Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Mountain Fitness....continued....

I'm approaching the end of the fourth week of my Mountain Fitness programme and, to be perfectly honest, things have gone somewhat awry.  I was tempted to just ignore this fact and not include a progress (or rather 'lack of progress') report in my blog.  But that would be cheating!

The main problem area has been with the sensible eating part of the plan.  Over the past ten days or so I've eaten anything but sensibly.  Partly this was because I took a week off work and during that week I had a few stressful situations to deal with, such as having to say goodbye to a much loved family pet and having to send my car to the scrapyard after an MOT failure.  Food is a great stress reliever!  As is alcohol.  The end result is that I regained the weight I'd lost in the first two weeks of my fitness programme.  Undeterred I've started afresh.  The important thing is not to dwell on the relapse or to give up but to accept it and move on.

Happily I can report that the exercise part of the programme (which is more important than the diet anyway) has continued apace.  At the start of the year I set myself the goal of walking 1,250 miles in 2014 and I've walked at least twice a day since then, clocking up just short of 125 miles and 10% of my target.  Here I've been greatly encouraged and motivated by sharing my walks with Facebook friends in Scotland, the south of England and USA.  We've done this by using the Runkeeper app on our phones and sharing our progress.  It's not a competition as such, but every time I see one of my walking buddies has clocked up another walk it spurs me on to add to my total.  It's got me out walking even on a cold wet morning.  I can certainly recommend this idea.

I've also continued to struggle on with the exercises set by Anthony of Breathe Fitness and can see some progress here inasmuch as they're becoming a little easier every time.  I've a way to go before I can complete every repetition of every exercise, but it isn't designed to be easy.  One of the toughest, I've found, has been the wall squat, designed to strengthen the hips and thighs - very important for getting up those hills!  This exercise might not suit everyone, but if you feel up to it and want to have a go, I recommend you try Anthony's wall squat challenge which you can see in the following Youtube video.  At the time of writing I'm struggling to get to 20 seconds!  This will, I know, improve.

So, that's it for now.  Not a huge amount of progress, but onwards and upwards is the name of the game!

The altitude graph for my Skiddaw climb bears
an uncanny resemblance to my diet progress!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Thixendale & Wharram Percy (Yorkshire Wolds) - December 2013

My final outing in 2013 was a very enjoyable 8 mile circular walk closer to home, in the Yorkshire Wolds, starting and finishing at the secluded and picturesque village of Thixendale.  As I was following a route I'd walked on at least three previous occasions, no maps were needed.  It was a blustery day with a mixture of sunshine and clouds and up on the higher ground it certainly felt every bit like December.  In the more sheltered valleys though, out of the wind, it was surprisingly pleasant.

The Yorkshire Wolds is an area of chalk hills and dry valleys which stretch in an arc from west of Hull by the Humber Bridge, northwards and then eastwards to meet the North Sea at Flamborough Head.

Where the chalk is visible in the white cliffs of Flamborough Head is the very eastern most tip of the Wolds.  Gradually, as the line of chalk disappears inland, the coastline changes to boulder clay.  You can actually see where the boulder clay coastline of Holderness (famed for its rapid rate of erosion) begins at Sewerby, just north of the seaside town of Bridlington.

Flamborough Head

The Yorkshire Wolds has many public rights of way and walking routes, whilst more ambitious hikers can walk the entire Wolds Way, a National Trail starting at the Humber Bridge and ending at Filey Brigg, just north of Flamborough Head. 

Waymarker on the Wolds Way National Trail

In 1997 Tom and I attempted to walk this 79 mile long trail in very hot and humid conditions.  We managed to get as far as Wharram Percy (a distance of approximately 50 miles) before blisters upon blisters forced us to surrender and hitch a ride with a post van back to the nearest train station at Malton.  We're now seriously considering tackling this trail again and possibly viewing it as a warm-up for the much more ambitious 190 miles of the Coast to Coast Walk.

The start of the Wolds Way

Our walk on this particular blustery December Sunday afternoon headed from Thixendale to Wharram Percy, following what had been the final section of our failed attempt at the Wolds Way, before crossing farmland to loop back to Thixendale. This is a landscape of undulations and walking here can involve a series of ups and downs, from the chalky hill tops down into the dry valleys, which were formed by sheets of ice during the last Ice Age, approximately 100,000 years ago.   The village of Thixendale nestles in one such dry valley bottom and our path out of the village took us out of the valley by way of a steep slope.  The view from the top of this first climb was very dramatic, showing a perfect example of the nature of the folds and furrows that make up the Yorkshire Wolds.

