Easedale Tarn

My lovely wife stumbled across a brilliant trail running book with 20 routes around the Lake District, by Helen Mort. The runs start at 5km and go all the way up to 17km, so nothing too serious. The routes are all on good trails as well, minimising the chance of getting lost. Today we did route #8, an 8km route from Grasmere to Easedale Tarn and back.

We set off in lovely weather, sunny but still cold, through the quiet streets of Grasmere, and onto the first trail, with great views of a waterfall, known as Sourmilk Gill.

We continued to climb, walking the steep sections and running when it was easier or flatter. There were a few other walkers and runners about, but it wasn’t busy by a long way, although there were a few people enjoying the views once we reached the tarn.

I’d recently been to a strategic day with work, and had been asked if I would record a quick video of what I thought of the day, so I did this while standing half way up the fells. I’m actually quite pleased with how it turned out, especially as this is the first time that I’d ever done something like that.

Anyway, we crossed over the stepping stones and started the gentle descent back down to Grasmere. Once back in the town we obviously stopped for cake, scone and coffee, and we even let old Nelly lick out the clotted cream container.

I know that 5 miles is a very short little adventure, but after the last couple of years any day out is a good day. I also have to add that if all of the routes in Helen Mort’s book are as good as this one then we’ll be a very happy little team.

Book Review: To the Devil a Daughter by Dennis Wheatley

Another second hand book I picked up from the excellent Old Pier Book Shop in Morecambe, and it has been a very long time since I read anything by the classic English horror writer Dennis Wheatley.

The book is set and written in the 1950’s and as such can feel very dated, with lots of references to the 2nd World War. There are a few important characters in the book, but the aforementioned ‘daughter’ is, as expected, integral. Christina is possessed by the Devil during the hours if darkness. How do we know this? She goes out dancing, kisses a man she hardly knows, drinks copious amounts of cocktails without feeling any effects, and wins large sums of money gambling in a casino. Obviously she has the devil inside her. Times were very different 70 years ago.

Anyway, her feisty elderly neighbour and son set about saving Christina when it becomes clear that there are dark forces involved. Attempted kidnapping, a satanic Canon and a family of modern day smugglers add to the mix. All very exciting, however, the book is definitely too long by today’s standards. The problem is that nothing happens for much of the book. If an author tried to publish this book today I would expect any editor would insist on removing at least a hundred pages, about a quarter of the book. It is overly descriptive in places with many a paragraph that isn’t relevant to the overall story. There are some very interesting things in the book. For example, champagne at one restaurant is incredibly expensive at £4 a bottle.

Despite all this I did enjoy the book. Dennis Wheatley is one of the most renowned horror writers and a significant link between the classic Victorian authors of Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker, and the 70’s books by David Seltzer (The Omen) and William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist).

Book Review: The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

So many books. I’ve had a quick look and I think I have another 30 or so books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed. I’d better get cracking.

Perusing Waterstones last year and I often have a look at their Sci-Fi and Horror display. You know what it’s like, you see a few books but you’re not sure, so you buy the new Stephen King or Dean Koontz instead of giving the unknown a try. I do it with music. I’ve recently bought new albums from Iron Maiden and Saxon. Both records are quite good, but I bet there are dozens of newer bands with much better albums available. We all do it. Stick with the reassuringly average. The large chain coffee shop or hotel, which you know wont be anything special, rather than risking it with an untested independent. However, sometimes the unknown is brilliant. We’re lucky in Lancaster that there are a couple of really good independent coffee shops, although they do get too busy.

I’m getting side tracked. What I’m trying to say is on that particular day in Waterstones I walked out with The Boatman’s Daughter, along with Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

This isn’t Andy Davidson’s first book, but in ten years he’s only publish two others and one novella. Despite that, he’s been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award on two occasions.

The book starts with the death of Miranda’s father. It then picks up again when Miranda is a young woman, keeping her head down and out of trouble, running a small store and running drugs up the Arkansas Bayou for the local bad guys to earn a little extra. That little extra often goes to a hermit like witch who lives deep in the woods with a young boy she looks after. The boy is very special, but we don’t know why. Dark forces are at work and Miranda has to protect those that she loves, being very careful who she trusts.

