Lincolnshire Peasant

Exploring places from a peasant perspective.

Nine Days Left

Yesterday a thick package containing my InterRail Pass fell through my letterbox, and I realised that I am actually going to Europe. For so long it seemed to be in the distant future; like children and arthritis. But exams distracted me and now it looms menacingly close. I leave in nine days time, and if all goes to plan I will be back by the 5th of August, when I can begin recounting my tale to you. Though it is quite possible that we will not return at all, perhaps frozen on a lonely Bavarian street or lost deep in Hungarian peasant country, forced to pick potatoes to earn our keep.

The ticket information leaflet is plastered with pictures of glamorous young people relaxing in train carriages and hugging amorously in front of the Eiffel tower. A noble dream, but I suspect we will look more like  contingent of hard bitten tramps, and my thoughts will likely be of murder rather than love after spending 22 days imprisoned in a train carriage.

Anyway, I am taking my camera, and will return weighted with experiences to share with you. Wish me luck.

Atop White Ridge

Apologies for not posting the third and final installment sooner, I was recovering from a sheep bite that went septic. Actually thats a lie, but also rather more exciting than the truth, which involves exams. Do read parts 1 and 2 of my tale also.

We woke before dawn, and assessed the damage done by the sheep. The tent porch was collapsed and a packet of sugar cubes stolen, but other than that all was in order. Then we sat there as the sun gently climbed above a distant ridge and began to melt the light frosting of ice on the ground, until dew droplets hung like jewels in the morning sun.

Our path was taking us ever further north, seemingly away from any civilization at all. There were no human settlements to be seen, and even the paths we had been following disappeared, so that we had to follow the game trails which weaved between the bracken.

We were circumnavigating a bog when we found our path blocked by several somewhat shaggy cows, with formidable horns and rather groovy fringes. We quickly nicknamed them “Emoo’s”, and made them run away by shouting mean things about their hairstyles.

By midday we had reached the highest point of the moors, traversing the treacherous White Ridge, great slabs of stone like altars overlooking the plateau below. We scrambled from peak to peak as the wind picked up and drove dark storm clouds above us. Rain was imminent.

In the final valley before our destination we came across a river, swollen by the recent rainfall and scattered with huge boulders. The map indicated a bridge, but there was non to be found. And so we were left with no choice but to jump from rock to rock, perilously balancing on each one above the roaring torrent as our heavy bags attempted to drag us down. This photograph of the river upstream doesn’t really do it justice.

The first Joe skips across like a sure footed mountain goat. I followed more carefully, concerned for the safety of my camera, and had to crouch to steady myself in the middle, but arrived at the bank safely. Second Joe also crossed without a problem. But then third Joe fell and slid sidewards on the largest of the boulders, his feet dipping into the water as he arrested his fall with one arm. My heart stopped momentarily, but he staggered upright again and finished the crossing. The final ascent awaited us.

Perhaps it was boredom from the relentless pacing onwards, onwards, towards the horizon. Perhaps it was a mixture of sleep deprivation, lactic acid, and too many sugar cubes in the morning porridge. Whatever it was, the fact is that for those last few miles I was quite convinced I was Frodo. Please do not judge me.

The straps of my monstrous rucksack bit mercilessly into my shoulder. My vision swam, my breath came in ragged gasps. Not far to the summit now, but every pace seems to take thousands of minutes. I collapse heavily, and fumble for my water bottle, pour the last of it into my mouth, spilling precious drops onto the cruel rocks.

Another monumental effort, each metre crawls by, the wind whipping dust into my eyes as tiny hailstones begin to fall; stinging my hand and face. A hand, bloodied and torn, gripped the top of the plateau. My hand. Thighs screaming one final protest, my bag pulling downwards and trying to throw me back, I pull myself up, and there it is. It is beautiful.

An icecream van. A drizzle soaked carpark with an icecream van and a bench. It was El Dorado, it was Mecca. I very barely resisted the temptation to fling myself to the ground and kiss the asphalt of utopia. No, there was one last thing to do. From my pocket I pulled out a small metal object. Some loose change. A ring.

Yes. There was a reason I came to this place. I hurl the ring as far as I can into the flaming crater before me, and it hangs in the air for a second, before dropping into the waiting hand of the icecream van man.

One Mad Sheep

On the second day of walking in the Peak District, the strain began to show a little; our bags started to feel heavy, and the weather continuously alternated between just a little too hot and a little too cold.

