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A green footpath sign against a leafy hedge
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 4 – Weaver Way

It has been a long, long time since I walked 20 km.  Mentally this seemed like a huge challenge, although lockdown had meant I walked almost daily I had no idea if I could walk 20km in one go.  I decided to do a solo linear walk with my husband dropping me off and collecting me: if I had to stop I could always call for an early pick-up.  As I wanted to test my endurance and not my navigation, a canal walk seemed to fit the bill.

The Weaver Way runs from the top of Audlem locks on the Shropshire Union Canal, right on the southern edge of Cheshire, all the way to Frodsham broadly following the river Weaver.  Its 64km long and the longest of the routes that is entirely within the county of Cheshire.

A green footpath sign against a leafy hedge
Weaver Way Waymarks

I started the walk at Audlem.  This unfortunately meant I had to walk back up the 15 locks to the actual start of the Weaver Way, but it was a lovely day and the locks are lovely.  After loitering long enough to look like I had intended to walk up the locks, I turned and headed north.  The walk crosses the river Weaver twice on aqueducts, once north of Audlem where the Weaver is little more than a big stream and again just before Church Minshull by which time it has grown to a river.  The stretch to Nantwich from Overwater marina is straight and surrounded by flat farmland.  But it is far from dull, there was so much wildlife from geese grazing in the fields, moorhens dabbling along the towpath and juicy ripe blackberries too irresistible not to eat.  At Nantwich there is the option to detour through the town, but I chose to stay on the towpath which was now busy with narrowboats.  As the canal heads out of Nantwich it crosses the Chester Road on a short but impressive black and white painted aqueduct.

A black and white waymark on a fence post
The Crewe and Nantwich circular walk crosses and joins the Weaver Way

It was at this point I witness what was almost an incredible encounter.  A man was busy, head down repairing his narrowboat.  As I approached, a kingfisher flew out from the trees on the opposite bank went to land on his back, changed it’s mind at the last moment, briefly landed on the bow behind him and flew back into the trees.  As I walked past him I said what had happened and we shared a moment of delight at such a beautiful bird. 

a selfie of a woman in outdoor gear with trees, a river and harvested fields in the background
The canal passing over the Weaver

Onward and I was soon at Hurleston Junction where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal, and a place I will visit at least twice more on the Cheshire Challenge.  From here it was a few kilometres to the turning point at Barbridge Junction and along the grandly named Shropshire Union Canal Middlewich Branch.  More winding and a little wilder than the main branch I recalled cycling down this towpath, chasing down a friend’s narrowboat a few years before.  Weary legs carried me on and, 24km later (not counting the walk to the top of Audlem locks) I reached bridge 14 and the end of the walk.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance24.5km
Path walkedWeaver Way
Total distance24.5km
Total ascent110m
OS mapOS Landranger 257, 267
Date walked26th July 2020
Time taken5 hours 44 minutes
CakeSponge cake
Dance poseBallet barre work
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed80.5km (1500km total)
Walk stats
rough grass banks either side of a wide river with woods in the distance
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 3 – North Cheshire Way & Delamere Way

A lovely warm and sunny summers walk along the river started this walk from just outside the village of Kingsley. The track down to the river was a footpath with hedges either side, full of butterflies and bees on the wildflowers. The path opens up to a grassy field and the river, breakfast smells rising from a narrowboat moored on the bank as we headed up river.

The Weaver here is navigable and in its hey day was busy bringing coal to the salt works and the salt back out, which makes it a fascinating place to walk. A fallen tree in a wooded section provided entertainment to the others as we each ducked underneath it trying not to catch our back packs. The path briefly ducked away from the river at Pickering Cut through a small mobile home park and over what was once the original path of the river, now a quiet back water and a haven for wildlife. A short distance further on is the impressive Dutton Viaduct, carrying trains between Liverpool and London, after some silliness listening to the echoes under the arches we carried on Dutton Lock. This is where we left the North Cheshire Way and joined the Delamere Way.


