occasional snapshots of thought

The unbearable lightness of being (there)

Posted on 10th November 2018

The early part of August is one of the few times during the academic year when things are relatively quiet. This year I’d booked two weeks of leave during that period but I wasn’t going away on holiday. For around six years, I’ve been planning to migrate the CADTutor forum from vBulletin to Invision Community Suite. In all that time, I hadn’t managed to find the time and, in truth, I’d been putting it off because although “migration” is easy to say, I knew it was going to be a long and complex task. This year I knew it had to happen. The versions of PHP and MySQL that the old forum software relied upon were coming to “end of life” and would no longer be supported. If I didn’t do it now, the forum would come to an end. So I dedicated two weeks of summer leave to sitting in front of a computer screen while I planned, prepared and managed the migration of 16 year’s worth of forum posts to a new platform.

Nothing that complicated can ever be perfect but with only a few minor glitches, I considered the migration to be a success. So it was with that at the forefront of my mind that I set off on what was my fifth and most likely my final visit to the Lakes in 2018. I had a few loose fell-ends to tie up and a couple of big walks planned and 4 days in which to reach a nice, round number of Wainwrights before the start of the new academic year.

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Bowfell from Crinkle Crags

The fells will always be there

Posted on 23rd September 2018

In a world of instant gratification and “must have now” culture, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, the longer things take the better. Given the opportunity to extend a good experience, wouldn’t you take that over having it done and dusted? This and a few other ideas have been occupying my thoughts in a varied and rather unusual/exceptional week in the Lakes.

To date, all my visits here have been characterised by careful planning and a desire to optimise my walks so as to bag as many Wainwrights as possible in the time available. This time would be a bit different. I had six walking days and the first two would be used in revisiting some fells I’d already bagged. The reason for this madness was that I would be joined for those two days by my good friend and ex-colleague, Remco van Essen. Remco had never done any fellwalking before and I thought it best to select a couple of routes I was already familiar with so as to provide a good, manageable and varied introduction.

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Fellbarrow summit, looking towards Grasmoor

Three Years and Cotton-grass

Posted on 16th June 2018

My third trip to the Lakes in 2018 also marks the third anniversary of my Wainwright odyssey. It’s exactly three years since I made my first tentative steps towards the summit of Low Pike in the Eastern Fells. At that time, I wasn’t even sure if I was up to walking the fells and the idea of walking all 214 of them seemed like an enormous challenge, which is why my original objective was to complete the Wainwrights before my sixtieth birthday. At the current rate, I should complete the round sometime early next year, by the age of 57. Over the last three years, my fitness has improved considerably and although I’m not running up the hills, I’m pretty confident that the remaining tops will not present a great physical challenge. In fact, the most challenging aspect of the whole adventure is the logistics of getting to the Lakes from my base in Hampshire. Which is why this has become more of an odyssey than a challenge.

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The sun shines on the righteous

Posted on 28th May 2018

When I was at secondary school, back in the 1970’s, we were always seated in alphabetical order, A to Z, front of classroom to back. Being a “W”, I was always at the back of the class, seated between Adrian Wareham and Ian Wilkinson. There were no concessions to kids with poor vision in those days and I think the system was designed for the convenience of teachers when taking the register. In our second year, we were stationed about a mile from the main school building in what was referred to as “The Annex”. In fact, this building was an old Victorian school; brick-built with an enclosed playground. The Annex was a bit of a backwater, slightly more relaxed than the main school since the head and deputy-head rarely visited. My English teacher and form tutor that year was Mr. Thompson. I remember his classes fondly, particularly the readings we did from John Buchan’s novel, Prester John; an ideal adventure for 13 year old boys whose understanding of the world didn’t extend further than their own small town in the Northwest of England.

English classes took place mainly in the afternoons and, in summer, it just so happened that the combination of my desk position, the configuration of the Victorian sash windows and the sun at that time of year, meant that, uniquely among our class, I was bathed in sunlight at the start of the class. Mr. Thompson would often enter the room, notice the illuminated Watson and declare, “the sun shines on the righteous”.

At the time, I took this as a compliment but thought it rather strange that a teacher should show favouritism so openly. It was only later in life, much later actually, that I became aware of the true meaning and realised that it was not favouritism at all, but most likely a little joke which, I guess, he knew few of us would understand.

The phrase, of course, is a partial miss-quote from the Bible (Matthew 5:44-45). The full quote from the New International Version is: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Effectively, it means, everyone is the same, both the good and the bad and we should love our enemies. Fine words indeed and I guess I’ll never know whether Mr. Thompson was just having a little joke at my expense or whether it was just a throw-away line he was using out of context. It doesn’t really matter to me which, it remains one of my abiding memories of school life. Which is why it came to mind this week as I strolled along towards my latest climb in the Lake District fells on a gloriously sunny day. Righteous or not, the sun really was shining and the sky was clear blue.

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Decompression in the Northern Fells

Posted on 24th April 2018

So, this is the start of another fell-walking season. It’s been a long, snowy, wet and cold winter and despite this being April, we haven’t seen that much of the sun yet. In fact, it’s only a few weeks ago that we had drifting snow blocking our local Hampshire lanes.

The rate of change in the higher education sector continues apace. Notwithstanding the political barrage universities are experiencing; rising student expectations and greater demands from management mean that the life of an academic is becoming more and more pressured. Term two teaching is now over and I’m headed up to the Lakes for some well-earned decompression. I’m beginning to wonder whether fell-walking has become more of a coping mechanism than a hobby.

At the end of last season, I told myself I wouldn’t plan any trips ahead of time because the weather had been so unpredictable but when it came to it, planning a trip immediately after the end of teaching seemed like a luxury I couldn’t do without.

