Castles and Crochet

This week has marked my last week of ‘unemployment’, and so I’ve been making the most of having my time to myself. The weather has been glorious – gone is the drizzle and grey skies of the last couple of weeks and instead I’ve been treated to day after day of bright sunshine. Admittedly, it’s also absolutely freezing, but I never mind being outside in the cold as long as I’m well wrapped up. I’ve taken the chance to get in some more miles (the current total stands at 77 miles since January 1st) while I can still walk in daylight, and have continued my trend of trying to catch either the sunrise or sunset.108_3040.JPG108_3061.JPGAs well as the walking, I’ve also been making a start on some of my other resolutions this week. Resolution #2 was to learn a new skill, and so last week I headed into Horsham and picked up a crochet hook, some cheap yarn, and a reference book. I can’t exactly say that I’ve been making great progress, but it’s definitely a start. The thing I’m really struggling with at the moment is keeping enough tension in the yarn to catch it with my hook, and as a result my hand is really aching. However, I do like the motion of crocheting, and I think I’ll easily be able to sit and chat while crocheting at the same time (something I never really manage when cross-stitching). It’s slow going for now, but I’ll be sticking with it. Stay tuned for the next half inch of my tiny square being added some time in the not-too-distant future…108_3273.JPGResolution #3 was to plan a day out per month, and this weekend was the first installment. We’ve decided that we’ll take it in turns to plan each month, and as this whole thing was my idea, I went first. Sam had Friday off as he has some carry-over holiday to use, so I thought it would be good to plan two days of activities to really kick things off in style!

On Friday, we took advantage of the weather and walked some of the South Downs Way along Devil’s Dyke. This is one of the most popular spots in the area, partly because it’s quite close to Brighton, partly because you can park at the top of the hill, and partly because the views are spectacular. It’s been a tourist attraction for years; the Victorians built a cable car, funicular, bandstands, and a fairground on/around the Dyke, and although that has all disappeared there is still a very popular pub at the top and at weekends the area is usually covered with people.

The resident Geologist informs me that the Dyke is the longest, widest, and deepest dry chalk valley in the country, formed by snow melt during the last Ice Age. It’s been of interest to humans for thousands of years and is the site of an Iron Age hill fort, as well as a later motte and bailey castle further along the ridge.

After a hearty breakfast of whinberry pancakes with maple syrup, we set off from the village of Fulking and headed towards the Downs.108_3074.JPG108_3076.JPGWe then began the short and steep climb up the Fulking Escarpment which hadn’t seen the sun for days – the path was frozen solid and the frost lay thick on the ground.108_3080.JPG108_3088.JPGOnce at the top, we stopped for lunch at a handily placed bench and enjoy our picnic of homemade quiche and whinberry cakes. The view was stunning, but a very cool breeze meant that we didn’t linger for too long!108_3097.JPG108_3100.JPG108_3135.JPGWe then made our way to the first castle of the weekend, which were the motte and bailey remains on Edburton Hill. There’s not a huge amount to look at, and it’s admittedly not the most impressive of castles, but the view more than makes up for it!108_3110.JPGWe bypassed the pub and the few other people who were around and headed down into the Dyke itself. I think the concrete slab that I’m sitting on in the next picture is the remains of the cable car supports, but otherwise nature has truly reclaimed the land.108_3126.JPGAfter dropping down into the valley, we walked the last few miles through gently sloping fields back to the car at Fulking, ready to go home and make our new meal of the fortnight which was salmon and ginger ‘burgers’ (they were definitely fishcakes, but they tasted great regardless of the name!) with sweet potato wedges. Mmm.108_3155.JPGAfter the great walk of Friday, I’d planned a day out to Pevensey Castle which was the landing place for William the Conqueror in 1066, as well as being an ancient Roman fortress. We’d not been before, and I loved it – it was the perfect blend of crumbling ruin but with enough still standing to make it worth exploring. Entry was a little bit odd as we almost had to go out of our way to find the ticket cabin and buy tickets (a few people just seemed to be wandering in) but I was glad that we did as we were given really good audio-guides which made up for a distinct lack of signage in the grounds.108_3167.JPG108_3179.JPG108_3186.JPG108_3181.JPGWe then headed next door to the Royal Oak and Castle for a warm lunch before setting off to Lewes, our last stop of the day.

