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Exploring the Best of North Yorkshire

North-Yorkshire-Highlights-Saltwick-Bay

Low tide at the beautiful Saltwick Bay

It’s confession time. I thought about this week’s blog post whilst hanging out the washing at about 9.30am this morning. Which, given this should have gone out at 8.00am was a bit of a boob on my part. I’m blaming the Easter bank holiday – today feels like Monday, not Tuesday!

Rather than my usual ‘how to’ style posts, this week I’m going to take you on a wee tour of North Yorkshire, mainly because I’ve just come back from a lovely few days up there in our campervan, Sadie. Our weekend can be summarised as follows: windswept moors, hilly forest, windswept beaches, more windswept moors. As you can gather, it was pretty windy.

Sadly I don’t have any photos of our 20-mile mountain bike ride around Dalby Forest. Partly because I felt that carrying my new phone around the trail was guaranteed to make me fall off and squash it, and partly because I am pretty slow on the mountain bike and was therefore at the back of the pack. So you have to take my word for it that it was a sunny day and a fun route. I biked about 90 percent of it (which is good going for me) and felt totally knackered by the end of it (always the sign of a good day out).

Saltwick Bay

Saltwick-Bay

Saltwick Bay is about a mile down the coast from Whitby on the east coast of North Yorkshire. It’s pretty popular, but at low tide it’s big enough that you can wander away from the crowds. We went in search of driftwood and found fossils. Many, many fossils. There’s also the remains of a shipwreck:

Shipwreck-Saltwick-Bay

If you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic in Whitby, it’s well worth the walk over the cliff-top path to Saltwick Bay. Just make sure you keep an eye on the tides and don’t get trapped.

Blakey Ridge and Rosedale Valley

We had arranged to meet my sister and her partner for a walk in Rosedale valley the following day. As Sadie is a bit of a beast, we decided to get to the the start of our walk – the car park on the top of Blakey Ridge – early, to nab a good parking spot. Which meant we ate breakfast with this beautiful view:

Blakey-Ridge

Pretty good, huh? Blakey Ridge is a beautifully wild, desolate spot. The lonely Lion Inn stands proud, battered by the wind; a cosy refuge on a winter’s day. But on this occasion, the sun was out and we had our sandwiches packed.

Rosedale is a tranquil valley, surrounded by wild moors. It also has an interesting history. During the nineteenth century, the valley was mined for its high-quality iron ore. The remains of the brick kilns can still be seen, high on the hillside.

Brick-kiln-Rosedale

To transport the ore to the foundries, a railway was built and the remains of the tramlines now offer a flat, high-level path around the valley.

Rosedale-valley

On a clear day, you get stunning views across the valley. Keep your eye out for ring ouzels (the blackbirds of the moors) and listen for the call of curlews circling overhead. It’s a wild, windswept and beautiful place – a taste of the best North Yorkshire has to offer.

Salomon Sense Mantra 3 W Review

Salomon Sense Mantra 3

These shoes were made for running


Having lost one half of my (admittedly battered and holey) trail running shoes on a trip to Skye earlier this year, I was in desperate need of a new pair. In particular, I was after a pair of lightweight shoes that could cope with a variety of surfaces, including compacted trails and road running.

My previous experience with Salomon trail shoes has been good – I still have a pair of XA Pros that I bought ten years ago – so when I noticed the Women’s version of the Salomon Sense Mantra 3 on sale, I figured I’d found a perfect replacement. Salomon categorise it as a ‘light trail shoe’, suitable for a mix of trails and urban environment.

Over the past month I’ve tried the Sense Mantras out on runs from five to seventeen miles on a variety of terrain. Here’s my verdict on Salomon’s hybrid trail/road offering.

What the manufacturer says

“Carefully combining protection and feel, the Sense Mantra 3W is a natural motion choice for running on light trails or urban environments.”

What we say

A stylish shoe you won’t want to get muddy.

Quick stats

Weight: 250g
Midsole height: 15mm/9mm
Lacing system: QuicklaceTM one-pull lacing
Sole: High Abrasion Contagrip

Sizing and fit

I ordered a size 5 – the same as my ten-year old XA Pros. I have a fairly narrow foot, so was pleased to find they weren’t too wide. They did feel a touch on the small side and my toes were a little too close to the end for comfort.