I’d begun the Southern Fells last year but had been frustrated by the weather, so for this trip I decided to shift my focus to the Northern Fells, hoping I’d have better luck. Clive Hutchby’s revision of Wainwright’s walking guide to the Northern Fells (Walkers Edition) has recently been published and, having read it, I wondered whether it might be possible to complete all 24 tops in a single week. So that was the challenge I set myself for this trip. Not impossible but a big ask since the most I’d managed on any previous trip was 20 back in July 2016.

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The Art of Getting Wet

Posted on 3rd March 2018

In the summer of 1936, a Chinese artist made a visit to the Lake District and recorded what he found there in prose, poetry and painting. Chiang Yee was an academic who, at the time of his visit to the Lakes, taught Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies, University of London. He had come to London in 1933 and studied for an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics.

His Lakeland journal was published by Country Life in 1937, entitled, The Silent Traveller, A Chinese Artist in Lakeland. It’s a short book, running to just 67 pages, but it is rather wonderful and contains twelve plates depicting Lakeland scenes painted in the Chinese style and a preface by Herbert Read. The book was reprinted a number of times; my own copy is the 1944 reprint, which sold for eight shillings and sixpence (equivalent to about £13.30 today).

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Meadowsweet and Summer Weather

Posted on 18th August 2017

The summer break can’t come soon enough as each successive year in higher education becomes more pressured. Long gone are the days when some academics would disappear at the end of teaching and not return until the start on the new autumn term. For many of us, that’s a good thing but like all pendulums, this one has now swung too far in the other direction. It’s very difficult now to find the dedicated time we once had for curriculum development and the creation of new teaching/learning materials. Just at a time when our institutions are being judged on their teaching excellence and we are being challenged to be even more excellent teachers, our opportunities to make this actually happen are being reduced. But life is full of ironies and as I get older, life in higher education seems to become more ironic by the day as universities change the way they operate in order to game the system that attempts to measure their success in teaching, research, the employability of students and a dozen other spurious metrics. Yes, I’m looking forward to a few irony-free weeks.

So I’d booked 7 nights at Ambleside YHA way back in December thinking that this would be my main fellwalking trip of the year. I’d carefully planned 7 day walks and calculated that I could possibly complete 45 Wainwrights during the week but, letting myself off easily (this is a holiday after all), I’d be happy to do just 25. The best laid plans…

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An Election and the sublime North-West

Posted on 10th August 2017

When Theresa May called the snap election for June the 8th, she obviously didn’t realise that I had a trip to the Lakes booked on that day. Bookings for Youth Hostels need to be made well in advance in order to guarantee the best rooms and I’d made this June booking way back in December. This would be my first trip away from home during a general election. Naturally, I didn’t manage to get myself organised in time for a postal vote and so this would also be the first time I hadn’t voted in any election, general or otherwise. Major fail. On the other hand, I live in a very safe Tory seat, so my vote has never counted for anything. Despite this, I was annoyed with myself.

On the plus side, my daughter, Tilly, would be accompanying me on this visit and despite the fact that she isn’t quite old enough to vote, there was a deal of excitement around the election within her friend group, involving a great deal of debate on Facebook Messenger. At the centre of this debate was Jeremy Corbyn, who seemed to have assumed the role of either pop idol or bogeyman, depending on point of view. I was a mere observer but it was great to see my kid’s generation engage in political debate.

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Blea Tarn from Lingmoor

Scatterlings and Outliers

Posted on 9th July 2017

After a day of useful presentations and interesting conversations in Manchester, I returned to the Lakes with a new phone for the second leg of the May tour. The first leg had been pretty successful with 15 Wainwrights in 3 days, not a bad average. But I still hadn’t reached 100 and the weather forecast didn’t give much hope, describing conditions as “changeable”, which in Lake District speak means “raining most of the time with a few dry spells”. Under the circumstances it seemed like a good idea to plan for bagging a few outliers and low-hanging fruit.

As it happened, the Friday didn’t look too bad, so I decided to take on another of Stuart Marshall’s walks in an attempt to finish off the Far Eastern Fells, a Troutbeck Medley. The word “medley” is used here to mean a walk taking in a number of tops that have no geographical relation to one another save that they are all close enough together to make the walk possible in a long day. In other words, a walk that no right-minded person would do. Which, I think says more about my determination to wrap up the Far Eastern Wainwrights than it does about wanting to actually enjoy the endeavour.

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Looking south to Froswick and Ill Bell from the path to Thornthwaite Crag.

Horseshoes and Rounds

Posted on 20th June 2017

For the past few years, a group of like-minded educators have gathered to discus the specific issues involved with the teaching of web design. The group was formed by my good friend Richard Eskins at Manchester Metropolitan University and this year’s Web Teaching Today event was hosted by Richard at MMU. I took the opportunity to bookend the get-together with two trips to the Lakes with the prospect of bagging my 100th Wainwright.

My key task on this trip was to complete the Far Eastern Fells and I began the visit by tackling the most easterly (and lonely) of all the Wainwrights. I was following a walk designed by Stuart Marshall, from his book Walking the Wainwrights. The premise of this book is that it covers all the Wainwrights in the minimum number of circular walks. In this case, just 36. Each walk is designed to be walked in a day (providing there is enough daylight). Up until quite recently, I’ve considered Stuart’s routes to be slightly ambitious and have used the book to plan shorter versions or variations. However, I’m now confident enough in my fitness and my navigation skills to attempt some of his longer walks. The Swindale Round includes just 4 Wainwrights and at 11 miles, is one of Stuart’s shorter routes. Ideal for a day when I had to drive a couple of hours to the start point (I’d stopped over in Southport on the way up to the Lakes).

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