental health.

Chances are that ignoring your physical health will shorten your life more than ignoring your mental health, but in terms of quality life years I’d suggest that the latter is at least as important. So what did I do to keep myself mentally stable during this crazy time?

  1. I acknowledged my needs and weaknesses and worked out how I could address them.

It’s hard to admit things about yourself of which you are not proud. In my case I needed to be honest about the value I get from routine. I might like to present a different face to the world but I needed to admit to myself that the requirement to be ‘at work’ at a specific time each day, and the sometimes routines tasks of work life were something that where important to me.

Also I needed to admit that I am mentally fragile, I’m not the resilient super hero that, as a man, I would like to be or paint myself as. I needed to acknowledge the need to act to preserve my mental and emotional stability.

2. I was purposeful about building the ‘connections’ which are most important to me.

I wrote in an earlier post about the excellent book “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. In this he lists key facets of our life such as our connection to nature, connection to friends and four other key connections within our life. I know that for me that my connections to nature, God and friends are all particularly life giving.

The beauty of being purposeful in maintaining these connections is that it’s not like training for a race. It’s not painful or dull exercise which we are motivated to do simply because of the end goal. Maintaining connections is about doing things which we enjoy which have the co-benefit of a positive effect on our mental well-being. In my case I made time to phone my friends to make up for the loss in face to face contact. I made sure that I got out into the countryside regularly, even if that was just an evening stroll in the local park. Finally, I focussed more on the disciplines of my faith. The connections which are most important to you may well be different to those most critical to me.

3. I learned how to recognise and express my emotions in a healthy way.

You may or may not relate to the Christian centred teaching of Chip Dodd. Like many American Evangelicals he says in a chapter what could easily have been covered in a paragraph, but there is gold in them there hills of words! To summarise what he says: (1) Our emotions can be distilled down to a small number of underlying feelings; (2) We can express these feelings in positive or negative ways. Let’s start with the negative/s – we can internalise those feelings leading to a negative expression, or we can transfer those feelings to others which is neither good for us or nice for them. The positive approach is to express them in a helpful way. Let’s look at just one example, which Dodd calls anger (and I prefer to call passion).

Let’s say you come home to a messy kitchen. You could shout at your spouse, but we all know that this would not end well for either of you. You could calmly express that it makes you sad to see the kitchen in a mess after you’d cleaned the house at the weekend, or you could discuss how a kitchen cleaning rota might be arranged. You have a choice of how you express and resolve how you feel. You don’t have to try to make your problem someone else’s problem, instead you could be an agent for change.

A good summary is this – bottled up emotions tend to come to the surface eventually and when they do its rarely in a good way. Transferring your emotions (like anger) to someone else does not resolve the emotion, it simply moves it to someone else with some added bad feeling with it. Recognising and expressing your emotion well leads to good and healthy outcomes.

Perhaps not all the above approaches are ones you can relate to, but for a better and sustained quality of life think about what you can do to actively promote your mental health and start working on it. In my experience it leads to a whole lot of benefit at very low cost.

Covid diaries : Month 8 : “The Circle of Life”

So here we are – out the other side of Lockdown 2.0 and as a real ale brewer I find myself furloughed for the second time, at this point for six weeks. Even with this period of house arrest at an end here in Lancashire we are back to tier three as is most of our customer base. This time however the schools are open so I was able to look for temporary work and was very fortunate to find some. Not only will this top up the missing 20% of my income, but at least as important, it will also provide the routine and camaraderie which form part of the unspoken skeleton to my well-being. What is better still is that it is part time so I can continue with this even when I get phased back into work at the brewery when our local COVID tier drops and business picks up again.

And here we see my working life come full circle. Back in 1991 between the second and third years of my chemistry degree I found a work experience placement in a water analysis lab. Scroll forwards almost 30 years and my new temporary role is analysing the water released from a local chemical site to demonstrate compliance to their discharge limits. Whilst I’d rather be brewing, I find myself in a friendly team and learning how to run instrumentation beyond the wildest dreams of my colleagues in 1991.