After the flat river walk, the pull up the hill got the blood pumping and we wove round fields and briefly popped out onto the road and under the railway. We stopped for lunch under a large tree and watched the trains whooshing past. The route then follows the top of the railway bank all the way to Acton Bridge. It was here I made a minor navigation error where several paths criss-crossed in small fields, I may well have been absorbed in conversation! The downside is that I now have an orphan section of just a few hundred metres, the upside is that we passed the Hazel Pear pub, which had just reopened with Covid restrictions in place. We stopped for a drink and sat in the pub garden, it felt very odd to be back in a pub though it felt very safe and well organised.


Refreshed, we carried on. The route took us along the road out of Acton Bridge, and just before we turned down a hedge-lined footpath we heard snuffling and a small black pig wandered up to the gate for a scratch behind the ears. The remainder of the Delamere Way alternates between fields and back roads, as we left Ruloe we waved goodbye to the Delamere Way, it heads south-west towards Delamere Forest but we needed to head north-west back to our start point. The paths were again mixed between quiet roads, byways and footpaths, the last couple of kilometres on the tarmac made tired legs complain a little in the heat of the late afternoon but nothing to spoil a lovely day in the Cheshire countryside.

Video of the walk HERE

This route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance9.48km
Paths walkedNorth Cheshire Way, Delamere Way
Total distance16.3km
Total ascent143m
OS MapOS Landranger 257
Date walked12th July 2020
Time taken5 hours 15 minutes
CakeTunnocks – OK, so that’s not really cake!
Dance poseJazz turn
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed41km (1500km total)
Walk stats
A row of brick cottages backing onto the canal with a two path on the opposite bank
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 2 – Baker Way

The Baker Way is the first completed path of the Cheshire Challenge and was named after Jack Baker, a much loved and active advocate of local footpaths.  It was June 2020 and in less strange times, I’d have taken the train to Chester and walked back but lockdown had changed the timetable and I wasn’t yet sure if I wanted to sit on a train, if only for a short distance.  So instead, I was dropped off at Chester Station.  The walk is 21km, and takes in city canal, fields and forest along the way, it’s a lovely walk and the weather was mostly kind.

The route picks up the Shropshire Union Canal, so I’ll be walking this way again twice: even though I will have walked the track underfoot, it only counts towards one named path at a time.  So, I’ll be back!  It was a little odd walking past the cafes and pubs on what would have been a busy Sunday morning and the ducks were clearly wondering where their snacks had gone.  I followed the canal out of Chester, moving from old brick warehouses to modern industrial buildings and suburban housing and pubs. 

After briefly swapping to a muddy footpath on the opposite bank of the canal, the Baker Way heads off across fields of wheat and maize before popping out onto a quiet country road.  The road becomes rougher and broken before turning into a by way, which weaves through the Hockenhull Platts nature reserve and crosses three grade 2 listed medieval bridges.  This is border country and the name is a combination of old English and Welsh meaning “the bridges on the old peddlars way”.  After the bridges comes the village of Tarvin.  This is where we normal drive to for the most excellent fish and chips from King Louis, so it was fascinating to pass through a familiar place on an unfamiliar route.

A perfect single oak made an excellent lunch stop and feeling pleased with my efforts I stayed a while, eating cake and leaning against the tree.  Drizzle prompted a quick repack and the path carried on, skirting round Ashton and through the splendidly grand Peel Hall which is now a stud farm with foals, all knees and hocks, grazing with their mothers.  Then followed a stretch of road walking, though in parts the road was barely more than a track.    Now back in familiar territory, the route passed through Brines Brow wood and then a short but rather unpleasant stretch along the road known locally as the switch back.  The road is fast here with rough verges and blind corners so I was glad when the route headed off into the forest.  This section crosses several other paths on the Cheshire Challenge and it was quite exciting to know I would be walking them all.

