Until 2025

My old boss at IBM used to tell an awful joke:

A horse walks into a bar…

The Bartender says hey pal, why the long face ?

At this moment I’m living my best life.

I’m doing something interesting like a trip to London or a bushcraft course almost every weekend. I’ve visited 5 new countries this year including Costa Rica and in 6 weeks I’ll be visiting Mexico, Belize and Guatemala (In Mexico I’ll even get to see day of the dead).

In weekday evenings I go to the cinema (foreign language and mission impossible type films) and I visit the theatre twice a month.

I eat out at nice places, regularly go to wine tasting and I volunteer for 3 organisations.

I get out regularly on my bike and do 40 miles or more. I’m on track to lose my 2nd stone in weight and I’m sleeping really well.

So, “Why the long face” ?.

Well, with all this going on, I have very little free time. I had a day in my house on Sunday to do jobs, I won’t have another for 3 weeks.

So I’ve had to let something go. This blog, which I’ve enjoyed updating since 2001.

I’ve decided I’m going to leave the blog as it is, until 2025 and pick it up then.

And I will… In 2025 I’ll complete my goal of visiting 100 countries and I’ll have a replacement knee so I can get back into the hills and onto the trail.

(and hopefully I’ll have fixed the twitter/x feed by then as-well).

Until then, near and far, thanks for reading and the search for adventure continues…

Bushcraft, Cable cars and Caverns. An amazing weekend in the Peak District.

I’ve visited the Peak District a lot. On previous trips, I’d spotted a few things I wanted to do so. Once I had enough to fill a weekend off I went.

Me standing in front of the roundhouse at Woodland Ways training forest.

I use Youth Hostels less and less now. Truth is, I prefer a nice pub with on-suit rooms (and I can usually afford it).

Also, the YHA have some nonsense about not drinking your own alcohol and are now charging £9.95 for breakfast !.

That being said, I’ve always had a fondness for Hartington Hall YHA In Derbyshire. When we arrived I could see they had put out some massive Bell tents and a group of young family’s were enjoying themselves out in the sunshine.

The main building of the Hostel is 17th century Manor House.

We checked in, unpacked our gear and made up our bunks. We decided to eat out in the Town. There are 2 main places to eat in Hartington, so the first night we had dinner in the Charles Cotton hotel (beef and ale pie 🙂

Up early the next morning (thanks to no sound insulation in the hostel and screaming children running around :). I always find it useful to take my own kettle and 2-in-1 coffee so I was ready to go.

Today I’d be spending the day with Woodland Ways. A bushcraft school in the Peak District, run by a chap called Jason, who I’ve met many times and spent time with on Kinabalu mountain in Borneo.

They didn’t waste any time, and straight away, we were shown safe and practical ways to use knives and saws (more about saws later).

The Bushcraft Fundamentals course runs for 1 day and was broken up into 4 sessions. They would cover shelter, food preparation, fire lighting and water collection and purification.

We began with shelter construction.

I’ve made lots of shelters, but the ones we were shown how to make here were a lot more sturdy than my previous attempts. The main frame of this kennel shelter can easily hold a grown man’s weights.

Halfway through construction. It was explained that this shelter was designed to be used where a fire wasn’t an option. Not just to keep you out of the wind and rain, the emphasis was the thickness of the walls keeping you warm.

After the main stick structure, the whole thing would be covered over with forest floor material for warmth, and then ferns for waterproofing.

We also built a lean-to shelter, designed to be used with a long fire.

We now moved to food prep (food is always best prepared out of camp).

We had lots of wood-pigeon to prepare. It’s an essential skill, but my least favourite.

Once we’d removed the meat, it had to be cut into slices.

We were issued with a knife and folding saw for the day. Nikki didn’t want one, so for this job, she borrowed my Ben Orford Bushcraft knife (one of my proudest possessions).

Dutch ovens and fire are ready, so the cooking begins in the round house.

And the finished product…

Pigeon Fajitas, quite delicious.

I finished my lunch early, while everyone else was finishing there’s, I got to try out a project of my own.

