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Back in white pyjamas

19 Nov

IMG_2414So there I was, nervous and uncomfortable, barefoot in a Peterborough gymnasium, clad only in a pair of white pyjamas. The floor cold and hard, adrenaline spiking in my veins. The only source of comfort and security was the belt wrapped round my waist – my name and my old club embroidered on it – that and the months of extra training I’d put in during lockdown, pacing up and down my living room as I practiced. Somewhere in that practice I had tapped into muscle memory, and what I knew slowly started to flow back. They say that what you learn never truly leaves you. They say that any art practiced for ten thousand hours makes you a master. I’m no master – maybe I’d not spent ten thousand hours in practice, but four or five hours a week in class (at least) plus everyday practice for over ten years had made me solidly proficient.

Flashback: When my eldest son was younger, we rocked up to a traditional Shotokan karate class at a nearby school having seen an advert in the local paper. Some very tough years of training followed, with one or two injuries, and struggles with co-ordination, flexibility, speed and my innate lack of timing.. but eventually both he and I made it to our coveted black belt. And a couple of years later, I graduated again as a second dan black belt. But when I set up my own business, something had to give and, sadly, at that time karate was the thing I ended up giving up. But it felt as if a part of me had gone missing.

They say that black belts are masters. They say black belts are the ultimate fighting machines. Black belts know they are not. They know they are just at the beginning of the journey – that the only thing they had achieved after years of training was simply the right to be on that journey – and I had taken time out from that path to focus on other things.. important things, for sure, but now it was time to get back into the dojo, to put the gi back on and to train hard again. This was a new club, new instructor, new syllabus, and a new beginning.

IMG_2403And in the end, I was better than I feared, and probably even better than I had hoped. I could hold my own – not particularly because I had the skills, but because I had the determination to make it happen, and because that which you’ve learned never does really leave you. I had done my preparation work – reviewing what I had learned before, practicing over and over again in my cramped training space. I’d re-read my old books, watched the videos and went through my old applications and bunkai. But in the end it came down to turning up one day, leaving my pride, my ego and my fears outside the dojo doors, and starting again.

I’m nowhere near as good as I used to be – but it’s coming back, piece by piece, as I install new memories of old favourite katas and of fearsome sparring drills. My flexibility and speed need some attention, and there are katas to refamiliarise myself with, but there is progress, simply because I had chosen to turn up and try.

And suddenly, in that moment in the dojo, there was a deep knowing, and a deep sense of calm settled on me – something felt fundamentally right – as if I was putting a shard of who I am back in its right place. S it is that every time I pull the heavyweight white cotton fast around my shoulders, every time I tie the simple ties securely at my side, and especially when I knot that precious black belt firmly round my waist, I know I have come home, and that a piece of my life – a piece of who I am – is back where it belongs.


A long way from home . . or, Plan B!

21 Oct

Around Hartington (5)Time for a bike ride – but somehow my heart and my legs just aren’t in it. What’s more news from home suggests I might be of more value back there – Ripley is missing me and needs to go for walks. A quick 10 kilometres this morning will do it, then I pack my kit up and leave early. There’s still plenty of loveliness in the Peaks, and I route myself down to the south. Around Hartington (2)Reality starts to kick in – a half hour delay on the M1, stuck behind a tanker for five miles.. although I do manage to remember to pick up some oatcakes in Ashbourne.

A brief stop to lay some flowers on my mother’s grave…

Photo 2020-10-20 17.08.51And home to a pupper who’s very glad to see me.

It’s been a great adventure. Strange, because of the COVID-19 crisis, but sometimes that’s been an advantage. There are more adventures to be had on this beautiful island, more wonders and marvels to see. I need to travel in Wales a little more, and there’s still a big tour of Scotland to be done, but I feel as if I can at least tick one of my dream goals for 2020 off the list.


Hartington – Ashbourne – Crick – Home

On the road again.. or, Northumberland to Derbyshire in one not so easy lesson

21 Oct

Back in the car again, and time to head back south. As you might expect, I don’t go the easy way..

