Monday, 27 August 2012

Last Man on Earth Part Two.


After exploring the cool-looking waterfall and pretending to be Indiana Jones for a bit, I began to climb the western slope of the Valley of Desolation that led up through a pine tree forest then out onto open moorland.

Suddenly I saw a movement on the ground a few yards ahead of me and I froze. Out of the long grass slithered a Slow worm. I had only ever seen one of these before, this when I was a kid on holiday in south Wales.  Although it looked like a foot long snake a Slow Worm is actually a legless lizard, you can tell by the shape of the head.  I was able to get good and close to it and watched it for a while before it slid off into the undergrowth.

Filled with that happy feeling you get when you've just seen some unexpected wildlife I hit the open fells and climbed up to Simon's Seat.  This is a jumble of crags and boulders that sits at the top of the fell and at 1,590 feet is the highest point in the area.  Reaching the foot of the boulders I climbed them until I reached the summit then sat and ate my sandwiches while taking in the view.

I realised that I had not seen another human being in over four hours, something of an achievement on this overcrowded island.  This was the solitude I had been looking for after the stress of my home city and I leant back against the crag and felt like the last man on Earth.


I descended from the fells and walked back along the river until I reached the camp site.  After a quick wash and brush up I walked up the road to the village pub and sat at an outside table with a pint of pale ale.  The pub was busy with families and couples and I felt a bit out of place sitting on my own. I wanted my wife or friends to be with me so we could talk about our day but instead I was the lone guy sat nursing a pint and gawping at the hills.

Getting bored of this I went back to my tent to cook my dinner.  I realised that I had forgotten my camp chair so had to sit on the grass while I ate my half-cooked Savoury Rice and burnt can of Stagg Chilli.
After being eaten alive myself by the swarms of Midges that lived by the river I doused myself in insect repellant then sat back against the wheel of my car, drinking a bottle of red wine and smelling like a chemical factory while watching the stars come out in the darkening sky.
I was in my sleeping bag and snoring by 22:30.


I was awoken by a gentle quacking sound outside my tent and stuck my head out to see what was occurring.  It was just growing light and a low lying mist blanketed the valley. I found myself face to face with a small brown duck.  The rest of the camp site was still asleep so I brewed up a black coffee and sat on the misty ground sharing a couple of cold pancakes with my new duck friend.

The girl who ran the camp site was walking her dog and came over, asking me how I had enjoyed my solitude.
I told her it had been good but also said that I couldn't help feeling that solitude is better when you've got someone to share it with.  She laughed and wandered off into the mist.
I broke camp and drove back towards the city.  I was ready for people again.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Last Man on Earth.

I'd just worked seven straight shifts filled with stress, aggression and urban squalor and decided that for the next twenty four hours I would have as little contact with people as I possibly could.  So I retreated to the same place I have always gone to find peace since I was a teenager, the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales.

I threw my camping equipment into the car and drove north out of the city and into the countryside, arriving 40 minutes later at a farmhouse in a beautiful part of the Dales that allows campers to pitch up in one of their fields.  As I paid the girl who runs the farm she asked me were my mates were as I usually came with them, I told her that today I was seeking solitude and had come alone.

I set up camp, shouldered my rucksack and set off hiking along the banks of the river Wharfe.  It was summer so there were plenty of people along the river bank, walking dogs or swimming in the quieter stretches of water.  I nodded amiably at the people who said hello and enjoyed the woodlands that followed the course of the river.  After a few miles of this I checked my compass and Ordnance Survey map then left the path and struck out across a cow meadow before reaching open fells.  There were no people here, just me and a couple of curious cows and a buzzard circling overhead.
I had walked all over this area in the years that I had been coming here but there was one place I had never seen and that was my goal this day.

The Valley of Desolation.


I stood at the foot of the valley, deep and lushly forested and in stark contrast to the bleak fells that rose up steeply on each side of it.  The difference between the green of the forested valley and the moors with nothing but heather and rocky crags on them was striking.
It was called the Valley of Desolation because in 1836 the stream called Posforth Gill which runs along the bottom of they valley flooded and ripped out everything, leaving a wasteland behind that had taken years to grow back.

