I did it!

I’m currently house-bound with an annoying dose of (wo)man flu.  This is frustrating me more than anything, because on weekends at this time of year I should be out selling my craftwares at various Christmas markets; and sitting at home, feeling crappy, when I know I should be out working hard during one of my busiest times of the year is quite infuriating!

However, I am finding time to get to things that have been neglected recently, not least of which is this blog.

Today, keeping me smiling through this fat-headed, blocked sinus feeling, is the knowledge that on Thursday, before this cold virus descended onto my chest and effectively put the brakes on any exercise plans, I finally reached my magical 500 miles goal!

500 miles

Not only did I reach the goal I set myself last January, I’ve done it with a full month to spare!  This being week 48 on the calendar, makes a rough average of 10.4 miles a week.  I’d love to say that I could pull off another 40 miles before the year’s end, but with my chest rattling like a bag of spanners, I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back walking…fingers crossed its very soon though!  Always happy to be corrected, especially if it means I can head out again; but I was recently advised that if my cold was a head cold then I was fine to exercise, but as soon as it hit my chest I should stop…and so I stopped.

Happily I can at least spend my downtime searching online for some new trainers to do my daily walk in.  I think achieving my goal is a perfectly fitting milestone upon which to retire my current pair of trainers.  If I may propose a respectful moment of silence for these absolute road warriors…

trainer stats 2
They were overdue for replacement a few months ago in fairness, but I never seemed to get around to it…maybe I was waiting for this day?  I’ve tracked 847 miles on Runkeeper since January 2013, and I think it would be fair to say that these poor trainers have done at least 600-700 of those miles!

My beloved hiking boots do sterling work on the hills and trails at the weekends when we get the chance to head out for a decent hike; my hiking boots have even come into service whilst I’ve been trading at festivals during the summer when prolonged wet, muddy conditions have made my other footwear unwearable during the weekend.  However, these mighty little trainers have pounded the local lanes with me 5 days a week, 50-52 weeks of the year. On icy roads, on muddy roads, on sticky hot roads, into brambles, into ditches (narrowly avoiding local rally drivers neighbours speeding around the lanes, practising their Scandinavian Flick technique on the bends), through puddles, through cow sh*t (whichever way I turn at the end of our lane I go past a dairy farm!).  They’ve had an awful lot of abuse and, for what were a relatively cheap pair of Skechers, I have been extremely impressed at how durable they were.  I only hope that my next pair of trainers fully understand that they have a tough job to do, and a lot to live up to!

 So now, I have a quandary.  Obviously I will keep walking every day, religiously tracking and logging my miles on Runkeeper, up to the end of the year (and beyond, of course!).  But I have really enjoyed this challenge: its been something to aim for throughout the year, and some months where real-life has got in the way, and I haven’t been able to get so many miles in, I’ve been crunching the numbers, working out my averages, and checking my events calendar to see if I could still pull it off.  Daily walking is a great habit to have for numerous reasons, with the most obvious being the health benefits…and I always feel a million times better after I’ve come home from a walk, no matter how crappy I was feeling (either mentally or physically) before I set out, or how crappy the weather was…and this challenge has made it more fun, and made me more determined to get out walking as often as I could.  This, however, is my quandary: 2015 – should I re-pledge for another 500 miles…or push myself even harder and go for a higher target?

If you’re familiar with the SMART acronym, you’ll know that a goal needs to be:
Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Time-bound
I’d love to try for 600 miles, but realistically, I don’t think it would be attainable in the time.  If I’ve learned nothing else this year I have learned that sometimes life gets in the way, and trying to hit an average of 50 miles a month would be a tough one to face, especially if halfway through the year, after a couple of months of not getting out hiking at weekends due to weather or work commitments, you can see that you’re way off mark, and have an almost impossible mileage to make up.  This year we haven’t managed to get out hiking nearly as often as we’d hoped to, as has possibly been evident by fewer blog posts this year.
If I’m honest, 500 miles has been a decent challenge for me, and at the beginning of the year I did wonder more than a few times if making my pledge public was a wise thing to have done.  Keeping it secret would have made it so much easier to give up.  Fortunately as the months passed by, and the miles ticked off, it looked more and more achievable.  But, I’ve shown myself that I can do 500 miles, with a consistent walking schedule, and some determination on those days when you just can’t find the motivation to put those trainers on in the morning.
I am leaning towards 550 – I may make the final decision at the end of December, when I see what my total for the whole year is.  I know I am highly unlikely to make 550 miles this year, December is a very busy month for my business, but I may well convince myself that with a little extra effort and determination, I *could* do it next year…

Would welcome your thoughts on this 😉

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Curvy Clothing…

Waking up to sharp frosts over the past couple of mornings, coupled with needing an extra layer for my road walk yesterday afternoon, have brought into focus that the fact that winter is on its way, and that our glorious summer is fading away from us.  Which got me thinking ahead about suitable clothing in the colder weather.

