April 2023

The Queen (Image Google)

Charles is getting crowned King, and Camilla Queen as I tap these words on the keyboard. I’ve lived through the reign of two monarchs, Queen Elizabeth was on the throne for so long that she was like the fairy lights in the loft, forgotten about until Christmas when she and the lights were put on display. I’m not a royalist but I quite liked her and Prince Philip, anyone who sticks at that job for that long and makes a good go of it has something about them. And time did not seem to exist with them, almost as though their life was like the Truman Show they were just there and the rest of us were the audience. And then they weren’t there.

My lasting image of the queen was a meeting with Liz Truss when Truss became Prime Minister. The Queen, small, casually dressed, courteous, seeing in yet another Prime Minister. Truss, with that ungainly curtsey, the inbuilt awkwardness and oblivion to all around her. I fancy, the Queen comparing this PM and the three before her, to Churchill, Wilson, Thatcher, the ones in her reign who really made a difference, and wondering why on earth her subjects should be trusted with the vote. Days later the Queen was dead. To the end she did her duty and did it well.

Storm clouds gather over Hathersage Moor

As I type it’s raining so I hope Charles has a brolly. It rained a lot in April, there was me expecting March to have pushed winter out of the way, but no, the cold and wet was still there. One day it moved from 4 degrees to 19 degrees the next and we were walking around wishing we’d never put on all those layers not trusting the forecast after such a miserable winter. By the middle of the month it was pleasant, and by the end, spring had arrived properly the trees pushing the leaves out overnight, wild garlic filling the banks of rivers and the air with that gloriously pungent smell, and April showers, boiling clouds heavy with black ink and rumbling stones teeming water down in great sheets everything glistening and vivid from that wonderful storm sun blazing into the indigo sky. And petrichor, the blood of the gods, lifting into the air the best smell in the whole of nature.

The faithful and enjoyable Mini off to new owners

After ten years we took the decision to sell the Mini Van. It has been a super little car, originally Alison’s for transporting her art. Then when Scout came along it became his little Vanette with a cosy bedroom for training weekends and a place to rest after callouts. We have travelled as a family all over the country in the little fellow, carrying the camping gear, stoves for cookouts, gear for photoshoots. Since we both retired from Mountain Rescue it became little used sitting on the road looking somewhat forlorn. Then the DVLA instructed me to surrender my licence on account of my tendency to nod off now and again due to the asbestosis and so we had no further use, Alison already having a much newer car. I liked the idea of using public transport and have long had the realisation that we need a major shift from personal usage to an efficient public transport system. Now was my opportunity to put time and money where my mouth was.

Stages of a walk using public transport with a dog

The Long Read

I’ve been getting anxious about going for a walk. I’m not sure what it has been about other than me dreaming up things that could, and probably would go wrong. A real feeling of doom when I was planning a walk. Perhaps it is partly to do with adjusting to the new human ecosystem I now inhabit. Yomping across a moor, or tearing up a hill (that never happened, ever) are now well behind me. Days of lugging way too much gear around on my back are long gone (my back is so thankful). I figured it was a reset problem, my mind still in the days when I could, muscle memory clinging on to those tussocky moors, the waist deep peat bogs sucking at boots, that cold trickle down the neck as the wind drove pelting rain into my hood, the café, pub, tearoom that shut half hour ago. Those happy days.

A reset of my mind and body was what was needed. Strangely, having to surrender my driving licence was the catalyst of a new way of looking at walking. Time, distance, accessibility, and place were now the priorities.

Walking from home was an option, living a few minutes from a national park and within the superb countryside that surrounds Sheffield meant I had easy access to miles of footpaths and green spaces, and walking out of the door and into the countryside has some very appealing advantages, no need for transport, not subject to the vagaries of the weather, and no rush to meet transport back. Plus, the sense of moving through the urban landscape and at some point emerging into a landscape built by time. Sheffield, The Outdoor City is blessed with some world class environments to spend time in. Long river valleys, woodlands, open moors, crags, rural and urban beauty, and plenty of history, eating and drinking, places to sit and spend time enjoying. My kind of walking.

It would be nice to get further into the Peak District and, dare I dream, the Yorkshire Dales. Public transport was something I was looking forward to enjoying even if it sounded a bit of a lottery. And what about Scout? No way was I leaving my walking buddy behind, but would they let him on a bus. He loves the train, and the train loves him. But what about the bus, so many rules and all up to the discretion of the driver.  

My plan. Take small steps. Gather information. Plan the walk and the travel, times, routes, contingencies, gear, food. If I have confidence in a good plan, it eases my anxieties. To keep things relaxed I knew I had to keep the day flexible with so many variables, mainly transport, that could scupper it before it has even got off the ground.

So, for those of us who are committed to, must, want to, need to use public transport here is how the day unfolded, and a few lessons learned.

