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Rants & Therapy

  • Hill Walking & Mental Health

    View from Blencathra in winter. A perfect day in the Lakes.

    As I travel along life’s journey into middle age I find myself complaining a lot that things aren’t as good as they used to be and people aren’t as kind and that I’m generally not all that impressed with the 21st Century. I’m actually starting to sound a lot like Grandpa Simpson. But modern life just seems to put so much more pressure on everyone, and for all the advances in technology and health care we are under so much pressure just to make ends meet that it is running us into the ground. And that’s before we get stressed that our lives are dull and boring compared to everyone else’s awesome adventurous News Feed on Facebook. When you’re a kid you think everyone is sorted except you and it seems so unfair. One good thing about growing older is the wisdom that comes with it and realising that everyone is messed up to a degree, some are just better at hiding it than others.

    Technology has brought so many new stresses and anxiety’s into our lives that our quickly evolving brains have never had to deal with before, it really can leave us feeling useless and worthless. I am so grateful that I live in rural Cumbria where we do have a great quality of life. I wouldn’t cope well living in a city with artificial horizons all around me and millions of people all busy wrapped up in their own worlds. Honestly that is my idea of Hell.

    Glenridding from Place Fell Glenridding from Place Fell

    So what’s the best medicine for modern life, stresses and technology? It has to be hill walking. Getting out into the open with nothing around you but natural beauty. I love having a big day out in the fells. Spending as much time being absorbed in nature and stopping to look around me. I’ll sit for half an hour studying the moss and grass I’m walking over looking for unusual flowers and bugs then another half hour just looking around me. Wild Camping gives me a really good opportunity to just stop and sit. I’ll try and figure out which mountains are which, what sort of trees I’m looking at and if I get a starry night I’ll just keep looking up and watch all the shooting stars and get lost in the Milky Way.

    Beautiful Ullswater Beautiful Ullswater
    Ullswater from the path to Lanty's Tarn Ullswater from the path to Lanty's Tarn
    Whiteside in the White Stuff Whiteside in the White Stuff

                                                                               All year we talk to people in the shop about how good it feels to get out and have a day on the hills. Folk come in after a day’s hill walking with a big smile on their face and you can tell they are buzzing. They get all excited telling us where they have been and what they have seen. I get the same feeling from a big day out on the hills that I do after a holiday. I feel I have been away from the daily grind and I have visited somewhere beautiful and different. Nowhere does this more for me than going up the Zig Zags at the mines above Glenridding in the winter, and coming out at Greenside in the snow. It can be a normal un-snowy winter’s day in Glenridding but once you pop out at Greenside it’s like being in the Alps. Walking up the Zig Zags is like going through the wardrobe and you come out in Narnia. Then after a day on Helvellyn with the crampons and ice axe or a day’s snowboarding on Raise you get back home and think, was I really in the Alps just a couple of hours ago, feels like it.

    By having regular trips into the hills it keeps a balance in your life. It’s not all about work and commuting and paying the bills. Spending your recreational time out of the town or city is very important. You need to see real horizons, the craggier the better, and feel something other than the pavement beneath your feet. And country pubs are so much better and friendlier than town pubs, they’re a great way to reacclimatize after your wonderful day in the hills with nature for company.

    A walk along the best High Street A walk along the best High Street

    And there’s an old saying but there’s a lot of truth in it. Healthy Body Healthy Mind. You don’t need to join a gym or run a marathon. Just take regular walks and look after your diet with lots of fresh fruit and veg, we are merely animals grazing on this fine planet. Make your mental and physical health as much a priority as paying the bills and take the time to enjoy the little things. We are so lucky to live in the most beautiful country in the world, please take the time to enjoy it.


  • Litter in the Lake District

    It’s the end of the summer holidays and I feel compelled to write about something we see a lot of over the summer……litter. It drives me crazy and I just don’t understand why people come to a beautiful place like Ullswater then drop litter everywhere.
    A few weeks back we were at the head of Haweswater walking round the peninsula and came across a massive pile of rubbish all stacked up against a wall. By the looks of it it has been there a long time and brainless people keep adding to it. This is a popular place for Wild Camping (I had one of my first Wild Camps here when I was a Lad) but the idiots who leave a mess like this aren’t real Wild Campers. I know they have a similar problem by Loch Lomond and banned Wild Camping as a result. Real Wild Campers are people who love and respect the countryside and want to spend time in a beautiful natural place so they can enjoy it and understand it better. Wild Campers adhere to the Leave Only Footprints outlook on enjoying the countryside. Banning them is like sacking the caretaker as most Wild Campers will bring everyone else’s rubbish back down with them too and want to leave an area as they found it, or better.
    The people who leave an area in a mess, not taking their rubbish away with them and often burning fences and anything else they can get their hands on have many titles, but Wild Campers isn’t one of them. For now we’ll call them Eejits. They are normally Townies who want to go somewhere without people so they can behave badly, make a lot of noise, trash the place and leave all their mess behind. Banning people from Wild Camping in the fells isn’t going to stop this behaviour. People who come to the Lakes to get drunk and leave a mess wouldn’t take any notice of a ban anyway. They just want somewhere as near their car and as far away from people as possible to have a fire, get drunk and have no responsibilities in clearing up after themselves.