There Is No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Only Inappropriate Clothing.”… a very well-known saying that is oft quoted, even if people cannot seemingly agree upon where it came from.  However, I discovered last winter that appropriate clothing is not always an option for us curvier ladies, and I strongly feel that outdoor clothing manufacturers are really missing out on this!

Watch the news any day of the week and there is nearly always a report on the obesity crisis or some new groundbreaking link found between exercise and health etc.  Us curvy folks are frequently encouraged to exercise more to become less curvy, improve our health etc.  This is absolutely no bad thing, and something I am happy to advocate.

However, we all know that using the correct clothing for whatever exercise plan you’re about to embark on is important.  If your clothing is not comfortable or appropriate, and is affecting your enjoyment of the activity, then it’s not an exercise regime you’re likely to continue with.  We also know that in order for the clothing to be comfortable it needs to fit properly, and if you’re not a ‘normal’ size or shape. you’re unlikely to find it in the high street, and buying over the internet can be an expensive disaster!  Which, for me anyway, rules out the numerous outdoor wear suppliers in the USA and elsewhere who seem to have extensive ranges of plus-size outdoor wear.

I can trawl only so many outdoor shops both here and in the UK, and try on only so many pairs of walking trousers that don’t fit, before I have to head home with my self-esteem in the gutter. feeling completely demoralised and whale-shaped.

So, through trial and error last winter I improvised and developed my own Curvy Hiker outfit for those cold days on the hills.

I won’t go into details on my headwear, neckwear and footwear as such, as they are obviously items that don’t need to come in plus-sizes.  Although I will just say this with regard to boots  – buy the best you can afford, and go to a proper shop to have them professionally fitted, by fully trained staff, to ensure you buy boots best suited to your planned activities.

Let’s work from the ground upwards…

Socks – a real bone of contention for me, as I have fat wide curvy calfs, and I find the cuffs of many socks to be uncomfortably tight, leaving deep marks where they cut in, restricting the circulation.  So I look for socks with a large, expanding cuff.  My current absolute fave pair of socks are the Classic Coolmax Trail Sock from Tog24.  Sooooo comfortable!  A curious quirk of my thyroid issues means that my feet don’t get cold.  No, I’ll rephrase that, they DO get cold, but I don’t feel it…I know that doesn’t make sense, however my feet can be like blocks of ice, but to me they feel totally fine.  Yes, I can and do walk out in snow in flip-flops or crocs, and my feet simply don’t feel cold.  So socks to keep my feet warm is not an issue, they just have to be comfortable and stay dry.  If my feet (or hands come to that) ever do feel cold I know I need my bloods done and my thyroid levels checked, because the chances are I’ve gone hypo. 🙂

SocksThey may look a little battle-weary now, but in fairness they have had plenty of use!

Gaiters – my curvy calfs are too wide for normal hiking gaiters, so when the going is likely to be very wet or muddy I use ankle gaiters…a total revelation and complete Eureka! moment when I first found them in a local outdoor shop!  They are perfect for those of us with curvy legs! You don’t see them stocked in many shops, but I dare say they could/would order them in for you if you asked!

Miracle Ankle Gaiters

Trousers – they aren’t a technical ‘base layer’ but on cold days I wear a pair of nylon-mix leggings under my trousers.  They came from Tescos and cost me around €6.00 Over those I used to have a pair of cotton mix plus size trousers, but then I discovered the Performance Sport range in Dunnes, which went up to size 20.  They aren’t designed for walking or hiking, but they are elasticated and stretchy.  There’s a vented side panel, a little like the aertex shirts we used to wear for PE back in my school days, which keeps you beautifully cool in the summer.  Incredibly comfortable, and because they are designed for fitness use, presumably gym-wear, they wick sweat, they are very light, and whilst they don’t repel rain, they don’t hold water either, and they dry out very quickly.  They may not be perfect for striding out across the hills but they more than do an admirable job of keeping my legs warm and dry-ish when I am striding trudging across those aforementioned hills!  I would love to have a decent pair of walking trousers, but so far I just haven’t found any that are anywhere near my size…so I have to improvise, and my priorities are that they are comfortable first and foremost, and that they won’t hold water and become heavy and uncomfortable in the wet.
Yes, I have heard of waterproof over-trousers, but let’s get real…I can’t find walking trousers to fit me, so finding over-trousers that fit is even more impossible!

