Welcome to my space :)

Hello guys, here I am and here it is! My blog. I’m using this space to blog about what I’ve been doing, what makes me happy and to share my thoughts. Hope you enjoy reading…

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The Greatest Escape – fleeing the farm for fun and fighting my fears in The Lakes

Since my trip to the Lake District in January, the Skiddaw ride has lit a fire within me for more extreme challenges and I’m no longer as daunted by the brutal physical and mental challenges which in the past I may have been worried about. I’d say I do actually ENJOY pushing through the pain of a hike-a-bike struggle-athon. It releases something within me that makes me feel amazing. More than just a sense of achievement.

I read an ace quote the other day about choosing safety being a way of reinforcing fear and it resonated with me hugely. One of the mottos from my early days in the Sheffield MTB group was “to expand your comfort zone you have to leave it” and still to this day I find myself repeating that in my head while trying to encourage myself to be more brave.

In March we headed back to The Lakes to tackle High Street and the Nan Bield Pass in the ice and snow. It was a really epic, challenging ride and totally exhausting in the conditions, but worth it for the buzz.

This year in June and July we have chucked our things in my car and zoomed the 130 mile journey (each way) from Derbyshire to Cumbria on 4 separate times, sometimes for the day and sometimes bunking down in a YHA. Our work commitments have meant these short opportunities have been the only windows of time available, and desperate times call for sleep deprivation and mountains! We’ve been up Helvellyn 3 times on the bikes…. Once was a 4am ride start (magical first light and breakfast at the summit) the second we left Derbyshire at 4am and started the ridiculous MTB accent up Helvellyn from Thirlspot at 7:30am, taking on a hefty route on a hot day ride lasting 6 hours! The third was a lazier start (as we were knackered) but what we made up for in sleep we lost in SWEAT as the temperate soared and to get to the summit in the baking heat of midday was exhausting in itself. Yanking on my knee and elbow pads in the heat is absolutely dreadful but totally necessary (as I can’t ride as confidently/aggressively without them) and my face/head felt as though it was somehow cooking inside my helmet. I started thinking about cold beers after about 20 metres of climbing up Sticks Pass and I had to wait a long time before I finally got one (about 8 hours later following a hot but brilliant descent back down the Sticks Pass into Glenridding, a swim in the river behind the YHA and a snooze on the riverbank).

On the most recent visit a couple of days ago we took advantage of the long, light days and went up and down Skiddaw in an evening, taking in the sunset from the summit at around 9:30pm. It was such a still night, not a breath of wind up there and clear views for miles and miles. It was truly special and in that moment I felt absolutely lucky as hell to be alive, to be here and living that moment. Summits often cause me to cry. The sense of achievement from overcoming the struggle and effort that has gone into reaching the top. The magnificent beauty, the feeling of being so small and insignificant amongst the vast landscape. The peace of reaching the top and leaving your worries and troubles somewhere below or behind you. The sense of freedom – for on a summit you couldn’t feel more free. Nothing is above you or around you… it’s just you, at the top, looking out. It couldn’t be any more different from how I feel when I’m at home. I’m too poor to afford my own place, so I’m that sad adult living with my Dad. I live on a camp site where it’s like a goldfish bowl. There’s always someone knocking at the door, ringing your phone, visible from every window. There’s no escape unless I go up onto Longstone Edge (which isn’t possible when I’m on duty for the majority of daylight hours). So when I ride my bike, I find my space, my freedom and my peace. It resets me ready to go back down that mountain and face the world again with a renewed and restored tolerance for my situation.

My trips to The Lakes have been my salvation the past couple of months. I cling onto those memories so happily you would not believe! They keep me going! Not only have I been proud of my fitness levels and improved strength in getting me UP the hills (because it certainly isn’t easy scrambling up steep climbs carrying about 20 kilos of extra weight), but my descending is getting better too. Most importantly I’m enjoying the moments and they are encouraging me to keep finding the time to get out and ride and find those long lasting endorphins again.

Photo credit Joanna Shimwell and Nick Johnson

The highs and lows of the highs and lows. Big mountain bike rides: Why do them?

I feel like my epic mountain rides take a similar path or trajectory.

