Book Review: Two Degrees West by Nicholas Crane

At work we always have a secret Santa, and last Christmas I was given this particular book. Whoever gave it to me certainly knows the kind of books I like to read. It might have been picked up in a charity shop, book sellers on Amazon or even had it on their won shelf and decided to re-gift it. It doesn’t really matter to me as the book was a great read.


I remember reading a few long articles by Nicholas Crane and his brother in cycling magazines back in the 80s and early 90s, where they had gone on amazing adventures. One of them saw the brothers cycle to the place on the planet furthest away from any sea, smack in the middle of the Gobi Desert.

Two Degrees West was first published in 1999, and the book has aged well, although having to use a phone box might confuse younger readers. No mobile phones back then. The idea behind the book was for Nicholas to walk the length of England along the 2 degree longitude, from Berwick to Poole. He allows himself a 2km window, although this does involve wading rivers, catching a boat across a reservoir and an escorted march across army land.

Of course, as with most traveling books it’s all about the people he meets along the way. Nicholas is a garrulous person, chatting with almost everyone. One interesting theme through the book is the lack of shops in many of the smaller villages, with free buses available to large supermarkets, along with the soon to be extinct village pub and post office.

The book was also written before open access land became a thing in England, and because of this Nicholas has to trespass on more than a few occasions. Many of the moors that he crosses are set aside for grouse shooting. He doesn’t state if he is for or against, leaving it up to the reader. There are large tracts of land set aside for grouse shooting near to Lancaster, which I would love to be able to walk or run with more freedom. The game keepers in the book like to say that without the shooting the numbers of grouse would become far too large. This is a little disingenuous, as the land has been cultivated to create the perfect habitat for grouse. If the heather was allow to grow and trees were planted then there wouldn’t be any need to shoot grouse. Another argument is that the shooters bring money and jobs into the local towns and villages. The cost of a days shooting is well over £1,000, and most of that goes to the landowner, although pubs and B & Bs do benefit. My own view is that there the land needs to be more natural with more trees, and if this isn’t too the liking of grouse, then so be it.

Last weekend me and my lovely wife went for a run and came across a closed footpath (read about it here), and in this book Nicholas also has this problem, along with Bulls. It often feels like some landowners really don’t want people walking across their land, eve when it is a Public Right Of Way. This was written about extensively in Mike Parker’s recent book (read about it here). If you do come across a blocked footpath, contact your local PROW officer, they are always very helpful.

Back to the book, and his route took him through many places that I knew well, or that I’ve cycled through. It didn’t just take him over moors, he also walked through the middle of the Black Country, which probably isn’t on too many long distance footpaths.

A very satisfying book, and to whoever my secret Santa was, I thank you.

Lock Down Day 5 – Run From Home

By now you should have seen that driving somewhere to go for your one form of daily exercise is liable for a £30 fine, as it is deemed to be unnecessary travel. I absolutely agree as the scenes on Snowdonia last week were a disgrace, and I don’t blame the Lake District for stating that they are closed.

Our planned run in the north Howgills obviously had to be curtailed. Instead we went for a run from our front door, heading onto a few footpaths that Helen and I had never run.


We set off up the large hill past the park, dropping down before climbing again. Near to the top was a footpath on the right, our first footpath of the day, and into a field full of chicken sheds. All too often when a footpath goes through or near to a farm, there is a dearth of signs, as there was here. I knew from the map that the path went straight through the farmyard, but there was a Heath Robinson style electric fence to duck under, before we came to a ‘Bull in field’ sign. It is illegal to allow a bull to roam free in a field where there is a footpath. There was no bull, but at the other side of the field, where a style should be was a broken stone wall with barbed wire strung across the top. Fortunately we could open the gate, just. This is one farmer who really doesn’t want anyone to use the footpaths through his land. However, there was a great view of Langthwaite Reservoir, which can’t be seen from the road, as well as Blea Tarn Reservoir, seen below.


Joining the road we ran down the steep Proctor Moss Road and then up onto our second footpath. We walked up the grassy field to a broken style, over a small stream, over a small fence and into another large field, before once again joining the road. On the map there was another footpath opposite where we came out, but on the ground there wasn’t a sign anywhere. We therefore stayed on the road until we reached a farm track which dropped down to a ford. I’ve run and cycled over this ford a few times, and in winter when the water level is too high to use the stepping stones, your feet don’t half get cold. Nelly decided not to use the stepping stones.

