ycling Microadventure - adventures with sightloss

Shropshire union canal tandem microadventure

We had an adventure planned. The specification was a 2 day, 1 wild camp tandem ride to give our kit a bit of a test. We wanted decent paths, so opted to stick to the National Cycle Network. After a bit of research we decided to head towards Shropshire from John’s home town of Birmingham, a route which would mostly follow canal tow paths (great for finding camping spots).

The first 5 miles of our trip were hard work. Quite early on we found that a speed wobble into the side of a narrow bridge might cause us to lose our kit ‘overboard’ so we took things a little more carefully. An uphill lock system slowed us down. We rode what we could, but the steep, punchy and often bumpy climbs got the better off us sometimes and if there was a tight turn or narrowing involved, we just pushed up instead.

Picture shows a canal map of birmingham.
Lots of locks. Each V shape is a lock. We negotiated Aston Locks and Farmers Bridge Locks.

In the first few miles, we saw 2 kingfishers and 3 Heron, which was pretty cool considering we were in the centre of Birmingham.

We continued along the Towpath until we reached Wolverhampton. Up until this point, our route was pretty good. We stopped for some lunch, a curry we heated up in it’s own pouch. Delicious.

Picture shows our bike loaded with yellow bags next to a bench where John is eating some food. Geese can be seen next to the canal in the background.
A spot of lunch.

From here Komoot, the navigation app, got into a pickle, and to be honest, so did we. An hour of pootling around got us back on track but it was pretty frustrating. It was also at this time we realised the cycle network can be a bit weird! Taking shortcuts through muddy fields or ‘longcuts’ that bypass perfectly good towpath for busy roads and muddy paths. On one such detour we hit a patch of wet grass – the marathon supremes that had given us so much confidence in summer slid out from under us spectacularly. We were ok – we both took a knock – Lauren to the head and John to the shoulder but after a short break we were back on the bike.

A picture taken from roughly where we fell off, hence the muddy pannier. This picture also shows the way we transported our LiteLok silvers using the wearable kit around our pannier bags.

We continued on, noting all the great camping spots along the way. There are lots alongside the canal. After a while, we joined the road, a nice change of scenery and found ourselves a Petrol Station with a subway. We loaded ourselves up with food and looked at our progress and plans. We hadn’t made as much progress as we’d liked, the terrain had a lot to do with that – whenever the path got muddy, we had to be super careful – and it was going to get dark soon. Rather than push on and potentially struggle to find a nice camp for the night, we decided head back to a lovely spot we’d found a few miles back. We got there just as it got dark, set up camp and made some dinner.

Our tent pitched by the canal with the moon in the background.

Considering we were close to a village, the area we had camped was quite and undisturbed and a bridge offered us some protection from the wind. As usual, Johh made the beds inside while Lauren got cooking. A feast of Pasta and Sausages. Unfortunately one load of pasta fell onto the floor after a straining incident and the whole thing cost us dearly in terms of fuel and water. We had to have a vote on what we would use our remaining fuel and water on in the morning and forfit our hot chocolate but somehow we eeked enough out for a hot breakfast and a coffee.

Morning coffee with a sunrise.
John eating his breakfast by the bridge

We made steady progress back to Birmingham, avoiding the dodgy bits of path we’d already learnt of and finding new bits too, including a 350m tunnel, gates to lift over and a set of stairs! We wanted an adventure, and it’s certainly what we got!

A map showing the route we took.

Video:

Tallship Sailing Adventure #AdventuresWithSightloss

Tallship adventure with the Jubilee Sailing Trust

On the 28th of October we jumped in a car bound for Portland, where we were to set sail for Lisbon. You might be thinking, why did it take you so long to write a blog about it? Sometimes adventures are so epic you just feel relieved that it’s over. It doesn’t last; with time the good bits sink in and the bad bits don’t seem quite as bad. It was tough and it was challenging but we are so glad we did it.

The first day

We arrived at Portland and saw Tenacious (well, Lauren saw 100% and John saw about 3% which is how much vision John has), the ‘pirate ship’ we’d seen parked up in Poole earlier in the year. Looking at it from the quay in Pool while eating an icecream, we’d never expected to be making our way on board just 6 months later. “Wouldn’t it be cool to go on a pirate ship”. “What do you think JST stands for” We we’re stoked to find out you could sail on it that it was designed to enable disabled people to join in too.