The day starts with an appropriately mountainous breakfast, the kind where I fuel for a big day ahead. A bowl of cereal, followed by a full English breakfast and a couple of rounds of toast. While eating all this I’m thinking “Oh my god I better have a decent ride now I’ve eaten this much food!“. Then follows a ‘carb-coma’ where I have no energy and feel really sluggish, almost sleepy as I attempt to yank on my knee pads, thinking to myself “I don’t even have the energy to get all my gear on, let alone do a minimum 1000 metres of climbing!” After the initial “can I just go back to bed?“. feeling has subsided I get on the bike and set off.

My legs always feel tired at the start of the ride. I call this the ‘waking up my legs phase’. Then I get all excited and start taking photos of EVERYTHING. As soon as I get into the countryside with wide open views, something within me just ignites and I feel so alive, like I have found my purpose. It’s such an incredible feeling of peace and happiness. It’s the feeling I always want to live over and over again. To me, the gnarly trees, beautiful winding stone walls, rivers, sheep and wildlife all look more vivid and special against the backdrop of a magnificent mountain or valley expanse. I’m soaking it all in and I’m loving the freedom.

Then the ride begins to get more technical and I start to think “I’m gonna have to crack on or this ride will finish in the dark!“. The middle section is fun, my energy levels are good, the climbs are a challenge, the downhills are adrenaline fuelled and I’m feeling good. Following this generally comes a section that is a LOT more challenging than I was expecting it to be. The tough technical climbs become too difficult for me to tackle on the bike without exhausting myself totally trying. This tends to be the ‘hike-a-bike’ phase: because the terrain is so tough you simply can’t ride it.

The best way is to throw the bike over your head, so the down tube rests across your shoulders. This spreads the load and although the bike weighs around 15kg its initially easier to hike with the bike rather than lifting and wheeling your bike over rocks on a steep incline. Finding your balance is critical. On the last couple of rides the hike a bike phase has taken me up snow-covered mountain passes, where the ice and snow has made the climbing more tricky than usual. Both arms are needed to support the bike so that it rests equally, which means you have to be extremely deliberate how to plant each foot before making the step. I gradually start to feel my back and shoulders aching as bike bits dig in to me, but it’s essential to press on.

A lot of thinking time happens in the hike-a-bike phase. I’ve mentioned before that I count my pedals when I’m climbing and this happens to when I’m walking. I go through by counting each step pointlessly as a way of keeping my motivation up and my mind focused. It’s at this stage when doubt creeps in. The voices in my head urge me to throw the bike down and rest (not an option!) or to start some sort of “I give up” hissy fit… (again…pointless) I also start panicking about whether we have been stupid in thinking we could take on such a challenge, questioning our fitness levels and if we will need to call the mountain rescue. The hike-a-bike section is so hard going, mentally and physically. On the last ride (in my head while trudging along) I compared it to childbirth (not that I would know). The suffering is so big, yet the moment you reach the top or start to go back down, it is instantly forgotten. All the pain disappears and you just forget how tough the past hour has been.

So yeah, after the really, really hard bit usually follows an incredible descent. The type that blows your mind in terms of the challenge, the views, the adrenaline, while filling you with fear and exhilaration in equal measure. It feels surreal as you try to soak up the experience and lock the feelings into the memory bank for times when you need to feel motivated and inspired by the pursuit you so enjoy. I have described in previous posts that I talk to myself when I’m riding. I find it calms me down and helps me deal with the technical riding, as though it is someone else giving me the commands rather than me reminding me of what I need to do to ride my best. There’s so much to take in during those amazing, fast paced downhill sections. Having a word in my own ear I have found to be the best way for me to make everything feel real and to enjoy the moment!

After the awesome descent I tend to be buzzing, and it’s pretty common for me to be doing some whooping and high fiving, along with repeatedly going “that was SO fun!’ Debriefing/deconstructing the downhill section by section in fast chit chat with fellow riders is a bit I really look forward to. I also like the feeling of knowing you have conquered the toughest challenges so you can relax a bit. At this point I start to feel thirsty for a nice big cold glass of shandy! The ride finishes and I am battered and weary, plus aching knees and with a good sense of relief. At the end I am always a shell of a human being compared to the bright eyed and excited person I was around 5 hours before in the earlier stages of the ride. One of my favourite things to do is then go to a nice country pub and have some good food whilst looking over the photos and chatting about what an incredible experience it was. The feeling of pulling off the knee pads and taking off the helmet is heaven.