 I descended into the valley, it was humid and felt almost semi-tropical, trees towered over me and purple foxgloves grew everywhere.  Dragonflies whirred past and birds sang and there were no people.  I pushed through thick ferns and suddenly found myself in front of a beautiful waterfall that had been hidden by trees.
I climbed the rocks at the side of it until I could stand at the top of the falls, all these years coming here and I never knew about this place. It was my new secret place, there was barely a path leading to it and I felt like an explorer. It was like being a kid again.

Join me again for part two next week and find out about the Slow Worm and half-cooked Savoury Rice.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

It's Over.

It's the last day of the Olympics and I've just watched the final sporting event, the women's Pentathlon (Britain got silver, wahey!).  I'm really sorry it is coming to an end, it's been an incredible two weeks, I've jumped up and down screaming with excitement and even cried and I haven't even been to any of the events and live 200 miles north of London. 

But it ends this weekend and the aftermath will be interesting.  Like many countries we have an increasing number of overweight people and the government are talking about the Olympic success boosting sport in this country and children becoming more active.

There is a double standard at work here.  Most children are already pretty active despite all the scaremongering stories about them sitting on their back sides on the Xbox all day.  It is not just a case of getting more exercise but getting diets right is a big part of the problem.

There are far more overweight people in this age of industrialised food production than there has ever been in the past yet the food industry attempt to downplay this and put the majority of the blame on people's inertia.

The food industry generates a huge amount of money and they are currently adopting similar tactics that the tobacco industry employed a few years ago.  They claim there is not enough scientific evidence to support that food laden with fat,sugar and chemicals is the main cause of weight gain and say that people's lack of activity is the main problem.
But processed food makes people listless and inactive. This has been scientifically proven but pushed into the background by food industry lobbyists.

Meanwhile producers of processed foods try to gain credibility by sponsoring sports events like the Olympics, athletes are offered millions to endorse products like energy drinks which are basically flavoured water filled with sugar.

A few years ago the British government introduced the Five-a-Day plan to encourage people to try and the eat the recommended bare minimum of five pieces of fruit and veg a day.  One portion equates to 80 milligrams so the food industry then hijacked this idea and placed claims on the packaging of processed foods saying that these products counted as one of the five-a-day. However these products are also full of the usual fat and sugar and any health benefit is eclipsed by this.

To be fair, the governments hands are tied, the food industry is worth billions and they don't want to cause further economic problems by going after them too hard. It isn't as though people working in the food industry wake up each morning thinking about the different ways they can make people fat.  They are simply providing a product and will go to great lengths to sell them to us.  Just remember this next time the commercials are on.

Blimey, I was only going to write about having watched too much sport over the last two weeks. I knew it was time to stop when I found myself watching Men's Water Polo between Spain and Hungary.
Instead it has turned into a poorly put together rant about the food industry.
Looks like things are going back to normal now the Olympics are winding down.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Super Saturday.

Apologies but I can't be long writing this, I have far too much sport to watch.  I'm still feeling the love after Saturday night's gold medals at the Olympics for Great Britain.  Jessica Ennis (heptathlon). Greg Rutherford (long jump) and Mohammed Farah (10,000 metre race), all won gold last night and it felt like the country was jumping up and down.

I'll be the first to admit that during the build up to these game I had been sceptical that we could pull it off and I was not alone in my doubt.  It goes to show how much self confidence has plummeted in this country when we only worry about failure and would rather save the money and not even try.

But I was wrong.  The strength and dedication of the athletes involved, the fact that it is all happening only 200 miles away from my house and the feeling that we can do it if we are prepared to put the work in is a massive rush.

After watching Britain's achievements in athletics on Saturday night I was up and down the gym at 08:30 on Sunday morning.  I wasn't the only one, normally at that time on Sunday it would be fairly quiet but today it was full of people I've never even seen there before.

I even want Andy Murray to beat Federer and normally I can't stand Murray.  He never smiles, is dull to listen to and I saw him signing autographs for some children with a look on his face like he had trodden in dog shit.

We are currently third in the medal table and I can't see us rising above the U.S. or China but it doesn't matter.  The U.S. have dedication and self belief by the bucket load while China are so focused and united it is scary.  But the look of joy on Jessica Ennis's face when she stepped out to collect her medal and the huge roar of love from the crowd made my eyes fill up, something that sport has never made me do before.

We can do it if we try, we just have to believe in ourselves.

We are GREAT Britain and the rest of the world is now finding that out.