Holiday tips from our friend in the north!

Holiday tips from our friend in the north!

"Who is for a holiday between the Tyne and the Tweed? I am for one…” So begins Walter White’s fascinating Northumberland and the Border, published in 1859. Sigma author Mark Lejk, who would love to have met this Victorian enthusiast and accompanied him on his journey, starts a new series of guest blogs by asking whether Northumberland is still a good place for a holiday - and decides that the answer is, undoubtedly, yes!

Well I would say that, wouldn’t I? Having written two walking books about the county, I’m besotted with the place. Instead of driving through it on your way to or from Scotland, as many do, take some time to visit. You won’t regret it!

In this first blog, I shall write about the Northumberland coast. The area between the Coquet Estuary and Berwick-upon-Tweed is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can walk its full 64-mile length along the Northumberland Coast Path while, for cyclists, the Coast and Castles Route (NCN Route 1) links Newcastle and Edinburgh, with 85 miles following the Northumberland coastline. Along the way you’ll pass stretching, sandy beaches, quiet coves, ancient castles, pleasant villages and friendly people.

The beaches are surprisingly quiet. Druridge, Embleton and Beadnell Bays have miles (yes, miles!) of unbroken sand, while my favourite is the wonderfully named Sugar Sands, something of a local secret and the perfect spot for a family picnic.   Along this spectacular coastline are some equally eye-catching castles, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Holy Island acting as historic beacons and all of them open to the public.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is the jewel in the crown. Connected to the mainland by a causeway which floods at high tide, it was the cradle of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times and has a fascinating history. The beautiful priory and the quirky castle are the main attractions but there is a lot more, such as the fine beaches on the island’s quiet north side, where grey seals can often be found basking on the rocks.

 Take a boat trip from Seahouses to the Farne Islands, where you’ll find all sorts of seabirds including puffins, guillemots, shags and eider ducks, as well as a large colony of grey seals. You can also find out about Grace Darling, the Victorian daughter of the lighthouse keeper who was involved in a dramatic shipwreck rescue and became a heroine overnight. An interesting museum dedicated to her life can be visited in Bamburgh village.

As for the weather – yes, it can be a few degrees cooler than the south of the country! But this can often be a relief in the summer, especially for walkers, and the coast is also one of the driest parts of the UK. In fact, it’s often remarkably sunny and clear, even in the winter – just take a look at the photo of Dunstanburgh Castle on the front cover of my first book, which was taken on a January day!

So have I convinced you? Please come and visit; you’ll be very welcome!

Retired University lecturer Mark is the author of Discover Northumberland: Volume 1 and Volume 2, and is currently working on Volume 3. He moved to Whitley Bay 35 years ago and thinks of the north east as his spiritual home. 

Created On  3 Aug 2017 15:56  -  Permalink

Approach altitude with attitude!

It’s tempting to avoid riding up hills but, with July bringing the opportunity to see the world’s greatest cyclists in uphill action on the Tour de France, it’s time to go climbing, says Sigma author and guest blogger Dave Hancock.


July is a month of mixed emotions. We marvel at the pedalling ability and stamina of Froome, Quintana, Contador, Porte et al. And we empathise with the domestiques as they grind to an exhausted standstill on the last climb after working for their team leaders all day. Most cyclists who have ever tackled a road marked by the Ordnance Survey® with one or two black arrows will know the feeling of battling against gravity. It’s tempting to stick to flat terrain but to do so may mean missing out on far-reaching views. And, of course, the thrill of freewheeling downhill!



Stage 17 of this year’s Tour includes the highest pass of the race, the Galibier, one of the toughest climbs professional cyclists ever face. Topping out at 2,642 metres, the 17.7-kilometre climb has an average gradient of 6.9%, increasing to more than 9% towards the summit. On Ordnance Survey maps, two black arrows mean a gradient steeper than 20%, or one in five. On the Continent, gradients are expressed as a percentage by making y equal 100. There are steeper climbs in the UK but they are nothing like as long as on the Tour. Cragg Vale in Yorkshire is the longest continuous ascent at 8.5km but has an average gradient of just 3%. Constitution Hill in Swansea has an average gradient of 20% and a maximum of 22% but is just 0.3km.

Nearly there! Fortunately, this road over the Wales/Shropshire border doesn’t go over the big hill in the distance!