I’ve been to Lewes before and love the sheer amount of history contained in a relatively small area. One of the main attractions for me are the ruins of the priory which are fairly substantial despite being a fraction of the size of the original complex. It underwent a pretty thorough demolition thanks to Henry VIII but there’s enough there to be worth looking at, along with a number of good signs (plus it’s all totally free).108_3210.JPG108_3223.JPG108_3232.JPGWe’ve currently got free entry to Lewes Castle for a year after gift-aiding our tickets last May so we decided to take advantage of this and make the most of the abundance of castles in the area. It also proved to be too good of a dressing-up opportunity to miss…108_3241.JPG108_3258.JPG108_3251 (2).JPG108_3253.JPGWell, if they provide a trunk full of costumes for adults, why not?!

We stayed up on the battlements to watch as the sun sank in the hazy sky, enjoying the views above the town.108_3262.JPGI’m so glad that I decided to keep resolution #3; I wasn’t convinced when making it as it seemed a bit too ill-defined, but taking the time to plan something special gave me something to look forward to all week and also had us venturing slightly further afield to explore new places. Definitely a resolution that we’ll be sticking to, and I can’t wait to see what Sam comes up with in February!

Thunder Snow

There has been much excitement in the South-East this week, as we’ve been subjected to the prospect of ‘thunder snow’! Cue mass hysteria, various weather warnings, and general panic…

Thunder snow actually turned out to be, well, just snow – and not much of it at that. We ended up having a light smattering on Thursday which only managed to stick around until Friday because it froze overnight. It was ever-so-slightly underwhelming, but did make for some nice pictures on Friday morning when I caught the sunrise and notched up another couple of miles on the Downs Link.108_2804.JPG108_2832.JPG108_2845.JPGActually, the weather that had the biggest impact on my week wasn’t the snow, but the rain. The beginning of the week was lovely and I had a couple of great walks with Mum although I forgot to take the camera out with me so have no photos – oops! After that though we had several days of rain and I was surprised to see just how quickly the River Adur responded to the rainfall. The morning following an afternoon/evening of rain resulted in the river overflowing its banks and covering the fields which I really wasn’t expecting as I didn’t think that the rain had been anywhere near heavy enough to cause flooding.108_2866.JPG108_2868.JPGThis meant that most of my usual walking routes were out as the river was up over the footpaths, so I had to go exploring. We live close to a Carthusian monastery, and I decided to head north and find out how much of it I could see from the path. The spire is visible from miles around, but the rest of the building is very well hidden from the road so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get a good view. After a couple of frustrating miles where I could only see small glimpses through the trees, I turned a corner and was treated to an unobscured view and it really is very impressive. I’ve heard that the best way to see it is from the air, but I think I’ll be quite happy with what I can see with my feet planted firmly on the ground.108_2907.JPGThe rain may have led to one interesting new walk, but it made for a fairly awful one on Saturday. Sam has had a really busy week at work and hasn’t been able to get out at lunchtimes for a run or walk, and as a result has started to fall behind on miles. He planned a new walk for us just south of Lewes which would have been a good nine miles, but the weather was so atrocious that we called it off after three miles and drove home.108_2922.JPG108_2923.JPGThe walk was made worse as the lovely homemade quiche that I’d packed for our lunch was still frozen, and the parking area recommended by the guidebook had a rather large “Absolutely No Parking” sign by it resulting in a detour to another village to find somewhere more suitable. All in all, it was a rather unsuccessful day! One of the only bright spots – quite literally – was a kingfisher happily diving in the River Ouse. Sadly, my wildlife photography skills are not up to kingfishers (or otters, not that I’ve seen it since the first sighting), but we enjoyed watching it make its way down the river. At least someone didn’t mind the rain! Another point of interest was the church in the small hamlet of Southease which dates from the 12th century and is one of only three in Sussex to be built with a round tower. It also has wall paintings inside which date from the 13th and 14th centuries which I enjoyed looking at while sheltering from a particularly nasty downpour.108_2937.JPG108_2929.JPG108_2931.JPGWe think that the walk itself will be lovely when not tipping down with rain, so we’ll definitely be going back and hopefully managing the whole distance. The weather for this week looks better, so fingers crossed for some better walking over the next few days!