    Hedgehogs can get their head stuck in discarded plastic can holder.

    Most mornings in August as I drive to work along the side of Ullswater I see litter dropped in every layby and bags of litter placed on the road side. Besides the visual mess this is also a danger for wildlife. Animals will rip the bags apart to get to food making a bigger mess and die getting stuck in the plastic rings for beer cans. I get the impression Eejits think they are doing a good thing by putting their litter in a bag and leaving it. Camper vans park up for the night in laybys and leave all their rubbish in the morning. What do they think is going to happen to it? This is the countryside and we don’t have roadside litter collections. Are they waiting for the Litter Fairies? Well we do have some Litter Fairies around Ullswater, but they would much rather be doing their proper job as Lake District Rangers and fixing fences and paths to keep you and the wildlife safe. Every day they spend picking up litter is a day where no fences are getting fixed. Styles aren’t being repaired, signs aren’t being replaced and conservation efforts are being put on hold.
    People are always finding new ways of being horrible and ruining the environment they have come to enjoy. One that is growing at the moment is energy gel wrappers. You see mountain bikers and fell runners suck the energy giving syrup then just throw the sachet away. Well thanks for that. After some of the racing events that are becoming more popular in the Lakes you can trace the route by following the shiny wrappers on the ground. Some people see the Lakes as an extension of their gym, and presumably expect someone to clean up after them.
    Well what’s the answer then? I hear you cry.
    Banning people just stops the wrong people from doing what they want, cleaning up after people just diverts precious resources and fining people costs more in bureaucracy than it brings in. The answer here, as in most other areas of life, is for people to stop being useless. Take responsibility for yourselves! If you see someone dropping litter have a go at them. Take a picture and shame them on social media. Take a bag with you and pick up litter left behind. Show people on Facebook how you do give a shit and inspire them to do the same. Sadly there will always be people who just take and leave a mess and don’t contribute at all. Theirs is a sad hollow life and it is hard to make them see otherwise. But there are more of us that do care than don’t, so if we all do small acts of conservation and try and make things the best they can be that will have a larger result than the actions of losers.
    I have spoken to United Utilities, who own the land around Haweswater, about the mess and I am waiting on them getting back to me. If I had a pickup or trailer I would get it myself but hopefully United Utilities will be in touch and I can take them there and help them tidy the place up.

  • Catstycam and the Modern World

    “The times they are a changing” sang Bob Dylan in 1964. And he was right. And since then lots has changed, and the pace of change has left many by the wayside wondering what the hell just happened. But change is up there with Death & Taxes I’m afraid, unavoidable and forced upon us.

    Companies that we have known all our lives like Woolworths are gone and others are just hanging on. Peoples shopping habits have changed very quickly, sped up by the recession. Technology is allowing the internet to become our new High Street, and large discount stores are wiping out whats left of our town centres. It’s not about service or product any more, just price. Who can sell items cheaper than their competitors, just stack them high and sell them cheap.

    We have had to do a lot of head scratching here at Catstycam. We are turning over less than half what we were before the recession and the rise of the internet and discount stores gave us a good kicking. Redundancys have been made, ranges tightened up and plans that would cost money to implement dropped.

    I have been wondering if an independant Outdoor Shop in a Lakeland Village is just not relevant any more. People do their shopping online and at discount stores, and every high street has a few Outdoor Shops so people are sorted before they get here. I always thought an Outdoor Shop in a destination place like Ullswater would be the safest business going, but I didn’t recon on our old mate Change stirring things up and doing his evil work.

    We can no longer afford to hold more expensive items as we can’t match the internet and discount stores on price, and if it doesn’t sell then we have wasted a big percentage of our budget. We can not afford to have permanent staff any more, paying wages through the quiet winter months would wipe out any money made in the sumer. Georgia is still with us though, running the Pooley Bridge shop and helping me with Glenridding when she can. And good old Chris (of the more sureal blogs) covers our days off so the shops are always in safe hands and the quality of service we offer is consistantly excellent.

    But I don’t want to leave you with the impression we are on our way out. We have been massively affected by outside influences, and had to change the way we run the business and the stock we hold, but we are still here and plan to be for many years to come. As the business has shrunk, we have become more of what we started out as. An old fashioned Outdoor Shop keeping people safe and comfortable on the hills above Ullswater. You will get served by Georgia, Chris or me (I’m not being big headed but we are all very good at looking after our customers) rather than any seasonal Saturday staff so you will always get the best service.

    By making these changes and tightening up the way we operate we will be here at Glenridding, Pooley Bridge and online for years to come. I am very proud of Catstycam and the reputation we have earned over the years. I am proud to be an independant retailer in a corperate world where chains shout about the great service they offer but fall well short of the service always offered by independants.

    So next time you are walking around Ullswater and your boots/jacket/gloves/laces/map/gaiters fail, don’t worry because there are still a couple of excellent Outdoor Shops to supply you with the correct replacements at a sensible price. We are still relevant in this modern corporate age, just a scaled down version of our old self, concentrating on service and looking after our customers the old fashioned way.

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