 How to cycle uphill


Forget about ‘dancing on the pedals’ and climbing out of the saddle as the best pure (pro) climbers do. They are invariably lighter, train harder and have more suitable physiques. It’s much better to stay seated, select a low gear and pedal smoothly and consistently. If possible, you want to maintain a high cadence – keeping the pedals turning at 50 revolutions per minute or more. To do so, and depending on how steep the hill is, you may need ‘low’ gears – a chainwheel at the front with the same number or fewer teeth than the largest sprocket at the back.

Yes, it’s easier to climb on a lighter bike but before you spend a fortune on a carbon fibre machine consider how much cheaper (albeit harder) it is to lose a few pounds from your body weight. Tyres can also be a factor – wide, heavy tyres generally increase rolling resistance as do rough roads compared to smooth ones.

A hazy view of Church Stretton from ‘Little Switzerland’

 Walk this way


When the going gets tough, the tough get off! Don’t grind uphill to the point of exhaustion. It’s much better to get off and push your bike. Not only does this give your muscles and breathing an opportunity to recover but you can admire the views more easily. Even professional riders have been known to walk, most famously on the Tirreno-Adriatico road race in Italy in 2013 (mind you, this was towards the end of a 200km stage, on a gradient of 30% and following heavy rain that made the surface slippery!).

Chris Froome and Tour de France cyclists
 Downhill (almost) all the way


After pausing to enjoy the views at the summit, you can let gravity take over. Freewheeling downhill soon dispels the discomfort suffered getting to the top and will set you up nicely for the next hill! For a circular ride in Shropshire with some long climbs to enjoy(!), I suggest Ride 13: A tour of Church Stretton area – ‘Little Switzerland’ in my book More Cycle Rides in Shropshire. It’s just under 19 miles (30km) and includes many glorious views – some of which I saw at a walking pace as my chain broke 10 miles from the finish!


Dave Hancock is a keen cyclist and author of
Cycle Rides in Shropshire and More Cycle Rides in Shropshire, both available from Sigma Press.


Created On  6 Jul 2017 10:26  -  Permalink

Act now before adventure becomes a distant memory!

What are your strongest childhood memories? Chances are, if you were born during or before the 1980s, they involve climbing trees, roaming the fields until teatime and swimming in rivers. But new research shows that today’s children are potentially missing out on adventures of this kind and are too busy playing indoors instead.

According to a survey by garden and conservatory furniture firm, the fondest childhood memories of more than half (56%) of British adults include exploring and socialising outside. Yet almost the same number - 58% - of modern parents say they regularly battle to get their children outdoors, suggesting that the next generation is likely to be missing similar key memories from their own childhoods.


 Almost a quarter say their children ‘rarely’ play outdoors during their free time, while almost seven in 10 - 69% - believe their kids spend more time playing indoors on computer games and technology than embracing nature and the outdoors. Just nine percent think their offspring would play outdoors if was raining, compared to the 19% who did so when they were young.

 The research found that:
  • Building dens was cited as a former favourite outdoor activity for 68% of those quizzed
  • 65% loved playing in the park (65%)
  • 57% enjoyed trips to the seaside
  • Games such as hide and seek, hopscotch and tag were popular with 56% of today’s parents, closely followed by ball games including rounders, tennis and football (52%)
  • Almost half - 45% - loved splashing in a paddling pool, while 41% fondly remember water fights
  • Camping trips (38%) and having barbecues (31%) also form favourite memories for adults today
  • More than a third of adults (35%) regularly pleaded with their parents for extra time outside and 44% preferred playing outside to being indoors during the summer holidays

 Alfresia’s Nic Jones said, "It’s great that such vivid and long-lasting memories can be created for children simply through outdoor play. These are recollections that we will take with us into adulthood and cherish for years to come - and a lot of them involve doing things that are free.

"However, sadly many children today seem to be missing out on these long-lasting memories that are created through enjoying outdoor experiences. For many families, the vast range of technology they have at their fingertips is a reason to stay indoors, yet there is so much to embrace through outdoor activities and play.

 "Simple games such as treasure hunts, feeding the ducks and splashing in puddles can bring such happiness. Of course, indoor games and technology have their benefits and can also be a great deal of fun, but there is no harm in getting wrapped up and heading off for an outdoor pursuit come rain or shine!”


Our trails books for children cover all corners of the UK, so switch off, get outside and start making memories with your little ones today!



Created On  15 Jun 2017 13:11  -  Permalink

Fresh air and fitness

Fresh air and fitness keep us on our toes in National Walking Month!