Above Thixendale

After the initial climb it was downhill again, into a dry valley bottom which was followed for a short while before our route climbed onto the high ground again.

A dry valley in the Wolds

For the next mile or so we followed the Wolds Way around the top edge of a dry valley until it turned and in the distance, at the head of the valley, we could see the ruined church of St Martin, Wharram Percy.

Approaching Wharram Percy

The sun was shining and it was sheltered down in the valley by the ruins of the church which, being the halfway point of our walk, was the ideal place to stop for a lunch break.  It was surprisingly busy down there.  Obviously the sunshine had brought people outdoors to walk off their Christmas excesses and I was astonished to see one man dressed in shorts and t-shirt, although as a concession to the season he was also wearing a woolly hat and scarf.  A strange combination indeed!

Wharram Percy

The village of Wharram Percy originated between the 10th and 12th centuries and was finally abandoned by 1506.  Although many people believe the reason for its desertion was the plague known as the Black Death (1348-49), the real reason it was abandoned was because the landowners wished to turn the area over to grazing for sheep.  The church of St Martin, however, remained in use by the residents of nearby Thixendale until the 1950s.  A storm caused the tower to collapse in 1959 and in the 1970s the roof was removed for safety reasons.  In spite of this, it is still quite clearly a very typical English village church which looks rather strange and eerie in this very pretty valley.

The ruined church of St Martin

Today Wharram Percy is in the care of English Heritage and there are various information boards around the site, explaining the findings from several excavations that have taken place over the past few decades.  Our route took us out of the village area and uphill to follow a country lane until we could pick up a dry valley that would lead us back to Thixendale.  As we stood on the higher ground looking back towards the deserted village, the grassy outlines of the former cottages and  village buildings were clearly picked out in the afternoon light.

Visible outline of deserted village buildings

Four miles of walking up hills and down dry valleys took us back to Thixendale as the light was fading and the temperature began to drop.  It had been a most enjoyable walk.  Much easier than when we attempted the Wolds Way, back in the sticky heat of June 1997.  Maybe late winter or early spring would be the best time to walk such a long distance?  This is something we are considering, because as far as we're concerned the Wolds Way remains unfinished business.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Hadrian's Wall - December 2013

As the Christmas holidays approached and the annual hint of panic began to creep in (presents to buy, cards to write, cakes to bake and all that stuff), I couldn't see how we could find the time to go off walking amidst all the preparations.  Then I had a brainwave.  Why not combine the two?  A favourite walk AND a Christmas shopping trip.  Hadrian's Wall provided the ideal solution - a walk along the wall followed by a night at my "hotel of the year" (The Centre of Britain, Haltwhistle) combined with a trip to the Metro Centre shopping mall at nearby Gateshead.  Perfect!  And so that's just what we did, setting off very early on the first Saturday morning in December, arriving at a frosty Once Brewed Visitor Centre at around 10 a.m.  From here we set off on an eight mile circular route which we'd walked earlier in the year.  I don't usually provide route directions (this isn't, after all, just a blog about walking) but here I'm going to break with that tradition because this is such a great walk and so easy to follow.  A map isn't even really necessary, except perhaps for the latter part of the walk which heads away from the wall.

A section of Hadrian's Wall

The walk starts and ends at the Once Brewed National ParkVisitor Centre (car park, toilets and refreshments available) which is located near Haltwhistle on the B6318.  This is known as the Military Road which, seeing as it runs for most of its length along the wall, may instantly conjure up images of marching Roman legions. Not so!  It was actually constructed in 1746 by General Wade in the wake of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and, sadly, a lot of the hardcore for its foundations was taken from parts of the wall.  There are some very long, straight sections along which traffic tends to travel at high speeds, so great care is needed when crossing from the Visitor Centre to a quiet, narrow lane that climbs uphill to the wall path at Peel Bothy (a small holiday cottage owned by the National Trust).  From here our route heads eastwards and at first simply follows the wall all the way to Housesteads fort.

