First 100 Mountains in the Bag!

After just 18 days officially in the hills traildog Patch and I reached the first milestone (or summitstone) of 100 ‘bagged’ Mountains.

Yes, before you ask, my knees were killing me but after 20 VERTiCAL KILOMETRES (OK, just 19.98 vertical km) it’s hardly surprising! This is shaping up to be quite the adventure which has led me already to meet some amazing new people, run with far more talented runners than myself, spend a day in the fells with a lakeland legend, learn new skills, hang out with super cool Mountain Rescue folk, play chew toy tug of war with Search Dogs in training and really push myself outside my comfort zone. Whew…..what’ll the next 900 bring? Certainly plenty of flapjack!

I have definitely discovered that this challenge will make the 3PeAksRun seem like an absolute stroll in the park. There are many British mountains that are popular ‘honeypot’ summits but it is eye opening just how many others are so rarely visited.

This presents a variety of daily challenges on pathless terrain testing my navigation skills and even on open access land the odd fence or wall that needs to be negotiated without upsetting any farmers or causing any damage ( getting over a dry stone wall is not to be encouraged or even condoned and requires extremely deft movement and yogi master level flexibility in order to avoid tilting a single stone out of place – don’t tell anyone that this ever happened because obviously it didn’t!) And then, don’t even get me started on PEAT HAGS and the good old moorland BOG – two of my particular favourites. On drier, rockier ground there have been some hair raising scrambles and tentative descents which have tested my nerve and the grip of my trail shoes to their sticky limit.

I was very lucky to spend many of those days during the long summer high pressures scooting around over Lake District ridges. Hot enough to invite refreshing river dips at the end of a sweaty run which was such a treat for someone generally a bit wussy about leaping into chilly UK waters! Exceptional views and the navigational confidence of clear skies and miles of perfect visibility made for a uniquely precious time on those fells, the memories of which I am sure I will be channelling many times through the coming late autumn clag and winter chill.

It’s been wonderful to meet other trail runners in their respective back yards to share some summits and pick up some local trail lore and there was that great Kinder ‘downfall’ when the hours we spent picking our way across the Kinder plateau in search of the highest point, Kinder Scout, resulted in a no less impressive but relatively irrelevant discovery of Crowden Head instead. Ooops!

One of the most memorable days didn’t even involve a mountain summit but a fast crossing of the Lake District from Wasdale Head to Brathay, just outside Ambleside with the very nimble fell running legend, Joss Naylor MBE. Joss was tackling a 30 mile run/walk to raise money for the Brathay Trust and many other runners were along to support him. Though no summits were visited on this outing the cumulative elevation for the day was equivalent to climbing three mountains. Joss’ strength, speed and agility over rough terrain and at 82 years of age was truly inspirational. He looks as young, fit and strong now as he did when he ran his 60 lakeland summits at 60 years of age twenty two years ago to the day. To quote his own words, the day was absolutely “magic”.

After 43 consecutive days back at work I suspect it will be quite a different scene when I get back in the hills next week.

The long days and dry trails will be gone and I expect far more of the runs will be shrouded in low cloud, with plentiful drizzle at best. But the advantage of spending so much time in the hills is the increased opportunity of being out in those fleeting yet superlative moments – cloud inversions , crisp frosty mornings and the first dusting of snow under an azure winter’s sky….very poetic.  So, packing my toasty gore tex trail shoes and fleecy buff….bring on the winter season!

Happy trails..👣🐾


Not every Marilyn is a Munro

Many people have compiled lists of the hills and mountains of the British Isles over the last 130 years, so much so it has become a British hill-walking sport to tick off the various collections, a pastime known as ‘Hill-Bagging’ or ‘Peak Bagging’. In my #RunningtheSummits 1000 Mountain challenge I will need to become a fairly obsessive participant of this activity but there is no definitive 1000 mountains collection so how do I go about compiling such a lengthy list of my own for this challenge?

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Mike Knipe has a very amusing detailed blog delving further into this bizarre British pastime featured on the UKHillwalking website.
20180607_091304Standing on the ‘pointy bit’. CAUTION : always bear in mind, getting down is much tricker than getting up!

It started, as these things do, with the question over a pint or two “What makes a mountain a mountain?”……some time later and after much debate, disagreement and admittedly a little drunkenness, the question had not been adequately answered so I later turned to that font of all knowledge- the modern, universal library……Google!

