Spring Starts to bloom

The Random Notebook has been a bit quiet recently…but that doesn’t mean that I’ve been quiet. For a while, it seemed like spring was very slow to arrive this year. The days were gradually getting longer, but it was still full coat, hat and gloves weather most of the time. I’ve been busy with my teaching and writing work, and I’ve been making sure that the blog for my work in hospitals with dementia patients has been updated: Dales Tales website.

After the Spring Equinox, we headed to Whitby to spend almost a whole week walking and exploring at the end of March. Actually, we’d visited most of the places before, but it was lovely to return and relax. As it was later in the spring than our usual trips to Whitby, it was a lot busier, especially on the Sunday, and we decided that we like the streets of Whitby better when they are quiet and atmospheric.

However, it was lovely to see the town in bright sunshine, with people and dogs enjoying the beach.

Whitby piers and some seagulls!

Whitby piers and some seagulls!

We had a great time looking around the abbey and taking photos from strange angles, and I bought a lovely hand-knitted beret for a bargain price from the church. I was glad of something to keep the hair away from my face, as our next stop was the East pier – quite dramatic with the tide rolling in. The piers in Whitby are part of the harbour for the fishing port, made out of rugged stone, with weathered lighthouses withstanding the winds.

On the Monday, we walked from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay. It really felt like spring and I photographed some stunning views over the cliffs. I was grateful for the “1,000-mile socks” that I’d bought the day before. Apparently, I get my money back if I get blisters while wearing the socks, and by the time I arrived in the picturesque fishing village, I was aching but my feet felt alright!

Tuesday was spend wandering around Whitby, having a lovely walk along the beach, discovering a strange alfresco sculpture garden, pottering around shops and enjoying chips and mushy peas from Robertsons (all the other chippies in Whitby seem to cook in beef fat rather than vegetable oil, which isn’t good for veggies!) We were under the watchful eye of some herring gulls standing on top of nearby parked cars, but they were more interested in a couple who had a battered fish. In the quaint bookshop on Church Street I spent my book token on the excellent Herring Girl by Debbie Taylor – a novel that brings to life the long gone world of the fishing village.

In the evening, we hit a few local pubs: the Duke of York, which overlooks the harbour, and on the other side of the river, the Little Angel, which serves great ale, and the Granby, where I unexpectedly won the pub bingo!

Wednesday was our only chance to explore the Mulgrave Estate near Sandsend, just a couple of miles further north than Whitby. The estate is only open at weekends and Wednesdays. In the middle of this wooded private estate, lie the ruins of a medieval castle. This time, we thought we would also check out the waterfalls marked on the map, and the remains of an older Norman motte and bailey . We found everything we were looking for, but the paths marked on the OS map didn’t seem to coincide with reality, and we got ourselves a bit lost and muddy into the bargain! We did find the atmospheric ruins of an old water mill though.

We managed a quick trip to Whitby museum in the afternoon, savouring the gruesome “hand of glory”, a desiccated human hand used by burglars, and learning about the First World War torpedo raid on Whitby and Scarborough in a great new exhibit.

When we woke on Thursday morning, the sunny weather had disappeared, to be replaced by heavy rain showers and leaden skies. There was just time for a final walk around Whitby before heading back to Sheffield.

The Easter holidays officially started with several days of grey, gloomy weather, which was very wet, filling the streams and reservoirs. Maundy Thursday was bright and sunny – the Queen even visited Sheffield, but I kept out of it and went for a lovely walk up to Ringinglow on the edge of the Peak District instead.

Good Friday was terrible again, but the weather started to pick up on Easter Saturday, when we walked around Damflask reservoir and laboured up to Higher Bradfield to look around the medieval church that was bustling with people creating floral displays and Easter decorations.

Easter Monday was a beautiful day – more like summer, and I joined friends at the Endcliffe Park duck race, an annual event to raise money to restore Forge Dam, a pond further up the river that has become badly silted up. The event has quickly become a Sheffield institution, with thousands of people buying ducks and watching the race. We walked to Forge dam later on in the afternoon, and I had one of their legendary chip butties!