The path is very well defined and paved in places, with stone steps at some of the steeper parts.  And there are plenty of steep's something of a rollercoaster of a walk!  Much of Hadrian's Wall is built along the Great Whin Sill - a rocky outcrop which is part of a huge sheet of rock that starts at the Farne Islands in the east and runs under the Pennines, formed by molten rock being pushed up from the earth's surface where it cooled and crystallised.

Right at the start of this walk there's a bit of a climb up Peel Crag, resulting in a fine view.  I should point out here that none of the images used to illustrate this walk was taken on this particular visit.  On this occasion I'd left my camera at home and so all of my photographs are from previous trips to the area.  Looking down from the top of Peel Crag you get an excellent view of Turret No. 39A and Peel Bothy, back across to Once Brewed and the countryside beyond. 

Turret 39A and Peel Bothy

This is perhaps a good point to provide a brief explanation of the naming and numbering of turrets and milecastles.

The construction of Hadrian's Wall commenced in 122 AD, during the rule of the Emperor Hadrian.  Originally measuring 80 Roman miles in length, it marked the northern edge of the Roman Empire (although for a period of 20 years from 142 AD the northern boundary was defined by the Antonine Wall which ran between the Firths of Forth and Clyde).   A milecastle was a small fort which acted as a guardhouse and gateway, placed strategically every mile along the length of the wall.  These have subsequently been numbered for identification purposes, beginning with Milecastle 1 in the east to number 80 in the west, although of course not all of the remains of all 80 milecastles and their associated turrets are visible today.  Two turrets were built at intervals of one third of a mile between each milecastle and these structures have also been numbered.  Each turret takes its number from the milecastle to its east followed by the letters A and B.  So the turret at Peel Crag is 39A - the first turret to the west of Milecastle 39.

Looking back a little further along the route gives a lovely view of Steel Rigg and up to Winshields which, at 1,130 feet, is the highest point on the wall.

Steel Rigg and Whinshields

The next stop along this route is Milecastle 39.   Archaeological excavations have taken place here several times, in 1908, 1982 and 1987, revealing that the site appears to have been occupied until the 4th century.  The undulating terrain on either side of Milecastle 39 makes it possible to get some really nice pictures.

Milecastle 39 from the west

Milecastle 39 from the east


Continuing a little further westwards bring us to the famous and highly photographed Sycamore Gap, perhaps best known for its appearance in a scene from the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  (I won't launch into my usual rant about all the geographical inaccuracies in that film...but if you really want to know more, I'll just refer you back to my very first blog entry!)

Sycamore Gap

The path now climbs above a small lake known as Crag Lough, a beautiful place to stop and admire the view for a short while before continuing on towards Housesteads. 

Approaching Crag Lough
Looking down at Crag Lough

The path continues through a pine wood and then across a farm road, passing farm buildings before climbing back up to the wall at Hotbanks Crag and more spectacular views.

Hotbanks Crags

Just to the west of Housesteads fort the walk passes by Milecastle 37, part of which has been reconstructed and is maintained by English Heritage. 

Milecastle 37

From Milecastle 37 it's just a short walk to the Roman fort of Vercovicium, or Housesteads as it's more commonly known today.  The walk passes outside the actual fort and if you wish to visit it properly an admission charge is payable to English Heritage who also run a small museum close by and a newly refurbished visitor centre at the foot of the hill.  I didn't stop on this occasion as I've done so many times before, but I can certainly highly recommend a visit.

The wall at Housesteads

Housteads Granary
Roman Soldier at Housesteads

From Housesteads our walk leaves the wall and follows a road from the museum down to the Military Road.  Care is needed here to make sure you follow the correct route which heads downhill to the right of the museum (not along the tourist's path to the car park and visitor centre).  The route crosses the Military Road (taking care as the traffic travels at great speed on this stretch) and over a stile into a field.  The path here is a little indistinct but looking ahead there's a col (a dip) between two hills where towards the top the path becomes a little clearer.  From this point the public footpath descends past a farm and then onto a farm road which leads to a country lane.  At the end of the farm track turn right onto the country lane.  A short distance eastwards there's a sign to show that this route is National Cycle Route No. 72 - Hadrian's Cycleway.  As you continue along this road it's worth making a little detour to see the Crinkledykes Limekiln, which is just 100 yards along the first lane to the right after the cycle route sign.  This 19th century limekiln was one of several in the area used to produce quicklime for use in agriculture and construction.

