A visit from the local hedge cutter tractor, and Sooty’s Chimney Sweep Services.
Camera quest conclusion.
Ticked off lots of admin on Tuesday morning and still had time for a damp drizzly walk around the Cockyard loop. Helicopters busy overhead. They’ve been absent for a while.
Then work. January always gets busy as people want to follow up on all the brainwaves they had over Christmas, work-related New Year Resolutions and the objectives agreed in end of year reviews.
We had a Winter Wellbeing seminar in the week which I joined. It was given be a psychologist who’d originally trained as a doctor. She sees a lot of patients with depression and the session blended recent findings on how people are responding to COVID as well as things like SAD and depression.
Her top tip was to get out for a half hour walk in the daylight in the first 90 mins after you get up. Daylight = emotional boost, provides Vit D and going outside first thing sets your circadian rythyms for the day so you sleep better. The walking is good for you physically and emotionally too.
So, I am going to try to do that.
She also said looking or being outside in green space was good for you too. Even having a picture of the outdoors or a pot plant in your home / office has been proven to help.
Seeing a buzzard land on the ash tree I can see from my office window provided a happy distraction on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. It sat there for a while both days. It may have been eying up the small birds at the bird feeders… or maybe just their feed.
We have a lot of buzzards around here. There’s often one that lofts up from the trees on the slope when I go to the Quarry, and there have been quite a few mornings when I’ve seen one down on the grass by the small pond, presumably looking for insects, worms etc – mice too probably! In the summer, they circle overhead enjoying the thermals. Lovely.
A series of sociable evenings courtesy of Zoom on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, for KMCA New Year drinks, VWW and Dad and Jean respectively. And Monday evening brought another lovely Zoom catch up.
We had our log stove chimney swept on Friday morning. Not something we ever needed in the Barbican!
Nipped into Hereford to click & collect a fresh batch of books from the library….
…. and somehow returned home with a haul of bargains from M&S Food too. How did that happen? No marmalade oranges for love nor money. I do hope they reach Herefordshire soon. I’ve only 1 jar left from last year.
Saturday = Admin a.m. and Bacton Backwards in the afternoon followed by stripping the leaves from the dried oregano I’d picked in my herb bed, chucked out some rotten apples (lesson for this year’s apples = don’t bother with the windfalls. Yes, as my dad had told me….), made tiffin and then dinner. I don’t make dinner often. I am a very lucky lady.
Made the most of Sunday’s early morning sun by walking the Bacton Square before picking up Phil to continue on to complete the Cockyard Loop, which proved to be very sociable. Leisurely afternoon. We lit the stove and settled down to read (and snooze).
….people who have been in the deepest depths of despair have the broadest bandwidth when it comes to enjoying life: “When you’ve travelled through the deepest valleys, you surely appreciate the views from the highest hills.”
Monday morning saw a visit from Morgan & Cuss to take a look at options for better showers in the bathrooms and removing the cold water tank in the roof. Into Hereford in the afternoon for a top up shop and B&Q click & collect: paving slabs plus bags of sand and gravel for the floor of the greenhouse. Still have the roof bar capping to do….
It turned out to be third time lucky in my quest for a new GPS camera. I’d heard from Park Cameras that they didn’t have Sony Cyber-shot HX90V in stock after all, and had tried to order one in for me from their supplier but they’d not got any left either. Top Marks to Park Cameras for their customer service throughout though. I would buy from them again.
So on Friday morning I bought an ex-display model from London Camera Exchange, partly because it was reduced, and partly because they have a shop in Hereford and the team there have been helpful. It arrived on Monday morning, and looks fine – plus the spare batteries I’d already bought fit fine, both in the camera and in the recharging unit. Now we just have to hope for a trek to use them all on, although I am starting to think that may have to wait until 2022. Yes, really. In the meantime, stand by for better quality photos from week 56.
Another week of frosty starts, mince pies and mugs of tea.
And back to work.