During lockdown I purchased this bucksaw. Made of wooden components, you put it together, fasten the saw blade and then tension it with the toggle on the top.

But finally, an actual forest to try it out in 🙂

Next up, fire lighting. Nicola showed us how to prepare and site the fire. I also learned 2 really useful things.

Typically, when I’m fire lighting I use the classic Tinder -> Kindling -> Fuel.

Nicola explained, if you only need enough fire to heat some water for a hot drink, just get to kindling. It’s also easier to clear away and won’t leave untidy half burned logs.

The second thing was using “2 stage” tinder. So, normally would get something like reed mace and hit it with a spark which will create flame (but only for about 10 seconds) so sometimes I’ve struggled to light the kindling.

Instead, once the flame is lit, use Silver birch bark to take hold of the flame and that will stay lit for a lot longer so the kindling can ignite.

Simple things, but incredible useful.

A demonstration of the fire drill, then we all got to have a go.

I wasn’t optimistic, but Nikki picked one up and said we should have a go. I’ve made fire from friction previously and it was very tiring and stressful, but times have moved on and working together, we got an ember in about 20 minutes (with help from our instructor Nicola).

We were so involved making fire, that we never got to take a picture. So instead, this picture of the fire we eventually made.

I also took along my fire lighting kit, which has many different ways to light fires and I got to do some experiments.

Fire plugs are fantastic, light from a spark and burn for 10 minutes at immense heat (so I’ve got 8 of them in my survival kit)

Exotac NanoSpark – able to operate 1 handed and it even has a fire plug contained in its waterproof container.

Exotac firesleave – I take a basic lighter with me wherever I go. This is a sort of waterproof case to keep it in (and it floats).

ReadyMan Tinder Scraper – so if you don’t have any tinder, you can use this sort of kitchen grater to make some using a dry stick.

The final activity of the day. We wandered back through the forest being shown plants that you could eat and others you could use as a toothbrush, pain management etc.

Jason found a spot in the forest and gave a talk about collecting water, the best ways to filter it and the best ways to purify it.

And with that, the day is over and were off home. What an amazing day and even with my years of bushcraft and adventure experience, I still learned loads of new stuff.

Thanks to Jason and everyone at Woodland Ways.

Back home, showered and changed, and were out for the evening at the Devonshire Arms.

A few celebratory pints and a nice piece of steak.

The Hights of Abraham takes it’s name from a famous hill side where the American war of independence was fought.

It’s a hilltop park with loads of interesting things to see.

We arrived a bit early, so headed into Matlock Bath for some coffee.

Matlock Bath is a lovely town, and seems to have more chip shops than Blackpool.

We’d bought advance tickets so we were up in the air straight away.

The views across the hills and Matlock Bath bellow were spectacular.

Once at the top, we get to look back down towards the cable cars.

We’d decided to have breakfast at the Vista restaurant there.

Advised to book in advance as it would fill up, when we arrived, we were the only people there.

But the service and food were superb so it was worth it.

We wander around the hillside on this beautiful day, before a tour of the lead mine.

Inside the main cavern.

There’s something quite exciting about being underground.

And when we come out the other side, were at the top of the hill, rewarded with this amazing view.

Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring and relaxing in the sunshine.

We’ve got a return ticket for the cable car, but instead walk back.

The path through the forest was especially relaxing.

And just like that our weekend is over.

From everyone at johnsunter.com, thanks for taking the time to read this.

The search for adventure continues…

A long time coming.

Well, this year started at 100 miles an hour.

I’ve been so busy, I just haven’t had time to update this blog. Sorry about that.

First thing to talk about, was my amazing trip to Costa Rica. Our first long haul “proper” trip since Covid (you might remember at the beginning of Covid, Nikki and I were in Sri Lanka for exactly a day, before our trip was cancelled and we had to come home !.

So the title of this blog, is meant to reflect the 3 years I’ve waited to go on a far away adventure trip.

Shortly after we arrived, we visited a rescue centre. There were loads of injured and maltreated creatures. It was sad to hear some of the stories, but great to see that the animals and birds were now being treated so well.