Choose a route. The first was a seven km linear walk linking bus and train. The big advantage of public transport is I CAN plan a route from point A to point B, without having to get back to A. Escape routes along the way are also good, where the bus stops and train stations are that I can bail to, and it helped to have Alison at home with a car, a phone, and a few hours, or more, to spare should things go wrong. Leave details of the route and time expected back.

Seven km is not that far, but using bus and train adds time to beginning and end, and with the precarity of the transport system, I cannot rely on punctuality, this is not Germany. Transport can be late and sometimes fail to appear, so I need slippage in the schedule. This is supposed to be enjoyable and restful, and charging through a bus station shouting at the bus I wanted which is just leaving, does not make for a relaxing day. I downloaded to the phone all the relevant timetables of transport, bus and train companies have these available and there are apps such as Trainline, and for this day, Northern. Along with slippage, I would need a very large dose of pragmatism. It may be that transport connections fail, connections get missed, are cancelled, or halted through unforeseen events. What to do then? Plough on regardless, like the man who had to get to the summit. Or spend time on a walk closer, shorter, quicker. Or simply go home and chalk it up to a no-go day, pick up a good book, make some tea and toast, treats for the dog, and kick back. Ditto if it is hammering it down and looks like it is in for the day.

I planned to have as little walking distance between transport connections as possible. The first, a bus stop seven doors away from my own, was the perfect start. Catch the bus before the one I had to get and there was time for slippage. The bus never came. I have no idea why. I waited forty minutes. Checking my downloaded timetables there was one due via another route, came past my stop, and dropped me close to the station, and in good time. Result. I hadn’t stressed, this was the new go easy me going with the flow. The bus dropped me in town, staying on one more stop, it would have dropped me at the station, cutting out the ten-minute heart thumping walk. I live and learn. There was no issue getting on the bus, but seating is clearly something to be considered, especially after nine am. Dozens of old people on the daily shop with their free bus pass (I have applied for a pass so may have a differing view if successful) and wheeled shopping cart stacked like pallets in the space where wheelchairs etc would position themselves, including a nervous man with a dog. My biggest fear was that Scout would decide it was time for ablutions, mid journey. I could see us being thrown off in the middle of nowhere, while his pile gently steamed in the middle of the aisle, people taking care to step over and around, until the one that slips. Or old people trying desperately to balance on the seating, aluminium walking sticks clattering the windows as the bus rounds a tight bend, and Scout’s wee trickling down the bus like a snake working its way around all those velcro’d shoes and soggy bottomed shopping bags. Those little flip down, side seats are better, more room for Scout to lay in between my feet out of the way with a good view of shoes.

The train is no issue for the lad, he is used to going on it, we normally place ourselves on the little flip down seats (we seem to like flip down seats) by the doors. Scout settles down, sniffs peoples footwear, keeps himself to himself. This day there was a very large contingent of Adventure Scouts heading for Edale and a three day yomp around the Peak District on behalf of the Duke of Edinburgh. They were such a joy to talk to, confident, full of excitement, conversational, it lifts the spirit to see young people really taking part in life. The train was packed, it reminded me of the seventies when public transport was king and weekend buses and trains would be shoulder to shoulder with walkers and climbers heading out into the Peak District.

We got off at Hathersage and headed for the Pool café to join friends for breakfast. It is one of the advantages of shorter walks on publicly accessible routes, that food can be bought, and does not have to be carried. Packs are lighter and smaller and the food inevitably tastier and with a bigger choice. It makes sense to support the local economy and graze the way along the route. And eating when on a walk means there is zero calories. Right!

Then with lovely company Scout and I walked to Grindleford alongside the River Derwent, through the wild garlic, and the sheep, Scout on the lead, no sense in worrying sheep or farmers, though the occasional dip in the river when safe was allowed. I chose paths never walked before and was rewarded by a lovely Ordnance Survey benchmark on the ruin of what looked to be a pigsty. It wasn’t marked on the OS White Peak map, but I checked the National Library of Scotland site and there it was in 1892. I had not brought a paper map and a compass, sacrilege to some perhaps (me in the old days), but I did have apps on my phone, OS Maps, OS Locate, and I was not far from civilisation, sure that people would be around, and knew my phone signal would be good, and knew the area. It was my local knowledge that gave me this security. In an unfamiliar area I would carry a map and compass as back up. I took some time to convert to technology but having the ability to have everything on a phone, including a hi-res camera has been a game changer for me. My Garmin watch also sends, via a phone app, a record of my progress and position to Alison, so if something should go wrong she can guide help to my location. Being able look up historical information, identify wildflowers and birds whilst stood in the middle of a field adds more levels of enjoyment, and discussion/argument, to a walk. Is it really a rare bird?

