Books I've Read

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Wiltshire White Horse Trail

I'm not sure if you realize this or not but England has more than one white horse. I'm not talking the animal variety, I'm talking the white horses cut out of the turf on a chalk hillside. In Wiltshire there are 8 of these incredible hill carvings which are still visible. There are some that are new and others that are ancient.

Mark and I had arranged months earlier to go and stay with friends or ours who live in Somerset. Dale is interested in ancient things and so they decided for our walk we would do a portion of white horse trail by walking the Honeystreet and Pewsey Downs trail. It is an almost 7 mile walk that loops over the top of a hill giving great views (if the weather cooperates) down to a canal that has a pub for a bit of refreshment near the end of the walk.

The Boys
I was quite excited as according to Dale and Gail, we were going to walk literally over the ears of the horse, not just view it from a afar. So rather than whizzing by at high speeds driving on the motorway. I would get a nice long look at one of these great English landmarks. Saturday morning we woke in the guest bedroom of Dale and Gail's the night before we had sampled Dale famous pizza night and they featured a seasonal treat wild garlic leaf pesto!  Even better the pesto had been made by Dale from leaves he had foraged...YUMMY. Needless to say I at least had some calories that needed burning off.  So after a fab breakfast we all loaded in Dale van. We chatted the whole way and then there it was off the the left of our window as we drove into the village of Alton Barnes.

From where we parked you could see the horse off the in distance and as Dale told me that we were going to walk to the top of it I knew the calories would fall off me! As we started the walk Dale told us that the horse that we were going to walk to the top of was constructed in 1812 by a guy named John Thorne so a newer carving. Turns out when I did a bit of research this John Thrope guy was a bit of a con artist as he took the money (£20) and a horse and ran! He was later hanged. So instead the guy that Thorne commissioned to do the work, used the plans drawn up by Thorne, and did all the work, his name was John Harvey. So the guy who wanted the horse carved, a Mr. Robert Pile, had to pay for it twice.

It was a beautiful day, the sun was shinning and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. We still grabbed extra layers and loads of water as the hill is quite exposed and with English weather anything could happen. Within minutes though I was down to my shirt sleeves! It was unseasonably warm for March! As we climbed the view was a bit obstructed by the haze created by the heat. But the view was still stunning. And the greens!!! I know that the human eye can see more shades of green than any other colour BUT this was stunning.

Soon we were at the top of the horses ears! It was funny. I had been looking forward to seeing it up close but when you do you find yourself wishing you were a bit further away as up close it just looks like a bit of a exposed chalk. Oh well it was still neat to know that I was standing on the top of his ears! Supposedly according to Dale they placed the wooden frame around the horse to help prevent erosion from changing or destroying the horse itself. Further there were stakes in the ground above the horse which they use to tie into so that they can weed the horse periodically so that it will always remain lovely and white and viewable from a far. So even though it looks like nothing spectacular from up close from a distance it is beautiful!

The boys flying a kite and Baxter trying to ignore the kite
For a bit of a break we decided to try and fly our parafoil kite. Neither Gail or Dale and tried it before and we had a lot of laughs. Unfortunately there was not much wind which made flying the kite a hundred times harder! However Gail, I would say, did the best of the beginners. Poor Baxter (their dog) didn't know quite what to make of the kite but it was not his favourite thing! hehe

As we headed down the hill toward the canal we went by a ditch (aka "earth works"). I know big deal right! But it actually was as it was a man made ditch that had been made by some ancient landowner as a way of displaying his wealth and power! A ditch!! It was called Cross Dyke. It was quite impressive given it was dug out by hand and that there was no reward for it just the cheif/king proclaiming to all who happened upon it to say, "wow the guy who had this built must be rich and powerful!" I find it incredible and interesting to learn about how people lived and the things that showed the world that they had "made it."
Cross Dyke

The walk continued down to the canal as we got closers to the pub the noise of the locals out enjoying the beautiful summer day in March! We decided that we had worked had enough for a bit of a rest and a treat! We found and picnic table and the boys went in to sort out a treat for us. Within a matter of minutes both Gale and I had our hiking boots off and our bare feet in the grass it felt absolutely delicious!!! Like we were grabbing a bit of a cheat of and early summer.

Mark, Baxter, Dale, & Gail

Cheesy chips in our tummies we finished our walk and hopped back in the van. The walk and the sunshine got the best of Mark and he dozed a bit on the drive back. However he perked up when we went past a Tesco enough to make sure that we stopped and purchased an ice cream treat. YUMMY! thank you Chokabloc for making such a yummy treat.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Global Corporate Challenge

As of today I am now a member of the Global Corporate Challenge! It is a pretty cool thing actually. A corporation (for me Guys and St. Thomas')  agrees to take part in it and then so many teams of 7 get to sign up. What it means that as a get fit challenge the GCC encourage all participants to walk just a little bit more. Steps are logged and the teams go on a virtual journey around the world. So our research team (seven of us) registered as a team, we called ourselves....."The Eppendorfs"....don't ask why. The challenge starts on the 24th of May. Registration for the challenge closes May 4th so if your company has decided to participate sign-up quick!!! You get pretty cool freebies, PLUS if you stick to the challenge of 12,000 steps a day, unless you are already super fit you will have an improvement of health! Oh and by the way this is worldwide so if you are going to be in it let me know your team name so I can see if the Eppendorfs are ahead of your team!

