Monday, 12 March 2012

A Happy Homecoming

Last week was a big week for me. For several days I had been hugging some wonderful news to myself, all the while chasing about to pack a week's work into just three days before my other half and I were due to depart for a long weekend away in Prague. I had organised the trip as his Christmas surprise, timed as it was for early March to coincide with our 21st wedding anniversary, making the extravagance just a little more justifiable. As it happens the celebration was a joint one. Thursday morning arrived, bags were hastily tucked into the boot of the car, a brief farewell waved to the teens and off we went, just as that wonderful news broke on Twitter and Facebook. The Cotswolds Tourism Awards 2012 winners were made public 30 minutes before I hopped off to the Czech Republic. I felt a little like a traitor - off to play tourist in another country all the while overjoyed to have been honoured with the title "Cotswold Tourism Business of the Year 2012". It is my privilege to be the one who gets to write fun ways of encouraging people to explore, discover, appreciate and learn about all that Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds has to offer so to be rewarded with this award is humbling. Someone commented (rather naively) on my award's coloured  rinse. Perhaps they don't appreciate the link between our glorious honeyed stone and our sheep - but I love her. Please meet Cotsie, of whom I'm very proud.

Back in Prague, we had been told that four days was about right to take in the "Golden City". We departed armed with our guide to the Top 10 in almost every category you could imagine, from historical sites to restaurants, from attractions to things to avoid and from cafes to nightclubs. The city is compact enough to explore on foot and so we spent our days in walking shoes strolling the cobbles. For miles and miles we oooh'd and ahhh'd at the truly magnificent architecture, wishing we were more familiar with the history and development of the country and its people, soaking up the information shared in our guide book and hanging on every translation where given in English to explain what we were enjoying. It made me realise, in case I had for one moment forgotten, that a good route, with the best bits highlighted, an opportunity to engage with what you're seeing and a few gems of historical and cultural interest can really make a tourist's visit to a new destination (rather like a Treasure Trail in fact) #blatantplugwithawink 

As it happens, I'm clearly not the only one who agrees. We landed back in the UK last night. Having had only limited access to the internet since Thursday I powered up even as Stephen was driving back from the airport only to be greeted by a flurry of emails as is so often the case on a Sunday evening. This is the day when the majority of online answer submissions come in. At the end of every Trail we remind customers to submit their answer online for a chance to win the anual £1000 prizedraw. This is furthermore their opportunity to tell us what they thought, whether they would recommend us to a friend and, importantly, how we could improve our service. If I hadn't already had quite a wonderful week and a fabulous few days away, the weekend was topped off by these three comments, all from different happy Trailers on separate occasions from varying destinations across my patch:
"Really good and enjoyed it, keep doing what you are doing", "It was excellent just the way it was. Brilliant fun" and "You cannot improve on perfection". How lovely is that?

And so, back to work with renewed vigour. Happy days.

Monday, 30 January 2012

A Busman's Holiday

I think it's fair to say I put in a few too many late nights last week! I find I'm at my most creative when the house has gone quiet leaving just me and my laptop to whirr away into the wee small hours, and last week I was putting the finishing touches to That Project, the subject of last October's epic expedition - yes, The Cotswold Way Companion Trail is nearing publication and was keeping me up. That's the good news. The less than welcome outcome, however, of burning the midnight oil was a rather grumpy me by day, drained of meaningful conversation and with amends to make. And then I saw the weather forecast.....

Come Saturday it seemed I was right in my fatigue-induced and recent rather gloomy prediction that we haven't escaped winter at all, merely dodged it temporarily, and that the freeze was on it's way. Well that did it!, that and the fact that I'd been reviewing all the photographs of the Cotswold Way adventure of the hottest Autumn on record, and recalling the peace and exhilaration of the long distance walk. "Let's spend the day together on Sunday, just the two of us, while we can! Let's pack a scarf and a sarnie and just go!"