When I first moved to the area, it took me a while to realise just how many bridges cross the railway in the forest and it did my navigation confidence no good when I’d find myself back at a sandstone bridge facing the opposite direction I was sure I was headed.  The Baker Way crossed three bridges as it winds through the forest, the afternoon sun had brought out families walking round the Gruffalo trail and it seemed crowded compared to my mostly solitary walk.  Finally the path came to the station at Delamere and I was done.  The first completed path!  I wonder which will be next?

A selfie of a woman wearing a mask outside a stone building, giving a thumbs up sign
The first completed named path!

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance21km
Paths walkedBaker Way
Total distance21km
Total ascent241km
OS mapOS Explorer 226, 267
Date walked28th June 2020
Time taken6 hours
CakeCherry sponge
Dance poseWaterfall
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed31.9km (1500km total)
Walk stats
A large solitary tree in a grassy field
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 1 – Eddisbury Way & Sandstone Trail

Retrospectively, this was the first Cheshire Challenge walk.  I had mulled over the idea and this walk was specifically planned to walk along two named paths though I had not yet named it the Cheshire Challenge.  It was just two weeks since the Covid-19 lockdown had lifted and I was able to meet Jo and walk all day: it felt so good to be out again beyond the now very familiar paths around my home.

 The Eddisbury Way starts above Burwardsley and ends in Frodsham, it runs broadly parallel to the better-known Sandstone Trail so with a little careful planning a series of circular walks are an ideal way to walk both paths.  I made a rookie error on this walk, aside from the detour due to the path being closed, I missed the very start of the Eddisbury Trail.  Its just a few hundred meters at most BUT for completeness I will have to go back and walk it at some point.

A woman in walking kit hugging a large oak tree
Tree hugger!

The Eddisbury Way is reasonably well waymarked, but as it is less popular its not quite as well trodden and clear as the Sandstone Trail.  After hugging a very splendid oak tree by the first stile we set off across the fields.  It is mostly flat here and the walking was easy on legs now unfamiliar to the distance but any complaints from feet were drowned out by the long views and glorious sunshine.  There are sections of road walking, though it is all along quiet single track roads so we were only passed by the occasional car or cyclist.  Where we were due to head back onto the field tracks we were met with a sign.  Not a good sign.  A path closed sign.  Works on the railway meant that the path to the canal was closed so some on-the-spot route planning was required.  Unfortunately, the options were limited and more road walking was required.  We detoured past the closed Ice Cream farm, there is a railway crossing at the marina but its not a public right of way and with people living on the narrowboats that route was not open to us, so we carried on to the road bridge then trotted along the canal back to the point where the Eddisbury Way passes under the canal. 

I love the unexpected things you find on walks, as we climbed back up we came across a stream that had carved a pool into the sandstone.  Tempting though it was to have a paddle, we pushed on.  We stopped for lunch in a grassy meadow taking a moment to feel the sun on our faces and sitting quietly for a while.

A selfie by a small waterfall
Tempting to paddle but we had walking to do

At the excellently named Hoofield, we waved goodbye to the Eddisbury Way and set off on a section of unnamed paths.  As is often the case, the waymarks are harder to find or non-existent so a map is definitely required.  The greatest excitement on this section was encountering the muck-spreader: summer footwear designed to ventilate the feet requires extremely careful foot placement and a lot of concentration to prevent definitely-not-mud soaking one’s socks!

It is impossible to miss the Sandstone Trail, the track is well worn, the waymarks are clear and many of the stiles and plank ditch crossings have been replaced with sturdy gates and bridges.  It also became slightly busier as we got closer to Beeston, the upside of this being the open café and a chance to eat ice cream.  After Beeston, the path moves into the steep woodland around Peckforton Castle.  An unwelcome climb on tired legs was made up for with views back across the Cheshire plain as we neared the end of the walk.  Had circumstances been different, we would certainly have popped into the Pheasant Inn for a much-needed refuelling but that was not to be this time.