At Grindleford café we stopped for a cup of tea. And cake. I could take the train back to Sheffield and get home early or walk up through Padley to Fox House and get the bus back. A bus was due in ninety minutes, so we headed off through the ancient woodland to Fox House, leaving our companion to take the train back to Hathersage.

I noticed a tendency to increase pace, wanting to make sure we caught the next bus. There was another one hour after, so what was the rush. The old pattern re-asserting itself in mind and body, change gear, move slower, enjoy the views, take photos, sit and watch the waters, jot a few notes, cuddle Scout, pass the time of day with strangers. The walk became a saunter. Time slipped through the shade of ancient trees, dappled sunlight played on gritstone rock, and the world slowly glided past.

At the bus stop there was one other person waiting. Then two more arrived. The bus did not. Should I walk to Dore? The heavens looked black and ominous. I aimed for pragmatism, the thought of me and Scout getting soaked too much to bear. Sit it out and wait for the next bus. Twenty minutes late the original bus turned up and we sailed through a rainstorm bouncing off roads and cyclists into Sheffield. A lady passenger (bus pass) told me the bus was often late from Castleton and could not be relied upon to keep to the schedule, but almost always ran. It dropped us in town at the same stop we caught the bus home. It was raining and we were thankful of the bus shelter.

We enjoyed our day, the travel, the walk, the food, the company, the conversations. Home for five, bathed and fed by six, it made for a relaxing, enjoyable day, with less strain on mind and limb. There are obviously challenges in using public transport, not least in being able to access more remote or far away places. Although a few days in Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales, staying at the campsite seems very achievable using bus and train, and at a transport cost of £12 each way. The major lesson is that it is necessary to build in time for missed connections, and shorter walks, and perhaps earlier starts. And a pragmatic, carefree outlook on the day is a major asset. Technology definitely helps and adds to the day and reduces weight. Planning routes to take in eating and drinking stops reduces the load carried. And as always, the best companion was Scout.

Note: Scout has never done a number one, or number two on any public transport. (To my knowledge).

Tumeric Cauliflower and Lentil Dahl.

The reset includes what we eat. Lots more vegetable options, a lot less meat, fast food is junked, portion size is reduced, eating till 80% full (still no idea how I tell), refined carbs are out, fruit and natural grains in.

This was my favourite meal of the month. Meera Sodha’s, Coconut Tomato Dahl, Tumeric Roasted Cauliflower, burnt Cauliflower leaf, Naan. Who would have thought burnt cauliflower leaf would taste so great and look so fantastic. We continue to develop our dining rituals, the David Mellor cutlery, the Jars Tableware, maybe some light music in the background (I’ve discovered I can connect my phone to the TV soundbar and have downloaded music apps, classical and jazz). Alison continues to push the boundary at mealtime, and guilt, has sent me into the kitchen producing food when Alison is out and would like to come home to a cooked meal. I like the act of cooking it’s relaxing and pleasurable. I am a long way off the standard that Alison has attained although nothing has been sent back to the kitchen yet so I must be doing something right.

Ladybower Reservoir and the Upper Derwent Valley from Lockerbrook

I took time away from writing at the end of the month to attend a Buddhist retreat focussed on deepening an understanding of our own depths. The meditation was excellent, it is something I have done for many years, although not as a practice as now. I find it helps reduce stress, brings some clearer perspective into my day and helps keep me in the present tense, rather than mulling over the past or worrying about the future. It was held at Lockerbrook Outdoor Centre in the Upper Derwent Valley. As I was a Ranger there in years gone by, I took a few people out on a short, guided walk in a free period. It felt like the old days taking people out and explaining the landscape on view.

After laying fallow for six months, I have decided to get back out into life, albeit a different one to the one I had before we found the asbestos in my lungs. It means eating healthily (the doctor has stuck me on a diabetes prevention programme, and statins for cholesterol) exercising (under the guidance of my Cardiologist), and improving my mental wellbeing, which has taken a bit of a battering these last few years, (but happy tablets and therapy seem to be doing good). I must remember I am not twenty anymore, and at sixty-three my abilities are very different, particularly the physical ones, care is needed. I have an inkling that mental wellbeing is the important piece for a happy and contented life, and that is what this is all about. Meditation is part of the AA Twelve Step Programme, so it is not something new to me, but guided meditation, meditation as a way of improving my overall wellbeing is new. It ties in well with the stoicism I find useful in life and the study of philosophy that moves my thoughts in to new areas of contemplation. All this is new, and early days, and yes, a result of being told time is limited, a reaching for something to help me walk through this new landscape of my life. The young me has gone physically, the body is sixty-three, but my mind still tricks me into being twenty, and I think I have all the time ahead of me. It’s a trick. What I am gaining is a perspective of an older me and the realisation that it is not necessary to sweat the small stuff.

