occasional snapshots of thought

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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Rainbow over Ullswater

Peat Hags and Skylarks

Posted on 30th April 2017

This post could easily have been titled, “Picking up where I left off”, because on the morning of 10th April, I parked the car in exactly the same spot I’d parked on my last visit to the Lake District, back in October. St. Peter’s Church at Howtown is at the start of numerous walks in the north-eastern fells and I was very glad to be back there after a winter hiatus.

I hadn’t planned a visit to the Lakes in April but it just so happened that I’d booked some leave over Easter and that coincided with my mum’s second knee replacement operation. So, I was in Southport to take her into hospital and to take her home later in the week. In between times, I managed two trips up to the Lakes, the first, to complete the Fusedale Round that I didn’t have time for at the end of last year, and the second to take on the Martindale Round.

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Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du from Cefn Cwm Llwch

Keeping my hand in

Posted on 22nd January 2017

The last time I did any serious walking was back in October and the next planned visit to the Lakes is in May so I took the opportunity afforded by some good January weather to make a trip to the Brecon Beacons in order to keep myself in reasonable fell-walking condition (keeping my hand in). For whatever reason, I’d never visited the Brecon Beacons before despite them being just two and a half hours from home by car. I know some parts of Wales reasonably well; many childhood holidays were spent in North Wales and I spent 3 years at university in Mid Wales but other than a trip to the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival in 1992 and a short break on the Pembrokeshire coast, I don’t really know the South at all. So, yesterday morning, I got up in good time (not too early), set the sat-nav for Brecon and set off in search of the Brecon Beacons.

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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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