As so commenced the Cheshire Challenge, I wonder how long it will take me to finish it?

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance10.85km
Paths walkedEddisbury Way, Sandstone Trail
Total distance18.7km (including diversion)
Total ascent238m
OS mapOS Explorer 257, 267
Date walked14th June 2020
Time taken5 hours
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed10.85km (1500km total)
Walk stats
Adventure planning, Cheshire Challenge, How I...

Mapping the Cheshire Challenge

Although I had completed about 80km of the challenge, it was clear that I needed to be a bit more strategic in planning walks or I’d end up repeating paths or, worse, leave lots of little missed sections. So time to think big!

1:80,000 scale big. This scale is detailed enough to show B roads and villages, but big enough that the whole challenge fits on one piece of paper. It’s an Ordnance Survey map which meant tracing the paths from the LDWA website was fairly easy as I could zoom out to the same scale and transcribe what was on screen to the map. The intention was not to show every twist and turn of the paths, rather the overview of the places they passed through and how they related to each other. Where paths shared the same track on the ground I drew them as parallel lines, totally unrealistic as that would make them 300 meters apart but it meant I could see instantly how many paths shared that track. It took the best part of 10 hours and nearly 200 metres of pen ink but was very satisfying to see all 22 paths and how they interlinked or not in some cases!

Connecting the paths into routes for walks will be tricky. Some, like the Llangollen Canal, have no adjacent path in the challenge so I’ll probably turn them into multi-day walks and camp overnight. The trickier route planning to solve are the areas where there are many adjacent and crossing paths. The perfect solution is to find a series of circular walks that do not duplicate, don’t miss sections of path and minimise the number of paths not in the challenge. This is stepping into the world of computer science and the dark realms of P vs NP problems, way beyond what my brain can fathom so I’ll resign myself to a few odd walks to officially complete the challenge. If you have 45 minutes and want to boggle your mind, this In Our Time Podcast has a go at explaining it.

A large map of Cheshire with hand drawn paths
The master map!

After eating my celebratory Tunnock’s something was niggling at me. That purple shaded area over Hooton and Parkgate. So the following weekend I checked the website again. And the niggle was right.

Two of the rules I set myself were that the path must start or finish in Cheshire, and the path much be on the LDWA website. Following these rules and now with the big map i n front of me it was clear I had missed three paths and 108km. Out came the pens and the map was updated. This sets the challenge at 25 paths and just a fraction over 1500km, which are much nicer round numbers, don’t you think?

A pen and Tunnock Caramel wafer on a map

And to show the size of the task, I made a timelapse video of my efforts fuelled by gin, tea and Tunnocks! Enjoy!

Cheshire Challenge, Journey to Svalbard

YesStories

I was very excited to be given the chance to talk at YesStories and am even more excited that the talk has been published!

YesStories online!

YesStories is a series of talk on adventure and saying yes more given by all sorts of amazing people and I feel very proud to be in such great company! My talk was all about finding, losing and adjusting adventure: the journey I took to nearly get to Svalbard and the Cheshire Challenge, my way of dealing with having to wait another year.

You can view the talk HERE on YouTube!

Uncategorized

A new challenge for Covid times

Feeling the need to take control amongst all the uncertainty, I’ve started a new challenge!

An awful lot could happen between now and April with Covid-19, which has made me worry that it could affect my expedition to Svalbard again. I know that with polar adventures you are often in the lap of the gods and that resilience and stoicism is key, but I’ve found it hard to focus on training knowing there is a chance it might not happen again.

The mountains are only an hour or so away from me and are a perfect place to train and a place I love to be. But, Wales is still on a stricter lockdown as I write this and there is always the possibility that we all go back to a higher lockdown if infection rates rise again. I am also very conscious of the huge pressures the lifting of lockdown will have on local communities and facilities: the mountains aren’t going anywhere so I’d rather wait before returning. I needed to set a challenge that I can start ticking off now, is close to home, is good endurance training, doesn’t require any new kit or skills and could be done solo or with friends: it needs to be something that stands alone from the Svalbard crossing at the same time as contributing to it. So this is a challenge for Covid times.