  As a nation, it seems we’re more in love than ever with walking! A new survey of the over-40s shows that 70% of us think walking is more important than it was 10 years ago - and, given the interest we see in our 140+ walking books, we can’t help but agree!

 The research, carried out by walking holiday specialists Headwater to mark National Walking Month, found that three quarters of holidaymakers over 40 love to explore on foot. Seven out of 10 believe walking is more important than it was a decade ago and more than half - 56% - love the fact that walking holidays are active yet relaxing. Yet, with recent NHS findings revealing that one in four adults in England gets less than 30 minutes of exercise a week, it seems more essential than ever that more of us start to build a short walk into our daily routine.

 When asked what’s wonderful about walking:

  • 84% of respondents said the fresh air
  • 69% like the fact that walking keeps them fit
  • 54% enjoy being around nature
  • 57% cited exploring a region in their own time as their favourite part of a walking holiday
  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of over-40s who choose a walking holiday do so because they get to enjoy the outdoors

Headwater's Alison Scott says: "Our research supports the recent NHS review of obesity, highlighting the importance of regular exercise for adults. Incorporating regular walking into your routine is easy and, as it’s not a strenuous form of exercise, it’s actually quite enjoyable! On a walking holiday you can enjoy pleasures such as fine food and wine whilst burning off some of the calories when exploring a destination on foot.

"Following the research, we’d like to attract and support those new to walking by creating a series of e-guides later in the year, covering everything from what to pack to reviews of the ideal cost-effective kit to how to take the best holiday photographs. We want to debunk the myth that walking holidays are just for the active and experienced and ensure that they are open to everyone of any age, experience or fitness level. Walking is important and we want to shout about its numerous benefits.”

 With National Walking Month well underway, we agree that walking is one of the best exercises for beginners and experienced hikers alike. As well as physical benefits such as reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and some cancers, a short daily walk can be an excellent mental health booster, fighting anxiety and depression. A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine also found that gentle exercise such as walking keeps the mind sharp in the over-50s, thought to be due to the increased supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients.

 If you’re new to walking and want to start gently, here are some suggestions for easy, accessible trails:

  Cornwall Walking on the Level

Find your feet with Norman and June Buckley’s collection of 28 mainly circular walks in one of the UK’s most popular holiday spots - perfect summer inspiration.

 Teashop Walks in Oxfordshire

Proving you don’t have to escape to remote countryside to go walking, Julie Meech’s book covers fairly level ground in the Cotswolds, the Chilterns and the Thames Valley - and has the perfect excuse to revive yourself with a nice cuppa along the way!

All Terrain Pushchair Walks in Snowdonia

You might have to work your way up to some of the more strenuous alpine adventures but, with a number of riverside strolls - the shortest being just three quarters of a mile long - Zoe Sayer and Rebecca Terry’s book truly has something for even the most tentative newbie.

  Lincoln Heritage Detective

You might spend more time ‘working out’ mentally than physically with Danny Walsh’s new release! This city walk requires you to turn detective and solve the cryptic clues in order to see Lincoln’s finest features in a new light - and to discover some quirky new ones!

 In the Spirit of Wainwright

National Walking Month is for everyone who wants to get outdoors, regardless
of health or ability. Be inspired by Debbie North and ‘sidekick’ Andy, who set off
in search of accessible adventure after Deb’s diagnosis of spinal degeneration.


Created On  18 May 2017 15:10  -  Permalink

Going round in circles

Boost your cycle rides with places of interest 

Unless you're on a pedalling tour or weekend break, leisure rides will inevitably finish from where you started. Although the process of turning the pedals and enjoying the freedom and fresh air are undoubtedly sufficient reasons in themselves to be cheerful, such journeys can be made even more interesting by visiting places en route – especially if you do your research, according to Sigma author and this week’s guest blogger Dave Hancock. On group rides, a cafe or pub will often be the choice for a mid-ride break. Lone and paired cyclists can be more adventurous – a castle, viewpoint or beach, perhaps.  

A French ace

Ride 1 - Oswestry old mills and bridges - in my book More Cycles Rides in Shropshire is a 20-mile route to the east of Oswestry which takes in the old perimeter road of Rednal airfield. A former RAF base, the airfield is on a large plateau. The Discovering Shropshire's History website has considerable information about the site of the former RAF Rednal, including that it was an Operational Training Unit from April 1942. Spitfires and Miles Master aircraft were used at Rednal and, sadly, there were many accidents, with pilots killed. According to the website, the French fighter ace, Pierre "Clo Clo" Clostermann, trained at Rednal. He went on to claim 33 "kills" (a number that has often been refuted) and died in 2006 at the age of 85.