Another missed footpath before we joined the University Trim Trail. Dogs are not allowed on campus, but seeing at the Uni was closed we risked it. We’d run along this trail for a Santa Dash in December 2018 (read about it here), and it is kept in very good condition.

At the end of the trail we sat on a handy felled tree for a few minutes, giving Nelly a drink and having a snack. Down into Bailrigg, and if you didn’t know where the footpath is, you would think it was someones drive. It wasn’t clearly marked, but it took us across a couple of fields (a planning application for 700 houses has been submitted for these fields) and into Hala.

Through Hala we followed Burrow Beck until we reached the Barton Road Playing fields. We let Nelly off the lead for a romp and to find some poo to roll in. She’s the best dog in the world. From there it was a steady run back home. We’d been out for almost exactly two hours and run almost nine miles, taking it nice and easy.

It isn’t always easy trying to find new and exciting routes from your front door, but in these times of trouble exploring closer to home can be just as rewarding as driving somewhere.

Chicken Corner

I don’t take enough photos when I’m out cycling. Yesterday I saw a cat with a squirrel in it’s mouth. I cycled past when I should have stopped to catalogue this cat’s achievement. Today, for the first time, I spotted chickens at chicken corner.


My lovely wife used to live in a small village a few miles south of Lancaster called Cockerham. A few miles down the road is the village of Pilling, but just before you reach it there is the Lands End Amenity Area (closed at the moment due to Corona). Helen has been telling me for years how old chickens have been left there and have formed their own chicken commune. I’ve cycled past there dozens of times and we’ve walked Nelly there a couple of times, but I’ve never seen or heard any chickens. I came to the conclusion that my dearest Helen was gently winding me up.

Today there were chickens. Maybe it’s because the area is closed and they were feeling brave, but there they were. Three straggly chickens having a walk. When I posted on Strava, my old friend The Prof commented;

“I trust those 3 were from the same household and had not driven there to commence their walk?”

It is day 4 of the UK lock down, and my one form of outside exercise was a bike ride. Helen will be taking Nelly out later, after learning to play the ukulele. If you’ve been reading the news or looked at social media, you will have noticed that driving somewhere to exercise, or to walk your dog is liable to an on the spot £30 fine. I saw a couple of cars with dogs today, and the small car park over Harris End had three cars. Yesterday when Helen was out for a run with Nelly she spotted a police car at the park entrance.

We had been thinking of going for a run tomorrow on the northern Howgills. We wouldn’t have seen another person, but the rules are in place for a very good reason (7,500 deaths in Italy and counting) so we will go for a run from home along a few footpaths that we’ve never run along before.We can still have mini-adventures, and did I mention that I saw three chickens!



I’m making a list of firms that have acted odiously during the pandemic, and I will be boycotting them once normality resumes. The first three are listed below;

J. D. Wetherspoons

No real surprise there. Tim Martin, the owner of said pub chain, has always come across as a money grabbing gob-shite. Initially he wanted to keep his pubs open, in defiance of the shut-down, and only complied when he wasn’t given an option. He then refused to pay his staff until the Government rescue package came into effect, telling his 40,000 staff that they could apply to work in Tescos. He then came out saying that he wouldn’t be paying his suppliers either. This isn’t a small business struggling financially. Last year Wetherspoons made £100 million profit, whilst the majority of his staff are paid minimum wage. I’m not in the least bit surprised to see that one of his pubs has been covered in graffiti, saying ‘pay your staff’.

Mike Ashley

The billionaire owner of Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Evans Cycles, defied the shut-down stating that his stores were essential business. Possibly Evans, but definitely not the other two. Putting profits before the health of his staff, or the health of others. The majority of Sports Direct and House of Fraser stores are in city centres, so the staff would have to use public transport to get to work. Once again, his staff are mostly paid minimum wages, so taking time off isn’t really option for them. His factory is still open and MPs have asked if staff who have been temporarily laid off will be paid.