“Maybe we’ll go on a pirate ship one day” We almost forgot about it for a while, until something popped up on facebook. That’s when we thought we’d seen the ideal voyage for us. Two weeks from Weymouth to Lisbon. We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for!

Lauren and John standing on the deck of Tenacious

We got out the car with our single bag of carry-on luggage each (and a secret stash of snacks) and headed over to what seemed like organised chaos. A van full of food was on the quayside and an endless stream of people were putting boxes of squash, biscuits and pasta on to the ship. As directed we headed down some stairs and were shown to our bunks. We we’re on opposite sides of the ship. Lauren on a top bunk and John on a bottom. We were sharing a room with about 8 other people each. Many who had lots more stuff than us. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t!

A view from a bunk. The sheet on the left stops you falling out of bed.

After dropping our stuff and making our beds we joined in with loading supplies. Countless times we were directed with a box of goodies to somewhere we were unsure of. The ship felt like a complex maze of corridors and stairways. It was like playing a giant game of snakes and ladders. Emergency procedures were practiced. We had different jobs so John had to learn how to find his own way out onto the deck – not an easy task for somebody that can’t see.

John nailed it and the people we were sailing with were really helpful too. We also had a chance to practice climbing up and down a mast. Here the permanent crew were super. The weather was pretty cold and breezy, but taking the time to show John the equipment was never any trouble.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, sky, ocean, outdoor and water
John and Lauren stood on the first platform in the harbour

Later that evening another blind guy, Jacob, gave John a tour of the ship, sharing all the tips and tricks he’d learnt from previous trips on how to get around the ship. The tour was a great help, and again, permanent crew were brilliant, taking the time to explain and show where we’d be heading tacitly on a map.

Jacob and John stood next to each other on the deck with the ship’s masts in the background

The first night was calm, in the shelter of the harbour.

Setting Sail

We woke up prepared to leave Portland, but unsure whether we would. We had breakfast and a watch meeting and news was that we’d need help of two boats to get us off the berth but if it didn’t work we’d have to stay a little longer and wait for a break in the weather. We practiced more ropework and everybody helped prepare the ship to leave. To begin with, we we’re really happy it worked, we headed out of the harbour and that’s when we realised how stormy things were. People began to feel ill, including John, and on the whole, moral took a little bit of a hit.

One of the two boats that helped us off the berth at Portland

The next few days were spent learning what to do and getting used to the daily routine. We had our first watch in the English channel at night and it was busy. A watch is a team of people that take it in turns to take responsibility for helming and keeping watch. We had to look out for other ships and steer. On the first watch Lauren had a go at helming the ship. We were in the middle of the English channel and it was busy with ships left, right and centre. Initially all went well and then, not quite so well. In a muddle, Lauren had turned the ship a long way off the heading.

Lauren helming the ship using a large compass

“Tenacious, Tenacious, Tenacious” another ship called on the radio. Our permanent crew member responded with an apology for the dodgy steering to the ship we were heading towards. Apparently these things can happen when you are tired and have been helming a while. Oops!

John’s attempt in daylight went without a hitch. Tenacious is set up with a talking compass. It reads the heading every few seconds allowing blind people to steer the ship, and as long as it wasn’t too windy for John’s hearing aids, he could too. Keeping watch, for obvious reasons wasn’t his calling but you’d be sure to find him on the ‘warm’ side of the ship (the side sheltered from the wind).

Sea legs

We had no idea of the Bay of Biscay’s reputation before joining Tenacious but we’d heard that it wasn’t a great place to be in a storm, and that there was one heading our way. We kept moving with the use of sails and engines to make as much progress as we could as quickly as we could so we could ‘hide’ in a little town called Muros while things calmed down.

Some of the waves appeared to rise above the ship.

The sea-sickness tablets were starting to do their job for most people and moral was on the up. We saw the occasional dolphin and even a whale. A break in the weather allowed for us to have ‘Smoko’ (11’s on a ship) out on deck. We were starting to enjoy ourselves. It was hard to believe we’d gain the mythical sea legs we’d heard about. Life on a ship being tossed about on the sea wasn’t easy: Walking from A-B, keeping coco-pops in a bowl and lying still enough to get to sleep were all a challenge but sure enough, we switched into ‘sea mode’ and while everything was just as difficult as before, the sickness stayed away.

That was at least until we got to Muros. We’d heard a rumour that when going back on land you’d still feel like you were moving. Turns out a lot of ships rumours are true.

