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  • 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.


  • So You Want To Try Camping #2...A home from home. Zzzzz.

    Well, Easter 2013 got a bit too chilly for most tent campers in this area but we're getting a bit warmer now, and we're just topping up the lake for a few days before we have our first heat wave.

    So, we've got the tent to suit our plans and now need to think about what we need to make it comfortable to live in, within our budget.


    There's a wide choice of sleeping bags on the market. If you are planning to camp in summer on a campsite that's not halfway up a mountain, you could just bring your duvet  from home and then make sure that you are well insulated from the ground... but assuming you want to get a sleeping bag.

    Basic sleeping bags cost very little and do the job well in mild conditions. They usually have an indication as to how warm they are and a temperature or season rating, take this with a 'pinch of salt', we are all different and there are enough variables to make this rating very approximate, it's just a guide. If you are car camping and weight is not a consideration, you can always take a fleece blanket or buy a liner for the bag to give you flexibility as to temperature control. A bag's loft, its 'fluffiness', is important for keeping the warm air in and the cold at bay; when you compress a bag it loses this insulating ability, so don't pull it in too tight around you, that won't help. Likewise you will need to have insulation underneath you, where the bag is flattened on the cold ground, it won't keep you warm.

    A down sleeping bag (down as in bird down!) is the most efficient, but is an expensive bit of kit and it's probably best if you are new to camping to stick with synthetic filling, a bit bulkier but easily washed.

    To help insulate you from the cold ground, a closed cell 'Campermat' will do the trick. You can also get a posher version which is self inflating, be wary of the inflatable airbeds which are comfortable but won't keep you warm, the air in them drops to the ambient temperature, they won't provide insulation.

    You should never leave a heater on overnight, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is very real and there were several incidents last year in this area, and sadly, this year has already seen its first deaths. Ventilation is also important to keep your tent as damp free as possible, especially during the night, keep the air circulating as much as possible.

    At Catstycam, The Outdoor Shop we stock a good selection of sleeping bags, sleeping mats, bag liners and airbeds, as well as many other accessories to help make your first expeditions into the wonderful world of camping as enjoyable as possible.

    After your first good night's sleep under canvas you will be looking forward to a hearty breakfast in the clean, fresh Cumbrian air.

    So... the  cooking arrangements?

    Next time.

  • So You Want To Try Camping? Read on ...

    I love camping! There's something about sleeping in a field that works for me. Early memories of holidays without parents in north Wales, a farm by the sea and, my, how tents have improved since those days.

    In those days you actually did sleep under cotton canvas, no zips, no sewn in groundsheets and only single skin, no fly sheets...pah!...campers these days, they don't know they're born!

    Apart from the obvious benefit of life in the fresh air, close to nature and all that, camping is a cost-effective way of taking a much needed break from the daily grind, spending time with friends and family in a unique environment, an investment in your physical and mental well being.
    So... Tents. Assuming your camping holiday is on a campsite with toilets and showers, communal washing up and food preparation areas, and is in the Easter to Autumn holiday period, in the UK.

    There is a massive choice of  tents on offer these days.

    Family tents : Dome tents, where the poles cross over each other are very stable, they offer flexible designs which can incorporate 'bedrooms' off a central area which can be used as a 'living room', and can be used for cooking or communal activity.  It has been known to rain on occasion in this country so a bit of sheltered space can be a real advantage.

    Tunnel tents, as the name suggests, tend to be designed on a longitudinal floorplan and give good headroom but need to be well pegged out with guylines, they are not free standing and can be less stable.

    Both styles should have a waterproof outer skin and a breathable inner tent, usually in the form of  'hanging bedrooms' which are attached inside the outer, after it has been set up.

    The bedrooms will have a sewn in groundsheet which is waterproof and normally has a side wall of around six inches, also waterproof, just in case your pitch becomes a puddle. The 'door' will be a zip entry and could have a mesh layer to keep the flying thingies out! You can usually buy a 'footprint' groundsheet which fits the shape of the tent, and can be used to add protection to the tent's fitted groundsheet, put it under the groundsheet.

    Tent manufacturers, in my opinion, tend to underestimate the amount of space a real family needs to be comfortable, so if possible go up a size i.e. a six person tent will be a good size for a four person group.

    Try to visit one of the stores where you can see the tent and walk around in it, check the seams, double stitching for strength, fibre glass poles are common and are fine, but alloy/steel poles are stronger and lighter (but more expensive). Ripstop mesh in the tent material will stop small tears becoming gaping holes, but, again, costs more. Are the poles colour co-ordinated to help with erecting it after a long journey and the family wanting to get to the beach, and you looking forward to a cuppa?

    Smaller tents: Two or three person tents, backpacking tents, festival tents; also a large selection available at very cheap prices. Essentially same thoughts about these tents when buying your first tent. You can also still get the traditional ridge tent e.g. the Vango Force Ten, my first 'proper' tent, the triangular shape still used as the symbol for campsites throughout the world, and now retro tents like teepees are coming onto the market, I've even seen a tent that looks like a VW Campervan!

    Bear in mind the size issue, the quality of materials and manufacture as above, weight could be an issue so consider alloy poles, and you won't be standing up either, so how's the back these days?

    There's nothing to be afraid of here, it's a lot of common sense and not being afraid to ask for help and advice, gradually you will build up your own ideas and preferences. At Catstycam, The Outdoor Shop we carry a selection of smaller tents and lots of camping accessories and, of course, we are happy to advise.

    When you have made your choice and bought your tent, try putting it up and down a couple of times before you venture out on your first trip, get a feel for it and make sure the pegs and poles are all present and correct!

    Next thing you need to think about is what you need to do to make your tent a comfortable home from home.

    But that's for another day.

    Stay tuned.

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