One thing that makes me laugh is the internal conversation I always seem to have with myself, where I vow not to take on a ride so long or so difficult again, whilst also knowing that I definitely WILL do it all over again and it will probably be even more extreme than the last!

Photography by Nick Johnson and Joanna Shimwell

Taking the plunge – winter wild swimming adventures part 1

Previous readers of my blog will be aware that I juggle various roles as part of a busy lifestyle farming, working and co-running a campsite. I also like to ride my mountain bike, train hard at the gym and go on adventures when time allows. After failure to reach my ambition of going swimming on my 2016 birthday (during our holiday in Italy), last year saw a couple of opportunities to go wild swimming which I seized, once in my friends beautiful green lake surrounded by trees on a hot summer’s day, the second was in Spain, on a warm autumn day in a deep canyon river which had worn its way through the rock to form a magical curved corridor of smooth stone and crystal clean mountain water. Both times the water was cold but the air temperature outside was mild and it was a refreshing experience to take a cooling dip.

This year, don’t ask me why but I fancied braving the water during winter. I don’t mind cold water, I love water and I love adventures and adrenaline/extreme experiences even more, so why not go for it! I’d seen a girl I know through instagram (Hetty of @mudchalkandgears) had been swimming locally and it had really inspired me to want to join in. Hetty is an adventurous girl and seemingly fearless when it comes to cold temperatures as she invited me along for an early morning dip when the forecast was for -5 degrees and a hard frost during February!

I was surprised when she suggested it because i knew it was going to be SO COLD, but I thought I may as well give it a go. I had nothing to lose, if I didn’t think I could get in the water then at least I had tried. So I set my alarm for early the next morning. When it went off and the sky was still pitch black outside I did think to myself: “Am i really gonna do this?!” We met at around 6:45am as the sky was blushing a beautiful pink and the ground was a frosted silver. The birds were singing a medley of choruses in the otherwise perfect silence of a still morning without even a breath of wind.

Hetty and I made our way down to the river and stripped off to our swimwear on the river bank (no wetsuits here!) Leaving our bobble hats on as an essential way of keeping our temperatures up, we slithered into the water. The first thing I noticed was the strange sensation of silt and mud between my toes, which I kind pf enjoyed. The second thing obviously was how cold the water was. Hetty had warned me to be careful of strong currents, to keep in control of my breathing and to be aware that I might feel shocked by the temperature. I decided that the best way was to go ‘all-or-nothing’ so I plunged right in and launched into swimming a few strokes.

The feeling on my skin was hard to describe. Like a sharp intensity that quickly began to feel strangely numb and for a few moments I didn’t even feel very cold. I was aware that I was gasping a lot and I tried to focus on controlling my air intake. We swam a little and giggled and laughed at how freezing it was, and swam a little more. The current was actually quite strong and I needed to work a fair bit just to stay in one area. As my fingers started to lose their dexterity we decided it was time to exit the water and in a very ungainly manner I climbed back onto the bank and grabbed my towel.

The next part was a little scary as I really struggled to keep my fingers operating as I somehow pulled on my socks and trousers (wisely I had chosen items that were fairly easy to get on). We walked back to the car, chatting and laughing about our wonderful, magical shared adventure. Hetty told me why she’d taken up wild swimming during the winter. Not only was it a great for achieving an adrenaline rush when you are short on time (we both did our swim before going straight to work), cold water swimming has numerous other benefits too.

Not only is it supposed to be a great way of boosting the immune system, the endorphins are amazing and I could definitely feel the natural ‘high’ as a result of my dip. The reason for this is that endorphins are released as a natural painkiller to take the pain away from the stinging sensation in your skin caused by the cold water. The result is that you feel invigorated and a heightened sense of wellbeing. There are studies which have suggested that cold water can help to beat depression in that the cold stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the release of dopamine and serotonin (vital for keeping us feeling happy). As I have suffered from low mood periodically and had been feeling a little bit flat around that time I can certainly say that I felt uplifted considerably after my first cold water swim.