Cross the Pennines (19)First off I drop down back to Alston, following a similar route to yesterday’s bike ride. It’s funny seeing where the cycle path crosses the road and dodges back into fields and woods on the old train track. The South Tyne disappears, and I find myself alongside the Tees in Teesdale, a wide glacial valley that takes me all the way down to infamous Barnard Castle. I’d wanted to stop at High Force waterfall, but there seems to be a film crew in attendance, so it’s onwards again. Now it’s time to zig again, and I cross right back over for a brief flirtation with Cumbria and dropping into County Durham before zooming back across the North Pennines for a while.

There’s something tremendously peaceful about travelling alone – there’s no need for words, no need to remark on what I’m seeing. Our words can limit our experience, and sometimes, it’s not necessary to use them – beauty just coalesces in a thumping torrent just above my heart, threatening to overwhelm it with majesty and gorgeousness.

Cross the Pennines (5)Butter Tubs pass is almost overwhelming – up until this point the roads have been beautiful, tranquil, lovely – but Butter Tubs cannot fail to impress with twists and turns to map onto to sheer drops and high cliffs.

Hawes (2)A stop for coffee in Hawes – the town comes to a standstill when hundreds of sheep are driven through the main street, herded by four collies and one little collie pup in training. This is quite clearly a regular town occurrence.

Ribblehead Viaduct (2)Another quick stop to photograph the Ribblehead viaduct snaking across the valley, and then time to drop down to the Peaks. We’re out of the parks, but my old friends Skipton and Keighley are still lovely, and there’s even a pretty bypass route round Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield, although I’m continually fighting Batman the satnav: once we’ve agreed a route he then decides he knows better and reroutes us without telling me he’s changed his mind.  We are going to have words at some point. “Turn around when possible.. let’s keep the Joker guessing”.

To The Peaks (13)Finally we edge into the Peak district, rising to cross Holme Moss. It’s windy here, and I’m not hanging around. Now it’s reservoir country. half a dozen reservoirs mark my path on the way down to Glossop. Batman routes me away from the route I wanted to take – on retracing my steps I find that Snake Pass is actually shut, and so as evening gathers I drop down into Chapel-en-le-Frith and then into my home for the night at Hartington Hall. It’s been a long, beautiful and awe inspiring day.


Once Brewed – Alston – Middleton in Teesdale – Barnard’s Castle – Reeth – Hawes – Ingleton – Keighley – Holmfirth – Glossop – Hartington

Down to the river we’d ride . . Trails and tracks

18 Oct

Bike Ride to Alston (23)Sunday, and it’s a great day to be alive. I skip breakfast and drive a few miles to Haltwhistle. Disappointingly, the name has nothing to do with railways and everything to being a hill at the conflux of two rivers. Equally, Fourstones has nothing to do with Jagger and crew, although I guess originally there were five of them…

Anyway, the plan for the day is to cycle down to Alston for late breakfast on the Pennine Trail and then cycle back on the South Tyneside Trail by the river.

Bike Ride to Alston (5)And it’s spectacular. Most of the route is on converted railway tracks – little tree lined avenues of trees transformed into their Autumn colours. I pass the occasional hiker and dog walker, but the trail is pretty much deserted.

The outbound trail rises and falls – there are steep climbs to tax my muscles while the morning cold continues to gnaw at my fingertips. One moment I am looking down at the Tyne below me – the next I am riding alongside it.

Bike Ride to Alston (7)The trail becomes less direct as I near my destination though – weaving around the hillside as if hesitating to make a final commitment to the descent into Alston. Eventually I drop into the village and climb the steep high street.

Late breakfast is not going to happen in Alston though –  despite being a popular spot for bikers, there is little open to feed them – most of them end up outside the Spar.

But a little shop furnishes me with coffee and a scone, and I am content. And I’ve made it – just – into Cumbria.  I briefly flirt with following the river to its source, about ten miles further upstream, but decide against it.