At home I’ve never been so caught up on chores. Take for example our family Christmas letter this is now written and ready to send out. Furthermore, all the presents we look forward to giving, these too have been bought. This is position I have never aimed for before and will be unlikely to achieve again. Also positive is the chance to brew on my home nano-brewery once a week with the aim of optimising two beer recipes ready for Christmas. I am delighted with my raspberry porter recipe which my tasting panel say rivals the famous Titanic Plum Porter. My German Christmas biscuit beer is going to take some more work however, but there is still time.  It needs more orange zest… Every brew is a chance to learn. Another positive during Lockdown 2.0 is that I have started studying towards my IBD Diploma in Brewing, a welcome chance to exercise my grey matter and very enlightening to boot.

As I drafted our family Christmas letter I was able to look back at my multi-day walking / wild-camping trips of 2020. Another facet of my sanity skeleton is maintaining a connection to nature (link back). I’ve been fortunate that Mrs W has facilitated me spending at least one night under ‘canvas’ every month from April to October. Weather permitting I hope to get away next weekend to try out my new winter solo tent which was lucky to pick up second hand in ‘as new’ condition

They say the wild camping is cheaper than therapy, but not if you buy Hilleberg… My ‘new’ Soulo will enable me to continue to get out all through the winter and, please please, get to experience life at altitude and in the snow. Bring it on!

Roughing it…

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Welcome to Rough Hill, the summit-ette at the Western end of Pendle. At 315 metres it stands some 242 metres short of The Big End but it still has much going for it: a trig point; views down into both the Ribble and Calder Valley’s; it’s far enough, yet not too far from the Nick of Pendle; there is a nice flat grassy area to take a tent and finally it’s somewhere I’d never yet been despite over 75 ascents of Pendle.

DSC_2688Mrs W and Junior joined me on the walk out to see what the excitement was all about and to enjoy the trig point.  I wanted to regain my connection to nature, have some peace and quiet with a beer and a book and chance to enjoy my relatively new ultralight tent and sleeping bag combo. Being able to get all my overnight gear easily into a 35 L day-pack was rather fine.

Once again I found that despite a night time low of 9 C and a good douse of rain that I had no condensation issues in the Enan thanks to just a light breeze. I can also report that a can of Siren-Craft Yulu nicely complimented the view. I think I must try their peachy (pentyl-propanoate producing) yeast with an Earl Grey infusion but swap out the lemon zest for grapefruit. A project for the brew shed.

Moon rising over the Calder valley

Moon rising over the Calder valley

Whilst I woke to a white out, patches of sunshine started to appear in the valleys as I was striking camp giving some lovely highlighted views.  It was a great 12 hours and not really roughing it at all.

Covid Diaries – Weeks 8-12

It seems that at this time people are finding themselves in one of two categories.   Mown out (uber-busy) or bored.  For those of you wishing there was a 25th hour in the day, perhaps you could delegate something to me, for I now find myself in the latter category.  Lancashire have back peddled on allowing primary age children back to school.  This prompted Mrs W and I to investigate the status of key workers wrt schooling a little more closely.  We knew that as an (emergency) vet that she had been upgraded to key worker status, but closer inspection showed that only one parent needed to be a key worker for a child to be allowed school provision.

I really enjoyed the home schooling, but I reckon I had covered more than all his syllabus for Year 1 and that what he was needed more now was social interactions with his peers.  Further I could feel the dark fingers of depression starting to claw and my ankles.  It was time to be proactive for both our sakes.  He is now coming to the end of his first week back at school which he is loving.  I have applied for temporary work in the brewing sector with breweries I expect to be busy brewing for the bottle and can market.  So far two great conversations with brewers who didn’t need another pair of hands and no further replies.  Next week I’ll spread my net a little wider if I need to.

With important household repairs and upgrades behind me I was still in need of a project.  So I set about ridding the lawn of moss and dandelions.  And that sound you can hear…   …that’s the sound of the bottle of a barrel being scraped!  Anyway, we have a lush, almost weed free lawn as a result.  However, for those who would seek to criticise my reduction in biodiversity I would point them to our herb garden which seems a veritable Mecca to local honey bees.

In week 9 Mrs W had a dry cough for 24 hours so went to the local COVID drive through centre for a test.  Thankfully this came back negative.

I’ve stepped up my brewing at home in the last two weeks which has been good.  On Saturday my second Bx 23 Grapefruit & Hibiscusattempt at Hibiscus and Grapefruit Ale will have conditioned enough to try.  This is an exciting project because whilst version one did not hit my ‘design spec.’ both myself, my tasting panel and the neighbours all liked it very much.  And the colour was to die for, or should that be ‘to dye for?’

