Daydreaming

An older house near some water. Ideally by a quiet beach, with some hills or even mountains nearby.

Pets. A dog for taking out in the hills and a dog for curling up on the sofa with afterwards. I love the idea of having a cat but the truth is, I’m not really a cat person and I would like to keep greyhounds.

A room with a view, for writing, for playing, for sitting and reading. With full bookshelves and pictures on the wall. Not too tidy.

A kitchen with a table in. With space to bake and lay out a recipe book. And with a sofa, and a TV.  I like to have the telly on while I cook. The kitchen needs to be tidy.

A space for friends to stay when they want or need to.

A garage, or a decent shed or a barn. With a sink and a worktop, and power and shelves and cupboards.

(A small house and a big garage would be the ideal way around)

Outside space. Not too much to maintain, but somewhere to sit with an early evening drink watching the bats on the better weather days, or to stand with a morning brew and listen to the birds. Honeysuckle in summer. A fuchsia bush. Maybe hanging baskets. Maybe part of a farm, with horses and sheep and goats and cows nearby.

Arms to come home to. A voice that doesn’t scold when tears flow. A piece of paper and a house party to celebrate, maybe a pretty dress, maybe jeans and wellies. No diamond ring.

A pub nearby. Or somewhere that people gather to share food and drinks and music and stories.

A station nearby. Or some connection to the outside world that doesn’t require a car at least.

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And pause… south of the border

Sunday morning. Rain tapping against the window. I roll over. The bed is empty and I remember why. He left an hour or so ago, and is now battling up the hills in the weather I am seeing from under the duvet.

I get up, put my running kit on and head down for breakfast. My bacon sandwich is delicious, the bacon perfectly cooked, and I hear the B&B owner discussing the provenance of the sausages he is proud to serve. I suspect the bacon comes from the same place. I rarely eat meat these days, but bacon butties and smoked fish are something I would find hard to give up.

I’ve had a good look at the map that is drying out from yesterday’s amble round the Fairfield Horseshoe. I’d hesitate to call it a run – it was steep on the way up and very technical on the way down. We got snowed on, more than once. For one moment I thought I was going to have to lower myself down what appeared to be a rock climb but we found another way. But I ran where I could and enjoyed myself immensely. D could have gone a lot quicker, but didn’t. When I asked hesitantly, tentatively, very nervously, if he was getting frustrated with me, he said no, gave me a big hug and off we went again.

He offered to carry the pack on the first climb, and bravely, fighting every independent feisty obstinate cell in my body, I let him. A pale blue girly XS Salomon pack didn’t really fit him but he managed.

Now back to the map. A friend has suggested the Kentmere horseshoe. There’s a fab looking route round Helvellyn but the road nearby is closed. Decisions.

The rain continues. My tea is a little too weak but you can’t have everything.

I pack everything up from the weekend, and everything I need for a few hours running in the mountains. I am tired. I should be looking forward to getting out in the hills but, honestly, I’m not.

I settle the bill with the B&B owner. He asks what my plans are for the day. I look at the floor. A voice comes from nowhere.

If you were going to sit. Just sit. And look, and read, and sit. For the day. Where would you go?

It’s my voice.

He ushers me over to the huge map on the wall. He offers Grasmere as a first suggestion and recommends a cafe there. Inside or out. Either is good, he says.

The next suggestion is Rydal. We ran past on our way up to Fairfield yesterday. It looked lovely.

The cafe is excellent, he says. And the gardens of Rydal Hall are beautiful, he says.

I recall a day spent with one of my dearest friends, sitting, pondering, and wandering round the gardens of Brodick Castle on Arran on the single day of summer we had in Scotland last year.

Rydal it is.

I cross the road into the garden centre. It’s huge, but there in the plant house is the Cotswold concession. I desperately need a decent pair of gloves as the last link in my collection of kit for next weekend. We’ve been in every outdoor shop in Ambleside and there has been precious little choice of decent waterproof not too bulky gloves for teeny female paws. And there they are.