Lambey Viaduct (2)The way back starts out easier – gravel track runs alongside the South Tyneside Railway line, a 2’ gauge recreational line. It’s popular with local walkers, but they seem surprised when a cyclist waits for them to pass. There are a few kinks in the route, most notably at Slaggyford where it diverts briefly from the line, but eventually the gravel stops and the steps begin, as I drop down to the river itself. I cross on a little footbridge and watch children and dogs playing in the puddles around the main viaduct over the river. It does not occur to me until much later that I need to be on top of that viaduct. Eventually I find a route back up to the top – slipping and sliding over mud banks, smooth pebbles and broken tree trunks, I pray that one particular tree, the ground eroded around its roots, stays in place long enough for me to pass.

Back on the path, it’s a straight shot back to Halfwhistle, and back to the car. Another brilliant day, another 50 km or so cycled, and a lot of beautiful scenery seen.

Sycamore Gap (3)I have a couple of hours of daylight left, which I put to good use zipping up the B6318, a beautifully straight road that leads me through more beautiful hills, and past the iconic Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall, a valley formed by glacial action and now occupied by a single, rather spectacular sycamore. I didn’t expect to get this shot, so, although better photographers than I have got better images with better light, I am content with this snap from the road, the tree branches silhouetted proudly against the evening sky..

Steel Rigg (2)And I divert off to another view of the Wall, at Steel Rigg, Here the cliffs become themselves part of the defences against the Scots.

So back to the hostel. In celebration I will drink a couple of pints of Sycamore Gap IPA at the local brewery tonight. Tomorrow I start to make my way home. It’s been a fabulous few days here in Northumberland, and I am already planning how to return. No dark skies tonight though – the rain has returned, and I suspect it will accompany me south tomorrow…


Starlight, Starbright.. or, it isn’t over ‘til it’s over.

17 Oct

Robson Green's Tales from Northumberland TV show set to ...One of the reasons for coming out to Northumberland is that I love the night sky. It fills me with possibility, with wonder, with awe just to gaze up into the sky and imagine what it’s like. Those stars captured as they were years ago: we see Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to Earth (apart from our own sun) as it was four years ago. For some of the stars visible to the naked eye, that light has been travelling for decades. Polaris, the North Star, is 400 years ago – while Hubble has seen into the Eagle Nebula, which we see as it was 7000 years ago. These incredible distances fill my being with a sense of wonder and awe – I can’t even begin to imagine what that is in real terms, only to gasp at the mindboggling enormity of it all. And as Douglas Adams put it:

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

So Northumberland is one of the UK’s dark skies locations – away from big towns and light sources, the sky is really dark. And of course, when I visit, it’s full of cloud.

As I wander back from the pub, I look up, and while clouds do lazily trace their way across the sky, it’s reasonably clear, and I am just filled with gratitude as to how beautiful it is. I lean back and just drink in the wonder and beauty of it all, the scale, the vastness, the utter gorgeousness of the stars set twinkling against the blackness of infinite space. Unbelievably beautiful. And then, just when my heart is breaking from the sheer beauty of it all, a meteor lazily traces its way across the sky, bigger, brighter, slower and more beautiful than any I have ever seen in my life. Today has been a good day, a day of deepening understanding and increasing wisdom.. and this is just what I need to drop me into glorious Wordlessness.

And I am happy. I will have to come back for clear skies and wonder, but for today, this will do.


(Pictures definitely not mine – chosen to illustrate the post)

Relax. Don’t do it. Or, a peaceful day of crosswords and contentment

17 Oct

Halfcastle and the Tyne (2)No stretch today. An easy day where I’ll drive down to town, get a paper, and then chill.

Things to read, things to consider, and a trip into Halfcastle reveals a nice little cycle trail for tomorrow, and a cute litttle railway signal box.. and a fisherman… and the rest of the day is taken up with sorting, organising and otherwise getting things in order. And doing the crossword.


