Friday, 28 September 2012

The End of an Era

Well it's all over, and the new life is just beginning!
I finished work at lunchtime yesterday with beer (left over from my leaving do) and fireworks (electronic ones, created by Kris to take the place of the countdown that has been running for the last few weeks on the screen that shows all the faults we (well they now) have to deal with!) I thought I was going to be terribly emotional - I'd welled up on receipt of an email 'Bye' from Pete away on a course, and then on arrival of an e-card from my Dad and Elizabeth. Arif had left for a meeting just after 1100, and we'd both got slightly damp eyes! But actually after that it was all smiles and hugs. I shan't miss the job, but I will really miss some of the guys, still we have a balti booked for November 2013!
One quick beer, then home to whip up an oriental banquet of spicy steamed black tilapia, prawn skewers, slow cooked five spice belly pork, bok choi and special fried rice. (I shall miss cooking up a storm when in a camper van, but hopefully, new, fresh ingredients will inspire us) Not just for us, Sarah and John came round, and boy, did we have a fab evening! Lots of food, tiramisu for six whipped up by Brian and all gone, and then cheese, all washed down with a bottle of bubbles, six bottles of wine and a smidge of port! Only John was working today, and how he made it to London, having not left us till 03.20 I will never know! Consequently we are chilling today, before going to Ian and Helens tomorrow for probably more of the same! We may need new livers before we go at this rate.

Weekend in Marlborough

Our last weekend with the gang before our departure. We chose Marlborough in Wiltshire as i.t's close to some good walking, is easy to get to for us all (arriving from different directions) and Marlborough is a very old and charming market town on the old main road to London (before the M4 was built).

We stayed in The Lamb Inn that served Wadsworth 6X, Jackie's favourite beer, straight from the wood, but they didn't serve food in the evenings, a point overlooked when we booked! Jackie and I arrived first, Ian and Helen next, followed by Iain and Bev. We got a great table in the corner of the room, copious amounts of 6X were purchased and drunk and we just didn't feel like going anywhere else for food, so we spoke to Vyv, the landlord to ask if we could have a takeaway delivered. They allow people to do this on Sunday's, but not usually on Friday's. I think Vyv could see he was going to get a lot of beer money behind the bar, so he said yes! Mr. Din's Asian takeaway was duly delivered and we had a great evening. Phil (my old climbing partner) and Sue turned up from Poole just as we were sitting down to our curries, but they had already eaten, so it wasn't a problem, they just joined in with the drinking!

On Saturday Phil had organised a walk from nearby Avebury to Manton, about 6 miles, through historic England. At Avebury Fiona and John joined us. Avebury is a village built in a stone circle, similar to Stonehenge with many of the original stones still standing. It also has a great pub with thatched roof and a great place to meet Fiona and John, so we had cakes and tea and sat outside in the sun. As it was the Autumnal Equinox weekend, the area was crowded with people dressed in strange costumes, paying their pagan respects to their gods, making it quite an event.

Bev, Iain, Jackie and Phil outside the Red Lion in Avebury
John, Jackie, Fiona, Iain, Bev, Sue (hiding behind Phil), Phil, Ian and Helen

The Stone Circles at Avebury
Nearby Silbury Hill, Europe's largest man made prehistoric mound. Built around 2400 to 2300BC

Our walk continued through rural (and wealthy) Wiltshire, past further smaller stone circles, horse racing 'gallops' and onto the 'Outside Chance'  pub at Manton for some lunch in the sun.
Lunch at the Outside Chance

Phil, Sue, Iain, Bev and Fiona returned back to Marlborough after lunch, leaving the rest of us to do another walk, this time led by me. We went over Knapp Hill with superb views over the surrounding countryside and then on towards the medieval village of Shaw. Unfortunately my navigating wasn't quite as good as Phil's and we went on a slight detour through some woods. We ended up pretty close to Shaw, but the overgrown path put us off so we returned to the car and headed back to the Lamb Inn.

Brian, Jackie, John, Helen and Ian on top of Knapp Hill

Early evening G&T's hosted in our room were followed by an Italian meal in nearby Pino's and then onto the Green Dragon, sister pub to our Lamb Inn, which had live music. Quite loud in the main area, we found a side room where we could play pool, dance and eat Helen's takeout cheese and biscuits from Pino's! The music was a guitarist and singer, occasionally joined by other guitarists, with electronic drums and bass guitar, sounding like a full band. The emphasis was rock and his rendition of 'Smoke on the Water', Guns n Roses 'Wishing Well' and Hendrix's 'Purple Haze' were superb and we just had to go in a watch him. A great guitarist with superb singing, we really enjoyed it and we all felt 18 years old all over again! After closing time at 1:00am we found another pub still open and had another beer, before turning in something after 2:00am.