Muros was a lovely town to visit and enjoy a meal with our shipmates. We stumbled around the place with our land legs, found a geocache, ate lots of food and sat and watched the sea. Lying on the floor gave some respite from the ‘land leg effect’ but getting back to Tenacious was the only real cure.

A mast climb with friends at Muros

Lucky for us we had a harbour watch, making sure all was well on the ship and keeping an eye on the wind. Unfortunately it picked up enough for us to wake up somebody from permanent crew who kept a close eye on the mooring lines.

The following morning, after the storm had passed we left Muros which was quite exciting. Lauren, as a nominated Lines-person stayed behind to help let the mooring off before returning back on a smaller boat. Quite an adventure. Outside of the shelter of the bay the weather was up to its usual tricks.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like, but at times we’d almost go weightless in bed and the list (lean) was so extreme that we’d have to hold on to our food to stop it from going everywhere. Talking of food, there was plenty of it and it was nice. Tea and biscuits were always available and we barely touched our snack supply.

Bioluminescence and Porto

Before we joined the ship we made plans for what to do afterwards. We decided upon a few days in Lisbon. Porto was highly recommended but we just couldn’t fit it in so we were delighted to find out we’d be stopping in Porto for 2 nights. Getting there was rough and tough and we certainly starting to tire. Between watches, happy hour (cleaning the ship) and handing the sails there didn’t seem to be much time to sleep but we did the best we could. Snoozing here and there.

John sleeping

“One night I was looking into the water on watch and I was sure I was seeing little blue lights in the water. It was late, perhaps 3am, and I was I was convinced it had to be my tired eyes tricking me but I saw more and more.” – Lauren

It turns out bioluminescence is a fascinating and not imagined thing. At night, you could see them swirl around the port-hole windows and at night glow and flash in the waves like shooting stars. Unfortunately they were too dim for a normal camera or John’s eyes but we’re very cool all the same.

Arrival into leixoes (the Port for Porto) was the perfect break. After figuring out the transport, we hopped on a tram into town where we found custard tarts (pasteis de nata), port and lots of restaurants. On our second day in Porto we visited Churchills Port House which was fantastic, as were the views from the bridge and the pastries. We loved every minute in Porto and we’re glad we were able to visit.

What an adventure!

From Porto we headed west for a good day so we could come back inland to Lisbon under sail. We got lots of sails up which was great to see. We took time to climb masts to the very top and sit out on the bowsprit. Our last watch on the move was into Caiscais where little sail boats, buoys and fishing nets littered the bay. A bit part of the job involved letting the captain know about any obstacles.

Top of the mast!

“There’s a crab pot on the port side” The captain asked “Are we going to miss it?” “I think so”

We safely arrived at the Anchorage and the following morning headed into Lisbon. Totally exhausted, we couldn’t wait to get off the ship. The best greatest memories and best adventures are rarely those that are easy, and that’s certainly true about our trip on Tenacious.

Videos

As with most of our adventures, we filmed and documented our experiences. Here’s a youtube playlist with the videos.

GoTri Skipton

We signed up for the very last triathlon available to us this year to maximise our training time. The drawback was in location. Skipton is a good 3 hour drive from either of our houses, but we decided to sign up regardless.

We didn’t manage as much training as we’d like: 3 swims, 3 runs and our usual tandem rides. We felt pretty good and ready, but with a week to go a spanner hit the works. Two vans out of action!

This is the point at which we sent an email in saying we wouldn’t be there. The response: we’re not going to change things now so there will still be space for you if you can make it. I think that comment stuck with us.

Friday

The van was repaired. We could just about do it. It wouldn’t be easy- logistically speaking the bike, the van and the triathlon were all in the wrong places but we decided to go for it.

Saturday

We dropped the second broken van at the garage, drove from Peterborough to Birmingham, picked up the fixed van and then headed to skipton without a plan. We knew it would be wet and we didn’t want to leave the bike out in the rain. We decided to head to the leisure centre and hope we could park the bike there somewhere and lucky for us there was a porch we were able to lock the bike under.

Sunday: Triathlon Day

We woke up at 5.30am to the sounds of cars joining us in the what was empty car park. We got ready, opened the doors and we’re greeted by a man in the car next door getting ready. In fact, we nearly took his car door off! Oops.

‘Oh John! There’s a huge crowd around our tandem’. ‘It’s been there all night’ said the man. ‘We know, we left it there so we’d have space to sleep in our van’.