20180607_150548Some baffling trigonometry behind measuring a mountains height – points deducted for not showing my workings out!

There seemed to be a consensus of agreement that to constitute ‘mountain’ status in Britain a peak needed to be 2000ft (609.6metres) or higher. Question simply answered you might think…..well, no. This was where the clear black and white line ended. Because there are many humps and bumps along a ridgeline for example that can easily be argued to be part of the main summit as opposed to mountains in their own right. In order to make some sense of this jumble of peaks, ridges, bumpy shoulders (technical term!), crags and outcrops various lists began to be compiled to categorise the peaks into orderly groups of hills that could be qualified, quantified and best of all, ‘bagged’. How we British love lists. I am a dedicated list maker myself so this particular, logistical part of the challenge really got me keenly reaching for the coloured marker pens.

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My Multi Coloured Map of English Mountains and hills  – happy hours of plotting on the Viewranger App!

Now if a person wanted to climb a large number of the highest mountains in Britain they really need not look much further than Scotland which hosts way more than its fair share of fabulous high and wild places. But my objective with the Running the Summits challenge was to showcase a broader selection of peaks throughout the Isles and to highlight the fact that Yes, we DO have mountains in England.

Screenshot_20180605-204556Some fairly ‘mountainy’ looking peaks in Britain

So the first list that I decided to use for my 1000 mountains compilation is the ‘Hewitt’s’ , an anacronym of sorts…Hills of England, Wales and Ireland over Two Thousand feet. This list was compiled by Alan Dawson and the contenders were originally quite aptly called ‘Sweats’. The additional criteria that secures a peaks place on the Hewitt list is a topographical prominence of 100ft (30’ish metres). In simpler terms that’s basically the amount of height the summit has over the surrounding ground, i.e. the ‘pointy’ bit that makes it stand out! There are over 500 Hewitts spread out across England, Wales and Ireland so my 1000 mountain list was immediately half full.

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I then added ‘Nuttalls’, named after John and Anne Nuttall who compiled the list published in their books ‘The Mountains of England and Wales’ – all of which also qualify for mountain status by height, but these peaks only need 50ft (15m) of ‘pointy bit’ at the top to qualify as a Nuttall. Whilst all Hewitts are also Nuttalls, the full Nuttall list of 444 mountains adds a further 126 summits to my compilation.

20170327_001431Ingleborough – one of the highest peaks in Yorkshire and part of the popular Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge, an all round top day out followed by cake and a pint of tea at the Pen y Ghent Cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale – just get round before they close!

During my research I also came across an opinion that as well as peaks over 2000ft, a peak over 1000ft, if it had considerable topographical prominance, i.e. stuck out like a sore thumb, totally dominating its surroundings, it could, loosely, in some circles be considered a mountain. I have since misplaced my reference for this argument but I am sure it was hidden somewhere in the pages of the mountainguide.co.uk which, incidentaly lists 10,000 peaks throughout the British Isles and is a fabulous source of reference and hill-shaped vital statistics, if you like that sort of thing. One list that would include such attention grabbing peaks is the ‘Marilyns’ (the name a pun to the Scottish ‘Munro’s’ – there is no such list as ‘the Mansons’!)  This extremely voluptuous list of 2010 peaks in the British Isles, also compiled by Alan Dawson includes all hills with a prominence of at least 500ft (152m) (i.e. ones with extremely outstanding ‘pointy bits’) regardless of their overall height. I felt some of these peaks deserved a place in my list, after all – my challenge, my rules!

received_10160169254685234Pen y Ghent lost in the clag – a Hewitt, Nuttall AND Marilyn all in one!

All the Marilyns of England, Wales and Ireland above 2000ft are by default also Hewitts, but for the purposes of my list of 1000 I will be including an additional number that stand between 1000ft and 2000ft in England and Wales qualifying as ‘Mini Mountains’. This classification group also gives me the chance to travel a little more widely around England too as all of the 2000ft+ mountains bar two are situated in the National Parks of northern England.

20180607_093550They might not be mountains but Chrome and Parkhouse Hills are as pointy as a witches hat.

I’m not sure exactly how many Marilyns I will include yet as I am still scoping out the illegal ones – those hanging out on private land – which I will probably be avoiding, not least because carrying bolt cutters would heavily encroach upon my ‘fast and light’ policy.

