occasional snapshots of thought

Looking east from Harrison Stickle summit

Self analysis in the Central Fells

Posted on 22nd October 2016

Stephen Hough, the concert pianist, was this week’s castaway on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. During the programme he said something that really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing but he said something to the effect of “life is about negotiating that space between the extremes where everything matters and where nothing matters and happiness lies at the point of balance between the two”. I recognised this as an important illustration of the way my own mind works and have long been conscious of the fact that I have a tendency to an imbalance in favour of everything matters. In some respects, this is a good thing. I believe it makes me a better teacher, improving empathy and organisation. But in other ways it can be negative, causing stress, especially when I can see that there are problems with things I think really matter but over which I have no control (a frequent occurrence in university life).

One of the best ways I know of redressing that imbalance is to indulge in some enforced nothing matters activity. Or rather, nothing matters except for that particular activity. In my case, the activity happens to be solo walking in the Lake District fells. When I’m out there, completely alone and in the presence of significant natural beauty, nothing else really matters – it’s a great antidote (or at the very least, an effective coping mechanism).

So, last weekend I headed up to the Lake District, looking for the antidote and hoping to tidy up my fell walking record in the process by finishing off the Central Fells.

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The view from Great Crag

Unfinished Business in Langdale

Posted on 27th August 2016

For the second year running, I made an August trip to the Lake District with my daughter, Tilly. She’s a very good walking companion with plenty of experience from her Duke of Edinburgh Award and scouting expeditions and it makes for a welcome change to the solo walking, which I usually do.

The object of this visit was to take in some classic walks, the Langdale Pikes and the Kentmere Round and thereby get close to finishing the Central Fells and starting the Far Eastern Fells but as with most of my trips so far, our plans were compromised by the weather.

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Above Watendlath looking west

Taking the rough with the smooth

Posted on 6th August 2016

The 214 challenge is well under way and what could potentially have been a dalliance is now heading towards 25% completion. There’s no way I can back out now, provided I can maintain motivation even when facing the most frustrating of walks. One of the important lessons I’ve learned about fell walking is that, just like every other aspect of life, there is rough and smooth in equal measure. This is not something I was expecting but perhaps I was just naïve.

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Striding Edge and Grisedale

A Year and a Storm

Posted on 19th June 2016

It’s now exactly one year since I began my fell walking challenge. I’ve completed 30 0f the 214 Wainwrights; not bad for year 1 but I will need to step up the pace just a little if I’m to complete the challenge before my 60th birthday. I had wondered if I could sustain my interest in this project over the longer term but at the moment I’m still very keen. I’m just 5 Wainrights short of completing the Eastern Fells and I’ll be back in the Lakes for a week at the end of July to bag those and make a start on the Central Fells. With experience, my route-planning is getting better and I’ll be taking on the Central Fells in a much more ordered way.

Last Saturday I drove up to the North West because I had to be in Manchester on Monday and Tuesday. That gave me the Sunday for a quick trip to the Lake District. I had in mind a walk from Patterdale taking in Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike via Eagle Crag, the east ridge of Nethermost Pike and Hard Edge. I’d seen this walk described in the April 2016 edition of Trail magazine and decided it looked like a fun day out. I varied the published walk slightly by returning via Grisedale Tarn, just in case there was time to include Seat Sandal (as it turned out, there wasn’t). The 18km walk took eight and a half hours to complete.

Naturally, I checked the weather before starting out. The forecast was for “light cloud” and no rain until later that evening. I’m now very glad that the forecast was wrong because had it been right, I may never have attempted this walk.

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Book jacket illustration from The Outrun

Geographical Healing

Posted on 2nd May 2016

I recently read two books that have landscape as a theme; H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. The books are similar in many ways; both written by women in the aftermath of emotional turmoil and both the story of recovery by distraction. Macdonald distracts herself from a deep state of grief by training a goshawk called Mabel and Liptrot distracts herself from her alcoholic cravings by immersing herself in the landscape of the Orkneys.

H is for Hawk was given to me by a friend who admitted (after I’d read the book) that she failed to complete it. I have to admit that I got to a point about two thirds of the way through where I almost gave up but I’m glad I didn’t. The book is tough going and pretty dense but it is beautifully written and, in truth, it’s the quality of the writing that got me through this rather depressing read. The best parts of the book are the passages where Macdonald is out of that house and training Mabel. The descriptions of landscape are excellent.