As I sat in my car with the heaters blasting out hot air. I noticed I had icicles in my hair and I looked rather bedraggled with a ruddy complexion, but I felt ALIVE. I headed straight to work with a great sense of achievement and a broad smile on my face…. and the day had only just begun.

Battling the Beast at Dale Farm

March the 1st, it was supposed to be the start of Spring. It was starting to feel like Spring, the bulbs were poking through and the days getting longer, the sunshine more powerful and the birds singing that bit more joyfully. But no, instead March the 1st brought about what has been an absolute sting in the tail of winter… just when we thought we were heading for a good month, the weather front known as the “beast from the east” came in the form of a bitterly brutal wind, sending the temperatures to a frightening ‘feels like’ -22 degrees and actual temperature of -7 with frozen EVERYTHING. That was combined with Storm Emma which continued to batter us for several more days of frozen fury.

Frozen water pipes, frozen troughs, frozen hydrolics on the tractor, frozen windows inside our farm house and frozen windscreen wipers and electric windows on my car (now both broken!) The snow had fallen the previous day, but the sun had been shining by the afternoon and it seemed like the forecasters could have overhyped the weather, whereas on March 1st we felt the full brutal force. The strong winds blew the snow into huge drifts which formed fast. in the space of a few hours Moor Road and Chirtpit lane both went from being barely passible to totally impassible even on the tractor.

We had to battle on with animals to feed and lambing only 5 weeks away. Breaking the ice on the water troughs became a strength challenge as the ice formed a thicker layer each day and I was using an array of farm objects to break through to water.

We decided to boost the amount we feed the ewes (pregnant and due to start lambing in April) starting them early on` their high protein corn plus giving them extra haylage daily. The conditions under Longstone edge are hard for them when the wind is whipping over the walls, spraying a fine mist of snow powder which formed clumps on their wooly backs as they huddled together against the wind. The Beast coming after a prolonged wet period meant the poor girls need all the help they can get after what we feel has been quiet a harsh winter for them.

Getting water to the highland cattle on Longstone edge was a challenge within itself. There is no water supply to the moor so we regularly fill large bowsers of water and deliver it into a quirky arrangement of old bath tubs. On Wednesday the cows had a refill of water, but by Friday morning every bit had gone or had frozen solid into thick slabs of ice. So we began lengthy process of thawing out a tap in the farm yard, thawing out the hose pipe and filling the container before then taking the water bowser on the tractor up 3 fields. This involved digging out a crossing at Chirtpit Lane (totally blocked with snow drifts), lifting the gate off its hinges and digging a trench through for the tractor to pass. The tractor then made it through an up another 2 fields to reach the moor. It’s time consuming and very cold on your face and hands, it is not pleasant when the wind is whipping at your face, coating it a mist of snow. We all had purple cheeks, streaming eyes and numb red hands. We weren’t building snowmen or sledging – this was about pure survival against the elements and I have to say how enjoyable ti was that Dad, Nick and I pulled together to keep the farm going.

Down in the Village it seemed like a different world to us, just a short way up Moor Road. Although a decent amount of snow had fallen, the wind wasn’t as fierce! It wasn’t until Moor Road was ploughed for a second time that I was able to get my car out and try to resume some sense of normality.

Now the snow has (almost) gone it seems unbelievable that just a couple of weeks ago we were battling such extreme conditions. We took lots of photos and video footage (which is currently my favourite way to document events on the farm!) so we can look back on Beast from the East in years to come! It will certainly go into John’s farm diary as a memorable week in the year on the farm! Today it has poured with rain all day and I am wondering what lies ahead for Spring and Summer 2018! One thing for sure is that nothing is ever for certain in farming!

Vegetables are exciting!

Yesterday something happened that I had not experienced for a while, I woke up craving vegetables!