Did the Kerrys Gate – Cockyard – Duffryn – Camp crossroads walk on Tuesday morning, and on the stretch from the crossroads I was kept company by three long tailed tits scooting along the hedgerows alongside me. Really lovely. And we seem to have lured a group of long tailed tits to our bird feeders on a long term basis (I don’t want to tempt fate and say “permanent”). So, thank you, fat balls!
Got through my first week back at work. I wasn’t looking forward to it to be honest – there was a chunk of “what’s the point” after R’s death, as in “I could be doing better things with this time”. Anyway, it was OK. I’ve really kind colleagues, which really helps.
As did the first VWW of the year on Wednesday evening, before belatedly catching on to the news coming out of the US Capitol. Incredible. Family Zoom also resumed in its regular Thursday slot.
Friday turned out to be a Day of Admin – clearly getting back to work has brought some further benefits in terms of summoning the ooomph to Tackle The To Do Lists. Got through a lot, even though it ate up most of the day. Our new Cast Iron Casserole arrived from ProCook, which brightened up the afternoon.
Friday Night Pizza resumed too, and we took it easy with the new series of Grand Designs (jaw, meet floor) and the new second half of This Farming Life, which starts off in February – so we are in the calm before the COVID Storm.
Allowed myself to get freaked out by how high the infection rates are in Hereford on Saturday morning, thanks to turning on Facebook. Walking the Bacton Square and visiting Dore Abbey to read R’s Requiem there got things back into perspective.
In the afternoon we made the most of the occasional patch of blue sky to lop some more of the brash, with Phil lugging the more distant stacks closer to the Quarry, then adjourned to the lounge for a lazy late afternoon/early evening featuring the log fire, a bit of a snooze and roast chestnuts.
After a leisurely start to Sunday, Phil and I headed out for a walk – deciding on the 12km or so Tremorithic route. Hatterall’s Ridge was under cloud, but there’s still snow on the lower slopes.
A bit more lopping in the afternoon, then a replay of yesterday evening with the log fire, a bit of a snooze and the rest of the roast chestnuts.
The early spring flowers are starting to emerge – we’ve got bright yellow aconites and more snowdrops showing up, and the daffodil shoots growing taller. I spotted buds on the “smelly evergreen by the railway that I cut back hard last year” too.
Monday morning was a relatively balmy 4C, which was perfect for chainsawing up the bigger chunks of brash. Phil sorted out the outside log store and the stacked wood in the garage. Computed in the afternoon. More “admin”.
And what a year 2020 turned out to be. A global pandemic – ongoing – wasn’t quite what we’d anticipated when we pulled up at the gates of Forty Acres on 02 January with key belongings packed into a Vauxhall Vivaro. A year ago our biggest concern was “would we meet people and make friends?” closely followed by “will the wifi be good enough for remote working?”.
COVID-19 has put both into perspective. In a strange way, lockdown made people extra friendly and chatty whether you crossed paths on a country lane or in a supermarket car park queue, and we have met lots of lovely folks.
And as for wifi, within 3 months of my starting as LW LO’s first permanent remote worker the whole office – the whole firm – was doing the same, with the result that colleagues are completely understanding about tech glitches.
Lockdown + Zoom also made it easier to stay in touch with friends everywhere and although I missed London and friends a lot at the start since the spring I’ve not missed London at all. I am however really looking forward to having people here to stay when that becomes a possibility.
So, what did this week bring?
On Tuesday we woke to light dusting of snow, and what would be a cold week.
A sunny day so we made the most of having warm fingers (and a clever idea from Phil) to manoeuvre back in the two large panes of glass that Storm Bella had blown out of the greenhouse. Encouraged, we made a start on replacing the metal clips with the much smarter bar capping (aka long strips of plastic formed in the same shape as the clips) which we finished up later in the week – well, all bar the roof glazing….
Indoors we completed a DIY double – replacing the fiddly loo roll holders with simple Ikea Bogrunds, and the chunky wooden curtain rail with a slimmer metal one so that the eyelet curtains now swish open and closed in a very satisfying manner.