Crinkledykes Limekiln

The route continues back along the Hadrian's Cycleway to the Roman fort of Vindolanda, turning right at the signboard and passing by the car park, western entrance and perimeter of the fort.  Like Housesteads, Vindolanda is definitely worth a visit.  Owned by the Vindolanda Charitable Trust, the site has extensive remains of the Roman fort, excavations, reconstructions, a museum, cafe and gift shop. 
Looking down over Vindolanda
Perhaps most famously it is home to the Vindolanda Tablets, the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain.  The tablets are thin, postcard sized pieces of wood which have been written on with a carbon-based ink and they record all aspects of life in a military fort in Roman times.  Many of the tablets are on view in the museum, along with transcriptions into English.  They're absolutely fascinating.  And for this reason alone I'd recommend reserving at least half a day to visit Vindolanda, if you haven't been before.

Reconstruction of a temple at Vindolanda

The last part of our route leaves Vindolanda by following the lane that leads to the fort's main entrance (this road can be busy at times).  This is actually a Roman military road called the Stanegate (stone road in Old English) which ran from Corstopitum (Corbridge) in the east to Luguvalium (Carlisle) in the west.  It's not far back to the Once Brewed Visitor Centre from here - just turn right at the end of the lane and walk along the road for about half a mile or so.

As we were familiar with this route and didn't stop for too long at any one particular place this time, we completed the eight mile route in just over three hours, giving us plenty of time to drive into Haltwhistle for a hot drink and a snack before checking in to the Centre of Britain.

This was a wonderful way to spend a crisp and blustery Saturday in December.  I've tried to describe the route as clearly and simply as possible, but if any of my readers want any further details or directions, I'd be only too pleased to provide them.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Mountain fitness - progress report - January 2014

Getting fitter to enjoy this sort of view

It’s been almost two weeks now since I started out on my “mountain fitness” regime and I’m already starting to see positive results.  I began by stating that I wasn’t overly concerned with my actual weight, although I did acknowledge that I probably needed to lose at least a couple of stones.  Initially I thought I wouldn’t be using weight loss as a benchmark to my fitness, because as far as I’m concerned overall fitness is more important than actual weight.  However, I now realise that if I’m going to keep my blog up to date with my progress then statements such as “my clothes feel a bit slacker” or “I definitely feel lighter” aren’t as quantifiable as “I’ve lost x pounds”.  So, with that in mind, after ten days I can happily report a weight loss of 5 pounds.  This is actually a little more than I would have anticipated, particularly in view of the fact that I haven’t been following any specific diet plan.  Nevertheless, it’s very encouraging and just goes to show that sensible eating and regular exercise definitely pay dividends.  And I suppose every pound I shed is a pound less I have to carry along on a walk!

The dietary side of my regime has been very easy and relaxed.  No calorie counting or measuring of portions; simply conscious choices to eat sensibly.  For example, if I don’t feel like eating much breakfast I’ll just have a yoghurt, otherwise it’s a bowl of porridge with a teaspoon of heather honey.  Lunch may be just a piece of cooked chicken with a little chutney and a yoghurt or piece of fruit, and my evening meal might be roast salmon or chicken with a selection of vegetables.  No potatoes, pasta, rice or bread…as a rule.  However, when a family member presented me with a freshly baked chicken and mushroom pie at the weekend, I happily cleaned my plate! Getting too obsessive about food choices is counterproductive I find.  During the course of the day I’m sure to drink plenty of water and I always take my coffee black with no sugar.  And that’s about the extent of my “diet”.  For the majority of the time I’m making sensible choices, but if I do eat something that’s not so healthy then I won’t let that bother me.

As far as I’m concerned, the most significant part of my “mountain fitness” regime is exercise, and I’ve been tackling this in two ways.

First there’s my regular (preferably daily) walking routine, with an aim of walking a total of 1,250 miles throughout the course of 2014.  This is a challenge I’m taking part in along with a small group of Facebook friends.  We’re all monitoring our progress and encouraging each other along with the aid of Runkeeper, an excellent free app for iphone or Android that measures your walking distance, pace, counts how many calories you’ve burned and maps out your route.  Runkeeper allows you to set a specific goal within a set timescale and monitors your progress towards the achievement of the goal.  After 12 days I’ve walked a total of 61 miles which has accounted for 5% of my yearly target to date.  I’m hoping to have completed 10% by the end of January. 

