You might laugh [please do] but when I came across this saying recently my literal mind skipped it’s metaphorical intention and took its meaning to the letter [I often do this]. My thoughts wandered to when we have walked an extra mile or so on a beach or in the hills or cycled just that bit further and felt smug as we left the crowds behind. The saying is spot on; going that extra mile often takes us to a quiet corner and to somewhere special that we can embrace as our own for a short time. By just taking a bit more effort I can enjoy an undisturbed experience of a location with the space and tranquillity to really see, smell and feel the place.
The quote attributed to Wayne Dyer, author and self-development guru, is, ‘It’s never crowded along the extra mile.’ After thinking about all those idyllic places we have found it eventually dawned on me that this quote isn’t to be read literally and instead encourages everyone to believe that by putting in the extra effort you can reach the top. My mind turned to those times when I have gone the extra mile on a task. Doing just the minimum required can be an easy option and I have times when I need to cruise through jobs because my mind is preoccupied with other stuff. But I feel much better about myself when I put the extra effort in and give my absolute best. And yet, the number of people who will reach the heights of the elite in any field is limited [or never crowded] and unfortunately not everyone can be outstanding otherwise outstanding becomes the average. For myself, I don’t expect to be award winning, I go the extra mile to compete against myself, stretching my performance and improving my skills.
I consider myself a slow writer; certainly each time I write a travel article or blog post I spend hours rigorously writing, editing and re-editing. I do this for two reasons; I am certainly terrified of the shame of making a mistake that makes it in to print [although they do and I have to deal with it] but I also want to produce work I can feel proud of. I constantly review, learn new techniques and apply these and I feel that my writing has improved over the years. I don’t go the extra mile for promotion or a higher salary, my editor is not pushing me to write differently, I am self-motivated to do better and throwing together a piece of writing with the minimum effort has never been an option. By going the extra mile I might not reach the top but I do maintain my self-respect.
We like to get out and stretch our legs and get the heart pumping after writing at the laptop for much of the day. Salford Quays is the place we take one of our favourite regular walks and we often swing by the Watersports Centre as there is usually something going on there which gives us an excuse to linger and lean on the railings and watch. Sometimes there are groups of young people learning how to manage a kayak, on other occasions there are acrobatic wakeboarding sessions. Those of us not taking part in these water-focused activities [and we are never alone here] can idly enjoy the spectacle.
I am always pleased to see the Manchester Ship Canal at Salford Quays being used. When I used to cycle to work over the canal I would often see groups rowing along the canal in the early morning. In winter it would be barely dawn and the sun would be coming up over Manchester, the rowers were out on the water and wrapped up against the cold. On other trips around Salford Quays we have stumbled upon open water swimming events when the noise from splashing arms and legs echoes around the blocks of flats.
My first experience of the Watersport Centre was when our son took part in the Salford Dragon Boat Festival. His workplace had a team in the race and we came along to watch the fun. The dragon boats themselves are stunning, each decorated boat is 40-foot long and holds 18 people. One of these is a qualified helm, 16 people row and one person is the drummer beating time. We cheered our son’s team on and for novices they did pretty well, getting through a number of the heats but the main thing was that they enjoyed taking part. This event is a great spectacle if you can get to Salford Quays next time it is on.
Okay, so this won’t be the most trendsetting and smart bit of gear you will ever see me wearing but it is certainly proving to be practical. We both own cagoules, waterproof jackets that are perfect for when the heaven’s open. We live in the north-west of England and have been bought up to carry these cagoules on every walk, even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky, as in our unpredictable climate you just never know.
Cagoules are fantastic in winter but even when made of Gore-tex they can get hot and sticky in a summer shower. Last year at the Upton Blues Festival I noticed lots of people were wearing ponchos in the rain and these looked both practical and comfortable. We don’t buy anything on the spur of the moment but started the process of thinking and researching ponchos.
It seemed the poncho market is broad and we could buy expensive or cheap. Generally with hiking gear I will opt for quality over budget options but as this was a new bit of kit that we were not completely sure would ever be useful we decided to be cautious and frugal. Dipping our toes in to the waterproof poncho market we bought these Trekmate ponchos for £20 each.
After even a short time these ponchos are proving to be perfect for those short sharp summer shower that we often get in the Alps and in UK. In this sort of weather the temperature doesn’t plummet too much and putting on a cagoule, even a breathable one, can be a sweaty experience. We prefer to stay dry and walking in the countryside there isn’t always a bus stop or hut nearby to shelter in. As well as being perfect at a festival these ponchos are now our go-to option on those hiking days when there isn’t a cloud in the sky and but we want to pack a just-in-case waterproof. As the ponchos are lighter and less bulky than our cagoules I am sure we will use them often in our trips to southern Europe. This will mean that our expensive Gore-tex cagoules will last that bit longer.
The Trekmate poncho has a number of other plus points over a cagoule:
They come in one size so if you are as short as me [162 cms] the poncho is long enough to cover your shorts and keep them dry. Mr BOTRA is a bit taller but the poncho would still cover his short shorts!
The poncho’s are big enough to go over your rucksack as well as you and keep that dry
The poncho’s come with a stuff bag so they pack away neatly
This is a light piece of kit that doesn’t take up much room in your pack
These ponchos only come in black and the design is very simple. At the front there is a large pocket that might be useful to keep any map dry during the shower. There is a zip at the neck and a flap and the hood is a generous size. In the body of the poncho there are two holes with Velcro to stick your hands and arms out of if you need to.