My approach to food is consistently healthy, but in the last few weeks (holiday, Christmas, New Year) I have gradually lost my excitement for the food I put on my plate, and although I was still eating well, I wasn’t enjoying the process as much. But yesterday after a fairly indulgent Sunday afternoon I literally woke up wanting greens and cauliflower and colourful nutritious food and I started making lists of the fresh and amazing foods I needed to lay my hands on. This got me to thinking, what do I do to stay on track and maintain energy for a healthy approach to food?

Here’s some of the things I do, which might work for you….

1. Plan your meals. Spend time looking at your cookbooks or using the internet for inspiration. I frequently use Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram for recipe ideas, and I am constantly signing up for new healthy food blogs where I get exciting recipes straight into my email. Blogs I like are Cookie and Kate, Chocolate Covered Katie, Minimalist Baker,  and To Her Core (which also has a great eBook introduction for beginners).

2. Go shopping! If you buy good food you will eat good food. For those who share a house with friends, partners, children, my advice would be to create some space that’s just for you… a drawer or a shelf in your fridge and freezer, plus a cupboard or shelf where all your lovely wholefoods can live together. I love organising my pantry and having a fridge re-shuffle so that everything looks nice, as this inspires me to cook.

3. Keep a food diary and take photos! This is something I periodically dip in and out of, the diary is brilliant because it holds you accountable and in the early stages I am often really surprised at how much mindless snacking I do (sometimes eating because food is there, rather than because I am hungry, or eating an entire meals worth of calories while preparing my dinner). Taking photos of your meals encourages you to present something you feel proud to eat and generally this means more thought has gone into it and it will be healthier and portion controlled. Share your photos on facebook or other social media platforms… there’s a whole community out there of people who just share “What I eat in a day” scenarios, so don’t for a second think it’s a crazy thing to do…. all the Hispsters are doing it.

4. Have the things you enjoy. Leading a healthy lifestyle means that its a life-long approach, not a temporary fix, so this means you will need to exercise balance and yes that means allowing less healthy meals into your life. Birthday cake, dinner parties, meals out, kids baking, champagne, chocolate, indulgence… life is to be lived, enjoyed, celebrated and food is an important part of that. Remember that one day or one meal isn’t going to make you fat or change your body. Your hard work won’t be undone by one day of lounging around eating cake and feeling unmotivated. But if you do that for 5 or 6 days in a row then YES it will have a detrimental impact on your health and physique. Seeing what you eat and how you exercise as a long term approach is definitely the way to happiness and success.

5. Meal Prep. I love meal prep. Little containers of joy which mean I won’t have to dedicate time every day to preparing something wholesome and delicious. Meal prep doesn’t mean eating the same meal day after day, what it means is preparing extra of something so you can enjoy it on more than one occasion. I tend to make a good size batch of steak mince cooked with onions, courgette, peppers, spices in a tinned tomato sauce. I portion it down, will have a couple of meals during the week and the rest goes into the freezer for another time. This can be replicated with healthy stews, soups, curries etc. Yesterday I did ‘Mix n Match’ meal prep method, where I steamed some kale and broccoli, roasted sweet potato with lots of spices and herbs, cooked some onions, peppers and chorizo and chicken on a tray, boiled some eggs and grated a load of carrot, courgette and beetroot. Now I have a whole array of healthy goodies ready to go and I will simply add spinach, avocado, steak, seeds, nuts, feta or whatever takes my fancy if I think my meal need something else.

6. Challenge yourself to try new food! It may seems daunting at first but it’s such a liberating experience to try new foods and combinations and ingredients. I absolutely love the voyage of discovery and those “where have you been all my life?!” moments!

Good luck and have fun. Joanna  x x

Overcoming group ride fear and progression – Riding Jacobs Ladder and the Kinder all-weather loop

It was on a rainy Saturday morning that I put aside the fact I was vaguely sleep deprived (after an impromptu night out dancing the night before) to get my riding kit on and head off to Edale to meet a bunch of riders collectively known as the Rother Valley Riders. I’ve been following them on Instagram for about 2 years, seeing them grow in popularity while my group the Sheffield Mountain Bikers dwindled in numbers until eventually disbanding (I think at least!).

Group rides make me nervous… I don’t know why as I dont think i’m shy, and I do like to socialise… but it must be fear of the unknown, fear of being useless and embarrassing myself in front of strangers. But once I overcome that fear and manage to get myself out of the car, I can’t recall any time where I haven’t enjoyed doing a group ride.