January Greys

I think it’s fair to say that I class as a fair-weather walker; although I love to be outside, I very much tend to stay in if it looks like it might rain, even if it might just be a light shower. I think that this partly stems from our love of climbing hills to see the view – I see very little point in putting in all the effort to get to the top and not being able to see anything when there (case in point: this spectacular photo of the view from the top of Bla Bheinn on Skye).108_1298.JPGHowever, I have a feeling that my #walk1000miles challenge may change all that. Knowing that I have to get in on average 2.74 miles a day is definitely going to make me get outside in all weathers, as this week has started to prove. Although we’re very fortunate to live in the part of the country with arguably the best weather, it does have its grey days, and we’ve been ‘fortunate’ enough to have several of those this week.

I always find January to be a rather bleak time of the year. Spring still seems a long way off and the festive excitement that overwhelms December soon disappears into a cold, grey period that can stretch on and on. In fairness, we have had some lovely days, especially at the beginning of the week where I spent a quiet few hours wandering along the River Adur watching the sun set.108_2692.JPG108_2722.JPG108_2734.JPGThe latter part of the week has been much duller; the frosty fields have been replaced by muddy paths, the clear skies for gloomy cloud.108_2749.JPG108_2752.JPGThat’s not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the walking – far from it actually. We are very lucky to live only a couple of minutes from the Downs Link, a great path that is walkable in all weathers, and very popular with cyclists, dog walkers, joggers, and horse riders. The change in the weather has sent almost everyone else indoors, leaving us free to roam in peace, and as soon as we leave the path for one of the many footpaths that branch off it, there is nobody else around.108_2776.JPGWe had quite a treat yesterday when walking in the drizzle, and I’m seriously considering promoting the pond back up to lake status as we’ve discovered that it’s home to an otter! We only had a few glimpses of it in the water, and didn’t manage to take any decent photos unfortunately, but it was so lovely to watch. The pond is going to become a favourite haunt of mine, and ‘otter-watch’ is officially on!108_2788.JPGApart from the walking, I’m also trying to stick to my other resolutions, and we’ve enjoyed a new meal this week. We made a dhal makhani – admittedly, it wasn’t the most exciting of creations, but was delicious served with homemade naan bread. I’m not so sure this one counts, but Sam has also just made apple and mincemeat muffins to use up our leftover mincemeat. This is a recipe completely of Sam’s own invention, so while it might not be a ‘meal’ as such, it’s definitely new and when they look this good, who’s complaining?!108_2783.JPG108_2795.JPGWriting this has encouraged me to reflect on the past week and all its achievements, however large or small. Sometimes I think we can get too caught up in the huge parts of life and we forget about all the small things that when taken together can also make a massive difference.

The week has really been a great one, and I’ve enjoyed summing up all of things that made it so: I’m currently 6.6 miles ahead of target with my walking, we’ve spotted an otter, I’ve cut my running route time down by 90 seconds in the space of just three runs (I need to reduce it by another minute to meet my goal for January, so considering we’re only just out of the first week of the month that’s pretty good going), we’ve just booked our flights to Norway for our summer holiday, I’ve just been offered a fantastic job that I’m absolutely thrilled about, and I’ve got tasty muffins to look forward to this evening!

January might be grey, but I’m finding that grey definitely doesn’t mean dull. Cheers!108_2782.JPG

Ringing in the New Year

Following on from a thoroughly miserable New Year’s Day where we hunkered down with board games and jigsaws, yesterday dawned bright and clear. Sam had a tennis match first thing, so we weren’t able to set out for a walk until after lunch and couldn’t plan to go too far.

We decided to go to Chanctonbury Ring, one of our favourite spots. The walk itself was 7.1 miles, starting from Steyning village and climbing up to meet the South Downs Way, wandering along the top until reaching the Ring, and then descending through woodland back into the village.KODAK Digital Still CameraSteyning has a fantastic team of volunteers who are helping to conserve the downland and are busy reintroducing native species to the banks with the aim of supporting the wildlife that only exists on the chalk hills. I’ve really enjoyed watching the area develop over the past year and am looking forward to spring and summer when their new planting will really become evident.