The Cheshire Challenge

Selfie of two walkers with a long view over fields
Setting off on the Eddisbury Way

There are 22 long distance paths that start, finish or are wholly within Cheshire where I live. 1394 km (866 miles) in total. I unofficially started on the 7th June 2020 when lockdown began to lift in England but now, with a spreadsheet ready, I’m making it official! I’ve set myself some rules for the challenge:

  1. The path must start or finish in Cheshire
  2. The path can be done in sections
  3. No double-counting distance if sections are repeated
  4. The path is listed on the Long Distance Walkers Association website https://www.ldwa.org.uk/

So without further ado, here is the complete list.  As it is going to take me a few years to complete the list may change if paths are added or changed: 

Path NameDistance, Km
Whitegate Way11
Longster Trail16
Shropshire Union Canal Middlewich Branch16
Baker Way21
Eddisbury Way27
Delamere Loop34
Delamere Way34
Mersey Way35
Bollin Valley Way40
Crewe and Nantwich Circular Walk45
Sandstone Trail51
Bishop Bennet Way55
South Cheshire Way55
Gritstone Trail56
Weaver Way64
Dane Valley Way77
Llangollen Canal Walk79
Shropshire Union Canal106
North Cheshire Way113
Two Saints Way148
Trent and Mersey Canal Walk153
Cheshire Ring Canal Walk158
The 22 Cheshire Challenge paths: shortest to longest
Journey to Svalbard, Uncategorized

Journal: Polar Training, February 2020

It’s a small world, or more likely the Tough Girl Tribe is big! Waiting at Oslo airport for transfer to Kvitåvatn, I caught the eye of another woman and we clocked we were waiting for the same bus. Turns out we are also fellow tribees and spent a lovely hour chatting over coffee. All troops gathered the bus set off and, after a brief stop to collect Helen plus all our kit for the week, we wound our way up to our base at Kvitåvatn Fjellstoge for the week. Kit unpacked, stories were swapped over dinner and we settled into our dorms.

Very excited to have arrived!


A hearty breakfast started the day well and we gathered for a briefing over tea. The basics covered, we headed over to collect skis and boots for our first lesson. We are all at different levels and I think I was the one with the least experience in snow, which in some ways had its advantage as I had no preconceptions. The morning was spent on the tracks around the lodge and weaving through the lovely wooden huts, ending with downhill and surprisingly few falls. Lunch and coffee set us up for an afternoon heading away from the lodge and across the frozen lake. My promising start faltered as I struggled to control my skis; a combination of poor skill and realising my feet didn’t fit the boots well. My feet moved far too much inside the thick, polar boot resulting in my skis not always following what my feet attempted to make them do, resulting in a few hissy fits. A post-lesson chat and a plan B for boots was formed and I took some time with Helen to review my kit for Svalbard.


Day two started with another big breakfast and making up a plate for lunch. I swapped boots from the big Baffin ones to an old but more adjustable, smaller pair of Alfa boots and we set off to explore Skipsfjell, a neat 1,100 metre peak overlooking the ski centre. We tried different uphill techniques, traversing the deep snow to the summit then finding our own routes down through the deep snow. I felt much more in control and hugely enjoyed the glorious sun and sparkling snow; fuelled by a celebratory Tunnocks my confidence grew. The afternoon brought the next new skill, meeting the pulks which added a whole extra dimension which resulted in lots of new ways to fall over. Back at the lodge, it was kit sorting time. First up was getting to grips with the stove, an MSR expedition, taking it in turns to pressurise the fuel and light the burner and learning, importantly, how not to set the tent on fire. Next up was pulk packing. Like all good systems, there is both a science and an art to packing a pulk, ensuring quick access to things like snacks, water and warm gear, and dividing shared kit so weight is distributed fairly but also so if you get separated, you have tools to keep you warm. Packed and ready, we had another good dinner in the lodge and attention was turned to the worsening weather forecast.


