Book Review: Map Addict by Mike Parker

I’m old enough to love a good fold out map. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to look at maps on my phone, especially when out running, but I always turn to the paper version when I’m looking for inspiration of where next to run or cycle.

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Map Addict was therefore always going to be a book I would enjoy, written by a self confessed map addict. Mike begins with his own obsession with maps, stealing them from his local book shop as a teenager, behaviour that can’t be condoned. He explains the differences between the different OS maps, and why they are some of the best maps in the world. He looks at other iconic maps, for example the London A-Z. I also enjoyed the section where he lists the five best and five worst Landranger maps, which is a bit harsh on Thurso and Dunbeath.

One area of the book I loved was when Mike explained how map makers make sure that if someone steals one of their maps, and then re-brands it as theirs, maybe with differently coloured roads, they would know about it. To do this, OS, for example, place deliberate mistakes on the map. Small enough that you wouldn’t notice, but wrong enough to prove that the map is theirs. OS recently took another company to court, who settled before the trial, which is partly a shame as many people would love to know where some of these ‘mistakes’ are.

Back at home, and me and my beautiful wife have recently organised our map shelf. Helen’s father passed away almost five years ago, and my father earlier this year. We now have both of their map collections, which combined with mine and Helen’s maps means we have almost the whole set of Landranger maps, with only the north east of England and parts of Scotland missing.

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Some of the maps go back over 40 years, so it’s always fun to look at an area before motorways.

Anyway, back to the book review, and while I really enjoyed reading Map Addict, it is a bit of a niche book. If you don’t get excited by maps then you probably won’t really enjoy this book. (Who are these strange people who don’t love maps?)

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Black Combe

At the weekend me and beautiful wife were due to meet up with her family at her brother’s caravan near Grizebeck, but as expected, we decided to make it a bit more of an adventure. Looking out from the caravan you can see the hill of Black Combe, the largest hill on the periphery of the lake district. On a good day it looks like the photo below.

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Yesterday it definitely wasn’t like that. It chucked it down on the drive over, the wind was blowing a gale, and clouds completely blocked out the summit. Perfect fell running weather.

We parked up in Silecroft and followed a couple of footpaths across fields, although the second field had a few inquisitive young cows who wanted to say hello. From there the path to the top is well marked and well used, and heads straight up. In his books Wainright describes Black Combe as an easy walk that the elderly can manage in carpet slippers. I was puffing and blowing as we were reduced to a steady walk. It also wasn’t long before we were hidden in the clouds, which did mean that we had no idea where the summit was, although I knew that it would be slightly less than 3 miles, all up hill. The fairly impressive Strava elevation profile can be seen below.

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As we neared the summit the winds increased, until we spotted the Trig point, surrounded by a small circular wall, which we ducked down behind for a little shelter.

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Moments later I stood up.

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Sensibly, instead of looking for a different route down and probably getting lost in the clouds, we opted to return down the way we had come up. When we return in better conditions then we’ll probably take the longer route.

Surprisingly it was far easier running down, although we did have to stop when the track split into two. We hadn’t noticed the other track on the way up. Not long after that we dropped out of the clouds, and as you can see Helen was pleased to have a view to look at.

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As we neared the bottom the field with cows now had a bull, so wisely we detoured onto the road, into the other field and back to the car.

The rest of the day was spent with Helen’s family, eating and drinking, interspersed with a walk along the Ulverston Canal and the Ulverston food festival. Overall a great day.

 

Book Review: Waterlog by Roger Deakin

It seems fairly apt after my first open water swim of the year (read about it here) that I write a review of a book that is all about open water swimming.

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If you love swimming, especially open water and wild swimming then this book is for you. Roger goes on an odyssey around the UK looking for places to swim. He begins by looking for historical places, swimming holes and spot where people have swam for generations. He looks for lidos, unheated ones, big ones, small ones and even a triangular one, although so many lidos have been permanently shut down, which is a real shame. Last month I had the chance to swim in Hampton Pool Lido (read about it here), wich was very busy, even on a cold April morning. Back in it’s heyday, Morecambe used to have a really large lido, now sadly gone. Grange-over-Sands still has it’s lido, although closed, however there are attempts to re-open it, which would be fantastic.

Roger write about swimming across estuaries, down rivers, through lakes and lochs. He also chats to everyone about where and when they learnt to swim, finding some great new places to try out, and also finding secret swimming holes that had been forgotten about for many years.

He also swam in places that I knew quite well. He visited Oxford, where I lived for many years, and swam along the Thames, or the Isis as it is known in the city of spires. Roger also swam under Devil’s Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale, although he declined to jump off the bridge.

There’s also an undercurrent of officialdom, for example by the Environment Agency saying the water might not be safe. As Roger pointed out to them, isn’t it their job to make sure that the water is safe. Roger also writes about perfectly good swimming spots where you’re ‘not allowed’ to swim because the water is owned privately, either by landowners for fishing, or by a school. This is nonsense of course, but Roger does suggest that the Scottish Right to Roam Act could be used in the UK for our waterways.