I try to walk at least twice a day, up to eight miles a day if possible or in any case at least three or four miles, and further at weekends.  One of the major benefits of walking as a form of exercise is that it’s easy to do.  You can simply set off from your own front door and walk for whatever distance or timescale you choose.  As an added incentive, I help out an older family member by also regularly taking her dog for a walk.

Deejay the Poodle helps to keep me motivated

The second part of my exercise plan is a programme designed for me by Anthony Mayatt of Breathe Fitness.   Basically, this consists of a simple warm-up routine followed by a series of exercises using items I already had about the house.  For example, for one of the exercise sets I have to climb up the stairs two or three steps at a time, pressing down from the heel as I ascend and then gently descend and repeat, completing a total of ten repetitions per set.  I have to admit that I have found some of these exercises extremely difficult (especially press-ups!) and after ten days I still haven’t quite got up to the initial number of sets and repetitions first suggested by Anthony.  Partly this is due to my having fallen victim to a couple of seasonal viruses recently and partly because I hadn’t realised just quite how unfit I really was!  I’m persevering though and will feel very pleased with myself when I can finally work through every exercise on the list.

And that’s it so far.  Small steps to begin with, but steps in the right direction.
Breathe Fitness can be found on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube (see link below).

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Cloughton to Robin Hood's Bay on the Cleveland Way - November 2013

Here we are, two weeks into 2014 and I still have four walks remaining from 2013 to write about before I'll be up to date.  So, without further ado, there follows an amalgamation of two walks into one, covering a section of the Cleveland Way in North Yorkshire.


One of the problems with walking at this time of year is that the ground underfoot can be very soggy, if not impassable in places, and so towards the end of November I did a little research in an attempt to find a route that might be relatively firm and dry.   It didn't take long to find the perfect spot, not too far from home, being a section of the Cleveland Way from Cloughton (just north of Scarborough) to Robin Hood's Bay. 

The Cleveland Way is a National Trail of 110 miles which begins in the North Yorkshire market town of Helmsley and ends on the coast at Filey Brigg.  It's very much a trail of two halves, with the first section following the Cleveland Hills along the edge of the North York Moors National Park before joining the coast for the second half along the Heritage Coast from Saltburn in the north to Filey in the south.  We walked approximately 10 miles of the coastal section over the course of two weekends, making each walk a circular route (of 12 miles and 9 miles respectively) by also following a path known as the "Cinder Track".  This is the route of the old Scarborough to Whitby railway which ran from 1885 until 1965 and today is used as an off-road route by walkers, horse riders and cyclists.  As the name suggests, the track was originally covered in ballast made from cinders and, although there are occasional muddy sections, mostly the walking conditions are very easy.  Also, with it having once been a railway, none of the inclines are particularly steep which makes for a pleasant and easy walk.

The Cinder Track

Our first walk began at Cloughton which is a small village situated four miles to the north of Scarborough.  On this walk we began by following the Cinder Track for just over five miles to the village of Ravenscar.  Known locally as "the town that never was", until the end of the 19th century Ravenscar was called Peak.  The name was changed when a local entrepreneur decided to turn the village into a seaside town to rival the likes of nearby Scarborough and so a large hotel was opened in 1895, followed by a golf course in 1898.  And so Peak became Ravenscar so as not to confuse it with the already popular Derbyshire Peak District.  Roads and sewers were built and plots of land sold to city dwellers for the construction of holiday homes.  However the plans were all doomed to failure, mostly because of the precarious nature of the route to the nearest beach and in 1913 the development company folded after only a few houses had been built.  Today Ravenscar is a strange place, its wide roads, abandoned railway line and a few large houses designed to be part of a town look oddly out of place on this remote and beautiful stretch of coastline.