Then of course when we look to the Lake District which hosts by far the majority of English mountains we have that wonderful list, the ‘Wainwrights’, which just brings a romantic sigh from the mouths of hill walkers everywhere – a list of 214 Lakeland peaks, just to confuse matters further, locally known as ‘fells’. These 214 fell tops are a definitive group with no statistical criteria. They were illustrated and written about by Alfred Wainwright in his collection of guides to the lakeland fells for no more than aesthetic reasons and constitute some of the most beloved mountains and hills of the region.

20180606_205528The view from Haystacks – Alfred Wainwright’s favourite fell

Wainwright bagging is also a very popular activity, which would probably have been much to the chagrin of the mild mannered, shy man himself who cared little for any form of rushing around in the hills, list ticking or bagging. I have long admired his simple, uncomplicated lifestyle and love and knowledge of the Lake District fells so it seemed fitting to finally reach the summits of all of these places that I have previously only dipped into, as a part of this challenge.

20180606_205705Kirk Fell looking non too inviting…

Many of the Wainwrights fall into other categories – Hewitts or Nuttalls giving them full mountain status for the purposes of my list. Some are also Marilyns, classing them as ‘Mini Mountains’ and a few aren’t on any other list but I have chosen to include them, adding another 62 (dubiously classed) mountains to my list. All the Wainwrights stand above 1000ft bar one, Castle Crag, which I intend to summit to fully complete the Wainwrights ( i’m sure the idea of leaving just one hill on any list un-bagged would surely send an ardent peak bagger into a state of incomprehensible shock) but Castle Crag will not count officially towards my 1000 Mountains.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0853.JPGSmall but beautiful – Neither a mountain nor a mini mountain by the criteria but Arthur’s Seat surveying Edinburgh is a firm favourite running hill.

So that’s alot of peaks already throughout England, Wales, all of Ireland and the Isle of Man. But no journey around the Mountains of the British Isles would be complete without a hefty dose of  Scottish mountain magic. In fact, if I just wanted to reach the sublime total of 1000 Mountain summits, more than enough contenders –  around 2100,  could be found in Scotland alone.

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Scotland has a whole other set of list for fervent hill-baggers. The mightiest of all the mountains here are those that reach the lofty status of ‘Munro’ , named after Sir Hugh Munro who produced the first list of such mountains in 1891. A ‘Munro’ is a peak of 3000ft or more regardless of relative elevation. Despite much debate about the ‘true’ peaks and subsidiary tops and re-surveys over the years with more accurate equipment there are now 282 Munros and 227 subsidiary tops.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1131.JPGAs a break from the mind boggling lists and numbers – a gratuitous pic of Patch on Christmas morning brewing up on the summit of Stob Mhic Mhartuin ……………..now back to the numbers

‘Corbetts’ of which there are a nice round 222, are mountains between 2500 and 3000ft with the added criteria of 500ft (152m) of prominence. Then there are ‘Grahams’, named for Fiona Graham and often referred to as lesser Corbetts, standing between 2000 and 2500ft with the same relative prominence of 500ft, of which there are 224.

20180606_211314Just a glimpse of the poetic Ben Lomond overlooking the waters of Loch Lomond

The final chunk of my 1000 Mountains list will consist of a wonderful selection of the most well known, favourite, legally accessible! and best suited to hill-running mountains from the lists of Munros, Corbetts and Grahams.

20180606_212428A drizzly day cannot detract from the unmistakably dramatic silhouette of Suilven

Even after all that I still have some spaces dedicated to iconic little peaks which are much beloved by local standards but fail to make any list. This was inspired by my recent discovery of a diminuitive but attention grabbing peak called Roseberry Topping on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. Known locally as the Yorkshire Matterhorn this little peak caught my eye driving south from Northumberland to the Yorkshire Coast to meet friends for Sunday lunch. From a distance it looked like a huge mountain, totally dominating its surroundings and I had something of a ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ moment as I became totally entranced by this peak and in danger of hypnotically sculpting it out of mashed potato during Sunday dinner to the, no doubt, bemused confusion of my friends. (this reference won’t make any sense at all if you haven’t seen the classic 80’s film which was actually in 1977!)