Right now some session “Isolation Pale Ale” is just finishing its primary fermentation.

More interesting still has been a commission from a friend / former colleague to brew a beer for their wedding.  They liked my idea of combining aspects of their character, background and tastes to produce something which should reflect something of both of them. It could be fruitful if I could think of a way of making such projects commercially viable rather than just fun because then I could make some income from something very creatively enjoyable.  For now, in this season of house arrest I am delighted to have a fun challenge to work on.  Design one is ready on paper, awaiting some speciality malt to arrive in the next couple of days, then ready to brew next week.  I hope it does not seek combine too many flavours and become confused.  If it does I know the first thing I’d drop, so I have a plan B.  This is what I always enjoyed about developing chemical processes, that ideas beget ideas.

So as we wait for the pubs to open, and with it the opportunity for me to return to my missed routine of work and banter with the other brewers / dray-men if you have a beer design commission in mind, drop me a line and I can give you a quote.

Recording memories

This time of house arrest gives one a lot of time, and sometimes I’ve been able to put it to good use doing things I should have got around to many weeks / months or even years ago.  One of these way to make good my lack of photographs of our wonderful moggie and faithful companion, Henry.  And what did Time Berners-Lee invent the internet for if it was not for the sharing of cat photo’s?

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COVID diary – week 7

dsc_1134Everyone on the Weston Front has remained well so far, we are blessed by the sunshine and home school seems to be going well.  I did spend the whole years school resources budget on one topic though.  An introduction to coding, by way of Bob the (Lego) robot.

The whole concept is very well thought out and seems ideal for 6-9 year olds.  We’ve learned about variables, triggers, flags and sub-routines in a really fun way.  To get a better insight into what’s possible take a look at the video’s of Bob’s antics on my Flickr Feed.

I would not want to do a ‘Facebook Front‘ post and suggest that everything is rosy.  I am finding motivation hard when I’m not home schooling and it is frustrating to remain in limbo as to whether we will get away on holiday this year.  It’s true we have not got a foreign trip planned where we will lose deposits etc, but we really did (and still do) hope to go to Shetland at some point during the sunnier part of the year.  Nathan is missing interacting with his friends too.  Video calls are good, but no still no substitute for the real thing.

What I want to leave you with this week is the best advise I’ve yet seen on surviving ‘house arrest’ which comes in the form of a allegorical video from James Veitch. But note that really it should come with a ’16’ certificate!

Panic, it’s a cosmic crisis!!!

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Or is it? There is no doubt that the impact of COVID-19 on peoples’ health and the hard working members of health care teams is extremely significant and something to be viewed with compassion and regret. However I’ve been thinking about the impact on businesses and economic indicators (Jan ‘20 to today)

  • FTSE 100 – down by 24%
  • FTSE 250 – down by 28%
  • Brent Crude – down by 74%
  • Unemployment up by millions in the `UK
  • People accessing foodbanks up by 80%
  • Business insolvencies accelerating

And this is after just over four weeks of “lock down” measures in the UK. I’d love to be corrected by someone more experienced in business and economics but the above speaks to me. It suggests to me one of two underlying issues.

1. That businesses in the UK (and with similar figures in the US and Japan, by extension much of the capitalist world) have been on a very weak footing. That the financial sustainability of very many businesses has been recklessly weak. You’ve not been able to sell your product or service for four weeks, just 20 working days and now your business is only worth 70-80% of what it was before. Really? Is the business model for so many firms so ‘hand to mouth’ that a disruption of four weeks is enough to cause this.

2. That market indicators are led by hype, but that this exaggerated negativity then leads to real failure. That the attitudes of those who drive the markets are like that of a manic depressive but worse than this. The negativity which starts as only an idea then morphs into reality and becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, but a prophesy based on weakly justified sentiment and not fact.

I see many articles from the hand-wringing journalists of the Guardian saying that ‘This should be the trigger for real social change, better wages and welfare.’ In my view this is a worthy aim, but unrealistic. More critical surely is the above. If our economic activity is to generate the wealth from which taxes can be drawn then shouldn’t we be looking instead to build rather better foundations upon which to build such a future. Aspirations are great, no I’d say essential, but you need to be able to fund them.