Tops – again, I’ve struggled to find proper technical layers to wear under my jacket(s) so I just layer up with thin t-shirts, sleeveless tops,, sometimes a thin polo-neck and generally a Cotton Traders rugby shirt.  I have an ancient and beloved Berghaus full-zip fleece, which is really getting to the end of its days, but it is still the warmest fleece jacket I’ve ever owned, so I will keep wearing it until it completely wears out.  It zips into a cheap & cheerful waterproof jacket.  I’ll be honest, I bought the waterproof jacket in a street market in the UK, for very little money.  But at the end of the day, if fits me well. The zip meets and does up, it has a second set of zips inside, which means I can zip my Berghaus into it to make it incredibly warm.  It has plenty of pockets, and it has so far proved to be 100% waterproof…and I have had it out in some torrential rain in the past!  And I’ve owned it for about 8 years…so far, so good!  It got promoted last year from ‘winter/wet-weather dog walking jacket’ to ‘Official Curvy Hiker Hiking Ensemble’.  I did look last winter for a big ‘proper’ 3-in-1 jacket, but found nothing that would do up comfortably, let alone with any amount of layering underneath.  So for now, I’ll stick to my surprisingly good, and exceptionally cheap, waterproof jacket.

It would be lovely to think that I was fully equipped, with all the correct clothing, for most weather and environment situations I may meet whilst out hiking – and maybe one day I will be – but until I either loose a shedload of weight, or the clothing manufacturers wake up to the growing (no pun intended) demand for plus size activewear…then I’ll ‘make-do’ with my improvised Curvy Hiker clothing 🙂

At the end of the day, my top half stays dry in wet weather, my bottom half dries quickly if it gets wet.  My feet always stay dry and comfy. I can stay warm on most winter days, and I always have a complete change of clothes waiting in the car for me.  So, if I do end up cold and wet, I can at least be dry and warm for the drive home.  Ultimately I’m doing the best I can with the clothing available to me.  Proper clothing for winter hiking, that fits, will just have to remain a pipe dream for now.

The Midges of Monicknew

It all started out so well!

The internet has been teasing me with images of Monicknew Bridge and I’ve been keen to explore the area for a good while now.  The husband had a rare Monday off, so after a busy weekend for both of us, the Bocadh Lodge Loop seemed the perfect way to stretch the legs and wind down.

Bocadh Lodge Loop
Trail Start Point: Car Park
Length: 7km
Time: 2.5 hrs
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate
Metres Climb:160
OSI Map: No 54
Trail Way Marking: Red

Trail map

We parked the car, and started to change our my footwear and sort our stuff out…and then the midges arrived.

At this point the husband realised that his boots were most probably sitting in the hall at home, waiting to be put in the car! Fortunately he had a sturdy pair of walking shoes on, and we didn’t argue about who was responsible for loading HIS boots…much! Throwing everything I could grab into my rucksack, instead of carefully sorting through it, and double checking we had sufficient water and dog bowls for the hot, humid weather, I shouldered the pack and we headed off down to the bridge, anything to escape the clouds of midges that were biting us in places that midges had no business being in!

We did stop briefly on top of the bridge, to look down into the valley below…and then the midges arrived.

Walking by a forestry barrier on the far side of the bridge, the trail started to gently ascend up through the trees.  I was really pleased with how I was feeling.  Yes, it wasn’t steep, but it was uphill and I felt good.  I got into a good rhythm with both my stride and my breathing, and I was easily managing to keep going.
Not something I could have said 6 months ago!

I was dismayed to spy a fridge freezer lying in the undergrowth down to our left.  Presumably dumped by someone who clearly had no appreciation of the Leave No Trace principle.  What always confounds me when I come across mindless fly tipping like this is that after you’ve gone to all the effort of getting something like that into or onto a vehicle…why not drive it to a recycling centre?
We pondered the type of mindless person who thinks this was an appropriate way to dispose of their fridge freezer…and then the midges arrived.