We decided to head 'out of patch' (which, for the uninitiated means not Gloucestershire) and towards the Malvern Hills. The fog was lingering and the temperature gauge reluctant to rise but undaunted we agreed to a route of around 12 miles or so and set off. You'll perhaps be wondering why this should be considered a Busman's Holiday? That's because, (gosh, it feels like confessing an addition) I couldn't resist the temptation and our walk was in fact .... a Treasure Trail. This time I disguised my thirst for clue solving in an offer to give my fellow Trail Writers from nearby Herefordshire and Worchestershire's best seller a winter once over. We do this, from time to time. The Malvern Hills Driving Trail is approx 12 miles all told but you may have spotted our deliberate mistake - normally it's driven, with a few hops and skips out of the car at strategic points along the way to crack a clue or twenty - but we wanted the walk. Thankfully it works just as well on foot and we had a great time. One of the highlights was meeting a family out and about following the same Treasure Trail. It was great to see Mum, Dad and the two children all engaged together, saying all the things that we Trail Writers love to hear - "such a great idea", "wish we'd found Treasure Trails sooner", "you should get them stocked in all the local hotels". We're working on it...

Yes, there's something very special about walking. People smile and say hello (it's as if a pair of boots makes you part of a new and friendly family), and the calories that accumulate on the pedometer are another bonus (surprising how many you can burn over 12 miles. Chuck in a hill or two and even a bar of chocolate is, for once, an almost sin-free treat). And the post expedition glow? I love the sense of achievement, the twinge of well used muscles and the fresh air induced great night's sleep that follows. So now I'm fully restored and back to my usual self. Maybe I could just sneak in a few hours late tonight being creative...ooops!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Z is for Zero

Day Zero dawned dry and overcast in South Gloucestershire. With only 10 miles remaining and a county border to cross, we tucked into our final hearty breakfast (how many times did I plan to decline the full English only to find myself feeling sorry for our hostess and accepting - that breakfast is the B&B owner's pride and joy, and it would have been churlish to refuse).

The 'find' of the day was definitely the Landsdown Battlefields, clearly demarked by flags at each corner and brought to life by fascinating information boards - a Trail writer's delight if ever there was.

Descending into Bath I began having mixed feelings. The holiday and the adventure were almost over. The sense of excitement in finishing the Trail was building with every step whilst alongside was the knowledge that we would no longer be living the simple life - wake, walk, breathe fresh air, dine, sleep - and as the city came into view before us I wasn't sure whether to speed up or slow down. In the end my creaking joints and tired muscles made the decision for me...but at 2.30pm on Saturday 8th October 2011 we arrived at Bath Abbey!

104 miles, 9 days, 8 fabulous overnight accommodation providers, 1 faultless baggage transfer service and no serious injuries later The Cotswold Way was behind us. Now all that remains is for me to finish writing the Companion Treasure Trail and to thank all those of you who have followed this adventure. In particular I'd like to mention the Treasure Trails Gang who are working feverishly to grow the catalogue of exciting and fun ways to discover more about our great country, our family and friends, son and daughter who are now old enough to be taxi drivers to start and finish, and the latter for training to administer the oh-so-welcome foot massage on return home. Most of all however, I'd like to thank Stephen for driving forward and lapping up this adventure and for his encouragement, support and tolerance of his co-walker. The experience will be a lifetime memory.

Now what shall I do next?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Friday - Day 8

As we were walking today I took a ‘phone call from a friend who had forgotten we were away adventuring. There we were, crossing a field, somewhere between Tormarton and Dyrham and I’m chatting to my pal in Brighton – it makes you think. Later,  as we called in at Dyrham Park (NT) for a spot of lunch, we each checked emails, sent the odd text and reflected again on the mild inconvenience of staying in a village without access to the internet on our final night. It’s easy to take technology for granted. That said, I think it’s probably even easier to be complacent about the magnificence of our own sceptred isle and why I'm do delighted that the trend towards the staycation has been a positive outcome of the economic downturn.  It's also what I love about Treasure Trails. Our fundamental mission is to encourage as many people as possible to get out and about, exploring, appreciating all that the UK has to offer whilst enjoying working together, having fun, in the fresh air. If this week has done nothing else then it has at least underscored that there are endless places that we should and could be appreciating more and by writing a Cotswold Way Companion Trail I’m hoping to be able to incorporate some of the Gloucestershire gems that would otherwise probably be missed on a standard Trail. How popular it will be remains to be seen but it's been fun in the creating.