I’ve been catching up with some freelance editing work this week, and it’s been great to be able to work outside again on my laptop – it’s great for concentrating too, as my internet connection is poor to non-existent at the bottom of the garden.

This Saturday was much cooler, but the evening held something exciting in store. Scott Doonican, the singer from one of my favourite festival acts of recent years, The Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, was playing a sold-out solo gig in the intimate surroundings of the Lantern Theatre in Netheredge, Sheffield. The gig was a triumph, showcasing hilarious songs from their new album as well as old favourites. If you like comedy folk bands and witty covers, they’re the band for you, and the friends I took along with me are now firm converts.

But we had to be up early this morning! One of my new “Dooni-fans” from the night before was taking part in the Sheffield Half-Marathon, re-launched this year with a new route that stretches into the Peak District. The weather was quite sunny, but so windy that I was almost blown off my feet several times, as we waited for the runners at the side of Ringinglow Road. There was a great atmosphere, as athletes jogged past, having just completed the dramatic hill climb out of the city. As spectators giving encouragement to the runners, we weren’t going anywhere as far or as fast – in fact, we just returned to the Forge Dam café for another chip butty. I’ve now mentioned chips a record three times in one blog entry – that’s truly Northern!

It’s been good to change the pace of life and work a little for the start of spring, but for now, the whirl of teaching and writing begins again in earnest. But with warmer weather, lighter nights and great music, festival season is just around the corner!

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The power of a solo walk – the Porter Valley

In need of fresh air and thinking time…

I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts. I think it’s the change in the seasons, and my natural anxiety in the process of  changing careers and becoming self employed. Some things have been going brilliantly well – my writing workshop for Off the Shelf has filled up, due to my own hard work, and I’m in the middle of another freelance editing project. But some things start well and then take more time than expected to get off the ground. I always think I can do more than I can in one day – and the task of writing my second novel has been languishing behind more exciting tasks such as cleaning the bathroom!

I’m making lots of links with people to build my business, developing new ideas, and learning new skills all the time. But I know I could be doing more, working harder or smarter. There are lots of “shoulds” in life, aren’t there? Sometimes these days, I surprise myself with my own confidence; sometimes I’m cursing myself for the smallest mistake. I’m aiming to be on the look out for every opportunity: concentrating on keeping my life afloat and moving forwards in the right direction.

So on Sunday, I decided to go for a walk. My other half didn’t want to come, but it was such a lovely warm day, I had to make the most of it. And if it’s a choice between doing something I really want to do on my own, or not doing it at all, I’ll go for the solo option. And a solo walk is always an adventure. When I start walking from the house and find myself in the Bolehills and the Rivelin Valley, there are so many paths to take that I just choose them on a whim, not knowing where I’m going to end up, but knowing where I am from the contours of the land, the ramshackle allotments, the incongruous tower blocks of Stannington, and the swift river flowing through the bottom of the valley. These walks can be quite magical and unpredictable.

The Queen Victoria Jubilee Monument - a good spot for reading

The Queen Victoria Jubilee Monument – a good spot for reading

This Sunday, I decided on one of the other famous valley walks in Sheffield, the Porter Valley. This walk starts in Endcliffe Park, a popular park in Hunters Bar (immortalised by the Arctic Monkeys on their first album) with a large playing field, duck ponds and a cafe abounding with “yummy mummies” of this upmarket area of Sheffield. it’s also a favourite student area, and I parked on Ranby Road, a terraced street running down to the park, where I lived in my second year at university, catching up with my reading list by Queen Victoria’s jubilee memorial.

A heron! On the busiest pond in Sheffield.

A heron! On the busiest pond in Sheffield.

The park was busy with footballers, picnickers, kids and cute dogs. As I walked past the first pond, I had my first surprise. The pond is usually a bit boring, rather silted up, with the world’s fattest mallards bobbing around on the surface, staring disdainfully at the sliced white bread being thrown at them. They prefer ciabatta, daarling. But there in the trees, in full view of everyone, was a heron. A mother and daughter pointed it out, and soon, crowds had gathered to point and take photographs. Herons are quite common, really, but there’s still something special about them, scruffily elegant and mysterious.

