Monthly Archives: June 2008

A prayer

I’m not normally the religious type, but if anyone has any suggestions on who I need to pray to in order to get more of this:

Glastonbury sunshine

and less of this:

Glastonbury floods

…then hey, I’m happy to convert!

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A good place to die

Bexhill-on-Sea allegedly has the oldest average population in Europe, and boy do you know it when you get there – I’ve never been anywhere that appears to have more funeral directors than it does pubs.

It’s also possibly the sleepiest town I’ve been to in England – the streets were largely deserted all day, and even at half ten on Saturday night there were only about forty people in the busiest pub in town, about half of whom were people who’d also been to see Goldfrapp. The scary thing is, when I asked the bouncer if it was always that quiet, he actually claimed it was the busiest night they’d had all year. Which makes you wonder why they needed a bouncer in the first place – anyone looking to escape binge-drink Britain should book themselves a weekend in Bexhill immediately.

All of which makes it all the more incongruous that the town also has probably the finest modernist building in the whole of the UK – the De La Warr pavilion.

De La Warr Pavilion - Front view

I’d always wanted an excuse to visit, so as soon as I heard Goldfrapp were doing a gig there I leapt at the chance to get tickets, and I wasn’t disappointed.

De La Warr Pavilion

Even better than the outside is the main staircase, which for me is the real masterpiece. I’m not sure the pictures do it justice, because it is beautiful.

De La Warr Pavilion - Staircase

De La Warr Pavilion - Staircase

I’ve been a fan of modernism and modernist architecture since I was a teenager, and this is definitely one of the finest examples I’ve ever seen. It would’ve been worth the trip for on its own – seeing Goldfrapp perform there as well was just the icing on the cake, as they were, as always, brilliant.

9 months to go

While I haven’t sorted out my exact departure date from the UK, I do know that it will be in the last week of March.

6 months today is the day I hand my notice in at work, which means 9 months today will be my first Monday of unemployment and the beginning of my year as a traveller. To be honest I can’t wait to resign, as keeping my plans secret from my colleagues has been a real struggle (and one of the reasons I started writing this blog, to give me an outlet!), and it will be a relief to be able to be open with them.

I made the decision to go 6 months ago, and was worried that the intervening 15 months would be the longest of my life – and luckily I was wrong, keeping busy at work and cramming in lots of travels in the meantime has meant the year has flown by. I have a few more trips planned (starting with Glastonbury on Wednesday and then Istanbul the following Tuesday) so hopefully the rest of 2008 will go the same way.

Yorkshire 3 Peaks

I don’t think I’ve ever walked more than 15 miles in one go before, so I was a tad worried about how I’d cope with 26, even without the three peaks thrown in.

The day didn’t start well. It’s hard enough sleeping in a tent with only a self-inflating mat to lie on. It’s even harder when it starts getting light just after 4am, swiftly followed by sheep bleating and dogs barking continuously for the rest of the night. I eventually admitted defeat at 6, and blearily rolled out of my tent to cook beans on my underpowered camping stove for breakfast.

With only one shower on the campsite (as the only campsite in the village which is the official start of the course they have a captive audience and clearly have decided there is no need to spend more on upgrading the site!) it took us a while to get ready, so we didn’t set off til quarter to eight.

The ascent of the first peak, Pen-y-ghent, started almost immediately, and I very quickly began to worry that I was going to struggle, as I found the pace a lot tougher than I’d expected. Things got worse for the final hundred metres, which were significantly steeper and quite a scramble until, just over an hour after we started, we reached the top.

Luckily after that things improved significantly – the next step was a gentle downhill stroll with a stunning view over the Ribble Valley and the famous Ribblehead Viaduct in the distance.

Ribble Valley

By the time we reached the bottom of the valley I’d finally woken up, in no small part thanks to the coffee from a van by the side of the road (note to self: never try physical activity without caffeine in future). While we paused to refuel, we were able to take in the view of the viaduct. I’d wanted to see it since I was a kid, when I’d seen it on the news a lot as the line faced closure (which, thanks to a concerted campaign, never happened) and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Ribblehead Viaduct

After crossing the railway line to begin the ascent of Whernside, the second and highest peak, the clouds began to roll in, and by the time we reached the top the heavens opened. Thankfully we were able to shelter behind a dry-stone wall at the top, taking the opportunity to fill up with jelly babies and lucozade to keep me going over the final stretch. Going down Whernside was the most fun part of the walk – it’s one long, steady drop the whole way to the valley, just steep enough to make running down most of the way an option.