My Runkeeper app came to life and announced that we had done a mile…and we were still steadily heading uphill.  A whole mile, all up hill…go me!  I said to the husband that if we saw a likely looking stopping point, we’d stop for a small breather, offer Dolly some water and water ourselves too.  It was a hot, humid day, and I was conscious of making sure that Dolly, hyperactive at the best of times, stayed properly hydrated.  She’d stopped to drink at a few springs, but although I knew it was only discoloured due to the peaty ground, I still didn’t think the water looked all that appetising!

Peaty spring water

We just about managed to get Dolly and ourselves watered…and then the midges arrived.

Setting off once more, still heading up hill.  We did pause to admire the incredible views back across the Slieve Blooms at a sharp switch back, but mindful of the midges, we didn’t pause for long!  At this point we’d joined up with the Slieve Bloom Way, and could follow the well-marked trail, relentlessly upwards and finally over the brow of the hill we’d been climbing since leaving the car park!  Whilst delighted with myself about how well I’d coped with the long pull uphill, I cannot tell you how nice it was to start going downhill at last!

14 - Still going up

Follow the arrows

Whilst enjoying the well-marked Slieve Bloom Way trails with their clearly marked arrow posts, do keep an eye out for this little marker though, it’s fairly well hidden and easy to miss!  It’s at a junction, but if you’re not necessarily expecting to turn off then it would be all too easy to go wrong here.

17 - Hidden arrow

It occurred to us at this point that we hadn’t met a single soul so far!  And then we remembered that it was Monday, instead on heading out on our usual weekend day.  Mental notes were made to remember this.  Weekends are obviously easier and more convenient, but some of the more popular locations can get a little busy.

Stopping at a location that afforded us both magnificent views, as well as somewhere to sit down in comfort, I unpacked the tea flask.  We enjoyed a cuppa and I was hunting through the rucksack for a few snacks I’d packed earlier…and then the midges arrived.

We headed off again, and soon arrived at the end of the forestry track.  We were greeted by a fancy looking metal ladder stile, with a red arrow direction marker on the other side.

Big strong stile

We crossed the stile and duly turned right as directed by the arrow, and then, sadly, the rest of this section became mostly guess-work.

There was no obvious path, and the long grass had clearly not been walked through recently.  This saddened me a little.  This had been a lovely loop walk, easy trails and tracks so far, and I wondered why it wasn’t used more often?  Maybe the rest of this loop walk would answer that for me!

Walking in a grassy area, between a wire fence to our right, and short trees to our left, we could only assume that we were still on the right path, going in the right direction.  As you might have guessed, the midges were absolutely plaguing us today.  This meant that stopping to get our bearings, work out where we were, and see on the map where we should be, wasn’t easy.  Literally, within seconds of stopping, the midges descended and made life hell.

A little further on we came across this forlorn looking arrow and presumed it was for our benefit.

24 - An arrow marker...sort of

Pushing on through the long grass, reminding myself to check ourselves and also Dolly for ticks at the end of the walk, we eventually were faced with a less fancy wooden step stile. into a field.

26 - Small flimsy stile

It was wobbly and rickety, and, all curviness aside, it didn’t feel safe at all stepping up on to it.  So, inspite of knowing better, we went over the fence to the side instead.  Sadly the barbed wire is starting to sag a little where others have clearly done the same in the past.  But I’m guessing that stile has been wobbly for a good while.

Bocadh Lodge

Bocadh Lodge

After crossing the stile fence we found ourselves stood in a field, facing what we guessed was the ruins of Bocadh Lodge.  I have tried, and failed, to find more information about Bocadh Lodge, which is a great shame.  It is named on the OSI maps, and I’d love to know more about the history of the place.  We would have explored the ruins a little, if only for the fact that we found ourselves stood in a field, with fresh looking cow pats in the grass, a dog on a lead, and absolutely no idea where we were meant to go next.  I stayed near the fence with Dolly, whilst the husband made a brief foray into the field to try to find an arrow marker…with no luck.  The ever-present midges were encouraging me to keep moving, walking in small circles, whilst keeping a wary eye out for any cattle.  The guide to the loop walk had mentioned crossing farm tracks, and leaving gates as you find them etc.  We knew from the trail map and the OSI map where we needed to get to, but we couldn’t see a way of getting there.  I spied a marker post near the lodge, and we went in that direction….only to find this:

Blank marker post

…which didn’t really help us very much!  The trail description had mentioned crossing farm tracks, but it didn’t mention going through fields?  We were starting to think we’d come the wrong way.  But I couldn’t see where or how we could have gone wrong since crossing the big green ladder stile.  whilst I had bemoaned the lack of arrows or clear path through the long grass, there really wasn’t anywhere we could have turned off.   So, conscious that we had a dog with us, and that there may be cattle somewhere in this field, we gingerly headed across the field.  Heading to the far side to find that the gap in the hedge, that we both agreed had looked a likely exit from our vantage point at the ruins, was very definitely fenced off.  We walked along the lower field perimeter looking for at the very least a gate that we knew the field must have, and finally we came across an open gap.