Sunday was raining, as predicted by the weather man, so we spent a lazy morning in the bar of the Lamb Inn reading the Sunday papers and putting the world to rights, before heading back home. Ian and Helen were going off to see Rudi, the 2 year old Labrador cross they are hoping to adopt in a couple of weeks. From the photo's we've seen he looks a great dog and they both looked really excited as they left. I hope we meet him before we go!

A great weekend and really nice to see everyone again - we're going to miss you guys!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Crazy Andy Vine Mountain Bike Weekend

I've just got back from one of Andy Vine's crazy mountain bike weekends. Why are they crazy? Because he always plans really long, proper mountain bike routes. Not the prepared mountain bike tracks in many forest parks now, but bridle ways on real mountains that are generally long, remote and traverse often difficult rocky terrain, sometimes with terrifying drops to the side.

I've been on several of these before and generally I am unable to walk for several days and I always swear I'll never go on another one, but I always find myself agreeing to go when asked again. I had agreed to this one as I won't be seeing them all again for a year, so I wanted an outing with them.

On this one there were five of us, me, Andy Vine, Gareth Harrison (fit and just as adventurous as Andy), Tony Watson (also pretty fit) and super athlete Rob Smith. I have to confess that when I heard Rob was going, much as I like him, he is in a different league to me and I was worried! I remember traversing the Cuillin Ridge on Skye with him several years ago and nearly dying, The Welsh three thousands, the three peaks, several long ski tours in Scotland and the Alps and many other long, long outings that I have literally crawled off and Rob has just ambled along! There was to be a sixth member, Dave Oldacres, but he got the weekends mixed up and forgot to come! All of these people I have known for years and have been past members of Solihull Mountaineering Club, so it was good to catch up with them all again.

Our weekend started off on Friday night with Andy picking me up in his Freelander and, after picking Gareth up we drove up to a little place called Dufton, which is in Cumbria in the East lake district. I had no idea where we were going as it would have made little difference. I knew it would be hard and that's all I needed to know! We arrived at a small campsite at 10:30pm, parked the car and went straight to the Stag Inn for a few pints before pitching the tents. I hadn't bothered taking a tent so joined Gareth in his three man. We awoke on Saturday morning to blue skies! A bit chilly and windy, but otherwise a perfect day.
The campsite on a a sunny Saturday morning
I got an inkling of the day ahead when I saw Gareth opening two 1:25,000 series maps. The route appeared to go diagonally across one map, then to the far side of the second map before looping round back to the start. No roads were evident, only lots of contours showing lots of ascent and descent over mountains! It turned out to be just under 40 miles with 1800m of ascent and lots of difficult rocky paths.

We set off at 10:30 after Gareth had finished bleeding his brakes and trying to sort out the bottom bracket on his bike. He didn't quite sort it out as the bearings were binding making it more difficult to turn the pedals. Not the best thing for lots of ascent, but at least it gave me a fighting chance!

The rocky ascent, which was along part of the Pennine Way, was not fast and this was noted by the walkers from our campsite who passed us on several occasions and always seemed to be ahead of us. This contined to our first notable viewpoint at the head of a valley known as High Cup Gill, which is a huge valley carved out by, apparently, a small stream.
View down High Cup Gill
Tony enjoying a bit of downhill

The team at the start of the day. From L to R: Tony, Rob, Gareth & Andy
Our way was not always on tracks and we had some pretty tortuous off track moments, pushing bikes through marsh, tussocks of heather and hidden streams (wet feet!!). I left navigation to Rob, Gareth and Andy and I'm not sure they always knew exactly where we were:
With no path in sight, how confident are we?
Anyway, we pressed on, got back on track and arrived at an impressive dam holding back the water of Cow Green Reservoir. On the way there were several unexpected dismounts from bikes, from my point of view most notably at one river/bog crossing where I decided the 3m wide ditch could safely be crossed without stopping, only to find my front wheel disappear in bog sending me over the handlebars to end up face down in thick mud, the bike ending upside down saddle and handlebars in deep mud - lovely! Unfortunately it was seen by the walkers, who were still keeping up with us! I also got no sympathy from my colleagues who all found it highly amusing.
An impressive waterfall at the reservoir outflow with the dam in the background
And 'Yours Truly' after the mud incident!