I took my time with this book, dipping in and out when I felt like it, and I made plenty of mental notes of places that I would love to swim.

First Open Water Swim of the Year

It’s that time of the year when the triathletes pull the wetsuit out of wherever it’s been hiding, struggle into in and gingerly tip-toe in the cold dark water. For the last six or seven years I’ve been open water swimming with the City of Lancaster Triathlon Club in a small lake near Carnforth. This year, due to various circumstances, the swim venue has moved to the Capernwray Dive Centre. Less hassle for the club and cleaner water, although no revenue stream. I don’t think the club were every really welcome at the previous venue, especially in the last couple of years. The only drawback of the new venue is that the water is colder. I have swam there a few times, most notably in the dark for the Fireworks 500, where the water was seriously cold (read about it here).

Last year I think I only swam open water four times; once with COLT and then at the Salford Triathlon (read about it here), Isoman (read about it here) and the Hurly Burly (read about it here). This year both me and my beautiful wife are planning to swim most weeks.

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Last night at the Dive Centre the water was cold, and as usual I struggled until I was nearly at the second buoy, but then I started to warm up and get into my stroke. I pushed it a little faster for my second lap, knowing that I was going to call it quits after two. Most people did at least three laps, and one hardy (foolhardy maybe) swimmer went in without a wetsuit. Yikes!

I had a chat to the club captain as I watched my wife swimming, where we reminisced about how our very first time open water swimming was in a triathlon. John’s was at the Windsor triathlon, while my first time was at the Swindon triathlon in 1995. Fortunately things have progressed.

Overall a good swim if short, but I will aim to increase the distance each week. I might see you there.

Lakesman Half – The Bike Loop

My beautiful and amazing wife has entered the Lakesman Half Triathlon this year, which is in four weeks time. Helen wanted to ride the bike loop to have a look at it and to make sure that she can make it back for the run within the time limit. I’ll let you in on a secret, she’ll have absolutely no worries about the time limit.

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I downloaded the route, we loaded up the car and headed off nice and early this morning (Sunday). Arriving at the carpark in Keswick where the race will start and finish, we found it to be nearly full. Unbeknown to us, the Keswick Mountain Festival was on, with fell races, walks, sportive and a swim all occurring over the weekend. I mention the swim because there wasn’t actually a swim. It had been cancelled due to a harmful algal bloom in Derwent Water. Lakesman are aware of the situation and are monitoring the water, but there is a possibility that the races might have either shortened swims or no swim at all. Currently refunds or referrals are not being offered. This is a difficult situation for the organisers with plenty of people venting their anger on social media. I think that it is sensible to ere on the side of caution, and it the water is deemed to be unsafe to swim in, then you have to accept an altered race. Worst case scenario, the race goes ahead while there is some doubt about the water,  and if a few triathletes fall ill people will want to know why the swim leg wasn’t cancelled.

Back in the carpark once we had set up our bikes we headed off, straight through the sportive. Fortunately they were all turning right at the very first junction, while we headed out of Keswick and onto the A66 towards Cockermouth. This isn’t a road I would normally ride on, but it wasn’t too bad on a Sunday early in the morning, although it was a bit boring. After ten miles we turned left onto a smaller road, which was actually worse than the A66 as it was narrower, leaving less room for cars to overtake. Soon though we turned off this onto a very pleasant country lane, with a great descent into Branthwaite. Best section of the route by far.

Joining the A595 there’s a great view of the Irish sea, and with over half the bike leg completed you’re nearly home. The route then does a loop through Distington and back along the dual carriageway. This again wasn’t too bad as there was plenty of room for us. Unfortunately the A595 back towards the A66 was fast with little room, so we opted to use the separate cycle lane, which won’t be an option on race day. Once we reached the A66 we had a stop and a chat. The route back to Keswick will be fast and impossible to go wrong, so we decided to enjoy the ride and head back along some quieter roads. This was slightly longer and a lot hillier, but was a brilliant diversion, especially as for much of the time we could still see the A66.

Cockermouth was a revelation, with a wide street lined with trees. This isn’t an area of the lakes that either of us have visited, although I did a triathlon there many years ago, before Stava. Cockermouth; we will return. There’s also plenty of signs pointing to Maryport, which sounds like a classic Game of Thrones town.

If you’re going to cycle from Cockermouth to Keswick there really is only one route; up and over Whinlatter.

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Whinlatter isn’t one of the ‘hard’ climbs in the Lakes, but it is still a bit of a beast, although we were climbing it from the ‘easier’ side. I had also never climbed it from this side. Helen wasn’t particularly keen on this hill, but the huge grin on her face after the glorious descent made it all worthwhile. Back into Keswick and once again we were mistaken for sportive riders. A couple of years ago we did the Tour De Bolton sportive and I was saddened by the dozen riders waiting outside the school gates to take part in the sportive without paying for it. I really hope that the marshalls didn’t think that we had done the same thing.

My thoughts on the Lakesman Half bike route is that most of it is on roads that I wouldn’t normally ride on, but on race day, with so many other triathletes on the roads it should be fine. The main roads also makes it easier for the organisers, with fewer marshalls required at critical junctions. I’ve chatted with people who have done Lakesman in previous years and they have all said that the roads were not an issue.