Britannia Hotel

13 staff at the Coylumbridge Hotel in Aviemore were handed a notice evicting them from their accommodation in the hotel and told their employment had been terminated with immediate effect. It’s bad enough to lose your job, but to be made homeless at the same time is unforgivable. The bosses at Britannia had no option but to perform a U-turn after the massive public backlash they quite rightly received, blaming it on an ‘admin error’. They also own Pontins, and have re-hired staff that were laid off, now that the Government furlough scheme has started. Added to all this, Which? have declared the Britannia Hotel chain to be the worst in the UK every year since 2013. Have a look at their website, and then when this is all over, book somewhere different to stay.

Prince Charles

I’m not suggesting that we should all boycott the 71 year old Prince Charles, but he gets an honorary mention for testing positive for the Coronavirus. Why was he tested? He isn’t a front line NHS staff member. Why can he get tested and my wife who works in a care home can’t? Prince Charles has announced that he is self-isolating at Balmoral, which is set in 50,000 acres of land. If the land was in a square, it would be approximately 14km across. That’s quite a good run without leaving your garden. There are also 52 bedrooms inside the Castle. Not your average self isolation.

This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list, and unfortunately I’m sure that over the coming weeks I will be able to add to this. On a lighter note, 500,000 people have signed up to be NHS volunteers in less than 24 hours. On the whole people are good, but companies often forget that their staff are not just items on a spreadsheet.

Book Review: The Wild Rover by Mike Parker

Maps are brilliant. Ordnance Survey maps, digital maps, Open Street Map, they’re all brilliant. (Google maps not so much unless you’re driving). I could lose myself for hours looking at maps, finding new places to visit and new routes to cycle or run. Mike Parker also loves maps, although he is more old school preferring paper ones over digital. I read his other book, Map Addict (read about it here), and really enjoyed it, so it wasn’t a hard decision to pick up his latest book.


In this book Mike starts off by having a moan at the plethora of new footpath signs in the village where he lives, joking that he likes the fact that he rarely sees anyone else on ‘his’ paths. He highlights how quickly footpaths were closed during the foot and mouth outbreak many years ago, and how long it took for many of them to re-open. This is an ongoing theme, with court cases against land owners who have blocked off footpaths.

Mike also covers the history behind footpaths and open access to land, which wasn’t easily won. The most famous case is the mass trespass up Kinder Scout in 1932, where 500 locals wanted access to the moors above their smog and soot filled towns. Less famously is the mass trespass up Winter Hill near Bolton, which overlooks my place of work, and which I have run up a couple of times. In 1896 10,000 people illegally walked over Winter Hill, and many of the ‘ring leaders’ end up in jail. We’ve moved on, but I still feel that too much open moorland is reserved for grouse shooting, especially in light of recent floods, where mass tree planting on these fells would greatly help.

Mike also writes about many of the more famous Long Distance Paths which criss-cross England. He even walks one of them, the Ridgeway; a very pleasant amble of 140km from Ivinghoe Beacon to Overton Hill. I would quite like to do this one day, especially as Overton Hill is near to the famous Avebury Stone Circle which me and Helen visited 18 months ago with my parents.

Back to the book in question, and if you’ve read Map Addict then you’ll know what to expect; bits of history, bits of humour and a whole load of walking.

750 Strava Challenges

My most read blog entry, for some bizarre reason was when I wrote about completing 300 Strava Challenges (read about it here). It’s not very well written or even that interesting. My blog entry when I had completed 500 Strava Challenges was slightly better and obviously has had far fewer ‘hits’ (read about it here).


Well here we are again, and amazingly it has only taken 14 months to go from 500 to 750 Strava Challenges. 20 a month seems to be the norm. My lovely wife finds it endearing, much like Eddie Stobbart spotting. (Helen bought me a spotting book one Christmas so that I can write down the ones that I’ve seen).

Five years ago, when I notched 200 challenges, Strava kindly sent me a load of free stuff. I might email them again, see what they’ve got lying around, gathering dust, that they can send to me instead of throwing in a skip.