Having been chased from our camp site by angry peacocks, we continued north over protected moorland. Only a few kilometres on we came across a circle of nine upright stones known as the Nine Ladies, an ancient druid circle believed to be about 4000 years old. As well as being ancient and mystical, they made an excellent place to sit and eat the mornings ration of dried fruit. Further on, we encountered numerous deer and sheep, which kept their distance for the most part, and the views from the hills were idyllic.

Around lunchtime we arrived at the village of Edensor, not far from Chatsworth house. The village was beautiful; elegant stone houses and pristinely cultivated gardens clustered around a tall church. We ate lunch on the village green, watching the tourists mill back and forth. A young white cat came over and posed for the camera. We then moved on, as the rest of the way was uphill and we wanted to set up camp before dusk.

The site we pitched the tents on was nothing more than a field on a rather windswept hillside, but it was not the weather which we should have been wary of. Generally I view sheep as gentle, docile creatures that mind their own business and eat grass. But the sheep we encountered was different. He was larger than average, and had a roguish glint in his eye. His first attack took us by surprise; as we were cooking he attacked another group to the left of us, head butting them and stealing a substantial  mouthful of pot noodle before retreating to a safe distance. The sheep then proceeded to charge around the camp site in search of further sustenance, possibly in the form of small children. We took this as our cue to retreat into the tent for the night.

Across the Map

Over the last three days I have walked from one end of the peak district to the other, right the way across an OS map. Along the way we have seen a great many things; from cows with groovy hairstyles to perilous marshes where many a hardened hiker has met their end. Accompanying me were three companions, all of which were called Joe, which caused considerable confusion. I will recount my tale in three parts.

We began our trek from the side of Carsington reservoir, where I had canoed previously. The first day passed slowly yet surely as we trudged through the green hills under a startlingly pleasant sky. Spirits were high and the pace leisurely; we had time enough to explore the jutting outcrops of rocks and tumbled down shepherds huts that dotted the landscape.

Joe, enjoying a well deserved rest atop Carsington Summit.

After my last venture into the Peak District, I was amazed when we reached our camp site for that night with no incidents more serious than a slight cut. While Joe and I set up the tents, Joe and Joe cooked the evenings meal on a rather battered Trangia Stove.

The next day we were awoken before sunrise by a series of hideous screeches that reverberated around the camp site and our skulls. Unable to sleep any longer, we rose and set out to find the source of this beastly noise. Tracking it to a nearby stable, we discovered several peacocks prancing about proudly as they went about their business of rousing us innocent campers. While they look a noble bird in photographs, their voice has a very special quality, which fills you with the desire to see the wretched things cooking over a camp fire.

On the Rhine

Its been a rainy, rather uninteresting week. So I have decided to dig out some of last years travel photos and reminisce till the weather significantly improves. Here are a few photographs from last summer, when I went to Mainz in Germany and spent a few days exploring the Rhine by bicycle and ferry.

Our bicycles parked in the shade during a break for lunch on the side of the Rhine.

The Citrus Bar in Mainz, which was originally a 17th century bastion, and later a railway building.

 An old warehouse on the river bank, near Florsheim, where I will be staying for a few days next summer.

An Ersatz Colosseum

Before I recount this I must speak in our defence, it had been a long day and we were all rather bleary eyed from making hostel reservations.

A few days ago, we were flitting around Europe on Google Earth, locating our hostels and generally trying to get an idea of each cities layout. All was well until we decided to whet our wanderlust a little and scout out the sights we would be visiting in Rome. In true tourist fashion, we quickly found the Colosseum and zoomed in. Unfortunately, the sight that greeted us was less than impressive.

At once we burst into outcry. We expected a great, impressive arena of stone! But here was a rather dinghy looking thing, that appeared to have been constructed from corrugated iron and concrete. However, this disappointing lack of charm from above was dwarfed by our outrage with the evildoing of the Italian Government. How dare they desecrate such a prestigious ancient ruin by surrounding it with a rail yard? And hideous grey warehouses too! We spent several minutes energetically cursing such barbaric vandalism, until realisation  slowly began to creep over us. And then it became all too apparent.

We were not looking at the Colosseum at all, but rather the turntable of a large railway depot, about three kilometre east of the real thing.