The chap behind the till clocks what I’m wearing and asks me where I’m off to. To the cafe, I reply. He laughs.

I wander through Ambleside. There’s a bookshop. A proper bookshop. I hesitate to say old-fashioned. It shouldn’t be.

I wander in. A girl/lady/woman, I’ve no idea which, she’s a similar age to me and I’m not sure what I count as, asks me if I need any help.

Something local and quirky please. I’m off to sit in a cafe for the day.

She offers a couple of suggestions, and then directs me outside to look in the window where their customers’ Top 10 of the week selection is displayed. I see a book by the author of a crazy Swedish language film I enjoyed last year. I didn’t know it was a book before it was a film. The film involved a very old man and a significant body count. It was hilarious.

I buy two books and stroll towards the cafe.

There are sheep, and cows, and people heading out to the hills.

I get to the cafe. There is an enormous piece of chocolate and Guinness cake staring up at me while I order my coffee.

We sit, outside, over a waterfall. Me, the chocolate and Guinness cake, my new books.

Oh, and Flora.

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Flora is part of the Go Herdwick trail, and some kind person has given her a wee hat to keep her ears warm.

I’ve run a lot lately, up a lot of hills. In the last month, the Mell trail in the Trossachs, the Arrochar Alps, the Pentlands and now Fairfield. I’m shattered. I love being in the hills but I’m so, so tired. I’ve run/walked/staggered up the equivalent of half of Everest in three weeks.

I sit and read another book about farming. The cake is lighter than it looks, and it slips down quickly. I slurp my way through another coffee, and then head back to Ambleside. Via another couple of shops. Ewegene and Ewegenie follow me back to the car.

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We head off to Great Langdale. I loiter on the finish line, hoping D hasn’t come in already.

I chat to a girl/woman/lady also waiting on the line. Her husband, an ex England rugby international, died a few years ago. She had travelled all over the world with him, and in later years they had moved to the Caribbean to set up a rugby program there. He died very young, very suddenly, from a heart attack. She met someone new who is into cycling. She’s a former runner who is carrying a knee injury and is starting to discover cycling for herself. We share frustrations at life ending too soon, and at those who get to take it for granted.

D isn’t expecting me and hardly recognises me as he crosses the finishing line. He has had a tough day but is smiling, elated, pleased with his efforts. I hand him an enormous Bath bun from a new favourite cafe in Ambleside.

I had a brilliant day.

I’ll be back in the Lakes in a couple of days, and I have no doubt I’ll have a better, safer time as a result of a proper rest day on Sunday.

I heard the news today, oh boy

Somehow it’s the middle of January already.

I’m sat on the sofa, disentangling one greyhound from a phone charging cable while maintaining a respectful distance from the other, who will startle and bolt for her bed if I move too quickly.

The new year has brought good things, bad things and sad things already. A poorly friend, hard going at the day job, and then of course the news of David Bowie’s passing came through yesterday morning.

I finished Marcothon on Hogmanay. It was my biggest ever mileage in a calendar month. Then I took a couple of days off running. I should have run the Hardmoors 30 on New Year’s Day, but I decided against it in the end. I felt a little sad about it, but I missed it for the right reasons and it will be there another year.

There are new things in the calendar this year. 3 days in the Lake District at the end of April. 70-odd miles inside 24 hours along the Great Glen Way between Fort William and Inverness in July. Hopefully third time lucky at the 75 miles between South Woodham Ferrers and Salcott cum Virley (with an overnight stop).

I’m so excited about everything that’s coming my way. A little extra food consumed over New Year wasn’t quite run off thanks to those few days off, but I know the extra warmth around the middle will soon disappear once the miles climb up again. I love the security of building my training up – the feeling that progress is being gradually made, and that the preparation I put in now will be felt in every mile I run later this year.