Former railway station on the Cinder Track

From Ravenscar we left the Cinder Track and joined the Cleveland Way to return to Cloughton.  This stretch of coast was both beautiful and intriguing.  Looking down from the clifftop we could see what's known as an undercliff, which is to say the cliff below our feet dropped away to a broad ledge of woodland with a further cliff below that, the overall effect appearing positively Jurassic.  This section of coast is known as Beast Cliff and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, in the care of the National Trust.  From above it looked as if there may be paths through the woodland, which is somewhere to possibly explore at a later date, but as the hours of daylight are short at this time of year, we continued back towards Cloughton.  The sun came out briefly, providing some much needed light for a photo, but sadly it didn't stay out for long.

On the Cleveland Way between Ravenscar and Cloughton

Hayburn Wyke is a delightful secluded little bay surrounded by woodland walks, with a waterfall cascading onto boulders just above the beach.  By the time we'd reached here the sun was hidden behind clouds again and so we continued on our way towards Cloughton, making a note to return in better conditions. 

Hayburn Wyke

We left this stretch of the Cleveland Way at Cloughton Wyke (in Yorkshire dialect "wyke" means small bay) just as the daylight was beginning to fade.

Cloughton Wyke

As this had been such a pleasant and easy walk for this time of year, we returned to Ravenscar the following weekend to walk in the opposite direction, this time starting out on the Cleveland Way and walking for four miles up to the beautiful little village of Robin Hood's Bay.   It was very overcast and windy, so I took the decision to leave my camera at home.  Consequently the only images I have were taken with my iphone.

Approaching Robin Hood's Bay

I've often wondered how Robin Hood's Bay came by its name, seeing as it is over 100 miles away from Sherwood Forest and hardly likely to have been a regular haunt of the legendary outlaw.  There are various theories on the matter, the most likely explanation being that the name derives from the legend of an ancient tree spirit called Robin Goodfellow and over the centuries this has been gradually transformed into the more widely known Robin Hood.  It's all very vague, but one fact that's known for certain about Robin Hood's Bay is that in the 18th century it had the busiest smuggling community on the whole of the Yorkshire coast.  As you wander round its narrow alleyways it's not difficult to imagine the pitched battles that frequently took place between the local smugglers and the excise men. 
Alleyway in Robin Hood's Bay
Today this lovely little village is mostly busy with tourists,  even in the winter, and it's also well known for being the traditional finishing point of the Coast to Coast Walk.  Not an official National Trail, the Coast to Coast was created by Alfred Wainwright in 1973.  The 192 mile walk begins at St Bee's in Cumbria, crossing three National Parks (the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors) before finishing at Robin Hood's Bay.  The traditional way to finish the walk is to dip your feet in the North Sea, having done so in the Irish Sea at the start of the walk, and then leave a pebble on the beach which you picked up at St Bee's.  I'd like to bet that the next priority after this will be a visit to the appropriately named Wainwright's Bar.  It would be for me!

Wainwright's Bar at the end of the Coast to Coast

Our walk back from Robin Hood's Bay to Ravenscar was along the Cinder Track.  As the wind gathered strength I was grateful of the shelter the old railway embankment provided and the five and a half miles were covered quite quickly and comfortably.

Both of my walks along this stretch of the Yorkshire coast left me feeling I'd missed out on some excellent photographic opportunities.  The walks had been highly enjoyable and so I've made a note to return in the spring or summer when the days are longer and the light should be more favourable.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Mountain fitness.....NOT another New Year resolution!

I'm not one for making New Year resolutions.  Not usually, anyway.  I've never really got the whole "New Year" thing, to be honest.  It's just another day as far as I'm concerned and goals and targets can be set at any time.  However, this year I'm breaking with my own tradition and I've actually put together a plan for the year ahead.  It's not so much a list of resolutions though.  It's more of a programme designed to steer me towards achieving long term ambitions, such as climbing higher mountains, ticking off more Wainwrights and embarking on long distance walks (like the Hadrian's Wall path and the Coast to Coast walk).  This isn't to say I'll be achieving all these aims this year, but at least I can begin to head in the right direction.  And now is as good a time as any.  The fact that it just happens to be the beginning of a brand new year is mostly coincidental.