Just after dark we headed down the road under clear skies and a big bright moon for socially distanced mulled wine and buffet nibbles with Joe and Thea, sat outside with logs burning in the BBQ. Smashing.
Best of all, Dad had his first COVID vaccine jab.
Wednesday was Admin Day, starting with sorting out the car insurance for another 12 months. Getting out of the Hastings Direct auto-renewal was a pain and a half. I shan’t use them again. In contrast doing the same for RAC cover was a breeze. A tale of two contrasting customer experiences.
Admin continued later in the day when my new camera arrived. Unfortunately it turned out to be the wrong model, the Sony DSC-HX90 rather than the all important Sony DSC-HX90V – where the V denotes the GPS feature. Park Cameras customer service has been excellent. No quibbles, super helpful and after asking me to open the box to double check the actual camera model, they organised a DPD collection / return and will be sending out a Sony DSC-HX90V in return.
However until my new camera does arrive, all photos are being taken on my iPhone 4 or iPad 2…
The cold spell continued into Thursday and we had a gorgeous frosty start to the last day of 2020. My iPad ran out of juice as we were out taking photos of the views from Thistly Field, so here’s Phil’s photo of the view west towards Wales:
As the final evening of 2020 commenced I had a NYE Vino Zoomo with Hazel followed by a phone call with dad and Jean to wish them Happy New Year.
Surprisingly we managed to stay up until midnight, helped by a few episodes of The Newsroom (a promising start, but failed to deliver the strong female characters promised by the initial premise), and chocolate. We’re still eating Christmas Day leftovers.
New Year’s Day brought cloud cover so I spent the morning reading and in the afternoon did a happy few hours lopping the loppable brash branches I’d set aside on Wednesday. Larger branches await dad plus chainsaw. Smaller stuff is bonfire-ready.
On Saturday morning we headed up to Ewyas Harold Common with Thea and Joe, armed with a thermos of coffee and some mince pies. Yes, totally Famous Five (if only we had a dog… )! We walked up via the deer farm footpath and on to the benches by the yew trees with views, and down via Dick’s Pitch. On the final stretch through Abbey Dore we met the folks from Wellfield heading in the other direction and so we got an intro to them which was lovely.
There were some icy patches on the roads and the dark grey clouds brought the odd sprinkle of rain/sleet up o the Common and which turned out to be the advance party for the hail / sleet / snow that arrived in the afternoon. I was happily lopping the brash when it suddenly started, and then kept on going. Not much settled though.
(PS Saturday was our 1 year anniversary at Forty Acres.)
Saturday’s snow was a signal for Sunday that temperatures were moving back above freezing. Phil and I headed out under cloudy skies to Kerrys Gate then down to Riverdale and back along the river. Muddy.
More reading in the afternoon. Having finished Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng earlier this week I had moved on to War Lord, the last of Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom series featuring Uhtred of Bebbanburg, which I polished off today, just in time to return to the library on Monday.
Monday afternoon’s Big Shop and Library Click & Collect proved prescient (or rather, we’re now wearily familiar with the Prime Minister’s inability to take difficult decisions and the unofficial murmurs and hints that are used to “warm us up” to them) as national lockdown 3 was announced in the evening. Hoo-rah.
In bird watch news, I’ve been refilling the bird feeders daily with peanuts and seeds, and we’ve got great tits, blue tits, coal tits plus chaffinches, robins and a black bird. The “font” bird bath / water bowl has been frozen most mornings too, so I’ve been replenishing with warm water.
But most excitingly, since Tuesday morning when I first put out the fat balls we have had 3 long tailed tits visiting and they’ve been back pretty much every day. I’ve no idea where they are feeding usually, other than it’s not been with us. It’s lovely. If only I had a camera with a good enough zoom….
The deer have been back, the helicopters too, and the first daffodil shoots have surfaced.
With travel off limits for most of 2020, I can imagine that lots of people have been dreaming of Big Trips for 2021.
I have 🙂
So, for those folks considering going trekking in Nepal – Everest Base Camp do I hear you say? – or similar for the first time, here are some of the key things I’ve learned about doing portered treks over the past 10 years.