Instead of a traditional tongue, Salomon have built in a ‘sleeve’, which is supposed to better ‘hug’ the foot. I had no problems with this, but I also didn’t feel like it added much for me. However, my foot is quite low-volume, so perhaps those with larger feet will feel the shoe’s embrace a bit more.

The one-pull lacing system was effective in tightening the laces evenly and snugly around even my thin foot.

Technical features

salomon-sense-mantras

Laces in or laces out?

The Sense Mantras are one of Salomon’s lighter shoes, but compared to my super-light fell shoes, they felt a bit weighty. However, the difference was noticeable in the cushioning and heel lift. The drop and thickness of the midsole is much less than more rugged trail shoes, such as the XA Pro 3D, but felt adequate for both short and longer runs.

Like many of the Salmon shoes, the Sense Mantras have a small ‘pocket’ at the top of the laces, ostensibly to tuck the laces up in. And yes, they do look nice and neat tucked away, but boy is it a faff. For the majority of you, who aren’t grumpy traditionalists like me, you’ll probably love it.

What were they like to run in?

The one concern when I tried the Salomon Sense Mantras on before hitting the road was the stiffness of the shoes. All our runs from home have an uphill start, and I felt this immediately on starting out. The forefront flexibility was definitely less than I’m used to which encouraged a flat-footed running style. After a few runs they are starting to break in, so I think this is something that will improve with time.

Apart from that, the shoes were pretty comfortable. The lacing system was snug, but not too tight and generally held my foot in place coming down steep hills. When I tried them out on a longer run (3 hours+) I did find that the laces loosened slightly, but this may just be my preference for traditional lacing systems! I also found that my toes were pretty sore towards the end – if I’m getting another pair of Salomons in the near future I’ll definitely look at getting a half size bigger.

The tread coped well with the variety of surfaces, including road, rough tracks, wet grass and rock. There wasn’t mnuch grip in mud, due to the small lugs, but that’s only be be expected given the shoe is designed for roads and hard trails. If you’re out on the muddy fells, you should probably pick a different bit of kit!.

Overall

If you run mainly on hard trails, or a mix of trail and roads, the Salomon Sense Mantras are the shoe for you. Just be aware of the slightly small sizing – it may be worth trying before you buy.

Testing Solomon Sense Mantras
Disclaimer: This is an honest, unbiased review based on my personal experience. I bought these shoes using my own pennies, and have not been asked by Salomon to review or otherwise promote their product. Though if you’re an outdoor retailer looking for an unbiased test and review of your kit, get in touch.

Get Outdoors in the City: Leeds

Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds

Kirkstall Abbey is just one of the parkland areas to explore in Leeds


For the second in our series that seeks out the best secret spots and ways to enjoy an alternative side of city life, we’re in Leeds. Yorkshire’s largest city, Leeds is home to the original Tetley brewery, the Kaiser Chiefs and a large collection of owl statues. One of Leeds’ main attractions to outdoor-loving folk is the proximity of the Yorkshire moors and Dales.

Whilst Leeds offers easy access to countless opportunities for hiking, cycling, climbing and many other sports in the surrounding countryside, there’s plenty of opportunities to get outdoors in the city itself. The sun may not always shine in Leeds, but when it does, here’s how to make the most of it.

Run the waterways

The Leeds and Liverpool canal provides a thread of green and blue that winds right to the heart of the city. Conveniently, there are several train lines that run parallel to the canal, offering a great opportunity for a flat, one-way run. Kirstall Forge train station is 4 miles from the city centre (detour to visit the impressive Kirkstall Abbey) or take a 9 mile trip out to Apperley Bridge.

If you prefer two wheels to two legs, there’s an excellent cycle path alongside the canal that runs for 17 miles out to Bingley. Make sure you leave time to stop off at the World Heritage Site of Saltaire enroute. From Bingley you can either get the train back into Leeds or turn around and cycle home.

Wander through Roundhay Park

Situated three miles north of Leeds city centre, Roundhay Park boasts 700 acres of parks, lakes and woodland along with a variety of sporting activities. Jump on buses 2 or 12 from the city centre and ask to get off at Roundhay Park Gates. The Park also hosts Tropical World, home to a vast collection of tropical plants, birds, butterflies and meerkats that will keep kids (and adults) entranced for hours.

Many of the park’s trails are tarmac paths designed with accessibility in mind, so it’s a great place for wheelchair users (and parents with buggies) to explore nature. You can even book a free motability powered scooter or wheelchair for use in the park and Tropical World.

