occasional snapshots of thought

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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A June sky with clouds and vapour trails

On being responsively creative

Posted on 28th June 2014

Yesterday I returned to Brighton for the sequel—Responsive Day Out 2: The Squishening. Bad weather was forecast—heavy showers and possible thunder storms—but in fact, the day turned out to be warm and sunny.

Responsive Day Out is a gathering of around 300 (I would guess) web designers and developers, who come together for a day of talks about Responsive Web Design. The event is organised by Clearleft‘s Jeremy Keith.

After last year’s event, I approached the Brighton Dome wondering whether we’d be treated to more tales of woe but as it turned out, the sequel was a rather more positive, productive and inspirational event than the original and just like the weather, my expectations were exceeded.

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Coloured buildings, London


Posted on 17th March 2014

Things are changing.

For the last 18 years, I’ve been driving. Up the M3, around the M25 to the University of Greenwich, a round-trip of 200 miles and I did this two or three times a week.

I like driving, so this never felt like a real chore and with Radio 4 to keep me company, I was never bored and I certainly felt better informed for listening to the Today programme as I drove.

People would ask me why I didn’t use the train for this journey and I would tell them that it takes longer (which it does) and it costs more (which it does) and it’s less reliable (which it is). Getting the train makes no sense.

Things will change. Next academic year, the car will no longer be an option. My department is moving into a wonderful new building in the centre of Greenwich. There will be no parking. The train will be the only travel option.

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Washington State Capital Building, Olympia

Happy 25th birthday to the Web

Posted on 12th March 2014

Like many people I know, I’ve been meaning to start a blog for a while. Well, let’s be honest, for years. But today I was prompted to do what I’ve been meaning to do because today the Web turns 25 and I figured it was as good a place to start as any.

25 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee developed an idea that would become the most significant change to the lives of those of us lucky enough to be connected to the internet. Of course, it is important to point out that even now, 25 years later, less than 35% of the global population has access to the internet, the Web is still far from “world wide”.

But for the one third of us who are part of the Web, today is a good time to pause and consider the changes it has brought to our lives. Thank you Web, and many happy returns.