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As the road took me closer and closer I had to stop to make a detour run to its summit – just because you do! Roseberry Topping, aside from having a great name stands over 1000 feet and I was sure it must be a Marilyn but its prominence must fall short by a few metres because it doesn’t make the list – harsh judgement! I know there are other local ‘Matterhorns’ around the country and I think it is a shame to miss out on them just because they don’t quite meet the box ticking statistics. Such aesthetically pleasing peaks will always be firm favourites among anyone who loves the outdoors even to those who are content to only admire them from the bottom. So – my challenge, my rules – a handful of such peaks will make it onto my list of 1000. I am already aware of a few of these special places but if you happen to have a mini-matterhorn overlooking your back yard please get in touch and let me know!

20180605_201638The ‘Yorkshire Matterhorn’

Incredibly, the lists still go on, probably enough to keep the fanatical bagger occupied for several lifetimes over, scaling Simms, Donalds, Deweys, Hardys, HuMPs, TuMPs, Lumps and Bumps (the last two I just made up!) but for me it is time to put my tired feet up and enjoy the views.

Screenshot_20180605-204418.jpgOverlooking the Miner’s Track  from the PYG path on the flanks of Snowdon

disclaimers :

some of my feet to metre measurement conversions might be not entirely accurate to the centimetre but are rounded to a more….well…..rounded number for the purposes of this piece. Some, though, are entirely accurate to the fourth decimal place, just to keep you on your toes.

This is also designed to be a gentle overview when it comes to these classifications in order that most readers should retain consciousness. If you are a list ticking, stats devouring fanatic on the other hand there is literally a figurative mountain of info on the subject on that highly reliable source Wikipedia!

Finally, my use of the term ‘pointy bits’ is probably over selling many mountain tops but ’rounded hump’ did not sound quite so enticing.

My #RunningtheSummits 1000 Mountains in 365 days challenge is not just entirely for my own amusement or merely just some perverse attempt to torture my knees but also has a goal to raise a mountain of cash to support our Mountain Rescue Teams, Search and Rescue Dogs and Fix the Fells, all incredible volunteer manned charities that are the real heroes of the high places. 

Please donate a little if you can  – just click on the big heart below to donate…..thank you 😊👣❤

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Why run 1000 Mountains?

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After my seemingly spontaneous decision to take my #RunningtheSummits Mountain Challenge to a whole new level it seems only fair to answer the big question……why???

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When I had the idea to take myself off on a little jog over the 180 Hewitt classified ‘Mountains’ of England that in itself seemed pretty daunting and to tell the truth I found the whole idea quite scary – I only had to climb a mere THREE summits on my #3PeAksRun, on all of which I experienced bad weather and some challenging conditions, and this was summer time on the most visited mountaintops in Britain with good paths and rarely a place to find yourself really alone. Of the hundreds of other mountains around the British Isles many are much more remote, difficult to reach, pathless and far less visited places.

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I do have a strong background of hill walking, a reasonable level of experience and have taken several courses in summer and winter hill skills and navigation, but I still hold a very cautious and wary respect for the mountains as places where I have often been tested. I relate it a little bit to the person who dives into the ocean proclaiming themselves a strong swimmer – it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer you are, you will never be a match for nature!

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But at the same time, being in the mountains has brought me moments of my greatest joy, and certainly nowadays, running trails. As trail, mountain and fellrunners will surely attest, there is nothing quite like the feeling of freedom and agility of moving quickly along a technical trail skipping lightly from rock to rock. When the trail stars align the experience is that of a sublime dance with thd landscape. Then again, when they do not and you faceplant into a tree it can smart a bit!

So the decision to attempt to reach the tops of 1000 Mountains was not taken lightly. But I was feeling that the challenge needed to be something bigger, something to really test my mettle, but also a (dare I say) ‘journey’ to experience and learn so much more about our high places. I wanted the whole experience to last longer and have the opportunity to involve many more people. I had also set a ridiculously big fundraising target and felt it needed a challenge to match.

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I also seemed to be getting signs ( I know, sounds a bit sketchy) – but I kept coming across inspiring adventures of others, relating to their motives and experiences while my own growing obsession with mountains was quietly cultivating away. I was beginning to get strong emotions attached to random hills and was discovering I could recognise many peaks from photos of their ridgelines or surrounding landscapes as easily as old friends. The time was right to spend some serious time in the hills!