Unbeknownst to us, we’d parked our bike in the middle of the registration area. Nobody seemed to mind. We rescued our bike and registered. Registering involves having numbers written on your hand and leg and being issued with a swimming cap. We took our bike and some more helpful people showed us where to park it. Thoughtfully on an end right by the swim entrance.

Transition Selfie!

We left things a bit late after this. We rushed to change, missed most the briefing and had no idea where to leave our shoes. At the last moment we dumped them outside the pool door and jumped in the pool.

John was off like a rocket! We both kept up pace, but on length 5/8 John said he was flagging but didn’t give up.

Transition was interesting. We threw some clothes on over our swimwear and pulled off our swimming caps. We hopped on the bike and went for it. The cycle was tough, there was plenty of downhill but one really long drag uphill too but we did it.

Run! We both got stitches and we’re pretty tired but two laps soon came and went and we crossed the line. Homebakes were waiting. Awesome!

Finish line photo!

We really enjoyed our first experience of triathlon and we’re so glad we did it. Every sensible part of us said we should have dropped out, but we went for it and had a super time.

We’re very grateful to GoTri skipton for really thinking carefully about the accommodations required for us to complete.

Lauren and john running with high vis jackets

We’ve entered a Triathlon

On the 6th of October we’re going to be doing our first ever triathlon. As triathlons go, it should be a fairly nice one: 200m pool swim, 9k bike ride and a 2.5k run.

Why are we doing it? We saw a triathlon in the summer and thought we’d quite like to give it a try. It’s easy to put ideas like this off so we just booked one with enough time for us to do a little training. We’ve never done a triathlon before so we hope we’ll know what to do!

Lauren and John are stood behind their green tandem with windsor castle in the background

Introducing our new adventure tandem: Santos DoubleTravel

Riding a tandem is such a cool thing for us. With John being deafblind, riding a normal bike isn’t much of an option but having a tandem goes far beyond enabling John to ride a bike. There are few hurdles we’re unable to overcome, but most need a little more effort than what two sighted friends would have to put in. Even walking needs lots of concentration from us both; Lauren guiding and looking out for hazards and John carefully following each step. On a tandem, we are 100% a team and John’s disability becomes fairly insignificant. We work together, John supplying the power and Lauren keeping us going on the right direction. This is why we love tandem riding so much and decided to get ourselves something ready for a big adventure: Santos DoubleTravel.

We picked up our bike in Chichester and couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. A few adjustments here and there, predominantly switching the ladies and mens Brooks saddles and we were ready to ride.

A picture of the green tandem
Santos DoubleTravel – In green!

We headed to Windsor, a place with endless quiet lanes, nice views and a few hills to see what we could do on the bike. In the end, we were fairly late heading out and the sun was setting, but it wasn’t enough to deter us. We rode for about half an hour and watched the sun setting over Virginia water, until a 4×4 rolled up, with crown estate wardens inside. It turns out the park closes at dusk and you get kicked out of the nearest gate, for us, a long way from where we wanted to be. The wardens were busy ushering out those on foot so we slipped down the road behind them and hot footed it back the way we came. We thought we got away with it, but more headlights soon greeted us.

”Are you guys ok?” – Warden
”Yes, we’re just a bit lost I think”

the tandem infront of a setting sun
Virginia Water – shortly before the wardens arrived

We we’re not lost at all, but we needed a story. The warden was nice, she tried to get us back through but the powers on the other end of the radio said no. She handed us a map, some directions and opened a gate, so map in hand, we trundled through not quite sure of where we were or where we were going. The lane was dark and cars were beginning to queue behind us when we found ourselves hurtling downhill. We didn’t know how fast but we managed to lose the headlights behind us. We were rocketing downhill in the dark. The reason we lost the cars: we were doing 38.7mph according to strava: The fastest we had ever been on a tandem. We made it back in no time at all!

No bikes, not even tandems, are allowed to ride along ‘The Long Walk’ towards Windsor Castle

Our next trip out was in daylight. We really got to know our bike and get used to it’s features and handling and start to test it’s limits. One thing we really like is the number of bottle cages: No less than 7! Enough for a days supply of water, none of which would have to be carried in the pannier bags. The bike is light, fast and maneuverable. It doesn’t even mind a bit of rough ground.

