The high’s and low’s and the very high’s of life

It’s been an interesting month or so on Planet Dave, and as I write this I’m really not sure where my (literary) ramblings are going to take me.  Not all those who wander are lost though, so go with it…

Lets start on August 11th, a week before departure to Mt Elbrus.  A very exciting day for me, as not only did I finally get my hands on a car I’d been hankering after for years, it was also 2 years to the day since I had bought my Landrover Freelander.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but a particularly curious one as the new car is another Landrover, but this one is a Defender 90.  Called Kermit. It has taken a year of looking fairly seriously to find Kermit, due to my needing an automatic and knowing that Hens teeth are easier to find, this was something of a challenge especially working within the parameters of my budget…  But there it is, with an engine and gearbox from a Discovery, sleeping in my garage at night.  Bless.  Sounds fantastic too, in the agricultural way only a defender does.

I have been trying to get to grips with why I have this fascination and obsession with Landrover Defenders.  They are, to steal a phrase from Tom Ford from 5th Gear, “what 4×4’s should be, absolutely fit for purpose”.  I think they chime with my philosophy, with my ‘Whatever it takes’ mantra.  People who don’t know me will make a judgement on me when they see me walking down the street.  I get that.  It’s fine, human nature.  When they see me climb into, or out of, my defender, having made that judgement, the eyebrows are raised as the brain searches desperately for a logical explanation.  Call me sadist but I like it when I make people confused.

But its more than that too.  I know I cannot have done the things I have done without people and equipment to help me.  The defender is an extension of that.  It points to the opportunities to go places, see things, inspire and help do things that wouldn’t be possible without the people and equipment to enable it all, and also challenges the ideas people have about me when they pass me in the street or in the pickles and sauces aisle in Tesco.  That, I think, is why I love the Landrover Defender.  Still not convinced?  Watch this:

A week after collecting Kermit, my friend Nigel Vardy and I were on our way to Russia and the Caucasus mountains to climb Mt Elbrus.  I won’t go into detail here but my report can be read here.  Suffice to say it was a trip of mixed fortunes but I am emmensely proud of what we were able to achieve and the learning from it.

However, Nigel and I were brought crashing back to earth on the return journey.  Our flight from Mineralnye Vody to Moscow was delayed by 4 hours which meant that our connecting flight home left as we stepped off the aircraft.  The next flight was not until the following morning, so eventually S7 airlines (whose flight was delayed) gave us a meal voucher for the equivilant of about £5 each.  Has anyone been able to get a half decent meal for £5 in an airport lately…?  No, nor me…

Then, after 3 hours in the airport, at about 10pm we were taken to the S7 ‘hotel’.  Our room was about 8ft x 5ft, with two beds, a wardrobe and sink.  Oh yeah, and us two tired adult men with our kitbags having come off the mountain the previous day.  And the worst thing of all… no hotel bar.  Still, we would have to be up in 3 hours to go back to the airport to check in for our new connecting flight…

When we got there we had a new problem.  This was the day after the original connecting flight so we were told we couldn’t have boarding passes because our visa’s had expired.  Off we were taken to a kiosk, filled out a form, parted with 1500 rubles (about £30) and we were now finally able to take our boarding passes.  That all took about an hour and a half, so by the time we got through security to the duty free area, the flight was being called and we had not even enough time for a quick ‘farewell Russia’ coffee.  Just as well really as we were almost out of cash.

Mercifully, the British Airways flight to Heathrow T5 passed off smoothly and comfortably.  Nigel had remained a picture of remarkable calm persistance through the whole experience despite our growing frustration and tiredness, and it had been an education to watch a seasoned traveller work.  More remarkable still was our arrival and passage through T5.  We were ushered down an quick channel at passport control and so by-passed the queues, our bags were already circulating in the baggage reclaim hall, and then straight out into the arrivals hall greeted by the excited and beaming face of Gaynor, my partner.  Welcome home!!

Nigel had to head straight home for an appointment to have his feet checked over, and Gaynor and I stayed in London for a few days.  I’d landed on the day of the opening ceremony for the greatest show on earth, The Paralympic Games.  As a former Paralympian, I never thought I’d see a games on this scale, with this level of support and this level of enthusiasm for paralympic sport.  It was immense.  We went to Trafalgar Square for the opening ceremony (great atmosphere) and then had tickets and park passes for the friday and saturday.  Wow!  Well done LOCOG, Channel 4 (Last Leg was a brilliant idea, classic Channel 4 at it’s finest), London as a city, athletes and of course those simply sensational volunteers who made it all work.  I have sat through some boring closing ceremony speeches at major events, but thought the speeches by Lord Coe and Sir Philip Craven were the best I’ve ever heard.  If you haven’t seen them, watch this:

Returning home to normal life could present a hefty anti-climax after such a tumoltuous couple of weeks, but I was glad to get home, to my own bed, and of course the dog (Pike) who I’d missed almost as much as Gaynor.  I think after being re-united with him it took him about 3 days to calm down…

The final peice of news to convey is that Pike now has a new playmate… As of just over a week ago, we have a 3 year old female Springer Spaniel we’ve named Islay.  We got her from Babbington Rescue Centre where she was brought as a stray, and we are all thoroughly delighted to be able to offer her a new home.  She’s settled in very well, and in that typical Springer way, is permanently happy and thrilled with everything, especially when it comes with a sausage…


Bakewell to Highlow Hall

I had a great long day walking with my old school friend Gary Brown on saturday.  He’s currenty training for an assult on the Coast to Coast walk in August to raise much needed funds for a charity he has a direct and personal relationship with, the Miscarrage Association.  I always find it enormously impressive when the most quiet, the most unassuming, the most gentle of people go way beyond what would be reasonable for a cause they are personnally connected to and often by the most difficult of circumstances.  Gary’s website, where you can find out more and sponsor him, is

As part of his training, and part of mine for Elbrus, we agreed to spend a weekend in the Peak District as a dry run / practice for his big walk.  This would let him test things like camping with his Dad (who will be supporting him throughout), cooking and eating, kit and the ‘expedition’ routine.  It would also help assess fitness through a two day ‘yomp’ on a route from Bakewell in the White Peak to Hope in the Dark Peak.  The route was published at as a 3-day trip, while we were aiming to cram it into 2 longer days.