The only downside we have found is that if it gets windy the ponchos can billow. I think if it is that windy it will most probably also be cold and we would be carrying cagoules and waterproof trousers anyway.
We decided to buy at the cheaper end of the poncho market for our first purchase in case these proved to be something that we never actually used. We have only had the ponchos a few months but already I am a convert to a different way of keeping dry on the hills, even if I don’t look like the most stylish walker. If you see me please don’t laugh too much!
The mishap came as a bit of a surprise. The road from Torla to Aínsa in Aragon is a secondary road but a good one and we were pottering along in the sunshine, enjoying the views over the Rio Ara and of the villages perched on hilltops. The road has a white line down the centre but the carriageways are on the narrow side and the light traffic was driving considerately giving enough space to oncoming traffic.
Coming towards us were two massive white motorhomes in convoy. The leading motorhome was taking up more than his fair share of the road and we moved over to the edge of the road to ensure everyone could pass by safely. We assumed the big guy would do the same but it seemed he too had been watching Game of Thrones and fancied a bit of wing mirror jousting with our Blue Bus. Bang! We both cursed him as our passenger side wing mirror was slammed inwards and the glass broke.
We know this isn’t a tragedy, it is really just one of those things that will happen to lots of people in campervans. Those big wing mirrors are a perfect target after all and this is the first time we have broken a wing mirror in our 13 years of having a ‘van. The idiot in the motorhome didn’t stop – to be honest there wasn’t really anywhere safe to stop – and we limped along for a couple of kilometres until we found a lay-by to pull in to. Shaken we gave each other a hug and investigated the damage. The glass of the main mirror was shattered but fortunately the small blind spot mirror at the bottom was still intact. The mirror no longer responded to being moved. Our only consolation was that the big white motorhome would most likely have the same damage to his wing mirror and we hoped his replacement mirror was even more expensive than ours.
Our Renault has no internal central mirror, so the wing mirrors are essential. We had a go at fixing a shaving mirror we carry in to the housing of the wing mirror to help the driver see behind but we couldn’t get this to work. We have since found that you can buy temporary ‘mirrors’ and may invest in one or two of these. After some thought and consideration we felt it was safe to drive using just the blind spot mirror for the remaining 25 kms to Aínsa. Although this mirror is small it functioned pretty well.
A call to our breakdown sorted out a garage that was expecting us and the mechanics there spent some time ensuring they were ordering the correct mirror for our Renault. The next day it took them 15 minutes to fit the new wing mirror and it cost us around £200! An expensive jousting session.
Always keen to explore other parts of Salford further from my home I found myself walking north from the familiar Buile Hill Park and in to the unfamiliar Claremont and Irlams O th’ Height areas of Salford. Here I found Lightoaks Park and was delighted by what a lovely and pleasant park it is. Lightoaks Park is one of Salford’s larger parks and it offers a varied landscape that is worth an hour or two of anyone’s time.
The park was officially opened in 1925 and as it rapidly approaches its centenary it has an active friends group that helps to take care of the park and organises events and activities throughout the year.
I walked through the park to the pond with Mr BOTRA and leaning on the fence we chatted to a local who was also out enjoying the park. He told us he was a regular to this park and shared his love of the park, expressing with his smile how important his local green space was to him. We meandering around the paths through woodland and lawns and found the outdoor gym to play on for a short while. We stumbled upon a section of wall set with old carved stones, presumably from a mansion that was on the site previously.
Maps from around 1940 show that the pond was a feature in the new park and that in those days Lightoaks Park had a pavillion, tennis courts and a shelter with a lodge at the Claremont Road entrance. In the higher part of the park was Crimble Lodge and Claremont Farm.
Irlams O th’ Height is a former village and is a tough name for locals and visitors to spell. I hope I have got it right!
For anyone with a campervan, motorhome or a caravan there are two good reasons for visiting Sedan in northern France. Firstly for around €9 a night you can stay at the Camping Municipal de la Prairie. This municipal site is easy to find and is pleasantly placed by the river Meuse, with moorings for boats alongside the site and an open aspect that helps it feel more rural than urban. We were greeted warmly by the member of staff who gave us a map of the town and told us enthusiastically about the castle and told us we could pitch where we liked on the grassy site. The ground is a little uneven but nothing the levelling blocks couldn’t deal with. The sanitary facilities were not the most up-to-date but were clean and the showers were good and hot and we don’t need much more than that and you can’t expect much more for the price.
Sedan is handily placed for us to reach our ferry at Zeebrugge but we arrived with enough time to visit the second reason to visit Sedan. It has what is claimed to be the largest medieval fortified castle in Europe.
It is about a 15 minutes’ walk to the castle from the campsite and it is as magnificent and immense as you could hope, with an impressive curtain wall around the castle and courtyard and lovely views over the town from the corner bastions and the ramparts. We explored the dark corners, alleys and stairwells that were designed to confuse the enemy and from the information boards learnt how the castle had grown over time. I was particularly fascinated by the view into the interior of a round tower that had been enlarged over the years and seeing the interactive scale model of the castle in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian First Battle of Sedan. The Second Battle of Sedan was in May 1940 during the German invasion of France.
After exploring the castle, we strolled around the town that has a history of cloth-making; some think that upholstery from Sedan gave the Sedan chair its name. We found narrow streets and charming shops, lovely botanical gardens and bridges over the river Meuse. Sedan also has an open and covered market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.