Altitude and acclimatisation
Gain height gradually. The Annapurna Circuit was a good trek to start with – a gradual ascent allowing the body to acclimatise steadily. With the road building I’m not sure how much of our route remains road-free. Road walking is no fun with the the dust and fumes generated by local traffic, let alone the risk of a close encounter with a motorbike, bus or other vehicle as it careers along the rutted mud “road”.
You don’t need to be walking though. Even the day long bus ride from seaside Lima to Huaraz (3000 m) works on a similar basis. I still think gaining height by walking has to be better though.
Give yourself time, for your body to generate more red blood cells and to get past the jet lag. I’ve mistaken a jet lag headache for an altitude headache in the past and when they combine they’re extra nasty. Allow yourself a day or two of chilling out at the start of your trip, keeping sightseeing / trekking to a minimum then too, and you will enjoy the rest of the trip much more.
Flying in to Leh (3500m) after l-o-n-g overnight flights from London we spent the rest of the morning catching some shut eye and then relaxing in the garden before Pemba took us out on a short orientation tour of the bazaar.
We had plenty of time in Ladakh, which mean we could spend our first week in Ladakh sightseeing in and around Leh, including a half day walk around the city plus a scramble up to the prayer flag cairns above the Khardung La (5359m). As a result, everyone in our group sailed through the Markha valley trek and its two 5000m – or thereabouts – passes.
Start slow. On more than one occasion I’ve seen fit guys struggle with the need to give their body time to adjust. A Stop/Start approach to hiking at altitude doesn’t do you any good – and it’s not realistic to expect your body to behave the same at 3000m as it does at sea level, even if you are a marathon runner. Starting slower than your think you can go gives your body time to adjust to the reduced O2 and means you’ll be able to speed up sooner.
Drink lots of water / juice / tea, and avoid caffeine (Coke, coffee). I aim for 3 litres a day. I can drink a lot of tea 🙂
I take Diamox with me, but I’ve never needed to take it to acclimatise. I have taken it when a cold or stomach trouble has meant I’ve run out of steam sooner than I would have done had I been 100%. Both times it’s been on the advice of my trusted guide, and with a decade of trekking at altitude holidays behind me.
For headaches do hit, I take paracetamol (1000mg) as soon as poss. Once a headache sets in in earnest it is hard to get rid of. I’ll confess a complete ignorance of paracetamol vs ibuprofen vs aspirin when I started going to altitude. Now my rule of thumb is:
Headache – paracetamol
Muscle aches / pains – ibuprofen
A long flight at the end of stint at altitude – (mini)aspirin. I take 1 the day before the flight, 1 on the day of the flight and 1 the day after to reduce risk of DVT from my red blood cell thickened blood
My top tip would be to take a pair of trekking poles (no point in limiting yourself to one). They are invaluable when descending steep slopes – dirt or snow – and in warding off overly enthusiastic guard dogs.
One thing I didn’t cover in that blogpost and which I get asked about a lot is what camera I use on trek.
For the past 10 years I’ve used a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V. I chose that model because it captures your GPS coordinates when you take a photo, which means my photos map themselves automatically on Flickr. I also wanted a camera that is small and easy to use and which comes with a good zoom plus the option to take panoramas.
If GPS isn’t a key feature for you, then a couple of other friends use and love the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ80.
On my 4 week treks, I take 5-6 spare batteries, fully charged and that usually keeps me going for the duration. To help retain their charge, my batteries and camera join me in my sleeping bag every night.
I sometimes pack my charging kit if a trek mate has a solar charger but we don’t always have time to charge and of course you do need some sun. You can often pay to recharge batteries and other electronics in lodges, but the price gets steeper the more remote you go.
Accommodation: Camping vs lodges / tea houses
The first two treks I went on were classic tea house treks in Nepal – Annapurna Circuit and Everest’s Three High Passes. The lodges were clean and well run with great food and we soon became adept at timing our arrival in the dining room / lounge for the 4pm lighting of the yak stoves.