We were rather dragged back to reality today. Suddenly the world reemerged before our very eyes - from narrow lanes, fields and escarpments which had dominated the landscape and our surroundings for the past several days, today we were faced with busy roads. As lorries hurtled past through Old Sodbury, we later crossed the M4 and the noise of the nearby A46 buzzed in our ears for a large part of the day it was apparent that our end goal really was now not that far away. Suddenly the absence of wifi in the remote village of Cold Ashton seemed like a blessing. Even my daughter remarked recently that whilst her iphone had been out of action she had returned to the joys of reading a book but this had only struck her once the said piece of technology was fully functionning again. So anyway, apologies if you missed me.

On Friday evening, I was talking to real people.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Not long now... Day 7

Yesterday evening, during the power cuts in Wotton, I called my Mum. Naturally she’s interested in what we’re doing and where we are but what she really wants to know is how we’re feeling, and by that she means our health. Ever the dutiful daughter and brought up to tell the truth I confessed that I had been suffering a little during the day with cramp. Mum is of the generation which would suck on nutmeg for toothache and treat a burn with a bicarbonate of soda poultice and although she’s often right, I would generally go away and research her suggestions (as much out of curiosity as to validate what might otherwise, in the new millennium, be considered slightly wacky ideas) but I wasn’t able to do that so, smiling to myself, I simply did as I was told. Earlier I had learned that my blogging progress through the alphabet has generated a little interest and indeed some are having fun pre-empting what might be coming next. It was for this reason as much as any other that I was grateful to Mum for solving a small conundrum and hopefully for keeping my readers on their toes. We headed for the bar and with no further hesitation, I followed instructions. Cheers Mum (and Mr Schweppes). Her orders were to increase my intake of quinine!
Today’s walking has had a rather different feel to it. Thankfully we were back in shorts but the terrain ahead was described as ‘lacking in as much drama’ as in previous days. Apart from climbing out of Wotton under Edge up to Tor Hill for a fine view over Nanny Farmer’s Bottom, much of the 13 miles has been across open countryside, via the occasional small village and up and down through woodland. Perhaps with fewer of those 1s and 2s to concern me (ref yesterday), I spent quite some time thinking about the variety of underfoot surfaces we have experienced and their impact on the long distance walker ( – nothing seems to affect Stephen). Long grass requires picking your feet up or wet socks depending on the weather, dry leaves hide sneaky tree roots, wet ones can be treacherously slippery,  thin mud makes me feel slightly insecure, thick mud cakes your boots making them weigh more, dung is, well, dung, and don’t get me started on stones which seem to lie in wait for me to try turning an ankle or losing my footing at every opportunity. I was therefore particularly grateful to those long gone drovers who left the legacy of a wonderfully wide, flat, smooth mile or so along which we passed early afternoon. For once I was able to walk sure-footed and really look around, rather than where I was putting my feet, to appreciate the magnificent views.  Good on’ya drovers.
By now the monument to General Lord Robert Somerset (thank you for having perfect initials) was behind us and ahead lay St Adeline in Little Sodbury where Tyndale is honoured. It is fitting that he should be my T since today is the 475th anniversary of the date on which he was martyred for translating the bible into English.
In the past 7 days we’ve enjoyed unbelievable views and it’s been a wonderful experience. If you’re confused however as to why I’m rather force fitting this commentary and racing through the alphabet with 19 miles and 2 days still to go it’s because it’s unlikely that we’ll have access to a wifi connection tomorrow so this may be my last post before Saturday. I hope you’ll join me for a final time then, to conclude our adventure.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Day 6 - en route to Wotton under Edge