The third and final peak was the toughest. After we crossed the valley we were faced with Ingleborough, and a near vertical climb up the side of the ridge. The track is more like a ladder here, and was a real scramble to get up, and narrow enough that you can’t really stop because of all the people behind you. It’s all worth it when you get to the top though – it’s not quite as high as Whernside, but as the clouds lifted when we reached the top, it soon became clear that it has the best of the views, across the Morecambe Bay & the Irish Sea in one direction, the peaks of the Lake District in another, and the view across to the other two peaks and the valley behind you.

As you can see, I was quite chuffed to have made it:

Me at the top of Ingleborough

After that it was literally downhill all the way back to the village, in glorious sunshine. My target was ten hours (you need to do it 12 to become an official member of the 3 peaks club) and I made it in nine and a half in the end. Clearly after that there was only one thing to do: head to the pub to celebrate in proper English style, over a few pints. The pub itself was hilarious – pretty much every customer had done the walk, so the entire place was full of people hobbling around in bare feet, all very glad the day was over.

It’s grim up north

Bingley. Keighley. Shipley. Skipton.

Nothing tells you you’re in the North more than the names of the towns. I can’t even say them in my head without slipping into a Yorkshire accent, and from there it’s a slippery slope to the rest of the southern stereotypes – mills, flat caps and general grimness.

As the train pulled out of Leeds on Friday night and the thickly-accented announcer called out the names of the stations all of the above came to mind. And then I remember I had “It’s Grim up North” on my iPod.

Probably one of the hardest techno songs ever to make the top 10, it was always one of my favourite dance tunes of the 90s – the deadpan delivery of the list of northern towns (including four of the stations my train would be stopping at) over a pounding beat and samples of industrial noises – it brought all the cliches neatly together.

The thing I’d forgotten about the record is the way an instrumental version of ‘Jerusalem’ gradually fights its way free of the beats and noise to end the song as a triumphal celebration of the North, and of course the train journey ended the same way – gradually the industrial landscapes fell away to be replaced by the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales. Less than an hour out of Leeds (and probably less than half an hour by car) to glorious landscape of a kind you’d have to travel hours from London to reach, which of course I just had.

Ultimately the joke was on me: I think Northerners want us to think it’s grim up there just to keep the place to themselves.

Ouch

My arms ache today. In places I barely knew had muscles.

I suppose if I’d actually stopped to think it through in advance, I’d probably have realised that hanging off a wall just holding on with your fingertips and toes would be kind of exhausting.

My first indoor climbing lesson started pretty slowly – learning how to put a harness on, and how to tie knots properly. As usual, I got really impatient and just wanted to be out there on the wall.

Later on while I was at the top of the wall about to abseil back down, I looked at the knot I’d tied earlier and it began to sink in that the knot was the only thing stopping me from plummeting to the floor. Miracolously it held, but it shook me up enough to realise this isn’t like school – not paying attention properly in Maths is hardly likely to put you in a life or death situation. I shall be focusing more next time!

The two hour class flew by in the end, and after the initial nerves, the feeling of climbing up a vertical wall was really exhilarating, like being Spiderman. Although with it being the hottest day of the year so far, my hands remained sweaty enough for me not to get overconfident, as I constantly felt in danger of slipping. Can’t wait for next week now (and at least, knowing the English summer, it will be cooler next time).

Beyond the Axis of Evil

For some reason Syria has never been high on my list of must-visit countries. I think in my mind it tends to get overshadowed by higher profile sites in the middle east / Arab world, such as Egypt (the Pyramids), Israel (Jerusalem), and Jordan (Petra). I have a feeling being rather simplistically dubbed part of the Axis of Evil doesn’t exactly help its tourism profile either.

That was until the recent series of blog posts over at ClearlyEnlight’s Travel Blog. The sheer amount of amazing historical buildings; Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city of the world; the natural scenery – all stunning, and well worth a read.

It’s now gone straight to the top of my list of counties to visit after I get back from my year away.

Am I mad?

I’ve just signed up to do the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge on the weekend after next, which involves a 26 mile walk climbing the three highest peaks in Yorkshire in 12 hours.

I know I said in a previous post I was looking top push myself physically, however I’m concerned I’m being a little bit overconfident about my fitness! There’s still time for me to back out…