But the bedrooms were unheated and at night it gets c-o-l-d…. And a room of cold air takes longer to warm up with body heat than a tent does.
So don’t be put off by the idea of camping in the Himalayas. All my treks since 2013 have been in tents. By and large the tents have been three person ones, plenty of room for a kit bag each and two sleeping bags plus thermarests.
Camping lets you venture further from the main trails and tweak your route as you go. And if camp does happen to be at a lodge, then you get to enjoy the food, company and stove there too.
Away from lodges, a dining tent has provided the place for meals and socialising and in small groups has doubled up as the kitchen too.
What about the bathroom? I hear you ask….
Tea houses etc will have loos and campsites will usually have toilet blocks. Both will be basic!
In the absence of local facilities, there has been a loo tent. And from personal experience toilet tent zips do have a tendency to jam. I have known fellow trekkers who have had to commando crawl out in an emergency… A trick I learned from Chhiring on our Dolpo trek is to rub a candle over the zip – that sorts out the dust that often causes the jams.
A bowl of washing water in the evening lets you get rid of most of the sweat, dirt and sun cream that accumulates during a day’s trekking. A small towelling glove flannel, a small piece of soap or shower gel – a complimentary bottle of the generic stuff you get in hotels usually does me for one trek (3-4weeks) – and I use a microfibre cloth as a towel – again as small as possible, you’re not going to be wearing it as a bath sheet, and the priority is having something that’s quick and easy to dry. If still damp (or frozen) in the morning, I fix the flannel and towel to my daypack with a couple of safety pins.
In the morning, a wet wipe wash starts the day. Biodegradeable wipes can be hard to come by, but you should make the effort given you’re likely going to bury or bin them once used.
I usually don’t bother to wash my hair while I’m on trek, but the metal bowls of warm water work for that too. You can pay to use the showers in tea houses too. Be warned that solar showers need some sun to heat the water…
Keeping warm at night
Keeping warm at night hasn’t turned out to be a problem for me, but I know it can be for others.
A few tips:
Don’t get cold before you go to bed.
A shared space is warmer than a solo space – two bodies doing the central heating.
Don’t be tempted to wear all your clothes to stay warm – it’s back to body heat: you need to heat up your sleeping bag before your bag can keep you warm in return. If you’re cold, it’s better to lay your down / fleece jacket over the top of your sleeping bag rather than putting it on. A Thermarest should insulate you from the ground.
Your water bottles can double up as hot water bottles overnight and provide cold water for drinking over night and the following day.
Make sure the bottles are fastened tight and get them into your sleeping bag ASAP and let them do the warming up before you have to. I usually wrap my PJs around the bottles and then put them right at the foot of my sleeping bag before loosely rolling the rest of the bag around this core.
I use metal bottles, so wrapping them up not only warms my clothes but also means that I avoid getting burnt overnight.
If the bottle is still too hot to touch when you get into bed, wrap it with your next day’s clothes.
On trek I get 10-12 hours sleep a night, compared with 8 hours back home.
I’m usually in bed by 8pm, and morning bed tea (and, on some treks, a bowl of warm washing water too) usually arrives sometime between 6.30am-8am depending on the day ahead, the weather and how shaded the camping spot is (sunny spots allow al fresco breakfasts as well as earlier starts).
I’ve never found a pair of ear plugs which stay in my ears / work, but if I could then I would pack them every time. Night time disturbances have ranged from snoring tent mates to wind chimes to barking dogs to a 4am dawn chorus. That said, I’ve slept through helicopter landings and the blood curdling death screams of a monkey being killed by a jaguar. So!
Being Sociable vs Personal Downtime
One of the things I enjoy about trekking is the afternoon / early evening downtime at camp when the group usually gathers in the tent or dining room for tea, biscuits and a bit of socialising.
In some groups Scrabble has dominated, but you need to make sure everyone is of a similar-ish standard or else it’s no fun. For mixed language groups, dice win out. Ten Thousand is the game of choice, with a side order of Yahtzee if someone can remember the list of things and their scores. Card games with easy rules, like Rummy, work too.