Rodley Nature Reserve

If you’re looking for a spot of wildlife, take a trip out to Rodley Nature Reserve. This wetland reserve is situated four miles from the city centre and is a haven for migrating birds. It’s handily located next to the canal so why not combine a visit with a short cycle trip. The wetland and woodland habitats support a wide variety of bird-life, along with dragonflies, damselflies and 361 species of moth.

The Reserve is open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays – check the website for details of opening hours.

Goor’s Guided Tours

Fancy exploring a different side to the city? Kenneth Goor has been running guided tours in Leeds for over thirty years, and has 21 guided walks in the city centre alone. From pubs and markets, to body snatching and witchcraft, everyone will learn something new about the history of Leeds and its people. If you’ve visiting around Halloween don’t miss one of his ghostly specials!

For upcoming tours, check out his calendar of events.

Get lost in the Chevin Forest Park

The Chevin sits on a steep escarpement above the market town of Otley, offering sweeping views across the Wharfe valley. As well as having a variety of themed walking trails, there are also two permanent orienteering courses; a starter course suitable for children, and a more technical course. A free beginners guide to orienteering and copies of both maps can be downloaded from the Airienteers website.

The Chevin is also home to one of Yorkshire’s most famous climbing areas: Caley crag and boulders. If you’re an experienced climber, bring along your bouldering mat and beanie for a taste of Yorkshire gritstone. If you’ve not climbed before but fancy giving it a go then it’s best to learn the basics indoors at one of Leeds’s climbing centres (The Leeds Wall, The Depot, City Bloc and The Climbing Lab all offer instruction).

Everything you need to know about visiting Leeds

When to visit: Clear, crisp autumn days are my favourite time of year in Yorkshire, but this is Britain, so good weather is never guaranteed. Summer will give you the best chance of being able to get out to the park with a picnic.

How to get there: Leeds is easily accessible via train with direct connections to major cities (2 hrs 30mins from London). Leeds-Bradford airport has a range of flights, mainly to European destinations – if you’re traveling from further afield, fly into Manchester airport and take a scenic train rise across the Pennine moors.

Where to stay: There’s accommodation to suit most tastes and budgets, though the majority of city centre accommodation is large chain hotels.. If you’re looking for luxury and convenience, then you’d be hard pushed to beat Quebec’s Luxury Apartments located in the Old Post Office building on City Square – just opposite the train station. For a more budget option, check out the Art Hostel, centrally located with quirky rooms designed by local and international artists.

What to eat: Or rather what to drink! Yorkshire is the home of a traditional pint a British ale, though with craft breweries springing up all over Leeds there’s options for even the fussiest beer drinker. Bundobust is a small restaurant close to the train station that serves both craft beers (and cocktails) and fantastic vegetarian Indian street food – I can personally recommend it.

24 Practical Tips for Living in a Van

Picture on campervan on road

Get ready to drive off into the sunset…

Thinking about upgrading from camping to a van? Fancy renting a shiny VW camper for a holiday with a difference? Or perhaps you’re wanting to travel for a longer spell, or even making a permanent home out of your van.

Since we bought our converted Mercedes Sprinter (fondly named Sadie) last year, we have been the object of envy for many of our friends. The freedom and flexibility it gives is unrivalled, but every van has compromises. We’re lucky enough to have a toilet and shower (luxury!), but the trade-off is a large van that’s tricky – verging on impossible – to turn in small spaces. But that’s a small price to pay, and we’ve managed to get her up most roads to date. (Just.)

So to celebrate the joy of living in small spaces, here’s a collection of tips from our experiences of van living (plus a selection of the best tips from other van dwellers) to make your life on the road that little bit easier.

1. Have a system

First rule of living in a small space: everything has its place. Work out where you’re going to put your clothes, books, cooking equipment and food and stick to it. That way you’ll always know where everything is.

2. Line your cupboards with non-slip matting

You don’t want all your jars, tins and glasses rolling around as you drive. A roll of non-slip matting will set you back a couple of quid and is worth triple its weight in gold.

3. Shower when you can

Take advantage of friend’s homes, local swimming pools and gyms. If you’re going to be living in your van for long periods around a city then it may be worth getting a a cheap gym membership so you’ll always have a shower to use. Check out this site for more tips on keeping clean in a van.