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I recently came across a trailer for the upcoming film ‘Edie’ starring Sheila Hancock which is the story of an elderly woman fulfilling a long held dream to climb a mountain in Scotland. The mountain in question is Suilven, an enigmatic peak which had held me quite entranced when I finally saw it for the first time last winter while spending some time in this remote corner of Scotland. I was equally as inspired by Sheila Hancock. Although the story behind Edie is a work of fiction the true story is that Sheila at 83 years of age did indeed climb that mountain proving the films tag line that it’s never too late.

assynt-suilven-autumn-glencanisp-lodgeThe majestic Suilven – photo credit James Barlow Photography

A final and far more straightforward reason to up my game to 1000 Mountains is simply…..because they are there? Not in a flippant sense but because we actually have so many incredible peaks in the British Isles and it seemed a shame to limit my adventure to so few of them. Climbing only those classified as Hewitts did seem to mean missing out on so many beautiful summits so the #RunningtheSummits 1000 will include peaks classified as Hewitts, Nuttalls and Scottish Munros…..all meeting the loosely accepted definition of a mountain by rising to a minimum of 2000 feet, and Marilyns, which include some lower hills but they do all have an elevation of at least 150 metres relative to the surrounding terrain making them really dominate their surroundings – true ‘mini mountains’. I also plan to include some people’s choice favourites that may not have made it onto any peak-bagging list! There have already been some fantastic hilly recommendations!

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Perhaps a bit of a cliché but #RunningtheSummits has all the potential of an adventure of a lifetime for me and I can’t wait to begin. But what I am most looking forward to is seeing some of you guys out there in the glorious British hills and meeting more of the incredible people who voluntarily give their time to help others as part of the Mountain Rescue Teams, Search Dog handlers and Fix the Fells – the real heroes of this story!

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Please join this mountainous adventure by following this blog, liking the facebook page and supporting the mountain charities by donating a little if you can.

 
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Happy trails – see you on a summit!  Tina and trail dog Patch😁👍👣🐾

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Mountain, Camping or Expedition Meals sorted with TentMeals!

 

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Jess and the amazing team at TentMeals are now supporting me during my Running the Summits mountainous challenge and I am hugely grateful because not only are they a fantastic small team who really care about their customers, their products and the environment they also make super scrummy camping meals!

credit Will Goodall Copestake. 800kcal Almond Jalfrezi

In their own words they are…

…wholeheartedly dedicated to making the best expedition food – meals that are delicious, natural, high energy, lightweight and easy to prepare.

Meal selection. Credit @coachmacca

Each packet is nutritionally packed with the good stuff ( no nasty additives or preservatives) and are suitable for vegan diets. What really amazed me though was how truly tiny the packs are! They looked very small on the website but when they arrived I was amazed – absolutely perfect for squeezing into stuffed backpacks and keeping things fast and light! Conversely, when prepared ( which was also even more quick and simple than I could have imagined) the meals bloomed into very satisfying portions. I am a pretty big eater and thought I would have no troubles wolfing down the large ( its all relative) 800kcal packs but even I had some laters leftovers. On an energetic day on the hill these would make the perfect recharge dinner.

Cooking up a Blueberry Burst breakfast. Credit @pcolledge

The meals also require much less cooking than I expected which also means they are very quick, easy and light on fuel usage, all of which is great at the end of a long days’ running (or hiking, climbing, trekking, kayaking, ski touring, SUP’ing, canoeing or long distance space hopper’ing!) Basically you just add boiling water to the pack contents and leave for the required time….though in practise I did prefer to bring the meal back to the boil before eating. You can even prepare them with cold water so if your fuel runs out, your stove is playing hard to get or your stormproof matches are losing a battle with gale force winds you can still have a tasty and nutrient rich meal at the end of the day.

credit Will Goodall Copestake. 800kcal Blueberry Burst Breakfast.jpg

I am particularly impressed with just how easy the meals are to prepare – there IS basically no preparation! This is going to be such a joy at the end of long running days during this challenge – I can set up camp by which time dinner will have virtually made itself! Finding, carrying and preparing ingredients became quite a chore during my #3PeAksRun and I often missed out on healthy well balanced meals because of it.

Almond Jalfrezi curry. Credit TentMeals

The Tent Meals facebook page is also full of quick and easy recipe idea posts that maximise energy or protein intake for when you can pick up fresh ingredients on your adventures.

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Tent Meals also supply trail mix packs and some base dried ingredients, especially useful if you like to throw an extra handful of veggies into your meal as I do. This makes them a one stop shop for your outdoor adventures nutrition whether you are planning an overnight wild camp or an arctic expedition. No need for any more end of day squashed sandwiches!

credit Will Goodall Copestake. Almond Jalfrezi

 

But don’t just take my word for it –  check them out for yourself at TentMeals.co.uk or bring a spoon and catch up with me at dinner time on one of my 1000 summits! (would love it if someone actually did that!😁)

Happy trails 👣

Super Support from the Queens of Flapjack!