Happy Walking!!

Saturday, April 14, 2012


The second weekend in March I took a Friday off, joined Mark and his Mum in a car headed for Wales. While we always have fun the purpose of this trip was not sightseeing or relaxing it was to be a part of a 14 person work crew for a bunkhouse in Wales, Tyle Mogrug.

Mark's Dad used to be the the chairman for committee that ran the charity that is responsible for this bunk house. We continue to go periodically to help out on the working weekends. The Cynon Valley Cottage and Bunkhouse is in the middle of nowhere, which is perfect for what it groups that are enjoying the outdoors. From scout groups to hiking individuals many stay here as it is on the edge of the Breacon Beacon which makes it perfect for hiking, biking and getting away from it all!

Now up until this trip I have been extremely fortunate and had not yet experienced stero-typical Welsh weather. When we came out of the local food shop armed with the bits and pieces needed for supper and breakfast the next morning...I got that experience. Grey and rainy. So the drive up and over the hills it to the Cynon Valley was not as spectacular as before as you couldn't really see much more than grey mist, fog and rain! 

Supper was made as Sue had done all the hard work before leaving England. Supper finished we all retired to the lounge area where a fire was burning bright. The guys all swapped stories of what the bunkhouse (affectionately referred to as the hovel) and the role that Mike had in turning it from the hovel it was with sheep dung piled up so high the front door couldn't be opened to the 3 star bunkhouse it is now.

Off to bed. Bunks for Mark and I. The next morning I awoke to clump, clump, clump....BANG. As each person...ok lets be honest...MAN, staying our side of the bunkhouse plodded down the stairs slamming the door to make sure the rest of the working party awoke! Soon all was well, as is tradition the chairman of the charity knocked on Mark and I's door with a mug of tea for me and a cheery good morning for Mark! It was again grey, misty and generally miserable. After breakfast two of the work crew sat with Sue and I and gave us very detailed instructions on how to get to the nearest Travis Perkins (a hardware store) in nearby Aberdare as well as a shopping list of things they wanted us to get for them. 
Caerphilly Castle and the Welsh hills beyond

Sue and I at Caerphilly
So we got in the car and I used my handy android smart phone to look up the address and then plugged the post code into Mrs. Garmin and we were off. No troubles no dramas we arrived at the Travis Perkins armed with a list of parts and tools that we were to get using the chairman's trade card. Unfortunately they did not have everything they men wanted. So we spent the next 15min with the VERY helpful staff member who located all the items we needed at nearby Caerphilly. I was very happy to hear this as on a previous trip Wales I had been to Caerphilly and it has the most beautiful castle! So off we went. The lower in the valley we got the more beautiful it became! Soon the sunroof was open and the windows were rolled down. Very easily we found the Travis Perkins and got all the required parts for the work team. Job done! Before doing the shopping necessary for the next few meals and heading back to the bunkhouse, we decided we needed a reward so we had a quick exploration of Caerphilly castle where I was the guide! That was weird...being in a the UK and acting as a guide for Sue! he..he...Tour and photographic evidence taken, as we knew the guys would never believe us. We stopped in a local cafe for a coffee and a cake YUMMY!

Caerphilly Castle, outer moat
Back at the bunkhouse the men were all VERY please to see us! And helped us bring in the food. They were happy to see we got the parts, but as predicted they did not believe we had been to Caerphilly! Not even the pictures proved it!! It took the dated receipt for the parts before the chairman would believe us. 

Caerphilly Castle, inner moat
They were all quite hungry and took turns "helping" us in the kitchen to speed the homemade soup we were making for lunch! In the afternoon the sun came up and Mark, Sue, John, and I took a moment and a bit of a walk to remember Mike. The rest of the afternoon was a cleaning extravaganza as we got the bunkhouse back into good condition. The work crew mainly all stopped at 16.00, but that is when Sue and I began. I have never made such a large tagine in my life! enough to feed 14 hungry people. It went down a treat! Even the couscous which was a new experience for some. It was good fun but hard work! Thank I now have a little better appreciate for what cooks and chef's do! 

Sunday we were all prepared to spend another day working as is the tradition. There is usually a promise of a walk which never happens due to the amount of work that needs to be done. But things and the bunkhouse have come SO far that the entire work team went for a walk. Well everyone except us. We had no idea that the promised walk now happens and had not brought the right gear. So instead after walking to the most beautiful sunrise and the bleating of the sheep we did a few final things and then hopped in the car. We decided that we would do a little exploration of Cardiff. 

Cardiff is just on the inside of the sea coast. It boast a brand new stadium, a newly developed docks are, and an old castle. We did a drive through Cardiff Bay (the docks area) and they did a fabulous job down there. Lots of new buildings with interesting architecture and loads of space and pathways for people to wander. Then we headed into town. Found a place to park and went for a walk. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed being out and about. The castle looked impressive from the outside and a famous wall of animals! Which were fun to snap. We then returned to the park and found a sunny bench where we watched the world of Cardiff go by while enjoying our picnic lunch.

Castle clock tower

One of the many animals on the wall

 After lunch, we needed to get on the road if we were going to miss the traffic. I hopped behind the wheel giving Mark a break as he had done the majority of the driving so far. It had been a great weekend.