Matt from the Rother Valley Riders was very reassuring beforehand, reiterating that the group meet ups are about being social, having a good time and being safe (no heroics and absolutely no pressure to tackle anything you don’t want to ride). So 11 of us met on a particularly uninspiring January Saturday morning in the car park in Edale and after some brief but friendly introductions off we went.

It’s a route I have ridden before but not for a good 18 months (the last time was a failed attempt in the deep snow)…. perhaps even 2 years ago, so I was interested to see how my confidence, skill and nerve might have hopefully improved!

We started off with the long climb up Chapelgate, which was longer and tougher than I remembered! It seemed to have washed out a lot so there were some big channels with larger rocks in, making it trickier to pick your line. It really is quite a steep, draining climb but when there’s no pressure you can aim to reach a drainage channel (there are several) and then have a rest to catch your breath before ploughing on. As we reached the top the wind was blowing and bringing in a blustery fine mist of wet rain. It really doesn’t bother me being wet once I’ve started out on a ride… as long as my jacket keeps me dry and my feet dry and not too cold then I’m happy. (Sealskinz waterproof socks are a life changer!) I had plenty of layers on so the temperature wasn’t causing me any concern even with the stop/start nature of the climb. After climbing Chapelgate and picking the dryest line over a sandy flat section it was time to tackle the first descent, on Strava known as Rushup Rock Blast (we called it the Sunken Road).

I remember it being a good width trail that seemed to have been filled with a load of quite angular, sharp rocks. There are a few small drops and slanting slabs but mostly it’s a bed of loose stones. I still it find to be a tricky bone-shaker that shakes your arms and shoulders out of their sockets! You definitely need to make sure your helmet is on pretty tight or it ends up causing quite a distraction and blocking your vision! Last time around I think several riders got punctures at the end of this section and I rode it fairly slowly, with the rocks and my slow speed meant gaining momentum was hard and the whole thing wasn’t very ‘flowy’. This time around I was less phased and certainly rode it faster. I enjoyed picking my line and didn’t find it scary – but it’s not my favourite descent and I was happy to get to the bottom with my tyres and wheels intact…unlike 2 of our group who had punctures and a damaged wheel rim.

After repairs and chit chat we proceeded on and the rain became a bit heavier, the wind blew a bit stronger. Everyone was soaked but loving it! Even with the weather being drab, the bare gnarly trees along the route looked dramatic and the muted greens and browns still provided a wonderful backdrop to ride amongst. It is a bleak but stunning route.

The next real challenge was a descent into Roych Clough. Slabby and slanted in sections and steeper than Rushup Rock blast, the challenge took me by surprise a little but I loved it. My routine now seems to be to have a personal ‘pep talk’ on the way down… saying “GET BACK and RELAX!” to myself which really helps calm my nerves. The last section into the Clough is cobbled and very good fun, particularly as you can splash through the water whilst feeling jubilant to have survived and had fun. It definitely got my adrenaline pumping.

The Kinder circuit is slow going and there are no easy miles. Much of the route provides a challenge to pick a line and complete a section between gates without any ‘dabs’ (putting your foot down). I was really up for the challenge yesterday so kept persevering even though it would have been faster and easier to get off and push the bike! Heading up into the Kinder Estate was a long neverending slog but to get to the top was a great feeling (we even found the last traces of snow!) Good banter and dreaming of summer rides helped the group morale stay upbeat and everyone was looking forward to reaching the top and tackling ‘The Big One’ – Jacobs! (I lost count of how may times we all said…. “are we at the top yet?” as the clouds and mist prevented our visibility of what laid more than a few metres ahead. While I find climbing hard work, generally my fitness levels help me to push on over lose rocks, and with considerable effort and regular breaks it is possible to ride everything. It’s a great route with hardly any road riding at all.