Making Money

Travelling is great. One of the main drawbacks is the expense, unless you sneak aboard a tea clipper bound for Singapore, or go to Skegness. Certainly it is easy enough to amass the money to go abroad if you are a thirty something engineer and have no mortgage: you simply stop feeding the children. But what if, like me, you have no job and have to spend most of your available time studying? Here are a few ideas that I came up with to finance my trip to Europe:

  • Sell a sibling. Generally they are a nuisance with no real talents, and you could make a tidy profit by selling them to a coal mine or local aristocrat. This has the added bonus of reducing food expenditure!
  • Set up a dictatorship. By declaring your house or town a sovereign nation, you are free to print your own currency. Try it! I’ll leave it to your respective governments to explain any little niggles and flaws with this plan afterwards.
  • Become an industrialist. By buying up any natural resources in the area and building a workforce of unwanted siblings, you too can become a successful capitalist!
  • Sell something you don’t actually own. This is a particularly easy way to get cash quick, so long as you can then evade any irate purchasers. Things you might want to consider selling include famous landmarks, large buildings, and neighbours houses.

The Europe Expedition

At last, with summer fast approaching, we have set in stone the itinerary for our train-voyage across Europe. We locked ourselves in a darkened room with an atlas, a few laptops and some guide books. Eight hours later we emerged, bleary eyed and vowing never to look at a train timetable again. However, our self-incarceration was productive, for we have now booked the hostels and planned the train routes. With the logistics arranged, we can finally focus on exactly what we will be doing in each city. I will definitely be able to scratch a few items off my To Do list along the way.

We will set out from London and roam for more than three weeks before returning home; feet sore, wallets empty, wanderlust satisfied.

In the first week we shall journey up Germany, visiting places such as Mainz, Wolfsburg and Berlin. Then comes Eastern Europe and the cities of Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Once we have had our fill of the former Habsburg Empire we shall catch a southbound train to the sunnier Mediterranean to explore Venice and Rome and relax a little. Next is the most dreaded section of the journey; a marathon 18 hour train journey from Rome to Paris, twisting and turning through the Alps. We shall spend the last few days limping about Paris, before returning to England for a well earned rest.

If you have any advice or would like to recommend a place to visit, please leave a comment!

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Cousins from Hell

A terrible thing is currently happening.

In my life, I have faced a great many perils. Pirates in pedaloes in the Dominican Republic, an irate Scotsmen in Glasgow. But non are comparable with what I am currently facing, getting ever worse and with no hope of escape.

For it is Easter, and so we are visiting The Cousins. Baby twins and a stubborn toddler is not exactly my idea of good company; little children are just so uncivilized. But there is no chance of keeping them at bay, for the elders insist that we ‘socialise’ with them. It usually takes about fifteen minutes before shell shock from the constant wails and shrieks sets in. Drinks are knocked over and a bead kit scattered across the floor. One of them crawls up and begins to chew on my leg, while the eldest mounts an attack upon some crisps, sticking them down its throat like a rabid creature. I think my hair is turning grey. At my side- my mother; looking pale and equally dazed. Our house is usually quiet and orderly, this place bears more resemblance to a lion pit at feeding time.

Even more sickening are the rose tinted glasses of their parents; perhaps it would be more bearable if they saw their beloved monsters for the mucus filled parasites that they are. I don’t hate little children or anything, most of them are fine. But The Cousins are different.

Extreme Glacial Geocache

Nowadays it seems every man and his dog knows about geocaching. Its a great pastime; it gets families outdoors and exploring, and adds a twist for people that already do a lot of walking. But while this is all very jovial and pleasant, there are a few caches out there that are rather different.

In the winter of 2010 I went skiing on the border between Switzerland and Italy, at Cervinia, a ski resort at the foot of the Matterhorn. While I was there, I searched for nearby caches, and stumbled upon a rather different one. Planted just a few months before was a cache of legendary difficulty. To this day, it has only been found 32 times, and I hope to one day reach it myself.

The geocache is located at N 45° 57.406 E 007° 40.881, in an abandoned cableway station know as the Furggenbahn, 3,478 metres up the Matterhorn; a notoriously treacherous summit. Upon closer inspection, it becomes obvious as to why it was deserted. It is a seven hour trek from the nearest operating cable station, and crampons and an ice axe are required to scale several vertical sections of rock, and 50 metres of rope for the descent. The final section is a steep slope of snow and ice, over the remnants of an ancient glacier. It is a bleak and desolate environment, and the highlight of the trek is said to be the overnight stay in the Furggenbahn, towering above the clouds.

One day, a long way off yet, I will go back to Cervinia with the experience and equipment necessary to reach this geocache. And when I do, I will be sure to blog about it!

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