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What makes for travel adventure in this day and age? I reflect upon this over my holiday reading: “The Sudden View” – a literary classic written by Sybille Bedford in 1953. This account of an extended visit to Mexico relates the tale of 2 women travelling by steam train through the southern US states, across the border to a land they know only through reputation and tenuous recommendation. It’s a journey not just into the unknown but into a bygone age of travel.

The Sudden View

The Sudden View

Today’s world feels distinctly smaller. Travel has become more of a commodity and destinations a marketed product. At least that’s how it feels sometimes, but the truth is that a sense of adventure always comes down to personal experience. There may be few untrod paths these days but there are many untrod by us individually.

Imbued by the spirit of discovery I set out on a circular coastal walk from my quaint holiday cottage in Fowey. The sun is out and my weary knees are not complaining for a change, or maybe I’m just not listening as I head out through the fields of corn.

Correctly spaced

Correctly spaced

Having recently planted sweetcorn in our allotment I’m very pleased to observe a 40cm gap between rows as this is pretty much how I set out my own planting, albeit on a rather more modest scale

There’s a very rural feel to this walk so far. With no sea view yet I could be in Shropshire but for the faintest taste of salt in the air. Gradually there are more clues. The path gradually descends and a lone seagull hovers briefly before gliding back over the tall hedgerow. Am I imaging it or are herring bone walls a coastal thing?

Herring bone wall

Herring bone wall

It occurs to me how relaxed I have become. Walking is brilliant for emptying your head of all that everyday nonsense you carry around unwittingly. I’m in the moment and ever so slightly blissful.

In the moment

In the moment

My first human encounter givs cause for concern. A jogger running toward me stops to ask me which direction the sea is in. I had rather hoped it was in the direction she had come from…

Fifteen minutes later the verdant passage takes a sharp left and drops reassuringly towards an imagined coast. And there – out of nowhere – is a sudden view.

My sudden view

My sudden view

I can see a grand country cottage set in immaculate grounds across a placid lake. A duck paddles into view. I hadn’t expected this. When the path reaches the shoreline things begin to make more sense. The small lake sits behind the arc of Polridmouth Cove.

There are two sides to Polridmouth Cove

There are two sides to Polridmouth Cove

This scene is enchanting. The southwest coast path intersects a manicured postcard cottage view to the right and the rugged Cornish bay to the left. The effect is quite intruiging. There’s not another soul to be seen and I spend a couple of minutes absorbing the view in a world of my own.

Tranquility

Tranquility

Unlike the relentless crashing waves of the north Cornish coastline this southern sea is flat and inviting. There are countless flat stones and I feel compelled to skim some. I skim some. The beach is mine alone. I long to be a resident of the adjacent cottage, just a stone skim behind me. This is a bubble I wish to remain in.

Nothing says Joy like dogs on a beach

Nothing says Joy like dogs on a beach

The bubble bursts. Three scallywag friends race across the sands, their excitement palpable! A lady, their owner, hoves into view with a look of mild exasperation. One of her hounds is joyfully playing with a ball that belongs to a dog in the adjoining cove and now she will have to take it all the way back and apologise to the owner. Such a British scene.

Onward and upward

Onward and upward

It’s time for me to move on. Gribben Head beckons. The path heads up onto the cliff over a lush carpet of grass that appears to have been meticulously mowed. I’m reminded of a similarly idyllic climb some 15 years ago upon suspiciously perfect spongy lush grass atop the commanding chalk cliffs on the Isle Of Wight towards The Needles. That was a hot summer dream of a walk, capped off by the king of cream teas at a remote farm cottage. That cream tea…

Do look back

Do look back

Over my shoulder the coastline unfolds past Polridmouth Cove to the Fowey Estuary and the hilltop extent of Polruan, then beyond. The land of smugglers. The land of Poldark, if you are a BBC marketing executive or an employee of the Cornish tourist board.

Not a lighthouse

Not a lighthouse

The monolithic Gribben Tower has been on my radar since the descent into the cove, but only now do I realise it isn’t a lighthouse. In fact it’s an 84ft tall “daymark” intended to help sailors pinpoint Fowey harbour. An information board tells me I have visited at the wrong time of month to go up the tower. It also claims that regional author Daphne du Maurier framed many of her novels around this headland, with Rebecca specifically set at Polridmouth – a mere stroll from her latter years dwelling in Menabilly.