In the back of my mind the Jacobs Ladder descent was looming and I was questioning whether I would hold my nerve. From my memory of past experiences it’s a long descent with some intimidating drops at the top (which I have never previously ridden). It’s also a route often populated by walkers heading uphill, so for me that represents the added pressures that spectators might: 1. watch you struggle / fall off 2. block your line and make the descent more difficult than it needs to be 3. stop your flow so you lose momentum and speed and then its harder to get over some of the rocks and drops. With all of that in my mind I just kept telling myself that this was my chance to prove to myself that I have grown in skill and confidence, and I tried to imagine the fantastic ‘personal goal achieved’ feeling I would have at the end of the ride if I rode well / to my ability.

As we reached the start of the descent I let the faster guys go and then quietly uttered to myself “let’s do this!’ The first drop presented itself and I bottled it, coming to a halt and finding that frustratingly familiar position of staring down a drop wondering why I couldn’t just let the bike go dammit! I backed up and on my second attempt rode this without any problem. This gave me the confidence boost I needed and I continued, feeling good, focused and in control while riding over another section I remember had phased me in the past. My position on the bike has improved a lot and I feel much more comfortable and balanced going down steeper sections with my weight in the correct position. As I clattered my way down and somehow handled everything that appeared in front of me it was all going well until a larger drop appeared ahead and I found myself veering off onto a ‘chicken run’ walking path to the left. I’m a bit gutted i didn’t attempt to ride it, but it leaves the opportunity for me to revisit and try this on another occasion. Marked progression is always encouraging and I had already surpassed previous attempts! Rejoining the main MTB route from the side path i made it all the way down to the gate which divides the descent into 2 sections, (while being watched by another group of riders…yikes!) Everything seems to come so fast I find it hard to remember all of the details of the trail.

With jelly legs I wobbled off my bike to unfasten the gate, and whilst doing so realised I was in the most awesome of places to take in possibly the BEST view of the whole ride. The Vale of Edale opened out before me. The winding river in the valley bottom is flanked by a snaking path above for cyclists and ramblers, before the land slopes upwards, on this occasion disappearing into the fluffy, white, low clouds which masked the outline of Kinder on the left and the Mam Tor ridge on the right. At any time of year it is a breathtaking sight and world class in my opinion. I paused to taken a couple of quick phone snaps and then continued on the second part of the descent.

Jacobs ladder is so very tiring on your muscles and there’s no opportunity to let your legs or arms rest as every bit of the downhill represents a challenge…there are no easy sections to reset and give your brain or body a few seconds rest. I made it down to the bottom to the sound of cheers and applause from the rest of the group who came down before me. Feeling relieved and exhilarated (and with my arms and legs limp), I laid down my bike and proceeded to nearly slip over on the grassy bank by the river… ironic considering all the previous challenges I had managed to overcome whilst riding unscathed! My blood was pumping and adrenaline was surging – all the major challenges of the ride had been overcome and I hadn’t died and I’d had FUN!

In between chatting to the other riders we all cheered on some words of encouragement for the last couple of guys to come down. Andy the birthday boy had taken a tumble but other than a twisted dropper post and a bashed hip and elbow he was in good spirits to have ticked off another ride from his bucket list. We rode fast into Barber Booth and back to Edale where a lovely round of (mostly) beers provided the perfect post-ride debrief beverage. It really was a top day out and I look forward to the opportunity to ride with the Rother Valley Riders again.

Reflecting on my goals for 2018 to ride my bike as much as I can when the opportunity presents itself and to keep challenging my skill level, I think riding a route I have done before is an ideal way to look for signs of progress and I certainly felt them on this ride. I’m already looking forward to riding the same route again so I can have a better stab at Chapelgate (less stops) and to cut out that chicken run on Jacobs Ladder.

You can find details of the Rother Valley Riders here:

https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/club/profile/7485/rother-valley-riders-mtb-club

Details of the map of our route here:

Kit I wear here:

https://www.velovixen.com/annas-legs-star-print

https://findra.co.uk/

https://www.sealskinz.com/socks/mtb-mid-mid-socks-with-hydrostop-black-blue-orange.htm

Thoughts on being Vegan and raising animals to produce meat

So it’s Veganuary, and the time has never been trendier to become a vegan, talk about being vegan or to dabble with plant based eating. Formally reserved for earth loving tree huggers, being vegan or plant based is now part of the mainstream, and lately I have found myself questioning whether I think it’s something I should consider and asking is it a good thing more people are turning their back on eating meat?