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WARNING: this post contains copious amounts of made-up adjectives, excessive exclamation marks and gratuitous flapjack photography!!

I am totally flapperjacked to announce the wonderful squishy hearted folk at Flapjackery are as super amazing as their scrumilicious flapjacks and will be supporting me in my Running the Summits quest.  As many of you know,  flapjack is my go-to fuel of choice so I am very excited to be powered by some the absolutely finest flapjack in the country, nay,  the world! ( I have tested a LOT of flapjack…..(Ellen Cattanach and Val Allport- your homemade flapjacks are still totally brilliant!))

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I discovered my new gurus at the inaugural National Running Show at the NEC in January (tickets are now on sale for 2019!) , but heartbreakingly never got to taste their oatilicious wares as no sooner had the show opened than the entire weekend’s stash of gooey, chewy, flapjack goodness had been snaffled by avid runner fans of the mighty oat! But Flapjackery were not to be beaten, travelling a late night round trip from Birmingham to Tavistock on the edge of Dartmoor back to their kitchen to stock up with a new batch for runners at the second day of the show where remarkably, once again, just a few oaty crumbs remained by the time I made it through the crowds to their stand!

 

Discovering that runners would happily wade their way through a soggy 10k bog run to get their hands on these proper lush treats, Flapjackery recently had a record weekend fuelling runners and visitors at the 2018 London Marathon Expo.

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Flapjackery founders Carol and Sally, both passionate about flapjack (totally understandable!)  took an idea 6 years ago and really ran with it. In their own words…

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We take the humble oat and raise it to a luxury level by adding top quality ingredients and a dash of madness to create our range of luxury Devon flapjacks in interesting flavours in huge chunky pieces, with a range suitable for vegans and lactose intolerant now available. British oats, locally sourced West Country butter and fairtrade brown sugar are some of the reasons our flapjacks taste so good.

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What’s not to love?good, wholesome, nutritious and lovingly made ‘real food’ fuel – perfect for outdoor adventures!

I will be chomping away on a piece of Flapjackery heaven on every mountain summit, I’d love you to join me though I’m not sure if I’ll be willing to share😁

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Now, if you are thinking…

‘Where can I get my hands on these flapjacks of irresistibleness?’

as…obviously, you must be,

check out the Flapjackery website. You can try these uberlush treats for yourself by ordering online or they may be attending a show or exhibition near you soon!

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But don’t just take my word for it…reviews of Flapjackery flapjacks are full of words like    ‘WOW’  ‘AMAZING’  ‘GORGEOUS’  ‘IRRESISTIBLE’.

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Sorry, but I am all out of mouth watering flapjack photos for now but listen out for the next adventure on this Mountain climbing, downhill windmilling arms, running madness challenge as the time gets closer to start…..Running the Summits!

 

P.S. SSShhhhhh…..nobody tell Patch about the flapjack!

 

My #RunningtheSummits Challenge is raising funds for the Mountain Rescue Teams of England and Wales, The Search & Rescue Dog Association England and Fix the Fells. Please support their incredible, selfless work via my fundraising page at VirginMoneyGiving.com

 

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All at Sea

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In a complete break from running earlier this year I travelled for six and a half hours by aeroplane south to the Cape Verde islands to join a tall ship for a sailing adventure on the Atlantic Ocean, a journey back home north (with a good few other directions thrown in – such is the nature of sailing! ) that would take about three weeks. This was something I had been wanting to do for years – out on the open ocean, hundreds of miles from land, all alone with nature….and the other 44 members of sailing crew!

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The voyage was on the Lord Nelson, a square rigged barque of the Jubilee Sailing Trust. A ship designed to enable people with disabilities to sail along with able bodied ship mates, we were a total crew of 45, people of all ages and different levels of sailing experience including a permanant crew that we could put our faith in when things got tough.

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This was my ride home. Exciting, right…adventurous?…intrepid?…….it turned out to be the toughest journey of my life.