It was at this point they told me we were only one third of the way round it was now 3:00pm. Better get a move on! The next stages were on mainly tracks so we made good progress, but the pace was taking its toll and on a steep uphill I could feel my thighs starting to cramp. It didn't get too bad and I was somewhat relieved when Andy told me he was having the same problem - at least it wasn't just me, we were all feeling it!

Around about 5:30pm we arrived at a small town called Garrigill with just time for something to eat and drink. What I didn't know was that it was at the foot of the mother of all ascents! It went up and up and up, but at least that bit was on a track (still the Pennine Way). Rob had read somewhere about a really good descent from the top of Cross Fell (no relation!) and to get there we had to go off the track we were on. Gradually the route reduced to nothing but steep uphill moorland with lots of marsh, high tussocks and hidden streams. Up and up it went, tired and more tired, muscle cramps, aching arms, fading light and a top a long way away. I think we were all wondering whether we should be here at this time of day with no-one knowing where we were and all feeling pretty well spent. Would we find this good downhill Rob talked about and would there be enough daylight if we did? Fortunately Rob and Gareth are very good navigators and we pressed on over the shoulder and eventually to a rideable descent which turned out to be excellent! A steep downhill in great surroundings with superb views across the valley. We all had to keep brakes about halfway on all the way down to avoid going too fast, but it was superb and we were down in about half an hour.

It wasn't all over however as we had another 8 miles or so along some minor roads back to Dufton, which we did in almost total darkness, arriving back at the campsite at 8:00pm. With the exception of Rob, I think we were all totally exhausted and even Rob looked tired!

By the time we had showered and reloaded the bikes it was about 8:40, but when we got in the Stag Inn at 8:47pm we were told they had stopped serving food, even though they had told us 9:00pm was the deadline! We had no alternative but to drive to Appelby, 8 miles away and got food in an Indian Restaurant, which was superb. The only problem was the difficulty of trying to get comfortable in the chairs, everything ached!

Sunday saw me and Tony sitting in the car chatting while the others went to do a short (2 hour) ride up to a quarry and back in the rain. I just didn't fancy it, my cycling shoes were soaked and thick with mud, so I didn't want to put those back on, plus it was forecast to rain, which it did just as they set off. Much better to just sit and chat!

Will I go on another one when we get back? probably!

To see more photos follow this link:

One final entry - I know my blogs are long, but I just wanted to mention a walk Jackie and I did with Dani and John over the Malverns a couple of weeks ago. John was best man at our wedding and we've known them for many years. It was good to catch up with them as we haven't seen them for a while. Emma, Dani's sister babysat their two daughters for the day and we had a great 10 mile or so walk over the hills, stopping for a beer halfway.
Jackie with John and Danielle
The sun shone, the views and the company were great. What more could you ask for!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

My First Post

OK, here goes, I said I wasn't going to write till I finished work, but I had my leaving do last Friday, so that's pretty close!
 It's hard to believe I've been at the Beeb for 23 years, my first and only 'proper' job (farm work in a summer holiday not really counting!), and it was an awful shock to realise that we've NOT been doing Outside Broadcasts for nearly as long as we were doing them - that was the fun bit of the job, real telly, not like now! Now it's being on a telephone helpdesk for local radio sorting out their Radioman PC's, and I hate computers....! Still only 10 more working days to go!
 Anyway, back to Friday, there are two of us leaving in this round of redundancy, so the boss said we could have a bit of a 'do', he'd provide some beer and nibbles
Mmmm I'll have that one....

and we could invite some people past and present and we'd have a speech or two!

What is going on in the foreground? I know Chris and Graham haven't seen each other for a long time....

 'My Lot' then went on to the Big Wok for a bit of a feed, and then on to the pub for a bit more of a drink! All in all I had a lovely evening, being poured onto the train by Kris and Rob, before being collected at the station in Alvechurch by Brian and boring him witless repeating over and over again what a lovely time I'd had! There was a lot of reminiscing, and although the bit of the job that I'll miss has been long gone, I shall miss some of my colleagues. It's not the end though - just the start of me being one of the old fogies invited back sporadically for a catch up balti.