Once at the top, the countryside is very typical of this part of the Downs, characterised by gently rolling hills and distant sea views. It’s very different to the rough, windswept hills that Sam and I have grown up with, and although it may not be as dramatic, it certainly is beautiful. One thing that I’m really learning to love about the landscape is the sheer amount of sky – as there are no large hills around, the sky just seems to go on and on. My serotonin levels are certainly very thankful!108_2533.JPG108_2538.JPGAfter a couple of miles, we reached Chanctonbury Ring. Originally an Iron Age hill fort, followed by Roman temples, then a ring of beech tress planted in the 18th century, the hill has been the site of human activity for thousands of years. Looking at the view, it’s not hard to see why this site was chosen; it’s a fantastic location for either defense or religious purposes.108_2543.JPGTo me, there is something incredibly special about areas that have held a significance for generations of people. The world may have changed beyond almost all recognition for those ancient civilisations, but it’s not too difficult to still feel a connection to the landscape and the people who have stood here before us when at places like the Ring.108_2557.JPGAs the sun started to set, the temperature dropped rapidly and we set a brisk pace back down the hill. We missed the actual sunset while we were walking through the woods, but returned to the car under a beautiful evening sky.108_2579.JPGConsidering how quickly the temperature changed in the evening, it was no surprise that there was a heavy frost this morning. I grabbed the camera and headed out along the Downs Link to watch the sun rise. The fields were sparkling white and the sky was tinged with pink as I set off, followed by a stunning orange sunrise.108_2588.JPG108_2597.JPG108_2612 (2).JPG108_2623.JPG108_2645.JPGIt was so cold that that the ‘lake’ (although I think lake sounds better, I think that’s been a bit generous – it’s a large pond) had completely frozen over and showed no sign of thawing as I headed back home.108_2607.JPGAlthough the walk this morning was a very short 2.8 miles, I enjoyed the time spent outside and am hoping to spend more early mornings as the only person out on the path quietly notching up my miles. As Sam has kindly pointed out, I’m nearly 1% of the way towards my 1000 mile goal!


New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve never really been in the habit of making any resolutions for the New Year. If ever I have made any, they’ve always focused on altering a negative trait which of course leads to dwelling on all the things that I dislike – not the most positive way to start anything!

This year, I decided that I would like to make some resolutions, but ones focusing on things I’d like to add to my life, particularly those that allow me to learn new things and see more of the world. I’ve only made a handful, although my list is definitely a work in progress and can be added to at any time. So far, they are as follows:

1. Complete Country Walking’s #walk1000miles challenge. I love walking and tend to spend at least one day every weekend with my walking boots on, but I think this challenge will encourage me to do smaller walks during the week as well as push for an extra couple of miles on my long weekend walks. At the very least, I’ll get to discover new parts of the country and it’ll be a great achievement when completed.

2. Learn a new skill. The exact skill is still to be decided (crocheting is currently a strong contender, but I’m open to other suggestions too!) but the general idea is for me to find something new to love and dedicate time to. Ideally, I’d like to learn something that can have a practical use, but I’m equally happy learning something pointless (or at least, pointless to anyone but me) as I’m more interested in finding something new to enjoy than achieving specific results.

3. Plan one ‘special’ day out per month. This one is slightly open to interpretation, but the general aim is to have at least one day per month where we go somewhere new or further afield than we would normally, or a day where we do a favourite walk but prepare a fancy picnic beforehand. I’m hoping this will encourage me to put more thought into what I spend my time doing, as well as always having something to look forward to.

4. Cook a new meal once a fortnight. Other than walking, cooking/baking is one of the things I love the most, but we’re definitely guilty of making the same meals time and time again. This one is Sam’s suggestion, but I’m definitely going to be sticking to it and am looking forward to trying out new recipes (some hopefully with homegrown vegetables…).

5. Visit at least two new places abroad. I definitely don’t class as ‘well travelled’, having only ever been to France, Spain, and Amsterdam (once, for one night only – hardly a chance to really get to know the place) but would love to experience more in 2017. I think the British Isles have so much to offer which has meant that I’ve spent quite a few holidays travelling around the UK, but I’d also really like to explore new cultures and see totally different landscapes. We’re already planning our summer holiday to Norway, but I’d love to sneak another trip in somewhere as well.

I’ve started this blog to document all of the adventures that I have over the coming year and to encourage myself to really keep track of them – I’m hoping that by the end of the year I’ll have a great record of some fantastic memories!