4. Keep the van prepped to go

If you’re a weekend van-dweller then half the fun of having a van is being able to just jump in on a Friday evening and drive off. Make sure you keep your van supplies stocked up and you can be away from work and off on your adventure in half an hour.

5. Find somewhere to park up before it gets dark

You want to see what you’re waking up to before you get settled and cosy, so there are no nasty surprises in the morning. It’s never nice being woken up by an angry farmer because you’re blocking his gate access.

6. Do your research

If you’re not one for campsites and you’re wanting to park up in a city or a popular tourist destination, there’s likely to be a shortage of places to stop overnight. Do some research in advance, or speak to local van owners for tips on where to park – or not to park. That way you can avoid getting your sleep disturbed by the sudden realisation that your chosen spot is also favoured by the local ravers.

7. Don’t forget the tin opener

If you don’t have a fridge (and even if you do) then campervan cooking involves a lot of tins. Keep a tin opener permanently in the van to make sure you don’t end up going hungry because someone forgot to pack it.

8. Make sure everything is locked down before you move

Double check this. Then check again.

9. Keep the insects out

Anyone who has ever experienced the Scottish midge (or rather, swarm of midges) will appreciate the importance of this. Keep doors and windows closed on balmy, still evenings and definitely do not accidentally switch your fan to suck in air when they’re swarming outside. (Yes, that is the voice of experience.)

10. Pack a flyswatter and incense sticks

For when you fail to keep the midges out.

11. Don’t park if it says ‘no overnight parking’

Obvious right? But when it’s getting dark and you’ve been searching for a spot to park up for hours, it can be tempting to ignore the sign. I mean, if you keep the lights down and head off early in the morning, no one will know right? Wrong. Be cool and don’t give van dwellers a bad name.

12. Learn where you can tap into free WiFi

The bane of many van-dwellers lives – where to get WiFi. Your best bet is coffee shops and public libraries (if you’re in a town or city). If you get desperate there’s always the golden arches.

13. Light a match

No, not to light the stove. Or at least, not just to light the stove. Lighting a match and blowing it out is an effective way of neutralising odour. Particularly useful if you have a toilet in your van. I’ll say no more.

14. Keep your drinking water and cleaning water separate

Every van has it’s own water system. But it’s best to have designated containers for drinking water separate to water you use for washing and cleaning, so you don’t accidentally run out through being a bit too virtuous with the washing up.

15. Pack messy food in sensible containers

For example, don’t pack coffee in the top third of a stacking container tower you got from a charity shop. It will end in a coffee-spillage disaster. And a lot of hoovering. Just buy clip-top tubs instead.

16. Pack tools and know how to use them

Self-explanatory. (Still working on it.)

17. Pack a lot of books

And games. And colouring books / sketch books / artistic tools of choice. One of the beauties of living in a van is that there’s not much to do in the evenings. See it as an opportunity to chill out and catch up on that reading list.

18. Boost your WiFi

Trying in vain to tap into the WiFi signal at a campsite? Check out this site for tips on boosting your WiFi-receiving capability.

19. Use mesh pockets for extra storage

Stick them everywhere: on the backs of doors, sides of cupboards or even ceilings. You’ll never lose your slippers again.

20. Create a virtual closet

I love this idea from Andy at soweliveinavan.com which is a particularly useful if you like to be nicely dressed or need to go to an office job. Take a photo of each item of clothing and keep it in a collection on your phone, so you can flick through each morning to decide what to wear.

21. Invest in a multiple charger

Only got cigarette socket for charging in the front of your van? Not any more. Make sure you’ve got enough plug in points for charging phones and your sat nav by fixing an extension pack like this to the top of your dashboard – one socket is now three.

22. Attach a CD storage wallet to the inside of your sun visor

Easy-to-access tunes on the move.

23. Clearly label your pee bottle

If you don’t have a toilet in your van (and most don’t), then one option many people use when you need to go in the night is a pee bottle. Just make sure there’s no way you can mix up your pee bottle and your water bottle in the dark.

24. Make friends with someone who has a better van than you

As a last resort, buddy up with someone whose van has the features yours is lacking. Especially if they have a fridge and are willing to chill your beer.

Got a tip of your own to add to the list above? Share it in the comments below and I’ll do an updated post with your suggestions!