H for Hawk is a book I was glad to get to the end of but The Outrun is a book I didn’t want to end; it’s a fresh and exhilarating read with plenty of contrast in time and space. Liptrot’s story is one of extremes. It begins by detailing her alcoholic misadventures in London and her experience in rehabilitation before moving north and to her recovery in the Orkneys. It’s a relatively simple narrative but the structure of the book is excellent with London flashbacks standing in for her pangs and cravings during recovery. There’s also an echo of Heart of Darkness as her journey towards recovery takes her to ever remoter islands and wilder landscapes. This is a book I could read again and I look forward to her future writing – highly recommended.

The Outrun cover illustration by Kai & Sunny.

Sheffield Pike cairn

The Unique Colour of March

Posted on 28th March 2016

When does an interest become an obsession? Are all obsessions necessarily bad? I guess these are questions that most people have to answer for themselves. Most aspects of life are relative; one person’s obsession may just be another person’s passing interest. My own personal obsessions mainly serve the purpose of temporary distractions from work and family life.

I know, I know, I’m conforming to type. I’m a white, middle-aged, middle-class, liberal-thinking bloke and I do the sort of things that white, middle-aged, middle-class, liberal-thinking blokes do. I collect stamps, I walk the Lake District fells, I watch football on telly and I drink bottled beer. That’s what I do for fun, my leisure time (me and half of all the other white, middle aged… blokes out there).

So nothing unusual here, I’m not breaking any moulds. It’s just that I often feel that I’m not the same as every other bloke of my type, and then it turns out that I am very much the same. This painful discovery happened again this week.

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Birkhouse Moor Cairn

Landscape & Scale

Posted on 14th November 2015

During this summer (2015), I traveled to 2 similar but very different landscapes. At the end of July and into early August, my wife, Hannah and I spent 2 weeks exploring the French and Spanish Pyrenees on a broadly circular road trip of 1100km. This was the first proper holiday Hannah and I had had on our own for 18 years, our two teenagers being otherwise occupied (hurrah!). Then, at the end of August, I spent 4 days with my daughter, Tilly in the Lake District, aiming to bag a few more Wainrights.

I really enjoyed both trips, particularly the landscapes (and the company, of course). The similarities and contrasts between the two landscapes made me think about the particular characteristics that make them appealing.

Both landscapes are similar in that they are mountainous with peaks, valleys and passes but the scale of the two is quite different, with the Pyrenees being around 3 times as high as the Lakes.

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Dove Cragg cairn

Landscape & Nostalgia

Posted on 3rd July 2015

Almost exactly 20 years ago, Simon Schama’s book Landscape & Memory was published. It’s not an easy read but it became a significant influence on the way I taught Landscape Architecture. Essentially, the book describes “landscape” as being a construct within the mind of the individual rather than an objective entity whose constituent parts are rock, water and vegetation. Schama believes that nature and human perception are indivisible and that “Before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock”.

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Chive flower

Responsive Web, Adaptive Industry

Posted on 30th June 2015

My goodness, what a difference 2 years make in web design and development! A week last Friday I attended the 3rd and final Responsive Day Out conference, curated by Clearleft’s Jeremy Keith. It was a lovely, sunny June day in Brighton and an expectant crowd gathered outside the Dome for a day of instruction and inspiration.

Responsive Day Out 3: The final breakpoint

Having “done the hat-trick” (attended all 3 conferences, 2013, 14 & 15) I now have a pretty good overview of the evolution of the web industry’s approach and attitude to responsive web design but let’s first have a short history lesson.

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Introducing the Web as a content platform

Posted on 24th May 2015

Last Friday was Web Teaching Day, hosted at the University of Greenwich. The event is organised so that those who teach Web Design (or variations of that discipline) can get together and discuss their approach to teaching/learning.

During the morning session we heard from a number of great speakers who described how they introduce their undergraduate students to HTML and CSS and there were some interesting ideas.

Inspired by what I’d heard, I prefixed my talk at the start of the afternoon session (on staff/student communication) with a short explanation of an approach to teaching HTML that I have developed this year. The session was unscheduled and I didn’t have time to go into detail, so this article is an attempt to expand on what I said.

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