I wanted to write a blog without mentioning the Coronavirus, but as we are currently on day 1 of lockdown, albeit being allowed one form of exercise a day, Strava Challenges might have to have a hiatus. I hope not, as not being able to exercise outside would send me round the bend, and our silly Pointer would be nuts. I don’t do Zwift and even if I did, there isn’t a version for dogs. Maybe I should make one.

Anyway, if Strava keep up with the many challenges, then I might reach 1,000 in just over a years time.

Smardale Gill Viaduct

Self-isolating doesn’t mean staying indoors. While the news is full of pictures of mass gatherings at the sea-side and queues on the M55 for Tesco, we went for a run. It was a gentle little run, taking it easy, and we didn’t see another person, let alone getting within 2m of others.

We headed out to Ravenstonedale, a small village near Kirkby Stephen, which sounds like it should be in Game of Thrones. It was sunny, cold, but dry. Ideal trail running weather. We even found the correct footpath out of the village on the first attempt. Crossing the busy A685 and into sheep filled fields with the obligatory selfie.


We soon found ourselves on a great little footpath in full view of the amazing Smardale Gill Viaduct.


The viaduct was completed in 1861 and was part of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, built mainly to transport coal from the north east to the steelworks in Barrow. The line (and viaduct) closed in 1962, and by 1980 the viaduct was in danger of collapsing. British Rail, who owned it, donated the money that demolishing would have cost to a trust. They in turn raised additional money and in 1993 the restoration was complete and the viaduct was open for pedestrians (and runners).


Unfortunately, the viaduct was actually closed. More work is required on the railings. We climbed over the gate and ran along the middle of the viaduct, keeping away from the edges. Please don’t do what we did. I think I can safely say that this was the first time that I had run across a viaduct.

Moments after crossing we came across a couple of old lime kilns, and then a couple of derelict cottages.


Much like the old church we saw on our Littledale run a few weeks ago (read about it here), these cottages would make a fantastic place to live, if you had a very large bucket of cash. Helen even managed to find a photo online of the same cottages when the line was still in use.

Running along the old railway line was brilliant, nice and flat with a soft springy surface. Nelly was also loving it as she could have a good scamper away from sheep.


All too soon the old railway line ended. We said hello to a horse.


Once more we crossed the main road and jogged on through Newbiggin-on-Lune. Joining another footpath and more sheep fields, we were soon back into Ravenstonedale. Only 6 and a half miles, but one of the best little runs that we have ever done. Once home it was even sunny enough to sit in the garden with a brew and a book.

Little adventures with my amazing wife and our silly pointer are the best days.

Skipton Parkrun

Today I should have been running parkrun, but for the first time for over 15 years there is no parkrun anywhere in the world. Sad times, and I have to say that in the UK people don’t appear to be taking Coronavirus seriously. Me and my lovely wife walked into town to buy a small amount of fruit and veg, and a couple of bits for Helen’s mother. Our favourite cafe was only open for take-out, so to try and support them we decided to buy a couple of slices of cake to take home. The girl working there was happy to see us and wanted to chat, while we just wanted to grab the cakes go. Give it a few more days and I think the UK will be in total lock down. As I said, difficult times.

After that rambling intro, back to this blog, which was supposed to be about the very first parkrun that we did, almost four years ago. Part of my project parkrun (read about it here), where I write about all of the tourist parkruns that I/we have done, but not yet written about.

Skipton was our first parkrun, and it was only a couple of weeks after finishing a triple ironman (read about it here), so I was surprised how good I felt managing 30th overall. My beard at the time was a complete mess; much neater today.


I remember that we made a weekend of it, camping at a site next to the Leeds – Liverpool canal. We also found out that night that our tent was completely waterproof, as it chucked it down. Once our tent was up, we went for a walk along the canal, with Nelly running on ahead. Unfortunately a pair of swans climbed out of the canal and onto the towpath, in between us and Nelly. Our loyal pointer ran back to save us, barking at the swans ferociously until they ambled back onto the canal, completely oblivious to her. This was the first time that I had ever heard Nelly bark, so even though it has been known for her to be scared of her own shadow (or a leaf), we know that if needed, she would be there to save us.