No seals today

No seals today

As the path continues due north it flattens up and offers clear vision over the wide bay to Charlestown – if only I could recognise it. I hope to spot a seal basking on the rocks below but today they must be out fishing. The walking is easy and broken only by the passing of a comically endless train of ramblers. I start of with Hello, and transition through Guten Tag to Grüß Gott as I realise this is a German, no – Bavarian walking party. I have encountered a lot of Germans enjoying this part of Cornwall. They get it.

Polkerris Bay

Polkerris Bay

The miniscule harbour at Polkerris Bay provides a peaceful sanctuary for the few who are visiting today. Limited access and parking mean that the beach can never become too crowded, while a pub and hip beach café mean visitors are well catered for. There’s time to pause for a coffee whose mediocrity is forgiven by the friendliness of its serving.

My route breaks from the coast at this point to return inland across farming country. A mercifully brief steep climb leads to a farmyard with outbuildings that I want to nose into but there are workers about so I pause only to admire the tractor.

The mighty Ford 3000

The mighty Ford 3000

Tractor enthusiasts (they do exist) would share my appreciation for the beauty of this beast. As a child I had a die-cast model just like this. This is either a modern clone or really just that old, though it looks in good nick. The surrounding fields hum with activity as machinery works the land. My path is cordoned off for a detour around a field of crops being harvested today, before crossing the Saints Way – a 27 mile walking route from Fowey on the south coast to Padstow on the North.

The divine path

The divine path

This strikes me as a fun 2 day trek for some future visit, to be topped off with fish and chips plus a pint of Doom Bar overlooking Padstow harbour.

Every inch of land on the path back to Fowey appears to be cultivated. Where is the fallow field? After half a mile two cottages flank my way and outside one stands a trestle table bearing surplus produce beneath a hand written sign that says Help Yourself. I liberate an oversized cucumber with lunch in mind. But the walk isn’t quite over yet and there’s time for one final sudden view.

Happy as pigs in mud

Happy as pigs in mud

I love pigs. Any creature that is happy dozing in a puddle of mud has my admiration. This small holding is home to a couple of sows and a litter of not-so-thin piglets. One of the mums sniffs her way over to see me. What can I give her? I have nothing … oh, the cucumber.

Feeding time

Feeding time

Poor mum. One of the piglets is pestering her for milk and she doesn’t seem in the mood. Eventually she gives in and is besieged by little snouts all wanting a feed. So much for the easy life.

Ten minutes later I’m sitting in my cottage garden with a cool drink. The GPS tracker records the route at around 6 miles over a leisurely 3 hour period. I pick up my book to find Sybille is getting to grips with Mexico City but all I can think about are the images and sensations of this morning’s mini-adventure. Reading can wait for a dull day at home. There are more untrod paths to discover here – starting with one that leads to lunch…

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As an occasional day walker my trips into the Peak District don’t tend to extend beyond Bakewell due to constraints of time. While there are countless wonderful day walks to be had in the White Peak I have recently been pining for the striking landscapes of the Dark Peak further north where the edges become rougher and everything is turned up a notch.

My original plan was to start from Eyam, traverse Froggatt Edge, pass by the Chatsworth estate down to Bakewell before heading down the dales of Lathkill, Wolfcote and Dove, ending at Ilam on the third day. A lack of accommodation in Bakewell (of all places) put paid to that idea. Another plan involved the rugged delights of Snake Pass and Ladybower but the options for stopping over were even worse.

Decisions decisions...

Decisions decisions…

Eventually I threw away the notion of a linear walk and booked YHA accommodation in Castleton and Edale from where circular day walks could give the fix I was after. Now why was that so hard?

Youth Hostels have changed. Gone are the days where you have to contribute to communal cooking and washing up. The facilities have improved and there is a wider appeal, which is a good or bad thing depending on your outlook.

Lord of the manor

Lord of the manor

Castleton YHA has a baronial feel about it. With the first chills of winter on the way I’m grateful for the open fires that dot grand stone fire places of this old country manor. I’m less grateful for the screaming groups of school kids who are running amok in what must feel like a scaled down version of Hogwarts.

No sign of Harry Potter

No sign of Harry Potter

If I was them I would be just as excited.