Records breaker

Decommissioned in 1945 and then sold in 1962, Rednal airfield now hosts a variety of different activities. There are many industrial units and workshops, some located in old hangars. Unusual activities to have taken place there include the testing of airships (global balloonist Per Lindstrand has a base in nearby Oswestry) and the setting of three world records by Jason Rennie for jumping trucks on a motorbike!

These days the popular pursuits at Rednal include karting on a specially built track, paintballing based around the old WWII control tower and, in the same area, outdoor laser shooting parties. The site also hosts a large Volkswagen camper van festival each year and is used as a timed test on an historic car rally.


Cycle sightseeing

As well as watching the activities, it's also worth taking in the scenery as the plateau, although not high above sea level, offers good panoramic views. One drawback, depending on which direction you're pedalling in, is the strong headwind on the short section of road parallel to the main runway. At least overcoming it is a good excuse to stop for refreshments at Canal Central teashop further along this ride.


Created On  2 May 2017 14:56  -  Permalink

Dog friendly cafes in Cornwall

Sigma author Sue Kittow does enjoy a cup of coffee (or two!) when she’s out walking! "I have a high metabolic rate and need refuelling regularly, so it’s much nicer to do it in the warmth with friends, and enjoy a piece of cake or biscuits!” she says. Here’s Sue’s guest blog about the dog-friendly cafes in Cornwall she has visited recently:

1. Jampot Cafe at Gwithian, near Godrevy Lighthouse

The Jampot Cafe overlooks Godrevy Lighthouse and lies snuggled in the towans like the gingerbread house in a children’s fairytale. Its owners bought it 18 years ago; it was once a look-out station in the Napoleonic Wars but now supplies wonderful homemade cakes and bacon sarnies to hungry hikers and visitors. It has an indoor seating area for when it’s cold, as well as tables and benches outside. There’s also even a book swap scheme if you’re staying nearby! Be assured of a warm welcome and great homemade food, whatever the time of year.

2. Trebah Gardens, near Mawnan Smith, Falmouth

Trebah cafe, shop and gardens are very popular with walkers and holidaymakers alike - all are always busy, whatever the time of year - and it’s one of the few large cafes in the area where dogs are allowed inside all year round. The produce is supplied by local suppliers and is always delicious, as is their coffee. Fortify yourselves with coffee and cake before walking it off on one of the many lovely walks nearby.

3. Bissoe Cycle Hire Cafe, Bissoe, near Devoran

This cafe is sited at the cycle hire office at Bissoe and is popular with those cycling or walking along the path from Devoran to the north coast of Cornwall. Bikes of all kinds may be rented here and any walk along the trail is punctuated by sideways leaps to avoid cyclists! The cafe is always warm and welcoming, with excellent coffee, vegetarian options and locally made soup, bread and cakes. Dogs welcome inside and out.

4. Cafe Mylor, Mylor Yacht Harbour, near Falmouth

Situated in the heart of Mylor Yacht Harbour, this cafe is very popular with sailors and walkers. The cafe also runs a Wednesday morning social dog walking meet, so people can walk with others, whilst dogs get water and dog biscuits. Locally-sourced Tregothnan tea, wonderful homemade cakes and dog treats are supplied before ramblers head off to Flushing or further afield.

5. Inkie’s Smokehouse, Golitha Falls

Unusual eatery Inkie's is situated in the car park at Golitha Falls, opposite: a very popular place to visit, particularly for dog walkers. It’s wise to check opening times in the winter, but this mobile cafe offers barbecues year round and is raising money to build a permanent smokehouse. They also offer cake, coffee and hot drinks.

6. Chapel Porth Cafe

There are so many walks to explore on this wonderful part of the north Cornwall coast before queueing up at Chapel Porth Cafe for the amazing food on offer, including homemade French onion soup, breakfast sandwiches, baguettes filled with cheese, onion, mushrooms and clotted cream, or their hedgehog ice creams and flapjacks. Once you’ve been here, you’ll certainly come back - even the dogs have their own tin of leftover flapjacks!

Sue Kittow is the author of Walks in the Footsteps of Cornish Writers, Walks in the Footsteps of Winston Graham's Poldark and Discover Cornwall, which is being updated in a second edition for 2017. Follow Sue's adventures on Facebook

Created On  5 Apr 2017 15:40 in WalkingOutdoorsFood & drink  -  Permalink