Halfcastle and the Tyne (1)Halfcastle station

I want to ride my bicycle . . . wheels across Northumberland

17 Oct

This blog post was brought to you by the numbers 68 and 72 and by the letters N & B.

Northumberland Cycle - Hadrian's Wall (3)I’ve decided to stay on in Once Brewed for a couple of extra nights – which means that I will be able to get a big loop cycle ride in. Conveniently, there’s a couple of cycle routes that run around the local area, so it’s on to the bike and off. The first part of the route is up. Very up. We’re a long way from the nice flat cycling of The Fens here. But it’s all achingly beautiful – on a bike you cover more miles than you do on foot, but you’re never disconnected from the scenery, and it’s all too easy to stop for a better view. Occasionally (or possibly frequently) a wrong turn is taken, but it never takes long to get back on the map.

Northumberland Cycle (3)So, up we go, past proud Hadrian’s Wall and into the hills and dales of Northumberland. The hard slog of ‘up’ is replaced by the joy and delight of ‘down’ as I whizz down the first of several long descents, grinning wildly and shouting ‘Cowabunga’…

I stop for a rare geocache pickup as  wheel by – I manage not to slide into the ditch, but plunge spectacularly into the icy waters of an unnoticed bog. My feet are now both wet and freezing cold.

Northumberland Cycle (4)More ‘up’ and I am facing the point where Route 68 ceases to be a road..But where we’re going we don’t need roads…. Instead the trail becomes a loosely gravelled path through pine forests and over the top of Watch Hill and Hay Hill.

The loggers are out, neat piles of timber stacked ready for the trucks that will take them away to the factories and lumberyards.

Northumberland Cycle (12)Then the track is over and we’re back on the tarmac again and onto the National Bikeway. Past more cottages and through pretty villages, I decide to do a slightly longer loop down by the river – knowing full well that the price of descending to the river will be to climb again.

Northumberland Cycle (7)There are more beautiful autumn colours to be found – every shade of leaf seems to be out today.

Northumberland Cycle - Tyneside (2)Into the tiny hamlet of Warden and down to the Tyne where I stop for lunch and pause to take in the river. It’s wide but fast flowing here, as it bubbles over its shallow bed.

The climb back up is a chance to talk to the sheep – until the slope finally defeats me and I decide to walk a little – looking down on another tranquil yet beautiful little farming community.

And finally back to Once Brewed – a hot shower and a hot meal await, although the pub is full and I have to drive into the nearest town to treat myself to fish and chips.

I think I will take tomorrow a little easier!


All the leaves are brown . . one day, three national parks

15 Oct

Falling Foss Waterfall (3)Time to move on. I pack everything back into the car and set off on the next leg of my journey – but I’ve been told that I should visit Falling Foss waterfall before I leave, so I do. It’s a fabulously tranquil spot – the waterfall is lovely but the surrounding woods by the side of a burbling and lively river are also a joy. The trees are starting to turn a wide range of browns and reds now, and the waterfall seems to be in full flow. The rain hits, and I decide to get on my way.

To Northumberland (31)Still following the bikers’ routes, I head off  across towards the centreline of the country. There are plenty of direct routes to get where I am going, but this is not a day for taking them, This is a day for savouring those swooping, soaring roads that take you a bit off the beaten track but still allow you to make progress. Some of them are straightline roads through open country. Some of them twist and turn as they hug the sides of hills, or weave their way through tiny villages. All of them are beautiful.

To Northumberland (21)I shun Darlington and Middlesborough for a line that drops me right into the middle of the Yorkshire Dales, stopping off at Aysgarth for another waterfall. My route takes me up through the centre of the Dales and into the North Pennines. It’s all too gorgeous to describe.