I am glad that I took a punt on this book as it was excellent from start to finish. Plenty of twists and turns that left me guessing all the way through. 5 out of 5, and I don’t often say that.

Is it horror? It isn’t a classic horror, more like a thriller with supernatural elements. I will look out for more books by Andy Davidson.

Book Review: 16 Horses by Greg Buchanan

Me and my lovely wife were in Salisbury for a weekend earlier in the year, and as we wandered around the city we both had our heads turned by a display of books in the window of the local Waterstones. Without a moments hesitation we had two new books in our hands, even though we both have loads of unread books. You can’t have too many books. One of those books that we purchased was the debut by Greg Buchanan, namely 16 Horses.

Many of the books that we have, the other person isn’t interested in, but this is one that Helen might want to read. I’ll try not to give away any spoilers, but just in case, if you’re reading this Helen, stop now.

16 Horses is set in a run down out of the way seaside town. It could be anywhere. I imagined it to be on the east coast, although as the Isle of Man is mentioned in the book the fictional town is more likely to be on the west. The start is grim. Someone has buried the heads of 16 horses in a field of Well Farm. The local policemen, who desperately wants to be liked, is sent to investigate. He soon finds himself out of his depth so veterinary forensic expert Cooper Allen is persuaded to attend for a few days. It is expected that the case will be wrapped up nice and quickly. It isn’t. Who do the horses belong to? How were the heads removed? Where are the bodies? What the hell is going on in the town?

There are twists and turns, as well as red herrings and dead ends aplenty. The book gripped me from the start and I couldn’t put it down. However, the last quarter of the book loses itself somewhat. Possibly trying too hard to keep everyone on their toes. Despite that, the ending works well. If you like a nice well rounded ending, where every loose end is tied up, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a good book to discuss with other people to find out what they made of it all.

I gave the book 4 out of 5, although 4 and a half would probably be fairer. A book has to be exceptional for me to give it 5 out of 5. I eagerly await Greg’s next book. I can also imagine ITV wanting to make a TV series of this book, which I will definitely avoid.

Book Review: Blood River by Tim Butcher

I was Christmas shopping in Lancaster last year and the town was heaving. I needed to find some space away from the chaos so I ducked into Atticus Books, a small second hand book shop opposite Primark. Anyway, after a relaxing twenty minutes I left clutching a copy of Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher.

First published in 2008, Blood River is an attempt by the author to follow in the footsteps of the explorer Henry Stanley and travel down the Congo River from Lake Mweru to the Atlantic Ocean. Tim Butcher spent years as a journalist for the Telegraph (never mind) and then spent years planning this adventure. Everyone told him it couldn’t be done and that he would be attacked and killed.

Congo has a turbulent past to say the least, from Arabian slavers and then the Belgian monarchy to a never ending succession of corrupt leaders. Congo should be a world power with it’s enormous mineral resources. However, corruption at the top breeds corruption at all levels, combined with a government that seems to be happy not to pay it’s workers. The roads and railways have fallen into disrepair and river traffic is almost non-existent. Civil wars and wars with Rwanda and Uganda have also helped to destroy the interior of what everyone seems to say is a beautiful country. Nearly all of the wealth of the country is controlled by a select few.

Right from the start the author is never sure if each subsequent leg of his journey will happen. Much of the river isn’t navigable anyway, with long sets of rapids, so Tim resorts to riding pillion on small motorbikes for much of the route, along roads which are little more than dirt tracks.

The book is amazing, with lots of history from both Stanley’s era and more recently, and while this isn’t a adventure I would want to repeat myself, I was gripped. Tim’s exploration was almost 20 years ago, and while wars and civil unrest has diminished, the country is still not functioning for the wellbeing of the many, which is incredibly heart breaking. One of the best books about Africa that I’ve ever read.

Bolton Parkrun

This weekend definitely didn’t go as planned. My lovely wife, Helen, and me were due to spend the weekend with her eldest son in London. Then storm Eunice hit. I’d booked train tickets for us, but every single train to London on Friday was cancelled. We had no option to postpone our trip. We had intended to do either Wimbledon Common parkrun or Tooting Common parkrun. However, even if we’d managed to make it to London, both of those runs were cancelled as well. Fortunately, up in Lancaster we didn’t feel the full force of Eunice so there were still a few parkruns going ahead.