There is a mountain on the German/Austrian border with my name on, and I hope to climb it this year. There’s talk of a trip back to Mont Ventoux, a big (motor)bike ride around the north coast of Scotland, and of hills and mountains to be walked up, run up, cycled up. A couple of long distance trails to be explored. There’s a tent and assorted camping kit to be researched and chosen, and navigation to be practised in whatever weather Scotland cares to throw at me.

Right now, most of all, I can’t wait for the days to draw out a bit so I can get up in the hills behind my house after work.

And for now, I’ll be listening to a lot of music. David Bowie was a huge part of my teenage years after I borrowed the Singles Collection on tape from Stratford-upon-Avon library when I was about 14. It was a great introduction to his music over the years. My dad was a big fan too, and listening to the music that he loved helped me learn a bit more and gave us something else to share.

Dad’s favourite song is Let’s Dance. I have two, and I couldn’t choose between them. I adore Sound and Vision, and I also love Everyone Says Hi from the Heathen album.

I’d had the album for a good few years, but for some reason, I had it in the car the weekend I made the final trip north from Essex to start my new life up in Glasgow. I listened to that song on repeat for much of the journey.

It includes the wonderful lyrics, which are among some of my favourites ever:

Don’t stay in a bad place,

where they don’t care how you are

That’s not to say no one cared because that’s just not true, but I needed to move and start again, and the song felt like a letter from the past wishing me well in the future and reminding me I could come back if it didn’t work out.

Mr Bowie, thank you for everything you did and everything you left behind. I was angry enough about cancer, now even more so.

Someone posted something somewhere yesterday, I can’t remember it exactly, but they were saying how the earth was however many billion years old, and how lucky we’d been to be on the same planet at the same time as David Bowie.

I agree.

On reading

I am what could be politely described as a voracious reader. I have loved books from a very young age, thanks to my gran and my mum both being primary school teachers. The most treasured possessions I kept when my granny died were some of the rare children’s books and embroidery books that she had collected over her lifetime.

Hours can pass by, until the only thing that stops me reading is a sore neck or a dead leg.

There are several books in various stages of completion next to my bed, as I love having real books around me. (Looking at them, I’m also reminded some of them are not mine and I need to get on and read them then give them back!)

I made the transition to a Kindle last year, or rather the Kindle app on an ipad mini. I had a 50 minute bus commute twice a day, got hopelessly travel sick when reading an actual physical book, but seemed to manage OK on the screen. The bus was meant to save me money on transport, but before long my monthly book expenditure was swallowing all the savings I was supposed to be making.

It has really changed how I read. I can have several books on the go at once, never losing my page. Best of all, my holiday suitcase is now much lighter. One holiday I took Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, which is a huge book, and several others. I read three, but had been stricken by indecision when packing so I took everything I fancied.

As well as books, these days I love reading blogs. I have many favourites, but one I return to regularly is that of Alastair Humphreys, an adventurer, writer and speaker known for many things including his #microadventure concept.

His site is truly inspirational, with several main themes – finding adventure in small ways, not spending a lot of money, documenting the journey, making the most of life, and calling out excuses. His 20 questions post is probably the one I read the most.

A couple of days ago, he tweeted a link to a piece he had written on Medium:

I read the link, I loved what he had written and it resonated very deeply. I was also on the hunt for a new book after finishing one recently, so I decided to buy his book There Are No Rivers.

Yesterday morning, I happened to read a chapter titled Flabbiness, which he has also published on his blog as part of the serialisation of the book.

It’s about going from being a bit lazy to finding your life has slipped away before your eyes. It was a particularly powerful piece for me, and it reassured  me that a painful decision made recently was ultimately the right one. There have been a couple of big adventures since, there are more to come and I can’t wait to see how they pan out.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

On Learning

September 1st, back to school, another new start. Or so it seems, certainly if you are south of the border. Scotland has been back for a couple of weeks already.