Saturday morning is purpose made for walking. Breakfast is coffee and a bite on the green watching folk come and go beneath the Celtic cross, before frittering half an hour chatting with the encyclopaedic proprietor of an outdoor shop on the subject of boot makers of the Dolomites.

This is too relaxing

This is too relaxing

Finally I drag myself out of the shadow of Peverel Castle up a village road which almost immediately hints at the scenery that will define this walk. Rustic cottages frame the sort of scene you might expect to find to in the Yorkshire Dales or Lake District

Peak views

Peak views

The topography of today’s route is guaranteed to provide some dramatic sights – weather permitting. Before long the tarmac runs out and those views begin to reveal themselves.

Looking good!

Looking good!

If half of the visitors to Castleton are here to walk, cycle or hang glide then the other half have come to see the caves the town is famous for. I pass Peak Cavern and then Speedwell Cavern at the head of Winnats Pass.

I was prepared for every climatic condition except sunshine

I was prepared for every climatic condition except sunshine

The path ascends steeply to Treak Cliff Cavern where new seams of Blue John have recently been uncovered decades after the last major find. The landscape is really starting to open up and the sun finally makes an appearance as I ascend to the mouth of Blue John Cavern, which seems to be attracting cave enthusiasts by the bus load.

Looking down at Barber Booth

Looking down at Barber Booth

The foot of Mam Tor provides richly rewarding views north over the valley to Barber Booth. I wait awhile to absorb the rather unexpected scale and colour of this scene, plus the unexpected warmth of the winter sun. Then it’s a long gradual climb uphill for myself and the 100 other day walkers.

One of several trig points in the area

One of several trig points in the area

This section of path is attractively paved. It is hard to imagine the effort required to build and maintain a path like this, let alone one at a higher altitude beyond the range of any vehicle.

I'm guessing its this way…

I’m guessing its this way…

…which is probably why the paved path doesn’t last for long…

Easy walking, paved or unpaved

Easy walking, paved or unpaved

The ridge path towards Hollins Cross is a dream to walk, serving up outstanding views for minimal effort. The cross in question was removed a little over a hundred years ago and apparently, in even earlier times, the route was used to transport coffins from Edale over to Hope.

I overhear a group making call to the emergency services about an injured party member. Various parties are engaged with Duke of Edinburgh awards activities so perhaps this is an exercise? Fifteen minutes later the thumping rotors of an air ambulance suggest otherwise.

Back Tor

Back Tor

If I had ever followed up on my passing interest in Geology I might be able to explain the forces of nature that formed Back Tor. It certainly provides a great photo opportunity and a Japanese group are taking full advantage. Castleton has an international appeal I hadn’t expected with Americans, Russians and Italians amongst the other groups up here today.

Taking it all in

Taking it all in

I have really enjoyed this walk. This straightforward Peak District route has served a up rich variety of sights and points of interest. It has also been great to see such a diverse spectrum of people out on the hills.

Navigation has been a no-brainer and the weather has been kind. My march back down into Castleton is well timed as a heavy dark cloud threatens to put a dampener on things.

Making mud pies

Making mud pies

Not that weather is going to stop many people from getting out and enjoying themselves. After all, if you are going to make the effort of visiting the Dark Peak you aren’t going to be put off by the elements.

Tonight I’m going to enjoy the hostelries of Castleton. Tomorrow I’m going to take in the altogether more rugged landscape of Kinder. And the weather rarely does any favours there…

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The fight back has begun. The allotment doesn’t own all my time. It starts this weekend with my first (!) proper walk of the fast receding summer. But this will be more than a walk – I need to right a wrong…

My encounter with the Cleveland Way national trail three years ago was specifically timed to coincide with the flowering of the heather that dominates the North York Moors. Inspired by the accounts of other walkers I visited in September when the hills were supposed to be awash with colour only to find that I had missed the party by a week or two. Today’s route crosses Stanton Moor where, rumour has it, the heather is in bloom.

I'm doing gardening wrong

I’m doing gardening wrong

The sun is ablaze as I set off from Rowsley at an improbably early time. There’s nobody to been seen and I’m feeling smug, even though the folk of Stanton Woodhouse Farm are probably on their second breakfast by now.

What's the hurry?

What’s the hurry?