I moved on, enjoying the vivid autumn colours and entertained by the antics of dogs who seemed determined to jump into the stream. Taking a few quieter paths, I saw a charming little grey wagtail, catching flies and bobbing around.

Steps made out of grindstones at Shepherd Wheel

Steps made out of grindstones at Shepherd Wheel

The Shepherd Wheel Mill was working today. Each pond on the Porter Valley used to be a millpond – powering water-powered grinding wheels for sharpening cutlery and tools. Shepherd Wheel is the only grinding mill- on any of Sheffield’s rivers, in existence, and it’s been restored over the last few years, with a working water wheel and the grinder’s wheels inside. The place bores my other half rigid, but I like it. it’s an important part of Sheffield’s history, and I find the noise of the wheels turning, and the water in the wheel, quite relaxing. It’s picturesque, dating back to the 1500s. In its heyday, it would have been a noisy, dangerous, dusty place to work – the whole valley would have been very industrial.  In the restored millpond, a lady was encouraging her Labrador to swim to fetch a ball – he was having a wonderful time.

A shaft of sunlight in the woods

A shaft of sunlight in the woods

Soon after the mill, a road crosses the path, and on the other side, it’s more wooded. There were still a fair amount of people taking a Sunday stroll or bike ride, but woodland and birdsong were taking over. There are some wonderful old, gnarled trees, and it really started to smell like autumn; of damp earth and fungi. I took atmospheric photographs of sunlight through the dappled leaf canopy.

Never mind the bullocks!

Never mind the bullocks!

Eventually, I ended up at Forge Dam, with its round pond, now rather silted up, and legendary cafe, recently refurbished. I had an excellent chip butty for lunch and sat outside in the Sunshine, amused by the rather posh clientèle, and large dogs causing chaos. I was going to end my walk here, but I decided that I was up for an adventure. I fancied a walk to the llama and alpaca farm – yes, you heard correctly, in Ringinglow, After Forge Dam, the path runs through the Mayfield Valley. This is definitely the countryside, there are fields on either side of the path, picturesque farms, and the high-rise buildings of the city look very distant. I passed a field of curious bullocks.

Just around the corner, the path to the village of Ringinglow climbs steeply uphill through a field. Once I walked up here and the field was full of cows with large pointed horns, but I was lucky this time – there was just a group of children launching themselves down the hill, loving the feeling of being out of control. It was a hard slog up the hill, but the view was worth it, miles of green valley, with the landmarks of Sheffield clear but tiny on the horizon. At the top, I exchanged out of breath pleasantries with a family visiting the Alpaca farm. As I walked into the village, I could see the long-necked animals in their fields, but I didn’t feel like paying to walk around the fields on the other side of the fence – after all, I’d already seen them!

Porter Clough

Porter Clough

Instead, I walked on until I reached Porter Clough, the very top of the Porter Valley walk, on the edge of the Peak District, where the stream is little more than a trickle from the moors. The steep-sided valley is covered in ancient woodland. I managed to avoid the rain of acorns falling in the woods. Although it was still t-shirt weather, the leaves were steadily twirling down.  I took the higher paths on the way back, to vary the route, and picked up my pace, and it wasn’t long before I was on Ranby Road again.

A solo walk is a great way to clear your mind and allow your thoughts to settle. I also find it good for creativity. Walking alone always makes me want to write poetry – and occasionally, I do. That’s why a familiar route on a reliable path is good, as no map-reading is required and you’re not going to get stuck in boggy bits when you’re not concentrating! One of my other favourite solo walks in Sheffield is around Damflask reservoir, near Bradfield village. It can be managed in just over an hour and it’s good if you just want to get away from it all for a while!

Safety first though! If you are going walking on your own, you might want to stick to tried-and-tested routes at first, where there will be other walkers. If you’re using a map to plan your route, make sure it’s manageable in the time you have. Wear sensible footwear! Bring a waterproof jacket, water, an OS map if you need it, a snack, or enough money to buy one. Bring your mobile phone, although a reception isn’t always guaranteed in mountainous regions! And always tell someone where you’re going and roughly when you expect to come home (not that I do all of these things all the time!) When you do get home, you’ll definitely be feeling better than when you set off!

Things this blog is about…