To sound like a hard core salty sea dog type I’d like to say that the reason my experience was such a challenge was because we were fighting a perfect storm or wild seas, or I was struggling up the masts to do battle with stubborn sails despite a fear of heights ( well, I don’t really have a problem with heights, just of falling from a height, which seems fairly reasonable to me ) and all of this was, at least, a little true at times, but the basic reason I was miserable was simply because I was seasick!

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I had done some sailing in the past and expected to feel a bit ill, but thought it would pass in twenty four hours, some people had told me it takes about three days which seemed harsh but I definitely thought it would, eventually at least, pass and then I could just enjoy this incredible journey. Things started well, I felt perfectly fine the first night as I squeezed into by bunk space with 15 other people below deck in the fo’c’sle (pointy bit at the front) – we were moored in a sheltered harbour mind you.

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Life on the open ocean…piece of cake!

Next morning my watch team were on the early watch and we climbed to the bridge, bleary eyed before dawn and followed the instructions of Captain Darren very carefully to manoeuvre out of the harbour and into the Atlantic. As the day progressed  the quesiness began to rise along with my breakfast and I had already succumbed to the dreaded seasickness by that first night at sea. The next morning we anchored close to another island to pick up provisions and it gave me some time to adjust in more sheltered waters. I kept my mind off my billowy stomach by keeping busy, hauling eggs aboard from the bobbing zodiac boat while trying not to break any or drop them in the ocean and basically volunteering for every job going.

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Bit different to your average trip to Tesco!

But it was only a temporary reprieve and as our night watch duty saw the last of the land blink away on the horizon my stomach promptly rejected my longed for mug of tea and that was the last time I could face a hot drink or feel remotely normal for three weeks. My twenty four hour ‘adjustment period’ passed and I was still feeling sick, three days passed and I was still sick…..and so it continued for twelve long days…..then things got worse!

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Calm seas to begin with…..not that my stomach cared!

I was in awe of the crew, particularly the cook, Ali, who prepared food for 45 people three times a day with finite provisions, limited space and the rolling conditions. All the equipment were on gimbals but occasionally met the limit of their swinging range and a crashing pan could be heard from the galley quickly followed by some choice language in Ali’s beautiful scottish accent. She even managed to magically appear at 10.30am every single day with delicious home baking. Absolute star!

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For twelve days I had managed to function reasonably well despite feeling pretty terrible and on the verge of throwing up all the time. I kept to my watch shift schedule, a rotating 24 hour rota of 4 hours shifts on the bridge – helming the ship, keeping lookout, updating the log and checking over the ship. I endlessly hauled on ropes, even struggled though a day on mess duty below decks and only skipped a few meals, though I was losing quite a few of them again a short time after eating. By now I knew every location of the sick bags on board and was going through them at an alarming rate. I had used up all my strong anti sickness tablets that are only available over the counter in Spain, I had tried the medication on board, given anti nausea patches a go which did help temporarily but my body seemed to quickly become immune to them and I was soon hanging over the railings once again. We pitched and rolled relentlessy, often both at the same time, day and night. The trouble was the ship just never stopped lurching about, at all, never, ever…….ever.

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The rest of the crew were wonderful and irritatingly most of them were feeling totally fine the whole voyage. They told me not to feel bad, “even Christopher Columbus suffered from seasickness” , as if that would help me feel better. I wasn’t feeling embarrassed or weak for being afflicted with it, just slowly more and more drained from the effects. I kept one watch crew busy on a particularly rough night when I think every one of them disposed of one of my sick bags at some point or another as I tried to crawl onto deck.

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The ocean starts to pick up a bit…

Conditions had become admittedly very rough. One evening I was sitting on the wooden floor in the communal bar area and was just sliding from one side of the lounge to the other as if I was on some kind of playground ride. In our beds we rolled from the hull wall of our bunk to the lee -cloth or board designed to stop you from falling out of bed constantly, back and forth all night. Weather depression after depression was bearing down on us and in the end we had to abandon plans to make land in the Azores, turn east and ride the edge of Storm Emma towards the Canary Islands some 700 miles away. This now meant I had four full days to endure before landfall. By this point the medical officer, Susie, was injecting me with the hard stuff to try to stop the vomiting….but it wasn’t working. My urine was also now the at the disturbing end of those colour charts you see at ultra marathon events…’Shades of Newcastle Brown Ale’

It was all such a shame as I really wanted to enjoy the experience to the full.  In the early days dolphins often rushed over to play in the bow wave, skimming just below the surface so clearly visible in the clear tropical waters, gliding with an incredibly smooth speed, seemingly close enough to just reach out and touch. We were constantly on ‘whale watch’ and every day brought uninterrupted views of spectacular sunsets and sunrises. On watch through the night under the pristine dark, starry skies, sparkles and lights also illuminated below in the water from phosphorescent planktons. It was all breathtakingly precious.