Twenty minutes sat on a log admiring the view over the Derwent valley is time well spent. Especially since a dirty black cloud decides to latch onto me for much of the rest of the day. Fortunately the trail heads off into woodland where the rain is heard more than it is absorbed.

Woodland retreat

Woodland retreat

A tree-engulfed ruin has an industrial feel to it but what can it be? This is a former quarrying area but without signage its former life is left to the imagination.

Going nowhere

Going nowhere

Further down the track I come across an old quarry face. Four millstones, so emblematic of the Peak District, lie abandoned nearby. I imagine they were destined to grind flour before the business closed. Or were they employed to grind sandstone hewn from the rock face? Today they seem as immovable and permanent a part of the landscape as the ground on which they sit.

Not lost for once

Not lost for once

The rain eases off obligingly as I leave the cover of the undergrowth for Stanton Moor. When I planned this route the map contours suggested panoramic views from the edge over to Darley Dale but the dense foliage has left me with just brief glimpses. Now if only I could climb to the top of this tower…

Closed today

Closed today

The Reform Tower was erected by local benefactor William Pole Thornhill to commemorate the 1832 reform act which set out to democratise electoral representation and do away with the so-called rotten boroughs. We are long overdue another such revolution…

Encouraging...

Encouraging…

The sun greets my first sight of the moor and the signs are good. There’s heather and it’s purple!

...very encouraging...

…very encouraging…

Soon it gets better and the path is lined by flowering heather. Numerous bees hover and perch around the plants as they industriously strive to produce heather infused honey that may end up on toast for some lucky soul.

Purple reign!

Purple reign!

As Stanton Moor opens up into a treeless plateau I finally get to experience the carpet of colour I missed out on in North Yorkshire. The vivid heather is everywhere! I was pleased when I managed to barely keep 4 tiny heather plants alive in my front garden for a couple of seasons but mother nature does this sort of thing so much better. Although mother nature doesn’t have to contend with my dad coming around to mow not only the lawn but 4 abused plants I had fought to nurture while working away in London…

Natures work

Natures work

It’s not just the colour but also the contrast with the verdant carpet of fern and moss speckled outcrops of rock that create such a dramatic effect, not to mention a sweet smell of heather that lingers in the light moist breeze.

My trip has been well worth it and I’m not yet at the half way stage. The ascent down into Birchover leads through a very well-kept campsite that I stayed at many years ago with friends. I seem to recall visiting during the village fete at which we won a tin of spam.

Curious creatures

Curious creatures

I don’t recognise much now and certainly not the Llamas that adapt so well to the English landscape. These are curious, charming creatures with no apparent fear of humans. They share a slightly startled look that I can only interpret as confusion. “How did we end up here?”

Tempting

Tempting

The Druid Inn alludes to a local folklore that I will expand upon when I return to Stanton Moor after lunch, if you can call a slice of cake on a bench lunch. The drizzle intensifies and I watch from beneath a tree as a growing trickle of people head into the Red Lion for proper Sunday lunch.

No entry

No entry

Why do walks always resume up hill after lunch? A steep climb out of Birchover rejoins the main road and takes me past Birchover Quarry which continues the long-standing local tradition. They know how to keep vehicles out of the site – this car sized rock must weigh 20 tonnes.

Just imagine the size of the bottle...

Just imagine the size of the bottle…

Returning to Stanton Moor the surreal Cork Stone looks as if somebody has carved it and deposited it here. In fact it is one of many weathered sandstone oddities to be found in and around the moor although not all of them have had iron climbing handles hammered into them in the 19th century. Last time I was here I climbed to the top (ahem) so there’s no need to do it again.

4,000 years of ritual

4,000 years of ritual

A short walk through light woodland leads to an opening where … things get spiritual. The Nine Ladies stone circle dates back 4000 years to the bronze age where it was believed to be the centre of rituals and ceremonies for people who lived and farmed in the area. The Druid Inn in Birchover alludes to the mystical draw of this place which still attracts druids and pagans on the solstice.

Ancient monuments like these will always capture our imagination – perhaps even inspire song. (You know you have to click this link)

When can I move in

When can I move in

A short walk north brings me to the attractive village of Stanton In The Peak. Presumably “In The Peak” was a suffix added to boost tourism at some point but it is well worth a visit regardless. A minor stately home here is off-limits and I wonder if the high walled garden promises more than would be delivered if I had a ladder to find out.