If you’ve entered Lakesman I wish you all the best in the world. As for me, I’m really looking forward to supporting my amazing wife as I know that she will surpass all of her expectations.

 

Book Review: Don’t Go There by Adam Fletcher

My beautiful wife gave me this book as a Christmas present, and even though I’m only now writing a review, I had finished it a couple of months ago. I currently have a pile of seven books that I’ve finished but haven’t reviewed, so I’d better get on with reviewing them.

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My wife knows that I have a predilection for unusual travel books, so this was right up my street. However, the author doesn’t come across as the most likeable of people in the first few chapters.

The books premise is quite simple, go an visit the places where you are generally advised not to go. For example, Chernobyl or North Korea. This crazy tourist stuff doesn’t start deliberately, it begins with a holiday to Turkey which just happens to coincide with the uprising and numerous riots.

Stuck on a bus in China for 24 hours isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, and if I’m honest I would be happy not to visit most of the places. Saying that, Palestine was interesting, as was North Korea. The group that Adam travelled with through some of the more out of the way Eastern European countries would have driven me mad, as it almost did him, with their constant drunkeness.

Overall an interesting read, once you get past the author’s tendency to lie of the sofa antagonizing his girlfriend, and I will probably look out for the sequel when it comes out.

Howgills Half Marathon

A few months ago me and my beautiful wife were looking at races to enter, specifically a half marathon in April or May. It would be used as a warm up race for later in the year when Helen attempts the Lakesman half ironman distance triathlon. (Legally it’s not a Half Ironman as it isn’t an M-Dot race, and therefore it must always be referred to as a half ironman distance race.) I digress. After looking at various races we decided that the Howgills Half Marathon organised by Epic Events would be perfect.

We had both done another race in the Montane Trail Series last year in Grizedale which had been a brilliant race (read about it here). I had also done the Howgills Triathlon a couple of years ago, which should have rung warning bells as the run had gone up Winder Fell (read about it here).

With a 10am start from Sedbergh, which is only a 30 minute drive, it wasn’t an early off, although Nelly, our unruly Pointer, knew that we had our running gear on and was most perturbed when we left her at home. As with all trail races there was a mandatory kit list, especially as it always seems to rain in the Howgills, except for last Sunday, when it was sunny, hot, dry and hardly any wind.

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We arrived in Sedbergh in plenty of time, parked in the correct field and picked up our numbers and t-shirts, before queuing to use the port-a-loos (very unpleasant).

There was also a marathon on who were setting off 20 minutes before our race, so we cheered them on as they set off. We then had a quick chat with Steve, an old friend who had completed the Bowland Half Marathon with us last year in horrendous conditions (read about it here).

Once we were off the route went directly up Winder Fell, dropping down slightly before heading up The Calf, which tops out at almost 700m high. There was then a very pleasant section along before the two routes split off with the marathon runners continuing on while we turned right. There then followed two very steep technical descents, where as always I was overtaken by more than a handful of runners. I really need to practice running downhill.

There then followed a short out and back section to the feed station set up on a farm near Narthwaite. I re-filled my water bottle and grabbed a couple of Jaffa Cakes before setting off over the very narrow footbridge. I waved at Steve as he was running towards the feed station and set off towards Sedbergh. The next few miles were fairly easy going along footpaths with very little climbing. We had been warned about the final hill, but after Winder and The Calf how hard could it be.

Swearing, lots of swearing, that’s how hard it was. So steep I was almost crawling up it. We didn’t even go all the way to the top, but it felt never ending. Eventually the route followed the contours of the hill before another steep technical descent. We crossed a small stream where I dipped my hat, which then promptly gave me a headache because the water was so cold. Finally I could see and hear the finish area way down below.

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The last downhill section on the road was hard on my tired legs, but moments later I was running around the field and through the finish funnel, to be handed water and a medal. As I was coming towards the finish the announcer was starting the prize giving, beginning with the vet 60 winner! There are some very quick ‘older’ runners out there.

I headed to the car to drop off my medal and to change into my finishers shirt, before returning to the field to wait for my wife. As I was queuing for a coffee I spotted Helen running down the road, much earlier than I had been expecting. I hobbled over to the finish line for a hug and to congratulate her as it had been an absolutely stunning performance from Helen.

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Helen was a little emotional and also full of swear words, mainly about that f****** last hill. A few minutes later the winner from the marathon returned, in just under four hours. I can’t even imagine how he had run it that fast, although Helen pointed out to me that the marathon had hardly any extra elevation than the half, which made me feel slightly less old and rubbish.

Overall it was an excellent race; well marshalled with plenty of arrows out on the course. It would have been difficult to have got lost. We will definitely be doing more events from this series, although probably not this particular race. I think I am right in saying that it was the toughest half marathon that I’ve ever done. Three days later and my right thigh (my leading leg) is still sore from the descents.

Of course when we got home the day wasn’t over, as we still had to take Nelly out for a walk.