On the canal towpath

Riding it in John’s hometown of Birmingham was a good test. We took the DoubleTravel into the city via the canal towpath which has lots short uphill sections by the locks. The Santos made light work of them and we managed some climbs we’d never managed beforehand. The bike is light and easy to lift over the bike gates that are impossible for tandems but most of the time we don’t have to. The canal has locked gates for wheelchair uses that operate on the Radar key scheme, the same as disabled toilets and lucky for us, John has one!

john holding the bike next to one of the radar operated gates
John holding the bike having just wheeled through one of the key operated gates

This bike will be perfect for a bigger adventure. We have ideas, but nothing planned as yet. We don’t really do half as much planning as we should do so I’m sure one day very soon we’ll grab the tandem and find an adventure.

Take a look at our video from our first few days of having the Santos

Looking down on our square, flat tarp set yp towards the grassy dunes out towards the sea.

Wake Up Wild by the sea

We’d hadn’t returned to Winterton Dunes since our epic 30 mile day on our Norfolk Coast Path walk but it’s a place that ticks a lot of boxes for a wild camp: Good views, places to tuck yourself out of view and a cafe!

Wake Up Wild logo

WakeUpWild is an initiative run by SayYesMore to get 2019 people under the stars for a night and to help raise a bit of money for treeaid. See a little more about it here or head to Wake Up Wild on Facebook to see if there’s a camp coming up near you.

The setting sun behind the dunes
7.30pm the sun is low, but gave enough light for us to find a camping spot

We arrived in Winterton at about 7.30pm. Plenty of light to find a camping spot but the number of dog walkers was starting to dwindle- perfect!

John is stood on the flat camping area
John is pretty good at using his walking pole or cane to decide whether an area is flat enough for sleeping
At night, a light lights up John who is setting up his bed for the night
Setting up camp for the night

We set up our tarp, had a cider and chatted until it was time to sleep. This is when we realised that summer and winter has a big difference we hadn’t even considered. Not the warmer weather, not the longer earlier mornings, nope, the bugs! All night we were bombarded and ‘bugged’ by flying bitey things – but the sun poking through the clouds in the morning was well worthwhile.

In the distance sunrays beam out of the clouds reflecting on the sea

Bite count: Lauren: 16. John: 8. We must remember the insect repellent next time!

Take a look at the video from the campout

Pushing the tandem through a gate by the canal

What should you do if you have a big idea?

A couple of months ago we announced, live on local radio, that we were planning to ride a tandem from Novi Sad in Serbia to Norwich. Back then, we didn’t even have a bike, and our only experience of tandem riding together resulted in Lauren laying by the side of the road trying not to vomit from the exertion and John pretending not to look worried so an ambulance wouldn’t be called. You’d think we’d vow to never ride a tandem again but it wasn’t quite enough to put us off.

”If we’re not good at the start, then we will be by the end of it” – Lauren

The first thing we thought we ought to do was get hold of a bike – We were thinking of hiring or borrowing one for the trip but then a neighbor had one for sale – we took it for a test ride and while we knew it needed a little care, we liked it a lot. We bought the bike and lots of components; new tyres, cables, levers, fitted a hydraulic brake, switched to trigger shifters. We’d never really worked on a bike much before – but youtube had the knowhow and we got to know our bike.

The tandem with it's green and orange pedals, saddles and grips.
Our tandem now has lots of orange and green!

We rode it for 10 miles with a random german lady we’d just met, we rode it around rutland water, we even took it for a ride to a chocolate factory and then we fitted a pannier rack and decided we were ready to take it 55 miles on a camping trip to the SayYesMore woodland (the YesWoods).

Do you think we can do this? – Lauren

Yes I think we can. – John

As a result of having to cram lots into the day in order to be able to go on our little Yeswoods adventure we went to bed late, got up early and still didn’t depart until 2pm. It all felt a little bit crazy!

It was all going well until we got stuck in a downpour mixed with hail. Less than half way and we were cold, wet, tired and hungry but our fear of losing daylight kept us moving. We spotted a Subway at a garage and grabbed a bite to eat.

Do you want to give up? – John

At this stage, turning back seemed harder than continuing so we pushed on…eventually making camp at around 10pm. We didn’t know if we had a return journey in us and were thinking about alternative methods home.