Stanton In The Peak

Stanton In The Peak

The church is very attractive and appears to be well maintained. There are some beautiful gardens, thriving allotments and a field of hens roaming at their leisure in return for free range eggs. Not to mention a pub that I can’t believe I didn’t know about.

Real ale in the peak

Real ale in the peak

The Flying Childers is that scarce and precious entity – an historic village pub serving real ale in a country village that hasn’t been converted into housing. A pint is so so tempting but on this occasion I settle for a glimpse inside, and it’s everything I was expecting.

Sunday dominoes

Sunday dominoes

My return to Rowsley has a different feel to it, crossing farmland and passing herds of sheep and cows. There are calves and I’m always a little wary passing through fields in case I’m seen as a threat. Fortunately they don’t seem to be aware of my visits to the farm shop.

Back at my car the drizzle instantly dissipates and out comes the sun. Typical, yes, but I really don’t care because I have closure on my heather disappointment of three years ago. Yet there have been so many highlights in this leisurely 8 mile walk – panoramic views, dramatic rock formations, abandoned ruins, ancient and not so ancient monuments and pretty country villages.

You can’t beat the Peak District for variety and drama. From here I could walk 50 yards to the water powered Cauldwells Mill where they still grind flour, or I could drive 10 minutes to the magnificent Chatsworth estate but instead I find myself raiding the M&S food hall in Matlock for a meal whose timing defies categorisation. Besides, the allotment needs me…

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Regular readers of my blog (humour me on this) may think I have fallen out of love with writing, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Having published on average a blog every fortnight for the past 6 years this is only my 4th in 12 months. There are reasons…

For one thing I have been moonlighting as blogger for TEDxDerby which has been a time consuming albeit richly rewarding diversion. No doubt I’ll write about this on my own blog after the event takes place on 21st May.

The true reason however for my lack of writing has been a relentlessly busy lifestyle and, in particular, the bottomless pit of resource demand that is my allotment.

We took on an allotment around May last year and with such a late handover it was obvious that 2015 would be about basic groundwork and whatever minimal growing we could achieve in the remaining window. As it happens we enjoyed a prodigious crop of potatoes (only just exhausted) and soft fruits not to mention a decent return of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and courgettes – all from perhaps a third of the available growing area.

Last years goodies

Last years goodies

It was clear that 2016 was going to be a different proposition with time to plan properly and design a 4 section crop rotation layout for the plot. We would prepare the ground, install a series of raised beds, improve our facilities and do the kind of unfrenzied succession planting that seasoned growers do at a smug canter. That was our plan and it started well.

Who knew gardening could be this much fun

Who knew gardening could be this much fun

At the turn of the year with few opportunities to meaningful outdoor work I subscribed to an online allotment planning tool. We measured every section of the plot and dragged & dropped plants into a virtual plan. So far so good – and all without back-ache! The first priority would be to clear away the debris of last year’s labours and start with a blank canvas.

It all starts here

It all starts here

Allotments – like gardens – look a wreck after the winter and ours was no exception. It didn’t take long to pull up last year’s spent crops and dismantle the netting tunnels that had been erected to shut out undesirable pests. In reality the slugs and caterpillars had somehow found a way in and the netting had merely prevented any birds from getting at them. We will have to work on that one.

The first priority was going to be a re-organisation of the chaotically planted soft fruit we had inherited from the previous plot holder – a consolation for all the rubble and carpet he buried in our plot that we now have to deal with.

Rhubarb not looking at its best

Rhubarb not looking at its best

This wasn’t going to be straightforward. Three redcurrant bushes would need to be uprooted and planted alongside three others to form an orderly line but that would require a rhubarb head to be relocated into a space currently occupied by a manically invasive comfrey. I love rhubarb but my knowledge of them extends only so far as the custard jug. It turns out that they are fed by lengthy tentacles of root that will snap off if you so much as think of crumble.

We shall not be moved

We shall not be moved

Eventually with rhubarb relocated the real work was to start. If you have ever tried to move a bush you will have an inkling of the labour intensive faff entailed in sensitively prizing the root system from the soil. If this wasn’t demanding enough I was having to carefully extricate numerous raspberry stems that had randomly seeded themselves amidst the bushes. These would be re-planted at the other end of the plot.