So, where to start?  Well, first of all I have to shed a few pounds.  In fact, more than just a few!  It seems somewhat paradoxical that ever since I've been increasing the number and length of my walks, I have at the same time been putting on weight.  This, I know, is down to the false sense of security these walks have given me in terms of my eating habits.  What better way to end a long walk than with a hearty meal and a couple of glasses of beer?  And the fact that I know each week will end with a long walk has resulted in poor diet choices even on the days when I'm not walking.  "What the heck, I'll walk this off at the weekend" has been a prevailing thought for too long.  Add to all this the recent period of Christmas feasting and general merry-making, and the fact that I was above my ideal weight to begin with, and I think that leaves me with a target weight loss of around two stones.  Possibly a little more.  I'm not going to get too hung up on the numbers though.

I'll be the first to admit that over the past couple of decades or so I've been something of a yo-yo dieter, losing weight to eventually just gain even more.  A couple of years ago I followed a well known diet book which resulted in my almost achieving what I believe should be my ideal weight and it's only over the past three months or so that this weight has started to creep back.  As determined as I am though to arrest this weight gain and lose more besides, I must stress that I am not as concerned with my actual weight as I am with my overall health, fitness and sense of wellbeing.  If I felt fit, strong and able to tackle a mountain of 2,000 feet plus with ease right now then I honestly wouldn't care what the scales were telling me.    But I don't.  For one thing, my clothes are becoming increasingly tight-fitting and that includes all the new walking gear I invested in last year.  And although I've still been walking regularly over the past few weeks, this hasn't included many elevations.  In order for me to be able to tackle a mountain again, I believe I need to address three key areas:-

1.  Lose weight
No gimmicky diet crazes this time though!  Definitely no Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Dukan, Atkins or 5-2 Diet.  There is really only one way to lose weight effectively and healthily and that is to eat less (or, to be more precise, eat wisely) and do more.  Also, I'm not getting too hung up on weighing myself either.  Instead I shall mostly be monitoring my progress by how my clothes fit, although to be fair I will check the scales once in a while, mostly so I can easily chart my progress in my blog.  When it comes to food choices, I have enough experience to know what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet.  All I need to do is to put this into practice and start to make the right choices.

2.  Improve cardio-vascular fitness
I know for a fact that my CV fitness was improving last year.  When I first started walking for longer distances that included an elevation, my breathing quickly became laboured and my heart rate increased significantly resulting in the need for frequent rests.  I'd then have to wait until I could feel my heart rate slowing and my breathing became easier.  As the year progressed and my fitness was improving the occasions when I needed to stop became fewer and further between and, when I did have to stop, I was finding that the amount of time it took my heart rate to decrease was also improving.  I knew this was because I was all the while improving my cardio-vascular fitness.  And it felt good!  

There are two ways I'm going to tackle CV fitness.  First of all, I'm going to try and walk every day, if possible.  With this in mind I've teamed up with three of my friends on Facebook in a challenge to walk 1,250 miles between 1st January and 31st December 2014.   We are monitoring and collating our progress with the aid of the excellent Runkeeper app. 

Secondly, I'm about to embark on a fitness plan which has been personally devised for me by my good friend Anthony Mayatt of BreatheFitness.  More about this in my third fitness goal....... 

3.  Improve muscular strength
There are two main areas where I need to improve my muscular strength and these are in my calves and knees.  Mostly, it has to be said though, in my knees.  Climbing up a hill very quickly puts a strain on the calf muscles, although I found that this was an area that improved very quickly after a couple of climbs.  The main problem area, for me, was the old knees.  Descending a hill could at times be very painful.  Having a couple of walking poles did help a little, but even so my progress downhill was very often as slow, if not slower, than it was uphill.  It was this, more than anything, that prompted me to contact Anthony at Breathe Fitness to seek his help.  As a result, he has put together a comprehensive personal fitness programme for me aimed at addressing all three of my key fitness concerns and, having studied it closely, more besides!  

So there you have it.   In the very near future I shall be embarking upon this journey towards what I am calling "mountain fitness".  I've started to make changes to my diet and to date I've walked about 12 miles off my 1,250 target for the year.  At the time of writing I'm fighting a heavy cold which has kept me indoors for a couple of days and as soon as I've shrugged this off I will be starting to follow my personal fitness programme.  From now on, as well as including journals of my walks my blog will also contain updates on my mountain fitness progress.

I'll end this blog entry with a personal recommendation for Breathe Fitness - you can find out more on Facebook, Twitter or You Tube, at the addresses shown below.    If you'd like to know more, the best way is to "like" Breathe Fitness on Facebook.