Morning came and we left, via tandem, with a few bits of good advice behind us (take breaks and eat food ((Thanks Dave)) and made it back before dark. 113 miles ridden in total and it taught us a lot. Mostly, that riding 1300 miles with a 30 day deadline (averaging 40 miles a day) might not be that fun. We’d have to almost always be on the move and it would seem like a shame to travel so far and not be able to stop and explore. We could do it, that we are sure of, but would we regret not spending more time at places? Almost definitely. We have changed our mind about the ride, but it doesn’t matter, this big idea followed by a bit of action has already given us so much.

John is holding a wheel and is pumping up a tyre. The bike is upside down in the foreground.
Repairing a puncture by the canal

We’ve got a bike and learnt how to maintain it and upgrade parts, had loads of fun little rides in the sunshine, met some awesome people, had an amazing two-day epic adventure and have decided that we probably want to do something with a bit more flexibility. Without the big crazy idea, none of this would have happened.

Take a look at our video about our wild camping adventure

If you have a big idea, roll with it, take some action see where you end up. It might all go to plan and work for you, but know if at any point it doesn’t seem quite right you can change your mind – even if you have announced your plans on the radio! We had an idea, we started moving with it and learned some lessons, both good and bad, hard and easy and that’s all part of the experience. We might not be planning to ride back from Serbia anymore, but we’ve certainly done a lot more than we would have done if we’d written it off as a crazy impossible idea.

Think big, #SayYesMore and see what happens!

john and lauren sitting on the quayside with crabbing lines in hand

How to go crabbing

We always have a laugh when we hit the seaside for a spot of crabbing and John is particularly good at it. Want to give it a go? Look no further for a few helpful tips!

A crab held up to the camera, pincers at the ready!
This little crab was feeling quite defensive, but if you hold it by it’s sides or behind, it can’t get you.

Where can you do it?

Wells-next-the-sea in Norfolk is our favourite spot, but nearby Blakeney and the famous Cromer are also good options. There’s also Walberswick in Suffolk and spots in Devon and Cornwall too. A quick google should point you in the right direction.

What do you need?

Most places you can go crabbing will cheaply sell you the stuff you need to go crabbing, but a little bit of preparation can make it even better.

You will need: A bucket, a line and some bait.

The stuff for sale near the coast is usually cheap, but it’s also quite poorly made. We’re really keen to keep plastic out of the sea so we opt to bring our own metal bucket (cost £7.50 and should last a lifetime) but any strong bucket should do. We also make our own lines out of cheap paracord. 8m should be more than enough for most places except perhaps piers. Tie a weight on the end or maybe a collection of large washers and a loop to fix your bait and jobs a goodun’. It’s also a lot nicer on the hands than the usual line.

Wells Harbour also hire similar kit for a couple of quid during the summer, and if you have bought kit you no longer want, they’ll make sure it’s used again.

Bait is easy to aquire at the coast, bacon and bits of fish are all easy to aquire locally and is usually sold as crab bait.

John dangling a crab attached to his bacon over the metal bucket. Daisy, his guide dog, is sunbathing in the background.
He got one! Here you can see our paracord line with a weight. We just hook the bacon through a knot in the line.

How do you do it?

It’s easy. Attach some bait, drop your line in and wait. The challenge is bringing the crabs up to the top without them dropping back into the sea and is all part of the fun.

Crabs need some seawater to hang out in and don’t like to be overcrowded too much. Better to put them back in and start over more regularly keep the crabs happy. You might find you catch the same ones again if they were happy customers. We usually do.

Being awesome at crabbing is easy. Keep plastic out of the sea and keep the crabs happy and healthy. If you were looking for tips on catching lots of crabs, you’ll have to hunt down John and ask him!

John looking into a bucket
John is very happy with his catch!

Take a look at the video from our recent crabbing trip in Wells.

A picture looking down at john who had just climbed over a small ledge on the rock face

Trad climbing in a winter heatwave

We don’t think winter heatwaves are a good sign for our planet, but nevertheless, when the weather is right, you have to make the most of it. When the warmer weather hit, we headed to the peaks for some classic grit climbing at Stanage Edge (video at the end of this post).

a view of the rockface lit by the sun. There are lots of boulders below.
A view of the rockface with the 3.5 mile long gritstone edge in the background.

We working towards being better and bolder trad climbers and more often than not it’s a real head game. Trad climbing or ‘traditional climbing’ is a style that involves placing your own gear and protection in the rock face. There’s no fixed protection or bolts so you have to wedge small pieces in cracks in the rock, thread ‘slings’ through holes and try not to fall off!