Finally getting somewhere

Finally getting somewhere

Several hours of intensive graft later the various fruits were unearthed and we set about re-planting the redcurrant bushes in a freshly dug trench after I had rotavated the area. Finally it felt like we were making progress.

An attempt to prevent weeds

An attempt to prevent weeds

With the plants re-homed I salvaged some old liner fabric and shaped it around the stems as a weed suppressant. Due to a shortage of liner we decided to experiment with newspaper for half of the crops. Our last act was to scatter a layer of strulch (a “miraculous” variant of mulch based on straw).

Straw + Mulch = Strulch

Straw + Mulch = Strulch

We were very pleased with the transformation and took great satisfaction in creating order out of the random weed-ridden mess but at this point I would like to return to the opening theme of the blog.

This first of countless tasks on the allotment had been to prepare an area of 20 square metres (the plot is approx 270 sqm) , relocate three redcurrant bushes and salvage a dozen raspberries. In the end it took around 10 hours to do all of this, left me a physical wreck (admittedly I hardly started in great shape) and tied up the entire weekend.

And that’s the point. Taking an allotment can suck up as much time as you have in the first couple of years until you have undertaken all of the initial planning, groundwork and structural development. In theory the workload diminishes sharply thereafter but until then I’m going to be short of time to write and short of time to do anything interesting to write about!

It is undeniably rewarding work. We have so many plans for planting, structures and re-organisation. Today I spent 5 back-breaking hours preparing a relatively small area for a future raised bed, but the sun was out, the birds competing for the best song and I saw my first frog of the year. Instinctively impatient I’m learning to work and think to a different pace. Next weekend I want to spend a day walking. Foreign travel beckons. TEDxDerby is around the corner. The allotment will have to grow at a human pace.

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How times have changed. There has been no travel, scarce cooking and few nights out. My normal summer rituals have taken a back seat. This is what custodianship of an allotment does to you.

In the three months since I took on a local plot my weekends and evenings have been almost entirely devoted to gaining a foothold in the fast-receding growing season – from a standing start.

At first I took an odd satisfaction from weeding and turning soil in preparation for planting.

Preparing soil the hard way

Preparing soil the hard way

That wore off as the sheer intensity of effort resulted in a strained back and a broken fork.

Breaking under the strain

Breaking under the strain

Short of time and manpower it became apparent I was going to have to throw aside the New Gardener’s Handbook# and take some shortcuts – or Hacks as we IT people call them.

# there isn’t really a New Gardeners Handbook – I made that up as a narrative device.
In fact I make a lot of things up. Look – just read, don’t question

Hack #1: Buy A Rotavator

This is essentially a 125cc moped with blades instead of a rear wheel…

Mr Rotavator

Mr Rotavator

Now I can prepare an area in 20 minutes that would have taken three hours using a fork. Despite this half of my plot remains unprepared. A seasoned plot holder told me that in his first year he focussed entirely on clearing and preparing the ground. He didn’t plant anything.

From small acorns...

From small acorns…

On that basis I should be pleased to have my potatoes in the ground, peas climbing a frame and a selection of brassicas growing under netting.

...grow mighty potatoes

…grow mighty potatoes

I guess it depends on whether you are a plot half empty kind of person

Hack #2: Erect A Polytunnel

Think of a polytunnel as a plastic greenhouse. You can maintain a higher temperature and add a couple of months to the summer growing season for plants that need a warmer, more stable growing environment

Not tall enough yet

Not tall enough yet

After much research I invested in a 3m x 6m beast from Grow-Ur-Own on the basis that it looked a lot larger and sturdier than the average unit.

Meccano for adults

Meccano for adults

Unfortunately it came with almost entirely useless assembly instructions and took a weekend to erect, although I secretly enjoyed the challenge.

Digging for victory

Digging for victory

The most painstaking part turned out to be fitting the cover over the frame. In the end it took 4 of us to get the job done after which I was able to bury the edges in a trench designed to stabilise and protect the plastic cover.

Space to grow!

Space to grow!

The polytunnel has provided a superb growing environment for tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers as well as a preparatory environment for plants destined for life outside.

A young pepper

A young pepper

The cucumbers in particular grow at a prodigious rate in this environment and a first batch has already made it into pickling jars.