As anticipated, high winds resulted in a change of plan. Hardandgervidda is a mountain plateau with little shelter, battling the wind to pitch tents for the first time would not have been the best introduction; the bus was cancelled and we had another cup of tea. Instead, we stayed closer to the lodge and more sheltered peaks. We climbed steadily up the cut tracks, weaving through the trees and a slightly nerve-wracking traverse of the pistes with laden pulks. We stopped early to get camp set up in daylight, finding a spot tucked behind a wood close to Longetjønn, a lake at about 1000m altitude. We dug out a base, pitched the tent and stated the stove to melt snow. Being under the trees, the snow was full of needles and lichen giving the water a very foresty taste. Although I’m sure fancy cafes would have paid a fortune for it, with the cunning application of a hairband and an emptied tea bag, a filter was fashioned and the water was no longer full of tree.


The wind was high during the night but it was a comforting sound, sung in my sleeping bag. After the best night’s sleep in a long time, the alarm went off and the process of melting water began. It took 2 ½ hours from alarm to ready to go: a lot of room for improvement in our camp craft. With the weather clearing we set off for the bus following the freshly cut tracks, my downhill had not improved over night resulting in a walk down the final stretch to the ski centre. A hot bus ride followed by a cable car found us at the foot of a winding track up to the plateau. The track was rutted from snow mobiles so rather than slog up on skis we packed them onto the pulks and walked. As the track opened up we put our skis back on and with the beautiful ridge of Gaustatoppen across the valley we skied on uncut tracks searching for a camp for the night. The perfect spot was found and, with tents pitched we set about building snow walls against the wind to protect our tents. Stoves burning to melt snow, the temperature dropped and the sky turned pink behind Gaustatoppen providing a breath-taking view while eating dinner. I was getting slicker at organising myself in the tent, the faff factor reducing. Socks drying and celebratory Tunnocks consumed another good night’s sleep was had.


Morning brought a cloudless sunrise behind Gaustatoppen and a reduction in the morning faff by 30 minutes. Breakfast consumed with the addition of left over dark chocolate from yesterday’s rations, we slathered on the factor 50 in anticipation of a glorious day. We weren’t disappointed. We followed a marked trail under blue skies stopping every hour for snacks and water. Our target was a hytt (cabin) some 7km away, the furthest I’d skied in one go. The track wound through the hills, a few good pulls uphill to get the heart racing, and a few downhill with the inevitable fall for me. Arriving at Helberghytt, named after one of the Heroes of Telemark, we stopped for lunch. Sitting on our pulks eating cereal bars and trail mix basking in the sun it was possibly one of the most glorious places I had ever been and a truly perfect moment. Rested, we snuck into the cabin to have a nose; the stove was warm and the debris of evening drinks and a hearty breakfast were on the table. As we left the sound of snowmobiles disturbed the silence two obviously military blokes turned up: clearly relieved to hear that we weren’t planning on staying they waved us off as we set off for the afternoon. We took turns to lead the next leg, cutting tracks through the snow. This time our route took us across a lake where we took some time to practice climbing up and down the shoreline through deep snow with the sun warm on our faces. Camp was chosen in the lee of a small hill, this time we swapped tent buddies and I was one of three in a tent which meant a quick rework of the logistics for getting set up and the stove lit. This was our last night of camp so we set to digging a bench and fire pit, once done we made our dinners and settled around the crackling fire as the sun set behind mountains. We shared popcorn, toasted marshmallows and swapped stories, the highlight being Helen’s talk, with actions, on polar bears.