Despite my protestations that it had to still be summer because it’s not my birthday yet, the Scottish weather outdid even my determination and threw some really heavy rain at me on my run this evening. There are fallen leaves under the tree in my front garden and there was a real nip to the air this morning when I took my dogs out for their morning walk.

I met a friend for lunch today, someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years but who had been a huge part of my life for a couple of months back in 2013 when we were working on Carousel at the RCS.

We talked about all things musical, and part of the conversation involved some reflection on what I’d learned while I was at music college. I had to leave before the end of my course sadly, but I had made my peace a while before and am now happy I made the right decision, and even better, I felt I had taken away everything I needed from my time studying.

I desperately miss the freedom to structure my day to suit my own productive times, and to enjoy the best of the weather when it comes, and the creative inspiration that comes from being surrounded by other musicians and artists, but I am finding ways to make the best of things all the time.

Another thing I’ve taken is an understanding of what I need to look after myself and keep myself happy. It boils down to just a handful of things (and surprise surprise, they’re not actual material Things!).

Over the last few weeks, there was a time of enforced rest and healing, as I was physically prevented from dashing about by the stitches in my leg and the pain from the initial injury. This gave me a bit of time to slow right down and get myself back on an even keel. It helped that I was in the beautiful surroundings (and equally beautiful weather!) of the Austrian/German Alps and being looked after by a good friend.

I’ve learned that it is time to get on and enjoy having some really big dreams about the future.

This was partly inspired by seeing a car I’ve wanted for years while I was away in Austria, and partly because my finances are slowly improving meaning I can start to tentatively make a few bigger plans.

The latter means that perhaps indulging in the former might, just might, be a possibility in a few years.

Quick Release

Last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in a very long time. All thoughts of trying to stay calm went out of the window, and it ended up being a race to get to the end of the week in one piece. Nothing Really Bad happened, just what felt like a battering of events, deadlines and a couple of really late nights which when combined with the early mornings really knocked the stuffing out of me.

My week finished at about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon. The wedding I’d played for had gone really well, and a ruined kirk on the north east coast of Scotland was filled with love and happiness as two people got married surrounded by their friends and family.

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My harp and all the associated clutter was all safely loaded into the car, I said my goodbyes and got back on the road for the long journey back south.

Shortly after I pulled out of the village, I saw a sign.

Scotstown beach, ½ mile.

Time was tight if I was to be home for greyhound tea time, but I figured they would forgive me for being a few minutes late.

I turned off the main road, tried not to bounce too hard around (and sometimes inevitably through) the numerous pot holes and parked up at the bottom of the dunes. I had no idea what the beach would be like, but I couldn’t resist exploring just a little.

I got out of the car, rolled my jeans up and took my shoes off. The sand was wonderfully warm beneath my feet.

I ran up the dune, through the gap between the grass and down onto a gorgeous golden sandy beach. It was completely empty.

The sun shone, and the only sound was the waves breaking gently. I skipped along the sand, and then wandered into the sea. It was cold, but it takes rather more than that to stop me getting my feet wet.

I think I was there for about ten minutes. It wasn’t long enough, and yet it was.

Everything lifted in those few minutes, and I didn’t have to try very hard to put on a big smile.

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I realised how much I relax when I am by the sea, and promised myself I would find a way to come more often. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where I might like to live on a longer term basis, and as I stood with the waves tickling my toes, I wondered if perhaps I could, or even should, factor in a nearby beach somehow.

The previous Saturday I had my feet in the waves at Brodick Bay on the island of Arran off the south west coast of Scotland. This week it was the north east coast.

Next Saturday, I’ll be in the mountains in Austria. No beaches there, but maybe I can find somewhere quiet in the hills to have a bit of a paddle, perhaps even a swim.

In a month’s time I’ll be on the island of Tiree celebrating my birthday by running round the island one day then hitting the waves the next.

It’s no coincidence that all the travelling is related to a break-up. Rather than waiting on someone else’s plans, I’ve jumped straight in and made my own and I feel all the better for it.