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Night watches spent identifying constellations 

By day 14 I stopped making my watch shift, requested an absence from duties and crawled into my bunk for the majority of the time. This felt pretty pathetic and like I was letting down my watch companions but I was totally done in and exhausted. I couldnt even look out of the port holes any more to see the roiling grey streaked swell that had grown so huge without being sick. The horizon no longer existed anyway, it was all gnarly and chopped up and hidden from view half the time by each giant wave. All I could do at this point was lie in my bunk concentrating hard on keeping some water and electrolytes down and listen to the loud pounding on the hull as we climbed the waves and were slammed into the troughs counting the hours and days til we would reach land again.

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The streaky ocean waves

Finally, on day 18 we reached the island of La Palma and my spirits raised at the thought of collapsing onto land that didn’t buck and roll beneath me , but the wind was too strong for us to safely make harbour so we hove to and got thrown around for hour after hour all day long waiting for the wind to die down…which of course meant it just got worse. We were so close to land…if I could have mustered some energy I would have been tempted to swim for it. By early evening down drafts were coming off the island gusting up to 80 knots (that’s really windy by the way – every time I mention that to someone who sails their jaw usually hits the floor and they give me a look of disbelief. When the winds were recorded at 69 knots on our anenometer even Captain Darren admitted he had never experienced such strong winds. The result of this battering was that the ship was forced over at a 42 degree angle ( also an impressive statistic to people who know what they are talking about) and it ripped out both topsails. We braced ourselves below decks hanging onto our slanted bunks and trying not to get sent flying into a hard or sharp part of the ship as belongings, harnesses, deck boots and oilskins, previously stowed and clipped away were now being hurled around our sleeping quarters. In the end it was decided that the ship should take no more and we would turn our back to the wind and run with it back out into the ocean…away from dry land! Another night groaning in my bunk as my stomach curses me for not delivering on my promise of solid ground. Conditions were so rough that night that crew were now confined below deck for safety.

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I would have actually loved this weather if I had not been so debilitated

Arriving in Tenerife we once again weren’t able to enter the harbour. An incident during the previous day’s weather had resulted in an investigation meaning no one could leave or enter…honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up! They did offer a berth in the marina, but sadly it was only big enough for a small rowing boat!
So once again we sailed away from land and there was no room on any of the other islands. I was beginning to think I might never set foot on land again. But it turned out that our original berth on La Palma was still available and conditions were improving so this could be it, hopefully just one more night on the ocean.

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Land, once again…my stomach rejoices!

Finally, late the following morning we made it into harbour and I staggered ashore, lay down right there on the quayside hugging the ground – I was so happy. I decided right there I would find somewhere to live on La Palma, get a job and never leave land again! However, after weeks of feeling so terrible for almost every waking minute, in just a few hours I was feeling remarkably recovered and was already questioning my decision to spend the rest of my life on La Palma. I had made the decision, however, not to go back out in the ocean, instead arranging a flight back to the UK. Once I felt better though I even regretted that decision and would have happily gone back out with the ship, forgetting so soon how it had been, the miserable hours rolling and lurching and feeling on the verge of being sick 24 hours a day for weeks! It made no sense. I had had the most uncomfortable time of my life, even worse than the time I was flown to hospital with acute appendicitis!, and yet I was ready to try it again. The unforgiving ocean had truly captured my heart.

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An emotional goodbye to Lord Nelson and my ship mates…ironically the ocean was flat clam for the next four days!

Like all good ‘type 2′ adventures my pain and suffering were quickly forgotten and I was totally heart broken in the end to leave the ship. This was in the most part because it meant leaving the rest of the crew who were phenomenal and whether due to having like minded souls or the intensity of a shared adventure I had grown very close to.
This was my first ‘DNF’ (did not finish) , but there really is a lot to be learnt from adversity. Pain is never a gift in the moment but you do gain strength and grow from it. The experience has really taught me that we need challenge and adventure in our lives – not only to push our limits and grow as individuals but to learn compassion and become closer to each other. In my heart I will always love the ocean but sadly my stomach clearly does not!

Happy Sails!😁