To Northumberland (11)I see sheep huddled in the lee of a wall high on the Pennines. There’s a sign that exhorts me to ‘SLOW! Free range children’. While painted tyres ask me to be careful – ‘sheep in road’ my eye is drawn to the 6’ snowpoles that will in a few short months be the only indication of where the road ends and the long slow rolling drop to the bottom of the slope begins. Up on the hills a row of conifers parades like a proud mohawk standing against the run of the mill hilltops.

To Northumberland (40)It’s another gloomy day, where rain showers stab across the hiss. But a slice of sunlight drifts lazily across the hill, promising new colours. If grey was the order of the day just a short while back, today’s colour is brown. The heather explodes with every shade known to man, while the leaves are starting to turn and bring their own vibrancy and colour to the scene.

To Northumberland (33)At some point I start to run low on fuel, and it’s at this moment that the satnav and I have a falling out – or a misunderstanding – convinced I have gone too far north across the Pennines at Muggleswick (still loving the names), I retrace my route ten miles over some of the most gorgeous countryside in the world back to Stanhope. I don’t want to go fast, I just want to drink in every moment. When I get back to where I was convinced I had gone wrong, it becomes clear that my determination to avoid the beaten track has failed me, so I turn myself north again. I’ve seen this road three times, but I think I could travel it every day and never get bored.

I refuel (phew) and make my way to my hostel in a little place nestling in the gap between the North Pennines and Northumberland Parks called ‘Once Brewed’. No, really, it ‘s called that. Curiously, if you approach from the east, the village sign says ‘Once Brewed’. Approach from the west, and the sign reads ‘Twice Brewed’.

There is a pub there called, appropriately ‘Twice Brewed’. I shall test it later.


Whitby – Falling Foss – Helmsley – Thirsk – Leyburn – Aysgarth – Hawes – KIrkby Stephen – Eggleston – Stanhope – Haydon Bridge – Once Brewed

Fade to Grey–Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay

14 Oct

Whitby morning stroll (2)So what was today? Up early to see the sun rise near the Abbey, and a gentle walk along the top of the cliffs as a foretaste of my later adventures.

After a socially distanced breakfast (by virtue of there only being me eating breakfast) it’s off on the bike, destination Robin Hood’s Bay, known locally as ‘The Bay’ or ‘Bay Town’. The first part of the route is pleasantly To Robin Hoods Bay (10)gravel and cinder track, and there’s even a little bit of sun. But both of those soon peter out, and I decide that the best way to get to the Bay is to simply walk it. And the sunshine has been replaced with skies that challenge an artist’s palette of greys – carbon and graphite battle it out with battleship, platinum and gunmetal to paint the sky in leaden tones.

To Robin Hoods Bay (18)The few folk I do meet express surprise at the presence of a bike, but understanding dawns when I explain that I’ll be able to take the easy way back.

Cliff top views are interspersed with drops down for little streams and brooks to reach the sea, and the bike has to be hoisted over innumerable stiles and gates. But it’s still a beautiful day, the calming rush of the waves is never far away along with the call of the gulls – a robin puts in an appearance, reminding me suddenly of my father.

Robin Hoods Bay (4)Round the corner and somehow a bullock has escaped his field. He takes fright as I approach, even though I try and give him room, and rushes headlong down the clifftop path. I’m expecting him to make it to Robin Hood’s Bay, but he’s equally afraid of another walker coming in the opposite direction, so I skip off the path to let him wander back and rejoin his herd, albeit with a fence in between them.

Whitby (5)I slip and slide down the muddier paths, landing on my backside more than once, but eventually rounding the corner and down the hill into the bay. It’s actually quite busy here – everyone seems to have a dog or two, and I seek to avoid the crowds by climbing the cliff path before grabbing a very pleasant carrot and coriander soup at a kiosk and then heading back down the old railway line towards Whitby.

Whitby (7)Time to recharge my batteries (the phone, the camera, me) before another ride out – this time up the cliffs to the north of Whitby before grabbing some supper (no cooking facilities in the hostel, so it’s sandwiches only) and retiring to be the only person in the place again…


More than a feeling..or, is this the road to Hull?