Early polytunnel crop

Early polytunnel crop

Of course none of this growth can happen without a lot of watering. With polytunnel pots requiring 40L of water every day how are you supposed to have an evening off, let alone a week away?

Hack #3: Automate The Irrigation

Once plants are in the ground they can generally look after themselves – especially with all the rain we have had this summer. It’s different for the pots under cover so I investigated the options and came up with a solution for a timer controlled irrigation system.

No more watering

No more watering

Now this isn’t as simple of you might think. With no mains supply I had to create a gravity fed water supply with sufficient pressure to keep 50 pots irrigated for up to a week. I managed to (literally) unearth 48 bricks from my plot to create a raised base for a 230L water butt which fed into a tubing system via a Claber battery operated timer.

40m of irrigation tubing

40m of irrigation tubing

As I write this blog from a sunlit cottage room in Padstow I can only hope the solution is operating as designed. If it is working then I will simply have to top up the water butt once a week when I return from holiday. If hasn’t worked then everything will have died – either way my evening watering duties will be a thing of the past.

Hack #4: Inherit Stock

OK, this isn’t something I can take any credit for but the fact is that the previous plot-holder left some goodies behind and I’m not one to let things go to waste.

A thriving fruit bed has already yielded several weeks worth of succulent raspberries plus a smattering of strawberries.

Sweet pickings

Sweet pickings

Before I left for Cornwall I picked and froze over a kilo of redcurrants and there is much more to come.

Approx 5kg of redcurrants. Recipes ideas appreciated!

Approx 5kg of redcurrants. Recipes ideas appreciated!

Factor in three established heads of rhubarb and I am getting quite a decent return without expending any effort.

I can barely believe how much has been achieved in the last 3 months. Sure, it has been LOT of hard work but also very satisfying. I’m saving £30 per month on gym membership alone and getting much better exercise so there really isn’t anything to complain about on that front.

Allotment or gym?

Allotment or gym?

Work on the allotment is as energising as it is tiring. Every day something has grown or flowered. I become engrossed watching bees flit amongst the comfrey.

My caretaker Jeremy

My caretaker Jeremy

A frog (called Jeremy) pops up sporadically in the polytunnel where I commission him to keep on top of any insects. Blackbirds sing so beautifully that I almost feel guilty for netting off the redcurrants they love so much.

How it's going to be...

How it’s going to be…

One day, maybe soon, I might visit and not actually do anything. Just relax and take it all in…

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I awake with a dull ache in the whole body region. Nothing is actually sprained or painful but every small movement tells of some untold physical ordeal yesterday. A creaky descent of the stairs leads me into the kitchen where a glance out back yields the first clue.

A mysterious wooden box has crash-landed into the garden. My resident blackbird pecks around it to evaluate any worm potential. A squirrel eyes it suspiciously from on high as it plots some act of destructive action.

No admittance to anything with a tail

No admittance to anything with a tail

There are more clues in the conservatory. Once a clear and airy space devoted to relaxation the scene this morning is altogether more … earthy. The tiles are powdered with soil. Every surface (and there are new ones) is covered in pots containing green or purple shoots.

Derby branch of the Svalbard seed vault

Derby branch of the Svalbard seed vault

The greenhouse – because that’s what it is now – is a production line for vegetables. The box outside is a newly constructed raised bed in which to plant them. The aching body is what you get when you swap a relatively sedentary life for that of a gardener. Except that I’m not only a gardener. As of a week ago I am also an allotment holder…

It is still not clear to me how it came to this. For years I have fought a battle with my back garden in an attempt to produce life from a space which, while adequate in growing space, lacks direct sunlight and ground moisture due to the extended canopy and root structure of the mature trees that cast their shadow long before builders laid the foundations for my home.

Trees grab all the light

Trees grab all the light

I have won some battles, most notably in my herb garden where the rosemary, mint and oregano positively thrive. In some years I have coaxed green beans from a side bed while my plum tree begrudgingly produces some sort of crop in alternate years. Overall though the war has been won by the trees – or so they thought – but they reckoned without my partner who, despite a lack of any green fingered credentials, went out and bought a seed collection to rival the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Buoyed by her enthusiasm my paternal instincts kicked in and with it the needs to find a home for our infant vegetables.