Placing a nut in a crack on limestone.

Usually in climbing, the grades are only down to how difficult a route is, but in trad climbing, how well a route is protected is factored in too. Up until now, the routes we have been climbing have been low or ungraded on the technical side and up to HVD (hard very difficult). This means the climbs are usually straightforward and well protected. Our aim has been to move up to the next grade and beyond which is Severe (S), Hard Severe (HS), Hard Very Severe (HVS).

a page of the guide book with names of routes, grades and some symbols that depict scary, pumpy or slopey.
A page of the guidebook. It gives a description of the route, the grade and symbols give extra info such as slopey, pumpy or a bit scary!

At the end of last season we’d just managed to creep up to Severe on Limestone in Symonds yat. The rock type affects the style of climbing and on limestone there are lots of pockets, crimpy edges and polished footholds. A month or so later and we headed to the peak district for some gritstone climbing. Grit is characterised by very grippy but slopey holds, large cracks that require ‘jamming’ and sparse protection. We decided to take it easy and stick to HVD or lower while we got ourselves used to grit again.

lauren reading a guidebook while john prepares some kit
Sport climbing at Horseshoe Quarry in 2018. Lauren reads the guidebook while John gets the equipment ready.

Come end of Feb, the heatwave happened and we drove to the crag to make the most of it. Joined by our friend Anita, we picked a bit of wall from the distance and picked something to climb, well, Anita did and she chose a Severe to start with (Wild west wind). We were arguing about who should lead it and in the end, it looked like Lauren’s sort of climb so she went for it and it was ok but the first half was completely unprotected. This is where the headgame comes in. The technical grade was 4a and what would usually be a warm up with the safety of a rope, but without it, it feels a lot different.

Anita is standing close to the crag and is looking down.
Anita standing near the edge at Stanage

John led a route of the same grade with an awkward bulge and struggled to find the awkward cam placement early on the route. Lauren was pleased John led that one as she had to take a rest when seconding it!

John climbing in front of a sunset. he is feeling for a foothold,
John on a boulder at Stanage far right

So, it’s early in the year and were on the severes already. Looking forward to more climbs!

London, SayYesMore and a Poole Harbour paddle

This last month or so, since walking the Norfolk Coast Path has been jam-packed full of little adventures.

We kicked things off about a month ago, when we headed to London to pick up a folding canoe from Dave Cornthwaite. We needed to stay south, so we decided to spend a day as tourists and have a day in town. We camped over in a surprisingly good little spot next to the Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

While in London, we did all the touristy bits. The London Eye, Dungeons and had a look at Parliament. We upset one or two commuters by having to get off and on the escalators ‘side by side’. It was a nice day, but that’s enough city now for probably the next 12 months.

Our next destination was ‘The Yes Bus’. We recently became ambassadors for SayYesMore – a cool little movement that aims to get people to say yes a little more often and doing more of the stuff they love. It’s pretty awesome to find something we can be ambassadors for that is so closely aligned to what we are wanting to achieve that all we need to do is exactly what we are doing already. Awesome!

Except it’s not exactly the same anymore because at the ambassadors training weekend at The Yes Bus, we learnt a few new things about social media, how to podcast, met a bunch of new awesome people and got a new matching hat, t-shirt and hoody too. It’s just like before but a bit smarter and better! Sweet!

As the ambassadors weekend drew to a close, we still were undecided on what we should do next. We had a folding canoe, an awesome weather forecast and wanted to do something. Poole Harbour and Brownsea island was suggested so we said Yes and headed down.

We didn’t have any BAs (buoyancy aids) with us, so we made it our mission to try and find somebody to lend us a couple that evening so we could take the folding canoe out to Brownsea island in the morning. After lots of messages we got it sorted thanks to The Watersports Academy . We popped there in the morning, picked up 2 BAs and set to work on building the canoe.

We didn’t realise how hard it would be. Two and half hours of graft and it didn’t seem quite right. It was almost there, but not quite enough. We headed back to The Watersports Academy which was just over the road from the harbour to see if they’d lend us a boat to go with the BAs and they did! We unfolded the canoe, got changed and went for a paddle. It was incredible, at least until Lauren dropped the GoPro into the sea (a deeper bit too). It took half an hour to locate and rescue it, which we fortunately did! We didn’t go to Brownsea island but it didn’t matter. Take a look at the video:

A video from our paddle in Poole Harbour