Get Outdoors in the City: Rome

Villa Ada

Seek out tranquility in Villa Ada



I love city breaks: seeing the sights, exploring hidden alleyways, sampling local food, wandering the streets at night. (Cities, I find, are always more beautiful at night.) But there are only so many museums and art galleries I can take before I’m itching to get outdoors. In this series of posts, I share some of my tips for making the most of Europe’s most beautiful and vibrant cities, starting with one of my favourites: Rome.

Rome is a fantastic city to explore on foot – just make sure you bring comfy shoes for those cobbled streets! In fact, there’s so much to see and do that sometimes it can become a bit overwhelming, particularly if you’re visiting in the heat of the Italian summer. If the dusty, crowded streets are becoming a bit too much, then check out one of these options and explore an alternative side of Rome.

Segway in Villa Borghese

The most accessible of Rome’s large parks, Villa Borghese is a 148-acre estate of gardens, art galleries, a 63-seat cinema and the Bioparco di Roma, which contains 222 species of animals and birds. Hire a Segway if your legs are feeling the strain and glide between the flowerbeds, statues and trees. Don’t miss the boating lake with the Temple of Asclepius (the Greek god of medicine and healing). You can hire a Segway from €15 an hour or join an organised tour.

Explore Villa Ada and Villa Doria Pamphili

Villa Borghese may be the most central and popular of Rome’s parks, but if you have time it’s well worth heading a bit further out to Villa Ada (in the northeastern part of the city) or Villa Doria Pamphili (in the Monteverde neighbourhood, on the west side of the River Tiber). Both are significantly larger – and quieter – than Villa Borghese, so if you fancy a bit of peace and tranquility and a chance to wander off the path, you should pay them a visit. If you’re an early bird, I can recommend a morning run in the park as a great way of earning your pasta lunch (and the pasta in Rome is GOOD).

Run the marathon

Talking of pasta, there’s no shortage of places to get your pre-race carbs for this marathon. The Rome marathon takes place annually in early spring (in 2017 it’s on Sunday 2nd April) and takes you on a sightseeing tour of the city, starting and ending in front of the Coliseum. The course is pretty flat and manages to avoid Rome’s famous hills, but you’d better be used to cobbled streets if you’re after a PB. If a marathon-distance is a bit too much, there’s also a non-competitive 4km fun run which anyone can take part in.

Visit Palatine Hill and Celio Hill

A museum in the open air? Go on then. Palatine Hill (the Palantino) is one of the seven hills of Rome and one of the most ancient parts of the city. It’s an enchanted place of dramatic ruins and spectacular views across Rome. Towering pine trees provide welcome shade on a hot day and there are various grassed areas where you can relax and imagine what life here was like 2,000 years ago.

Celio Hill sits nearby, above the Colosseum and contains two interlinked parks – Villa Celimontana and Parco del Celio – along with churches and Roman remains. Check it out to find some shade during the heat of the day, whilst you’re waiting for the queues at the Colosseum to go down.

Get on your bike

If you’ve got limited time, up the pace and get on a bike. Rome’s streets are not always the easiest to navigate, so booking on a bike tour means you’ll have an expert to take you on the optimum route between sites. If you’re feeling lethargic, you can hire an electric-assist bike for an easier ride. Various companies offer bike tours: Italy Cruiser and Top Bike Rental get good write-ups and have tours starting from €35 Per person.

Everything you need to know about visiting Rome

When to visit: Spring is the best time, particularly if you want to see the gardens in their full splendour. By July and August things are hotting up, and in the winter it can be cold and wet.
How to get there: Most international flights land at Fiumicino airport (also known as Leonardo da Vinci International airport). The easiest way to get into central Rome is to take the train – the Leonardi da Vinci express takes around half an hour, or you can take the (cheaper) stopping train.
Where to stay: Accommodation is plentiful in Rome and there’s everything from cheap hostels to five-star hotels. It’s worth finding somewhere in walking distance of the centre – Rome is beautiful at night, but public transport can be irregular.
What to eat: Food in Rome is almost always delicious – steer clear of the obvious tourist traps and take a trip down a side street and you may come across a gem of a taverna selling perfectly-cooking pasta and pizza. If you’re visiting between February and May then try the fried “Jewish-style” artichokes; other specialities include cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper) and coda alla vaccinara (slow-cooked oxtail). If you’re on a budget, look out for places that do good apertivos – an early evening drink with a snack (or sometimes a full meal) to accompany it.