Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne, Holy Island as the sun went down on a Saturday late afternoon in January. I don’t think I ever experienced such peace. A silence fell across the place, looking out over the water towards the mainland. I’m not religious. I wouldn’t even dare to consider myself spiritual, but there was something quite special about that moment. No traffic noise, no kids shouting, not even the sound of sea birds to disturb the tranquility of that place and time.

Click here to view the photo album of my trip: Lindisfarne. January 2017.

I put Lindisfarne on my 40 at 40 list because I’d seen photos of the scenery, the castle, the views. I wanted to go and see this for myself. There was no other reason than that. I know of St. Cuthbert, I know of the significance of the place, but that’s not what it was about for me.

Friday evening I spoke to CS about taking a road trip. I looked at the tidal times for crossing the causeway and it was clear from midday until 8pm. Providence? Perhaps. We set off Saturday morning aiming to arrive after midday. I think now that it would have been cool to arrive earlier and see the causeway under water, watch the sea give way to tarmac, and our path clear. The day was unnaturally warm for January, cloudy but dry. Perfect conditions for exploring.

I’m told that Holy Island is ‘manic’ in the summer; that we’d have been swimming in tourists. We were pleased we’d come when it was quiet. Our walk around the island, past the (closed) castle, along the rocky shore, into the lime kilns and along the lonely coast was disturbed by just a handful of people. I loved that. I don’t like places ‘ruined by tourists’ (the irony of that statement is not lost on me) or to have to dodge around people or tolerate noisy children. Especially somewhere like that. I think going in the summer would have been a dismal experience, even with bright sunshine and warmer temperatures. Experiences are impaired by those also experiencing.

We completed our circuit of the island, getting lost and disorientated by the dunes at one point, and then headed back towards the village and the Priory – which was also sadly closing just as we arrived.

But then I suppose that’s the issue with spontaneous trips. No planning, just going off and doing. You’re not always going to get it right. Although to tell you the truth, I’d rather do it my way than be thrust into expected patterns of behaviour.

We stopped at the Manor House Hotel for a quick bite before going up to the lookout tower to watch the sun set. It was a fitting way to end the day. No noise, no people, no words said, just a shared moment. Calm, peace, solitude. Looking out over the water you could feel the significance of the islands.

img_4974Click to view full size.

Start reading books

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

I used to read. I mean, I used to read an awful lot. Recently I have tended to find something else to do. TV, movies, Twitter, games. It seems that as I have grown older my ability to pick up a book and sit in silence and read has diminished. Seems I seldom bother these days. I have shelves full of books. Some read once, others read innumerable times, some attempted and discarded, others not even glanced at.

Speaking to Tweeters about reading has got me thinking about diving back into books. I’m going to give myself a target of one book a month, starting right now, with Trainspotting. One book a month should be easy right? Let’s do this.

Comment below with your favourite book, or recommendations for me to read.

Yorkshire Three Peaks

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It’s been a couple of years or more since I last tackled the Yorkshire Three Peaks and I’ve just signed up to attempt the challenge once more. It’s hard, it’s grueling. Weather dependent it can be a pretty horrible experience. But, if I look back years gone by, it’s also one of the most rewarding, challenging, experiences I’ve ever completed.

Twenty-four miles, three mountains, and all in under twelve hours (the best I’ve done is nine hours). Starting at the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe (where you can sign up for the official challenge – details are at the end of this entry) in the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, the route takes in three tough climbs and throws in an almost-marathon for good measure. From the outset you’re faced with a steep climb up the 691 metre high Pen-y-Ghent. This starts as a long grassy slope before giving way to a rocky summit. It’s typically necessary to navigate your way past other walkers as well as climbing up what seems like roughly hewn high steps to make the top. I’ve never been able to see much from the top of Pen-y-Ghent. Starting so early in the morning and faced with mist, fog and low cloud, anything beyond your nose is usually obscured.

From the summit of Pen-y-Ghent there is a long, long, walk to Whernside across boggy land and fields. Whernside provides some of the most breathtaking scenery it’s ever been my pleasure to see. It sits as a monolithic backdrop to the Ribblehead viaduct. Massive and imposing, the look of it doesn’t do justice to the arduous climb which is required.

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By the time you reach Whernside you’ve walked ten or so miles over difficult terrain. The approach to the path leading up this 728 metre high peak takes you parallel to the crest of the mountain. It’s a long if easy approach. The keen-eyed will be able to see walkers who have gone before you navigating the spine of Whernside. Each step taken brings you closer to a climb which, whilst gentler that Pen-y-Ghent, is tough and feels like it goes on forever. The top of Whernside is the highest point attained and affords stunning views of the viaduct and surrounding countryside.

I’ve always found the descent from Whernside to be the toughest part of the walk. The first time I did this, four years ago, I almost quit after the climb down from Whernside. Every step seemed to sap more and more energy. I’m pleased I had the resolve to continue, because now four or more times through it’s one of the best physical experiences I’ve had.

After getting over Whernside it’s another long hike to the start of Ingleborough (summit: 723 metres). The climb up Ingleborough is the steepest section of the walk. Knowing it’s the last climb you’ll have to complete is incredibly valuable in seeing it through. From the top of Ingleborough you can look west and see the Irish Sea on a clear day. The peak is marked with a cairn and it’s traditional to add a stone to this when you’ve completed the final ascent.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the hardest part was over, but the final section – down Ingleborough and back to the village – is marred by some of the toughest terrain of the entire route. Rocky, jagged, sometimes water-logged, sometimes treacherously slippery, the final journey back to the village is arduous. But from here though you have little choice but to proceed.

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After the rocks the path gets easier. There are markers counting down the last two miles, and then one mile, to the village – those are some of the longest miles imaginable. Finally, the land opens up and you can see the village just up ahead. Feelings of elation at nearly being finished help with the pain in toes and soles and shins. There’s a final trudge over farmers fields before crossing the railway and then a brief walk through the village itself to your final destination.

If you’ve checked in at the start of the walk at the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe you can return there (if you’ve completed in under twelve hours) and join the ‘Three Peaks of Yorkshire Club’. Or, if the promise of a pint has seen you through the last few miles, you can head to The Crown Hotel for a well earned beer.

Difficult, challenging, breathtaking, stunning, painful, exhilarating. The Yorkshire Three Peaks is all these things and more. I’ll be completing this (hopefully) once more in April this year. I think I better make a start on improving my fitness!