And it’s all small stuff.

Books read in April 2023

This month I have read David Sedaris Diaries. A Visual Compendium (David Sedaris, Jeffrey Jenkins), A Carnival of Snackery (David Sedaris), In Search of Lost Time. Volume 1. The Way by Swann’s (Marcel Proust), Essayism (Brian Dillon), Arabian Sands (Wilfred Thesiger)

Back in October we visited Paris and went to see the Marcel Proust exhibition at the Bibliotheque Nationale, where his manuscript for In Search of Lost Time was on display. Having spent hours looking at all his edits, the cut and paste, the notations, I knew I had to read the book. It is in seven volumes, so a little daunting, and its reputation as a difficult book that everyone says they have read but few have, did not help. I found it wonderful. It helps to have an edition that has plenty of notation about time and place, so that a reader can place themselves at the scene. Although written in 1920s it feels contemporary due to its real-life inclusions of people and events of the time. Of course, now I must read the remaining six volumes. But I would recommend the book to anyone wanting a read that stretched literally through time.

I came across David Sedaris in the 90s on Radio 4. His way of speaking, that self-deprecation, the shock of talking about actual real things that happen to real people, all drew me in. I got the diaries and the compendium as a present and loved reading about his everyday life. Litter picking in the south of England, feeding foxes, trying to write while a dog barks in the apartment above him in New York. The compendium is lovely. Just pages of collages of bits and pieces of a life. I realised this is what makes a life, its not the big things, it’s the Metro ticket from the visit to Paris, thinking of what Alison and I did that day. That kind of stuff.

I’ve had Arabian Sands for years on my Kindle and dug it out to take on retreat, to read at night, while others were sleeping. It was wonderful. A record of a time now long gone, a life so at odds with what is there now that it seems like a Hollywood movie. I admired the stoicism of Thesiger, the way he had to adapt to the Arabian way of life, the slowness of time, and the beauty of the people and the culture. The writing is wonderful, I could visualise each chapter, and wish I had been able to experience it in real time.

5 responses to “April 2023”

  1. Wonderful piece. It resonates a lot with me x at 66 with changing ways to manage beloved walks with arthritis. My husband has mental health issues so much of what you wrote of this was familiar too.
    Driving is still OK but we are exploring public transport so can be included. However more often Gordon and Jake our collie can be dropped at A, I drive to B and can either walk to meet them or walk to C where Gordon can puck me up having recovered the car. Sadly long circular walks together are out now. Accepting this and finding alternatives is becoming its own challenge I’m enjoying rather than sitting at home feeling sorry fir myself. New diet for pain relief similar to yours is helping.


    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.
      What I find interesting is the tussle that is going on between mind and body. The body definitely knows it is in its seventh decade but the mind flatly refuses to accept this and is wandering around in its third decade.


  2. That first image you posted of the late Queen Elizabeth II meeting Liz Truss is embossed in my mind, her Majesty doing her duty and smiling right to the bitter end.
    I will also reiterate some words I shared with you elsewhere recently “I’m so sorry you’ve had to surrender your licence. I know exactly how you feel, I wasn’t allowed to drive for over a year after my accident.”
    I know all too well the frustrations of public transport in the UK, and recall many years ago when taking my son up Snowdon, via the Miners Path, and Pen y Pass was closed, so we parked in the large car park in Nant Peris, getting the so-called purpose laid on bus up to Pen y Pass.
    There was nowhere to place our rucksacks, the wasn’t enough room in the squashed gap to the seat in front to even put our rucksacks on our laps, and back then, my son was 7½ years old, so not a full-sized adult, so I can imagine the tight squeeze at times when taking Scout on buses.
    After my accident, when I had to navigate into the town centre whilst still in a wheelchair, that was beyond reasonable, as you described, shopping trolleys, luggage and everything else in the space designated for wheelchairs!
    I then had to book a taxi, which took an age to arrive, a black cab because it had to be wheelchair accessible, cabbie was a very pleasant, and helpful chap who probably was 8 stone wringing wet, once he had got the ramps positioned to get me and the wheelchair up into the taxi, then had to try and push me and my wheelchair up a ramp at an angle of 45º!
    So I do hold a lot of sympathy and understanding for your situation.
    On a happier note, what better than a cuppa and cake in Grindleford, and I presume the café at Grindleford Station?
    As for getting back out and about, keep at it. When I can, take the less challenging walks on fairly level ground. I’ve had to reset my approach to walking, it wasn’t easy, I’ve had some very dark days, not even a headtorch could illuminate. Even today, though I still have my moments, I am more settled in what I do.
    And Scout, though I’ve never met him, he’s a smashing well trained dog, and he’ll not let you down in public. I’d be more than happy to walk with you and Scout, but be gentle, distance and challenging walking is no longer my forte….


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