Overnight, the weather changed. We broke camp as a joint effort in heavy cloud and a rising wind, layering up before we set off for the last time. The snow made visibility poor so Helen lead the trickier navigation back to the track down to the cable car station. For the first time the weather was harsh enough to try my goggles, bought for Scottish winters but never used, the cheery orange contrasting the flat whiteness. We were all tiring and the contrast from yesterday’s sun set a grittier mood to the day, though the promise of waffles and coffee at the café set a determined pace. We picked up the track, which was still heavily rutted from snowmobiles. Multiple failed attempts to descend and I gave up, resorting to walking. My mood at this point sunk very low, I was worried I was not capable of this, if I can’t get down this without spending most of the time on my bum how could I possibly cross Svalbard? The demon of doubt took over and I plodded down the hill where Helen was waiting. With the others inside the café, I had a heart-to-heart with her. The moment she offered the possibility of doing a different expedition, I knew just how much I wanted to make the Svalbard crossing. So, planning to go back out and practice back at the lodge later that day once rested, we headed in. The warmth of the café enveloped us, the coffee was hot and the waffles smothered in jam: my demon of doubt was left out in the cold.

Back at the lodge and partially unpacked, I dug out my food rations from the four days. There was more left than I thought; it was instantly obvious to me one of the reasons my mood dipped so much. I stuffed my face with a cereal bar, chocolate and nuts, drank a mug of tea and got ready to head out. I had been contemplating on the bus back to the lodge how to deal with my continuing boot problem, the liners of the smaller boots were tight so I’d ended up wearing lighter socks which was OK for the conditions we had been in but no where near good enough for Svalbard. Using socks to create ankle cuffs, I adapted the larger Baffin boots to stop my heels from moving and got a pulk. A few times up and down the slope behind the lodge without a single tumble, I loaded the pulk with logs from the woodshed. I skied to the top of the slope, took a deep breath and… skied down with the pulk neatly at my side. Two more repeats to be sure it wasn’t a fluke and I decided to stop while I was ahead, taking mental notes of the subtle differences but also absorbing the clear fact that the real issue was in my head: as soon as I took the pressure off it all came together.
I was ready for Svalbard.

If you want to learn all you need to participate in a polar expedition, this course was with Newland. Helen is a brilliant leader and hugely knowledgeable in all things polar, I can’t recommend them enough!

How I...

How I… learnt to ski

Going to Svalbard is going to be a huge learning curve for me, but the biggest challenge is skiing.  The cold, the camping, the days on my feet covering long distances are all extensions of things I have done before: I have a vague idea of what I am letting myself in for and know I coped.

But skiing is a completely new skill.

I couldn’t afford to just go to somewhere snowy abroad (I didn’t have the holiday allocation anyway) and Scottish snow is not something to rely upon, especially as it would almost certainly be perfect conditions on the weekend I couldn’t go! So I needed to find another way to learn.

My Skikes

Back at Yestival 2018, when I announced I was going to Svalbard and that I couldn’t ski, someone suggested roller skis. I filed it in the back of my mind until, while on a course in London, I saw someone roller skiing in Greenwich Park. Some research later and I discovered Skikes. These are a little different – sort of what would happen if rollerblades and a mountain bike had a baby. They are German and looked very bad-ass: my shiny toy sensor pinged and I contacted, John at Skike Sports North.

John was very keen to help and I became the proud owner of a pair of V9 Fire Skikes. It’s always worth joining the Facebook groups for obscure sports or interests, they are often full of keen people with a passion that want to share it, I was soon directed to instruction videos, hints and tips and offers of help and encouragement.

Skikes on my feet

It was on a  week’s holiday that I really started to get the hang of them.

Outside the cottage was over a mile of barely used rough tarmac leading to a forest track. I spent hours up and down, up and down while my calves screamed at me to stop. The next challenge was to Skike round the forest at home. This added the excitement of people and bikes and kids on bike darting around like over-excited squirrels, dogs and dogs on leads that stretched across the path in front of me.