13 Oct

IMG_2124Out of Oundle, and we’re pretty swiftly into the Fens. For those of you not familiar with the East Coast of England, it’s flat. Really flat. Like someone’s taken a celestial steamroller and crushed all opposition beneath its wheels. Then man has come along and peppered a few farm houses here and there, the occasional hamlet desperately clinging on to passing trade and subsidised farming. The day is beautiful and sunny as if it’s welcoming me out on my little adventure.

So, first stop Boston. This town where the tidal rivers Witham and Haven merge is a strange amalgam of tidal river port and farming community, and always makes me feel like I am closer to the sea than I really am..or further inland than I really am. Where I come from rivers stay in their place unless it rains heavily, and rarely, if ever, go down to mudflats and sandbanks.

IMG_2127But this town is where the fun starts.. finally heading north down wonderfully winding B roads and lesser known A roads, and the Fens turn almost instantly into the gently rolling hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds, almost as if someone has crumpled the sheets on a well made bed. There are windmills both old and new, and towns with wonderful names like Mavis Enderby and Belchford. Later on I will regret not visiting Wetwang, or the abandoned village of Wharram Percy, but I have to press on, heading north into a sombre sky. The sun has passed, and a steady mizzle has me feeling glad that I’m in a car today.

The road unfolding in front of me brings a strange and deep peace that settles into my mind, my heart, and even into my bones. At the moment there is nothing to decide, nothing to juggle – no pressure, no demands. I don’t feel guilty about what I’m not doing, or wonder if I should be somewhere else. There’s just me and the open road, crunching miles under my tyres. A brief stop in the old Roman village of Caistor and then it’s on to the Humber bridge.

A moment of panic when Waze tells me that it’s 70 miles to my next stop, and I assume the bridge must be shut.. then I remember that I’ve told it to avoid toll roads and we’re only a couple of miles the other side of the estuary, over the bridge. I’ve crossed with this bridge before, but this time I have a real sense of vertigo and dizziness crossing under the high pillars that hold the catenary wires, and I have to focus hard on the road ahead.

IMG_2134The Wolds of the East Riding of Yorkshire bring more wonderful roads that wind and dip and swoop and bring deep tranquillity back in a heartbeat.. I can see why the bikers like them, and so I take a diversion of a few miles cos that’s what the book suggests, and stop for coffee at the Seaways biker haunt. It’s a bit short of trade today, with just one scooter riding local in the shop, but the pie and the coffee are good, so I’m heading toward the coast and Scarborough.

IMG_2144I’ve never been to Scarborough, so it’s time for another diversion to a windswept and rainlashed sea wall. You have to be keen to be out today, but there’s plenty of takers – dog walkers, ramblers, young couples strolling romantically if determinedly hand in hand.

The last leg takes me round the edges of the North York moors and roughly up the coast to Whitby. While I expect to return to Robin Hood’s Bay the next day, I decide that a stop is in order, pausing just long enough to get a couple of photos before jumping back in the car. You never know what tomorrow might bring, so it’s best to take memories when you can get them.

IMG_2150Finally, it’s into the hostel, sitting quietly in the shadow of Whitby Abbey on top of the hill above the town. It’s almost ethereality quiet – the kitchens are closed and everyone is staying in their own space. But rooms are good value – a twin is less than £30 a night. I get settled – the room is spartan but comfortable,, and I’m reminded of a monk’s cell, if a monk’s cell had bunk beds.

Time for a walk down the hill into town – fish and chips by the sea seems to be appropriate, and I take a stroll down the harbour wall, the twin lighthouses at the end flashing red and green to guide the trawlers and fishing boats in to harbour. A gentle stroll round the town turns into a high energy climb back up to hostel.. time to write this blog before I turn in for the night. Tomorrow promises sunny spells…

Peterborough – Boston – Horncastle – Louth – Caistor – Barton-Upon-Humber – Pocklington 0 Fridaythorpe – Foxholes – Scarborough – Whitby

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