This is more travelling than I’ve done for a long while, and I’d forgotten how much I love getting away seeing new places. The best thing about living where I do is that I don’t always have to go very far from home to find an adventure to have.



 

20 Questions

This is one of my favourite posts on the internet, ever. I come back to it frequently, particularly when things are feeling a bit muddy or needing a bit of an overhaul.

Alastair Humphreys’ 20 questions worth answering honestly are seemingly simple questions, but as you get into them, they will start to make you really think about what you want and where you’re going.

He published his answers, and invited others to be brave enough to do the same. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to, I’m on about my fourth revisit since I first discovered the post and each time something holds me back from sharing my answers.

If you’re feeling a bit stuck, or just curious, I recommend giving them a go.

PS Huge thanks to Graeme Hewitson for the fab photo of me running down Conic Hill in last year’s Highland Fling relay!

Running in the rain

The rain is back. After a brief heatwave, Glasgow feels a bit more normal.

At last this week has felt like a good time to start running again properly. I’ve been out and about a little over the last few weeks, gradually building my fitness up again but not really doing anything regular or structured.

I’ve found some new road shoes that I really love, after struggling for a while to find something suitable. These feel like magic shoes – I am gradually managing to get more weight through my right leg to the extent that my right calf feels like it has done some work after a run, and when I am walking I’m aware that both feet are starting to work equally. They’re not the most attractive of shoes, but at the moment a less than ideal colour is a trade-off where price is concerned and so I’m … erm … running with it.

When things get really stressful, eating and sleeping tend to go awry. It has to get pretty bad before this happens, and I’m better at knowing the signs now.

Running makes me hungry and therefore makes me eat. Running makes me tired and therefore helps me sleep. Running gives my brain a rest from thinking too hard, and my lungs take over instead. And yet, I do most of my best thinking when I’m out there.

I had only been running a few months before I moved to Scotland, and I arrived here in the autumn. Running soon became a way to explore my new home, and despite the change in the weather as the winter drew in, I absolutely loved it. Because my early running experience was in consistently wet conditions, I’m not put off when it’s tipping it down. I find it immensely satisfying and utterly invigorating.

And the thing about getting a lot of rain is that you get a LOT of rainbows.

Storming

It’s the first of July tomorrow. The first half of the year, bar a few intensely fantastic highlights, has been one to forget.

One of the best things about life I think is that you can start again whenever you feel like it. Every time I think about what isn’t working for me, I remind myself that, largely through choice, I am ultimately not tied down or committed to anything (beyond clearing a lot of debt) and, most importantly, I can change things any time I want.

As I make yet another fresh start, and make yet more promises to myself that I will somehow find a way to fit everything in and one day perhaps Figure Things Out, I also remind myself that really, life is good, the bad stuff is largely behind me and that whatever comes or goes along the way, I will deal with it.

Time feels as though it is always in short supply, but I am doing my best to make the most of what is left over once the must-dos are out of the way.

 

 

Beginnings

I started this blog a few weeks ago, after feeling it was time for a new one.

A few things came to a definite end, a few new things started, and a few other things have shifted quietly and inexplicably from one phase to another.

Since I started my previous blog, I’ve become a long distance runner, discovered a creative spirit I never knew existed, left full-time employment (and then sadly had to return earlier than planned), moved house and moved country.

I’ve cycled up and run up more hills and mountains than I could ever have imagined back when I lived in the flatlands of coastal Essex.

I’m physically, mentally and emotionally much fitter and healthier than I could ever have imagined.

After a few days away, and having just started a new job, it’s a great time to acknowledge the changes taking place in my life, and to re-commit to my goals and my dreams and those of the people I love.

This blog will be about two things – adventures and inspiration, and how they feed each other and push me forwards.

The picture above was taken just after the end of one big phase a couple of years ago, and I hope you’ll stick around for the next phase of the journey.