In order to give us an early start on day one, we headed into the Peak on friday evening to our campsite just outside Bakewell.  Greenhills Holiday Park is a very nice site with great facilities including a shop and pub, and the tent pegs slid into the ground easier than I can remember for a very long time.  It was busy though.  And noisey.  I do love to see young people enjoying the challenge of outdoor and adventurous activity, but it seemed the site was overwhelmed by DofE groups with the inevitable result that we were late getting to sleep, followed by awaking at about 5.30am.  Hey ho.

After breakfast, we were dropped off in the town and started our walk at about 7.45am.  I confess to finding myself pondering about what a slightly incongruous pair we must have made, me with my 19 year old rucksack, 10 year old mountain boots and Yeti Gaiters, smaller in stature with a bit of a distinctive ‘gait’, alongside the more solidly constructed and be-shorted gary with smart new rucksack and new boots.

Across the meadow by the river we strode, then began the climb out of Bakewell before dropping down to the old railway line transformed into the Monsal Trail.  We followed the trail stopping to be passed by friendly people on mountain bikes and chatting to the occasional dog walker, through the tunnel and across the viaduct.

Eventually, we would leave this trail at Cressbrook, dropping down to the river.  The footbridge gives a perfect viewpoint of the small yet vibrant weir backed by an impressive amphitheatre of water and rock.  Worth the early start just for that!

From here it would be a long climb along the road out of Cressbrook village and into Cressbrook dale, a climb nicely punctuated by a chat with a nice bloke with a collie and chocolate labrador.  We’d see him again as we emerged from lunching in the pub at Foolow…

Heading through Cressbrook Dale we had our first downpoor of the day and a theme was set for the remainder of the walk.  It would rain hard enough for long enough for us to stop and don our waterproof jackets, shortly after which it would stop raining and the temperature and humidity would rise enough to make us stop and remove the layer we’d just put on.  Repeat every 30 mins…

In a slight deviation from the published route we continued up Cressbrook Dale rather than heading off up to Litton, eventually emerging from the dale at Wardlow Mires before continuing on past Stanley House (where there is a sign saying “Beware of the Bull”, but only as you exit the field… thanks…) and on to Foolow.    The ‘Bull’ sign reminded me of a sign I say elsewhere that says ‘The farmer allows walkers to cross the field free, though the bull may charge’…

The path between Stanley House and Foolow is rather overgrown now, and I rapidly began to be thankful for my trousers and gaiters.  The shorts-wearing Gary was somewhat less thankful for his choice of attire.  Arriving into the village of Foolow we made haste and headed for the Bulls Head and a sandwich and welcome pint.  Very nice it was too, in what we generally agreed was technically known in the trade as being ‘a nice pub’.

After lunch, we made the short next leg across the patchwork of fields and dropped down into the beautiful, if slightly infamous, village of Eyam where you can find a craft centre, museum and coach loads of tourists.  We met up with Gary’s Dad there for a few minutes before cracking on and climbing out of Eyam towards Eyam Moor.

Within a couple of minutes of setting foot on the Moor itself the rain started in what would be the heaviest and most sustained shower of the day, easing off as we descended towards Stoke Ford.  As we approached the ford, Gary then won the prize for first fall of the day, stacking it on the muddy path.  Naturally, I didn’t want to be outdone and sure enough a couple of minutes later as we continued round towards Brook Wood, I too stacked it good and proper, landing hard on my hip and hand onto rock.  I don’t have a great deal of natural ‘padding’ and I knew straight away that I had to keep moving before my hip ceased up.  We were meeting Gary’s Dad at Highlow Hall, less than 2km away so we didn’t have far to go.

When he arrived, we had had a few moments for some peanuts and a coffee, and a chance to reflect on the day.  We had covered about 14 miles, further than I’d walked in a day for a very long time, and we felt thoroughly pleased.  We went back to the campsite, now populated by more young people on their DofE, relaxed and changed before going to Bakewell for dinner.  My hip was now starting to become more painful and the following morning after a decent night’s sleep, was no better.  I was very disappointed, but had to withdraw from the second day which would have taken us from Highlow Hall to Hathersage, out long Stanage Edge, then down to Ladybower Resevoir before culminating in the climb up Win Hill and down to the finish in Hope.  Such a nice day too, but I could barely move.  Gutted.

Gary was in good shape and he elected to take advantage of being in the Peak on a good day and continued along the route.  Having that day on his own would stand him in good stead for his big walk in August.  Good Luck Gary!

Julie Tullis Memorial Award

Very excited today.  I have received a letter from the BMC’s International Committee with a provisional grant offer from the Julie Tullis Memorial fund towards my re-match with Mount Elbrus!!

Julie Tullis was the first British woman to climb an 8,000m peak, but tragically died after summiting her second 8,000er, K2, in 1986. She was a longtime member of the Sandstone Climbing Club (SCC) and after her death the Club initiated the Julie Tullis Memorial Fund (JTMF) as a permanent memorial to her life and achievements.

I am of course delighted and grateful to the BMC for this significant contribution.  I hope that it will help galvanise and encourage others to help me to reach my target for the expedition, and I hope I can do Julie Tullis proud.