I’m a pretty sociable person but I need a bit of quiet time every now and then.
I’m a big reader, and I usually pack a book or two but I rarely read on trek (unless I’ve embarked on a complete page turner on the flight). Books are what I often leave behind in the hotel or when we have the chance to lighten the load for part of the trek. If you’re a Kindle convert, then that’s obviously a great way to carry a lot of reading at little weight. You’ll need to figure out when/how to recharge your device though.
Instead I’ll often settle into my sleeping bag and enjoy having the time to think back over the trek so far, or to plan ahead. I’ll often go on a Mind Ramble™ or two, letting my brain wander at will….
… which is how this blogpost originated.
If I’ve left any burning question(s) unanswered – and I’m sure I have – then feel free to email me.
Spent more time than I wanted to getting the car MOTed, which took out large chunks of Monday (21st) and Tuesday, plus a return for the retest on Wednesday. Next time we’ll go local.
At least on Tuesday Phil came with me and we walked along the Hereford Greenway from Rotherwas into the City centre. It was lovely discovering older parts of Hereford, particularly the Victorian Villas of Bartonsham and Castle Green. It felt like a different city!
Tuesday’s day out in Hereford was bookended by Birthday Zooms with Hazel and friends – coffee in the morning, wine and crisps in the evening.
We woke to fog on Wednesday, then rain. Lots of rain. Reorganised my office in the afternoon – partly to be closer to the radiator 🙂
When I came to take some pics, I discovered to my dismay that my trusty 10 year old Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V had broken. When you turn it on, a vertical crack and green line appears on the display screen 🙁 I don’t know how that happened – it’s survived countless tumbles and hard use on all my treks since the Three High Passes to Everest, when I dropped it on the muddy stony trail from Trakshindo. I bought a replacement later in the week – Sony Cybershot HX90V, which is the most recent successor model that has GPS (not many cameras offer that these days), plus 4 new batteries.
And Wednesday also brought the announcement that we’re back into Tier 2 from 00.01am on Saturday 26 December aka Boxing Day. Thanks “BoJo” for the ongoing shit show.
While Phil and I had been out on Tuesday, dad and Jean had come to inspect the greenhouse, and for a stroll – during which they spotted the first snowdrops, down by the willow tree trunk and beyond the “rose garden”. Christmas Eve sunshine brought out lots more shoots from bulbs by the bird feeders.
I now have reading glasses. Sigh.
Christmas day at 40A started with coffee and croissants, then a lovely walk round via Cockyard, complete with icy stretches on the way to Kerrys Gate, then presents which turned out to contain lots of tasty treats. So we opted for cheese and biscuits for lunch, with our Festive Feast coming in a little after 6pm.
There are plenty of leftovers and we didn’t have any room for Christmas pud, although we did manage some choc truffles. And cheese. Both quite a bit later in the evening.
In the week’s weather watch, Storm Bella on Saturday night managed to remove two of the big panes of glass from the greenhouse, thankfully leaving them unscathed. Not sure how we’ll get them back in – but if they came out with wind power, there has to be a way!
And on Monday mid-morning: SNOW!
My oldest friend died in the early hours of Sunday morning. She just made her 51st birthday and had been peacefully unconscious at home for the past week.
It was a beautiful sunny day so Phil and I went out for a walk up along Tremorithic Road in the morning and had a quiet afternoon. In the evening we raised a glass to family and friends and happy memories with Dad and Jean and Tom, Jo, Barney and Rosa.
Telly: We watched the final episode of We Are Who We Are which I didn’t find at all satisfying. I have enjoyed the Blood Orange series soundtrack though. Leaving Italy we returned to London and the world of Investment Banking in the City, which provided better viewing – Industry came with high production values drama plus a little bit escapist, even if they don’t seem entirely sure if Pierpoint & Co are based in The City or The Wharf. The offices to the east of Liverpool Street Station certainly seem a popular location though – they’ve featured in one of the recent Bond films too.