I nearly bottled it. I reached the gate and a huge dose of imposter syndrome hit. Who on earth am I, a 42 year old woman wearing novelty rollerblades and elbow pads? What if I fall over in front of someone? What if I rolled, out of control, taking out small children as I catered towards the lake? I had a moment. I did have a bit of a cry. And then I remembered Zoe Langley-Wathen’s 100 Scary Days, a challenge to get out of your comfort zone. I hoiked up my brave pants and set off. And guess what? It was fine. I didn’t fall over and didn’t visit the ducks in the lake. No one paid attention to me but my feet got lots of admiring glances with exclamations of “they’re cool!”. So, on to the next stage. Snow.

Feeling smug having not fallen over in front of the crowds

Imposter syndrome again. Sat in my hired ski boots and salopettes, surrounded by cool looking people in funky ski wear while I sweated uncomfortably in my outdoor gear. I was fearful of finding out I was really crap at skiing. I had made one good decision to have a full 6 hour lesson at Chill Factore in Manchester, rather than broken in to 3 lessons. Other groups were spending the first half an hour recapping what they did the last time, whereas we just kept going. And I discovered I loved it. And I wasn’t too bad at it either. Our instructor Paul B was brilliant, he adapted the lesson so all eight on the course got individual attention and got the most from it. By the end I was happily parallel turning and a bit sad I had to go home.

Getting the hang of this skiing malarkey

Done. Next stop, Polar Training in Kvitåvatn. Eek.

Journey to Svalbard, Uncategorized

How I… Decided on a cold adventure

It started, as I think may adventures do, in the queue for mulled cider at Yestival.

A felt penguin wearing a fair isle jumper and bobble hat

I finished cycling the Camino in October 2017 (blog here) and was feeling a combination of the post-adventure blues and a lack of direction.  My husband had given me a felt penguin as a present from a business trip – The Penguin of Future Adventures.  I named her Isabella Bird. Isabella Bird was an explorer and the first woman elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, so it seemed a good name for an adventurous penguin.

A chalk board sign "say YES to new Adventures"

I had taken Isabella Bird to Yestival, stuffed in the side pocket of my back pack.  It was while queueing for the bar I met a friend i had made the previous year.  We chatted about our adventures and he asked me what I planned to do next.  I said I wasn’t sure: there were so many things I could do, another cycle tour, walk a trail, climb a mountain and that I was a little overwhelmed by the options.  After listening to me a while, he said “well it has to be a cold adventure or the penguin can’t go”.  And suddenly I had a direction: a cold adventure.

Cold is pretty much covered by places far north, far south or up high.  Far south seemed expensive and too big a challenge to dare to do.  Which left the arctic or a mountain.  A smaller pool of possibility, but still pretty big.  A opportunity arose in the form of the Fjallraven Polar, a dog sled expedition in the arctic.   Even though I had no expectation of getting enough votes to participate, I was surprised just how many people voted for me.  I liked the idea of a journey,  maybe a traverse; and though I like the idea of a dog sled, the idea of a human-powered journey  appealed.  Years of stress at work had made me unfit, I was not comfortable in my body.  I didn’t dislike my body, rather I had neglected it as was beginning to pay the price.  A human-powered journey gave me a reason to train.

The final refinements of the plan came from talking to three amazing women: Sarah Williams, Adelaide Goodeve and Helen Turton.  Sarah invited me on a Facebook live chat in the Tough Girl Tribe to talk about my adventure ideas and get some support from the tribe.  This sparked the memory of Adelaide’s Svalbard adventure, after a good chat about it and allaying some of my fears she put me in contact with Helen and her company, Newland.  A call to Helen and the plan was fixed.  Svalbard! 

Back at Yestival in October 2018, I stood on stage and told everyone my plan.  No turning back.

Me with Isabella Bird the penguin of future adventure on front of the Say Yes More sign
Yestival 2018 – putting my brave-pants on to speak on the stage