The scant 5 minute walk to my allotment is bittersweet. Sweet because there is an abundance of space in which to plant. Sweet because the open aspect will enjoy full sun throughout the day. Sweet because short walks like this are no longer cyber-headed marches but fascinating opportunities to inspect other peoples front gardens and gain planting inspiration. Bitter because…

160 sq metres of weeding and digging

160 sq metres of weeding and digging

…well, it’s hardly a bed of roses. It needs work. Lots of work. I’m a list person and my list of jobs for the back garden and now the allotment has entered continuation sheet territory. The sheer size of the plot is daunting. There are pernicious weeds. There are areas of heavy clay soil. The shed is too small. The water butt needs attention. There will be man-weeks of weeding, digging and general maintenance before this space is anything but a bad neighbour to the well-maintained adjoining plots.

Sludge dispenser

Sludge dispenser

All of that is to come and yet before a first fork has been plunged into the earth I feel that I have changed. I’m starting to think like an allotment holder. My old garden fence will break down nicely to create the walkways I need to lay across the plot. Plastic water bottles once destined for the recycling bin are now treasured as growing containers. That list of jobs will shred down and rot nicely into compost.

What have I let myself in for? Will I be living The Good Life over summer (damn that catchy theme music!) or am I heading for the back clinic and an account with Ocado? Only time will tell.

Now where do I start?

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In 1984 as a 15 year old Venture Scout I embarked on a 10 day Explorer Belt hike around the alpine region of South France. In this series of blog posts I revisit my diaries and retrace those footsteps…
Epilogue

In 1984 my Viking VSU walking partner Andy and I had planned and completed our Explorer Belt walk in the lowlands of the French Alps.

We made a few mistakes as was inevitable for such young inexperienced walkers. Our packing left something to be desired and we probably walked in heat we should have avoided, but we learned some lessons. We encountered setbacks such as the blisters that left us always playing catch-up, but we adapted and coped. In every important way we were successful and following completion of the August walk we handed in our project work.

On 22nd December Andy and I sat down for an EB interview with unit leader Pete. On 5th January 1985 leather Explorer Belts and paper Certificates were awarded to the teams at the Viking VSU Annual Awards Ceremony. Curiously the awards programme only lists 8 EB pairings compared to the 11 pairings referenced in the lead up to the expedition. Did three teams drop out?

Explorer Belt Certificate

Explorer Belt Certificate

The Explorer Belt Challenge is still going strong although the rules have moved on somewhat. Now you must be at least 16 years old, hitchhiking is specifically not allowed although the limited use of public transport is permissible, and “small teams” are now allowed (ie: more than just pairs)

It seems remarkable that this 15 year old teamed up with a 16 year old to plan and undertake such an expedition. It is more remarkable that we were allowed to. It’s hard to imagine that now. But I’m so glad that we did and credit must go to parents and particularly to our legendary VSU leader Pete for making it possible.

In 1984 I was an introverted self-absorbed teenager taking it all in my stride without perhaps fully appreciating the adventure at hand, but that’s the story of youth.

If I was undertaking the expedition today I would do a lot of things differently. There would be better planning and packing for sure but I would immerse myself wholeheartedly into the cultural aspects of the walk, take 1000 photos and blog in detail about the sights and experiences of the route. My diaries would reflect a much wider range of influences!

Photo observations:

  • Every single one of my photos was taken in portrait!
  • Only took 1 photo of me on entire trip! Pre-selfie era.
  • Routinely pointed camera at the wrong things partly due to complete lack of understanding of how photos will turn out once processed.
  • All of these shortcomings culminate in a paucity of visual material which actually add to the mystique of the trip. More is left to memory and imagination (although a few more/better photos would still have been nice!)

But my diaries and photos are as much about a 15 year old taking giant strides as about the miles, towns or people. In it’s own way the walk opened my mind to travel, adventure and independence. Without this I might not have travelled around Europe 3 times after university. I might not have walked the Cleveland Way. I might not be taking photos and writing about new experiences in my blog.

Realistically there was never much danger. There were no mobile phones and the world was a much larger place for everybody but we could look after ourselves and as strangers we were always treated with kindness and care by the people we met. I would prescribe a dose of adventure for all teenagers. Perceived if not actual danger is the key to opening up young minds and building self confidence in a world that has become overly protective.

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