Friday night I had a quick look at the parkrun cancellations list, and then again on the Saturday morning, seeing a much longer list. I then also looked at the Bolton parkrun Twitter feed, which mentioned that the nearby Heaton Park parkrun was cancelled, but nothing to indicate that they were cancelled. I bundled Nelly into the car and set off nice and early, just in case Bolton was cancelled and I had enough time to find an alternative. I was glad that I had used Satnav as I would never have found it, but when I parked up at the large and almost empty sports centre carpark I could see a familiar parkrun flag in the distance. I double checked on the twitter feed which gave a thumbs up and thanks to two volunteers who had looked over the course to check that it was OK.

Obligatory car selfie with Nelly.

We then went to have a little explore before the start. Nelly wasn’t that clean by the end.

A few minutes later we lined up near the back ready for the off. When we set off we were stuck behind other runners with little chance to overtake as the route headed down a steep path before turning right up a steep narrow path. We slowly overtook when space allowed as we then did a short out and back. A couple were out walking their dog who wandered in front of us. We managed to dodge, but the dog nearly caused a multi-runner pile-up behind us. The owners didn’t make any attempt to call their dog back. Frustrating, but it does happen. Smile, wave and don’t say anything.

Anyway, we completed this loop and joined the route at the bottom of the first hill, where we headed off alongside the River Tonge before a sharp left turn and up a long steep climb. At the top we did a little out and back next to the start before repeating the second loop. The steep climb second time around was a real leg sapper, but with only half a km to go we overtook a few more people as we headed into the finish funnel.

I finished in 26th place overall, 3rd in my age-group, while Nelly was first dog. There were 152 finishers, which was almost 100 fewer than the average. It would have been a tough run with Nelly if there had been the usual number. 117th parkrun completed and my 36th different event, although only 35 of them are still running as Cuerden Valley didn’t restart after lockdown.

It is very unlikely that we’ll be tourists the next couple of weeks, which is OK as Lancaster is one of the best parkruns around, although by all accounts today was grim and muddy.

Did you tourist this week or did Eunice stop play?

Book Review: Island by Richard Laymon

I have a soft spot for Richard Laymon. His books definitely aren’t ground breaking or innovative, but they do have a certain amount of readability, as well as being extremely trashy (in a good way). A few weeks ago I cycled over to Morecambe for a browse around The Old Pier Book Shop, one of the craziest 2nd hand book shops in the country. It is packed to the rafters with nooks all over the place, as well as being fairly unorganised. Anyway, I came away with the above book, hard back, £2, along with a few other gems.

Back to the book review, and Island is a horror tale all about a group of people stranded on a desert island being stalked and killed. Three sisters, their parents and partners rent a yacht to celebrate an upcoming birthday. While visiting an island the boat blows up, killing one of the husbands.

We get to read about the story from one of the group, an 18 year old who is dating the youngest sister, who writes everything in a journal. This part is very well fashioned. However, there are some HUGE plot holes. For example, if you were stranded on a desert island one of the first things you would do is explore and possibly walk around the whole island to see if anyone else does in fact live on said island. Plot spoiler, there is a large house on the island that is only ‘discovered’ in the last quarter of the book. Coupled with that the book becomes more and more farfetched, unbelievable and less plausible as we go along, before one last twist right at the end. That, however, is a neat little twist.

I gave Island 3 stars on Goodreads, which might have been a little generous. As expected, the reviews are all over the place but mostly 3 or 4 stars.

As an aside, what places a book into the horror genre. Obviously Stephen King, even though he objects to that, and obviously James Herbert, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker. The common theme for these four authors is the supernatural, while Richard Laymon doesn’t write about the supernatural. You could say that he is more in the thriller genre, but dark thriller. Almost all of the reviews for Island that have added a genre have placed the book in the horror category. 18 people have placed it in the Splatter Punk genre. I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell’s books 15 years ago because they were too horrible. The same more recently with Tess Gerritsen. For me, I like the escapism that comes with Richard Laymon (or other horror writers) in that you can’t really imagine it happening, while Tess or Patricia attempt to make their books and events as real as possible.