The next morning, after a couple of coffees, we gently jogged along the towpath to Aireville Park, the site of Skipton parkrun, conveniently located next to the canal. Neither me or Helen really knew what we were doing, as we milled around with other runners, although it was all very jovial. We listened to the briefing, and then we were off. I set off at a steady pace and slowly overtook a few people, but with very narrow paths it soon became tricky, more so for Helen as she was trying to run with Nelly as well as having to contend with faster runners lapping them. There were just under 200 people there that day, and when I’d finished I jogged back along the route to cheer on Helen, who handed me Nelly. Helen finished in a very credible 116th, well under 30 minutes, which was very commendable on the undulating route. I noticed that the largest field at Skipton is just over 300, which must be almost impossible.

After our first parkrun we were hooked, and hopefully we’ll both reach our 100 milestones later this year. Lets just hope that this virus clears up soon and we can all get back to parkrun. Saturday just isn’t the same without parkrun.

Random Wednesday

February Parkrun

This February was a leap year, and for the first time in parkrun history, there were five Saturdays in February. The last time that this happened was 28 years ago, way before parkrun existed. However, I’m sorry to say that I only managed four parkruns this February, as one of the Saturdays we were in Iceland. Not sorry at all.


There is a language in Africa, and I’m really sorry but for the life of me I can’t remember the country, but they only have three different colours. If you needed a green, you would say that it is the colour of the leaves of an oak tree. Or for blue, it is the colour of the sky on a summers day. I like this.

Corona Virus

I found myself singing Happy Birthday under my breath as I was washing my hands. Damn you Boris Johnson. For me, the first verse from the Half Man Half Biscuit song Time Flies By When You’re The Driver Of A Train is much better.


The last couple of weeks me and my amazing wife have been watching the third series of the Great British Pottery Throwdown. We have loved this show, and have binged watched it. My wife had a pottery taster session last year and was a natural, and with a pottery studio having just opened five minutes walk from our home, Helen might be making pots galore.

The Zombie Apocalypse has Started

That might be a little over dramatic, but it sure feels like it. The panic buying is ridiculous. A couple of extra tins and a loaf of bread in the freezer and you’ll be fine. There is no need to stockpile like it’s the end of the world. Before work on a Monday I nip into Asda to get some healthy snack so that I don’t raid the tuck box at work in the afternoon. (Spoiler, I always raid the tuck box in the afternoon). Asda is generally quiet at that time, but yesterday there were people with fully loaded trolleys all over the place.

Closer to home and we’re putting notes through the letter boxes of our 6 nearest neighbours, with our phone numbers and letting them know that if they have to self isolate and need anything, to give us a ring.

We did panic buy on dried dog food. Usually we buy 2kg bags, but yesterday I came home with a 15kg bag, much to the delight of Nelly. The ratio of dog food to dog is much to her liking.


I had entered the Oldham Way Ultra, and as expected it has been called off. They don’t have a alternate date yet, but have given runners the option of swapping to one of their other events, or staying with the Oldham Way when they have a new date. Disappointingly, if you can’t make the alternate date they are only offering a 60% refund. It would also have been nice to have received an email, as it was only announced on Facebook, which I’m not on, so my lovely wife had a look for me.

Parkrun is still on, but for how long, and I could go for a swim yesterday (apparently the virus doesn’t like chlorinated water), but again, for how long. We’ve made a decision to only go to our local parkrun in Lancaster, and not be a ‘tourist’. With the swimming, we’ll keep on until the pools are forced to close.

As for work, I usually work from home one day a week. This has now been changed to as many days at home as I would like. For now I’m going to go into work one day a week, until the government mandates that no-one goes into work unless they absolutely have to. Fortunately I will still get paid.

I used to work in a pub for 15 years and, Boris Johnson’s advice not to go to bars, cafes or restaurants is the worst of all worlds. Tell them to close, offer some compensation, offer to cover wages and allow those with insurance to claim. Telling people not to go in is a death knell for the industry and if I still ran a pub I would be very angry.

Things are changing daily, and I don’t know what the next few months will be like. If shops, restaurants and sports centres all close, will their staff still get paid? If me and my wife have to self-isolate, Statutory Sick Pay will not cover the bills. I don’t believe that the UK Government is doing enough and that there will be tough times ahead, especially as both my mother and Helen’s mother are over 80.

In short, stay safe people, and look after each other.