I lost my hat today. I've got to say that I don't much like wearing hats and I am certainly not a fan of baseball caps, on anyone, least of all myself. Stephen once commented that a baseball cap made my head look disproportionately small (I've tried looking for the silver lining in this comment, believe me) but whatever the case I was the owner of a baseball cap, until today. I think I only ever wore it when I first purchased it and earlier this week - it has to be pretty hot for me to concede defeat - in fact rather like it was both a few days ago and in Florida 10 years ago. I bought it whilst we were at Universal Studios and as such it had the inevitable logo splashed across the front (another thing I really don't much approve of) but at least this wasn't a sports team or a fashion house brand. Anyway, it's now gone. I'm not sure if it decided to go hang gliding off Cam Long Down, take in the longer scenic route around Stinchcombe Golf Course or took a wrong turn somewhere in Westridge Wood but having been tied firmly to my pack since last worn on Monday it's now no-where to be seen. I liked it, but I confess not enough to go back and look for it. After 13 miles including battling the elements today I had to let it go. If anyone happens to find it and return it, there's a free Treasure Trail on offer as a thank you, but I won't hold my breath.

By some literary miraculous coincidence we walked both past neolithic Nympsfield long barrow and through North Nibley - very helpful (I wish I could say I engineered that but I didn't).

On a separate note, in the marvellous little Trailblazer book we're following, hills are denoted not by contour lines but by little arrows, like this: ------>----- or ------>>----- the number of arrows signifying the severity of the slope and their direction, whether this is up or down. We have come to refer to these as number ones and number twos! I giggle to myself every time Stephen tells me there's a number 2 coming up but the smile doesn't last long. Both the steep uphill climbs and the steep downhill totters are opportunites for him to scamper off and leave me until I huff and puff or stumble to join him at the end. Today there have been quite a few - so my O is for Ouch.

The pricey plastic coat came out of it's little bag today too. Crumbs it was blowy up top and battling against wind and rain up steep hills is even harder work but nevertheless we've arrived at the end of day 6 intact, if a little soggy. Somehow, and I know it's ridiculous, but having past half way it DOES rather feel like we're on the downhill stretch now.

Right I'm going to have to stop - Wotton has been engulfed by a power cut and I'm running on battery power - but before I finish I thought I'd just tell you what the logo was on my baseball cap. I always thought it rather fitting, kind of summed me up really. You might recall the film and, if you'd been at Univeral Studios back then, would probably have been on the ride. It said - "The Mummy" - that's me.

Night night.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

What! The L ....?

If I had needed an alphabetical hook on which to hang today's commentary I would have need look no further than Lead Legs and Lethargy. You'd have thought that after 4 days I'd have got the post-walk stretch and the sleep patterns down to a tee but evidently something didn't quite go to plan and today, from the outset, I could tell it was going to be a toughie. It was a shame actually since we had fewer miles to cover and the weather was far better suited to an up-hill, down-dale itinerary - in theory therefore, an easier day. Nevertheless, here we are in Kings Stanley, tired, but tomorrow is another day.

And anyway, I didn't need any help with my thoughts for today - L was already decided. Today I was walking for Lynne. We even decided to take the longer scenic route over Selsey Common into 'base'. Despite being more than a little weary, the way I looked at it, if she had needed a kidney I'd have donated one. Somehow it seemed appropriate, therefore, however sore MY feet were today, to walk the extra mile. Lynne is my sister. I've just heard that all went well and recovery can now begin.

Today was memorable in other ways too. M marked a milestone - we reached the Midway point. From here on in we have fewer miles in front of us than behind. If I'd have had it my way there would have been a big fat chalk line across the path to mark it properly but that was never going to happen. As it was, for a period of about 3 miles I drove Stephen mad continuously asking if it was marked on the map or whether he felt we'd passed IT. In the end, I decided for myself that the top of Haresfield Beacon was as good a place as any to mark the moment and set the auto-timer on my camera to record our achievement.

Long day tomorrow....