Anyway, next up for me is some classic 50’s horror from Dennis Wheatley and then maybe some more Richard Laymon.

Fastest and Slowest Parkruns

I stumbled upon an article in Athletics Weekly that was all about which particular parkruns are fastest or slowest. To do this it uses a golf-style Standard Scratch Score. I don’t really know what that means, but basically you take the results of every person doing parkrun and then make a comparison for each different event. For example, if I ran 22 minutes at Alexandra parkrun in Manchester and then ran 24 minutes at Lancaster, it would imply that Lancaster is a harder parkrun than the one on Manchester. Of course there are plenty of other variables. Was I tired, had I had a very hard training week, was I unwell. However, with enough people and enough events these variables can mostly be ironed out. The upshot is that Victoria Dock is the fastest parkrun and Great Yarmouth North Beach is the slowest.

One variable that can’t be accounted for is how much effort you might put into a particular parkrun. If you’re running where you know the course is flat and fast you might just decide to give it a bit more effort and possibly improve upon that illusive pb. In that respect, the fastest parkruns can become self fulfilling, in that because they have the potential to be fast, they have become fast.

Another variable is how busy a parkrun is. The more people running somewhere will statistically mean more outliers, or faster times.

Anyway, I was interested in the list to see which ones I had run. In the top 30 fastest the only one I had done was the aforementioned Alexandra parkrun in Manchester. Of the top 30 slowest in third spot was Whinlatter, easily the hilliest parkrun I’d ever done. Further down the list in 11th was Millom, which surprised me as it was a flat five lapper round a sports field. Possibly this one is down there due to the fact that it is a long way from anywhere and only a handful of people run there each week. The only other parkrun in the top 30 was Pendle at 30th, which we did a few weeks ago and was one of my slowest parkruns ever.

The article can be found here, if you’re interested.

Another Wordle Fail

Last Wordle was all over the news because quite a few people lost all of their stats and streak details when the game was transferred over to the New York Times website. My lovely wife was one of the unfortunate ones and hasn’t played the game since.

Yesterday Wordle was in the news because there were two different answers depending on where you play. If you played on the old website then the answer was AGORA. If you played on the new website the answer was AROMA.

I have started to use the previous days answer as my starting word, so this morning I entered AGORA and had 3 green squares and 1 orange. I entered AROMA and found it to be correct. Not good. I waited a few hours until searching online and the reason seems to be you need to refresh your browser and then you’ll automatically be transferred to the new site. Anyway, while searching I stumbled upon todays answer, CAULK, and a load of people asking what the hell ‘CAULK’ is, and is it a made up word. Anyway, I refreshed my browser and was given another chance with todays word. I entered in AROMA and then CAULK, which was correct.

Hopefully the NY Times has sorted out these teething troubles and everything runs smoothly from now on. Finally, the NY Times has expanded the vocabulary of Wordle, as well as removing offensive words like WENCH. Anyway, I’m currently on a streak of 20 with a 96% success rate.

Book Review: The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn

This is the follow up to the ground braking book The Salt Path. (My review can be found here.) In that book a middle-aged couple suddenly find themselves homeless, and rather than exist in a decrepit bedsit they opt to walk the South Coast path.

The Wild Silence is the follow up book. Raynor and her husband Moth are living in a small village in a small out of the way flat. Moth still has a terminal illness, but nature helps. Raynor also takes up writing, and this book details how she went from wanting to write about their adventures so that her husband could read about it, to a publisher tripping over himself to get the story out there.

There are still plenty of ups and downs, especially as Moth tries to obtain a degree. They are also given the opportunity to re-wild an old abandoned cottage, as well as walking half way across Iceland. The book also mentions the court case where they try to claw back some of the money that they had originally lost. Again this is heart breaking as they lose because of a technicality.

While the book isn’t as amazing as the The Salt Path, it is still a great read, and yes I did cry in more than one place. Part of me hopes that Raynor will write another book, although I absolutely hope that she doesn’t end up writing about the death of her beloved Moth.

While the first book was part travel part social commentary, this covers a wider arena although the travel aspect is more in line with what you would expect from a travel book. Another very enjoyable read.