You see I am very connected to the production of meat, being daughter of a farmer and now working on the farm. Since my involvement working with my Dad I have driven a new initiative where we take the animals all the way to slaughter rather than selling them on to be ‘finished’ or fattened up by a dealer. I found the notion of selling off the animals more sad and empty than sending them to be killed and butchered at our small local abattoir. Yes it is very hard in the hours before we load the animals into the trailer contemplating how odd it feels that we have decided the fate of what have come to be our little pals. But once the animals have been dropped off at the abattoir we have to move forwards and console ourselves with the fact that we did the absolute best we could for them and and gave them a lovely life.

When I stand up in the fields around the farm and look at the surroundings and the lives our sheep, cows and pigs have, I think they are luckier than many humans. An open, pollution free environment. Room to roam and display their instinctive behaviours. We expose them to very little stress throughout their lives. we check them and handle them regularly so they aren’t afraid of human contact, and they graze naturally and are reared slowly to maturity. Even our pigs (who need a diet of pellets) are fed on a low protein feed to allow them to grow far more slowly than a commercial pig would (so the pigs take 3-4 months longer to reach the desirable size and at a considerable additional cost to us). Our highland beef cows are around 3 years old before they are sent to slaughter, and we increasingly champion hogget (one year old sheep) and mutton rather than spring lamb.

When it comes to eating the meat ourselves. rather than finding this process difficult or unpleasant, this is actually my favourite way to eat meat, because by having reared the animals i can eat meat with a clear conscience. From field to fork, we have been there every step of the way and we trust our abattoir to give the animals respect in their final hour. (Research, reputation and a good relationship with where you send the animals is of vital importance).

Animal welfare is important to me and I know many vegans are concerned deeply with farming methods and animal rights. Obviously there are a lot of reasons why someone would want to become vegan, and i’m totally cool with whatever decision anyone wants to make, but while so many vegans are raising the issue of animal welfare, saying they are speaking up for animals who have no voice, I wish they would consider using the platform to lobby for people to think about where their food comes from and to encourage a more honest, fair food production system rather than boycotting animal products and suggesting that farm animals should be treated no differently than to a cat or dog.

This is something i understand, but it think deciding not to consume meat or animal products is somehow skirting around the issue of animal welfare. In my opinion, i would much rather pressure was applied to the supermarkets, food buyers, restaurants, takeaways and food governing bodies to stop meat being sold at a low price point that forces mass production farming methods and intensive farming. Meat has become meaningless to many. It’s just food… it doesn’t have a story behind it. In order to bring back respect for our food I think that availability needs to be reduced and the cost needs to go up.

The main problem I feel is with chicken and egg production, and generally any systems that are too large and too hurried. Chickens probably get the worst deal: raised unnaturally in large barns with no option to behave as they naturally would, their quality of life is terrible and shameful. And chicken is the country’s favourite meat.

Animals like cows, sheep and pigs are commonly indoor reared and fed on high protein processed animal feed rather than grazing outside on a natural mix of grasses. Generally this is the meat made available to buy from the supermarkets and served in takeaways and restaurants. The meat produced is at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of quality and welfare.

But what about the opposite side of the scale? What about buying meat that has been reared naturally, with love, care and respect? We should know if the animal was allowed to live a natural life, fully matured and slowly grown. It is so pleasing to me when i speak to people who are interested in food miles, where was the animal raised, who butchered it and what was the breed. When someone is interested in sourcing the product it means they tend to cook and savour the meal, even celebrating the animal. That’s what I would like to see more of.

On a recent trip to Cuba I witnessed small scale farming, where families would each have a small-holding with a few pigs, a goat, a cow, a horse and a few hens scratting around. Every part of the animals would be used. No plastic packaging, no ridiculous food miles. I feel we have gone too far in the UK to ever return to this way of living, but I think we would be certainly healthier and the world would be a better place if we could.

So am I convinced to go vegan? No. I’m going to carry on rearing and giving animals a lovely life full of care, and I will continue to eat meat. Most of all, I will appreciate food and eat with a conscience,

encouraging others to do the same.