31 - Exit this way

It was only a short stretch across the field from the stile after all, but retracing our steps back to the stile, now knowing where the gate was, it still wasn’t easy to spot!  I don’t know if the blank marker post was a ‘work in progress’ or if the arrow marker had fallen off (we did have a quick look on the ground beneath it) but if whomever is responsible for maintaining this loop walk ever reads this blog, I heartily recommend they do some more work on their arrow markers!

Case in point being the very next set of direction arrows we found, which were way down past the gate, and would in no way have been visible from the field.  They were barely visible when you were stood beside them:

We cleared away some of the foliage hiding the direction arrows, for whomever may pass this way after us, but I fear it was a futile effort.  Our very next “which way now?” conundrum was less than 100 metres way.

Which way now?

Which way now?

Now I don’t particularly like to walk into farmyards out on walks, abandoned or otherwise, unless a direction marker clearly shows me that the trail goes that way.  Similarly, I don’t like going through chained up gates, into fields containing cattle (just out of shot to the left), unless an arrow clearly points that way!  Here we had neither, and the OSI map was telling us that to go back along the track we were on would take us quite a significant way in the wrong direction before it eventually met a road.  I especially don’t like going into a field of cattle, with no arrow to tell me that it’s OK to do so, whilst I’m out with a dog, albeit under close control on a lead.  We stood there and pondered our options for as long as we could stand the cloud of angry midges around our heads.  There was no way I was willingly going into that field with our dog, and my preference was to investigate the farm buildings.  However, the farm track we were on went through the gate and along the top hedge line of the field, so that seemed most likely.  The husband was about to head into the field, along the track to see if he could find any direction markers when the cattle suddenly became fascinated by the sound of a lawn mower starting up down the hill below them, and they gradually moved off, down the slope to investigate.  He headed off into the field and quickly came back to tell me that there was another green ladder stile at the other side of the field, and clearly the obvious route was through the gate.  He went ahead, so that if the cattle became bored with the lawn mower, and decided to check out our dog instead, I could let her go and the husband could call her across the field to him, hopefully from behind the safety of a fence, and away from me, so I could carry on across the field.  The cattle didn’t notice us until we were just ducking under the strand of electric wire at the far side of the field.  Yes, the metal ladder stile was just placed at the side of the field, but not attached to any fence?  And the only direction arrow we found was on the far side of the field, beyond the strip of electric fence.

It was an uneventful trip back to the car park from this point.  The track dropped us down to a road, and we walked along the road back to the car park.

A loop walk that had been really lovely for the first two-thirds, had become a frustrating and disappointing game of “which way now?“, and concluded with an uninspiring trudge along a winding, fast section of road.

I’m trying SO hard to reflect on how well I had felt on the looooong uphill pull, and the magnificent views that we enjoyed from the highest sections of the loop walk, but that disappointing last section just keeps popping up in my memory instead.

Monicknew is an area I do intend to return to, there’s so much more to explore, but I’ll choose my own route next time! 🙂

…and I won’t forget the midge-repellant next time either!

Lost camera on the Ridge of Capard

I’ve had a rip-roaring, relatives-visiting, campervan-driving, wedding-attending, electric-picnic-festival-going, twisted-knee-leg-elevating, wedding-anniversary-celebrating, routine-hospital-appointment-attending couple of weeks and it has been completely hectic!  But now I’m finally able to draw breath, turn my computer on & catch up on work! As soon as I’ve gone through the 1,200 emails waiting in my inbox, I hope to get back into my normal routine!
(Yes, I twisted my knee at the wedding, after tripping off a curb stone, whilst wearing stupid heels, at the church, landing on my knee, with my leg twisted back up under me, in a very undignified manner…but, NO, I was stone cold sober at the time, I promise!)

But in the meantime, I came across an email from Gerry Walsh earlier, asking me to spread the word regarding his lost camera. He lost it last Saturday (31st August) and I understand the camera has his contact details in a readme file on the memory card.

So if you are heading up to the Ridge of Capard any time soon please keep an eye open!  And please share Gerry’s blog post, link below, anywhere you that feel might help in finding and returning his camera.

Lost camera on the Ridge of Capard