One thing that surprised me, was the number of animals that had been “handed in” after they’ve been raised domestically as pets, and it hadn’t worked out. Above, this beautiful Ocelot, had been living in someone’s home as a domestic cat.

Except it isn’t, is it !. It’s a wild animal. Although well fed, other pets had attempted to attack and intimidate it. Neighbours of the owner had complained that their dogs had gone missing…

We spent a lot of time travelling around in our air-conditioned minibus.

On one occasion we were passing a checkpoint, and something amazing happened.

The police had pulled over a woman in a Range Rover. The sniffer dog was called over and in a few seconds, the dog sat up straight. We were shocked (just shows how many people on our trip watched Breaking Bad).

The police searched the car and found this lot in the boot.

One must-do activity of the trip, was the search for a Quetzal (which involved getting up at 4am, when you were already jet-lagged).

It’s perfectly possible to stand around for 3 hours and see nothing, but we were lucky enough, to see 2.

A few people on our trip had “big” cameras (think lenses the size of a small fire extinguisher) and were able to take the picture above.

We spent 3 days at the Tortuguero National Park which can only be reached by boat.

In the mornings, we went out looking for wildlife (which must have seen us from a long way away, considering our brightly coloured life jackets.

In Savagre, we explored the Jungle around San Gerardo de Dota by Jeep.

But my favourite, was our numerous trips and walks around the Jungle.

I’ll remember them as some of the happiest times of my life.

But it wasn’t just countryside and animals.

We got to learn about the country (did you know that Costa Rica disbanded it’s army in 1948 and put all the money into education. It now has a 97% literacy rate).

Although not religious myself, I enjoyed wandering around the Basilica Virgen de los Angeles.

There are luxurious beaches for holiday makers (and we did give it a try on our last day, swimming in the sea and stuff like that)

This beach near Tortuguero national park.

It was like something from Robinson Crusoe, completely untouched and they even have volunteers to clear the beach each day of plastic bottles and things that are washed up.

We spent an evening being shown local cookery at a traditional Finca (Farm). We got to take part and make our own Empanada.

But we didn’t just have to survive on that, after we finished our cookery course, the family laid on a 3 course evening meal, which we really enjoyed.

I think the thing most people come to see in Costa Rica are the animals and birds and we weren’t disappointed.

Another of the “big” camera photos, this <name> snake.

Our guide explained that sometimes he can lead 3 groups over 6 weeks and not see single snake, but we managed to see 3.

We parked on Puente de cocodrilo (crocodile bridge) overlooking the Tarcoles river and saw these amazing Crocodiles.

At one point, there were 5 or 6 of them, but it was hard to photograph them all, and keep the detail in the picture.

The wild animals weren’t the only things with interesting habits.

At La Baula Lodge hotel, one of the cleaners had left a box out.

It started to rain and the hotel cat (who’s name I don’t know) thought on his feet and sheltered in the box.

One of the nicest things that happened on our trip.

As we drove along, our guide Izi asked if it would be OK to stop for a minute. Obviously, we didn’t’ mind.

Turns out, his father was working on the road and we were all introduced.

The people, the countryside and the animals. Go on the internet and book a trip there now!.

My old mate Kev (who I met through Bushcraft and organised a Survival Course in the Desert) was organising an Outdoor cookery course.

Quite a long drive to Bedford, but it was worth it.

The first day was about cooking on Dutch ovens and the 2nd on campfires.

Fantastic to spend time outdoors learning stuff like that and making some new friends.

You can see a really good video of it here.

I was inspired, although it will take a while for many of the skills and techniques to sink in.

So when I got home, I thought I’d start small.

I’ve made Beef and Guinness pies from a Jamie Oliver recipe before. It was some time ago, but I thought it would be a good first step.

The finished Pies…

And they taste delicious.

So now something more adventurous, to make my own bread.

I’d seen this done at the Dutch oven course by Turan and I can only say he made it look a lot easier than it is.

At one point, the kitchen was awash with dough and I had more of it on my clothes, hands and face than on the work surface.

But I don’t give up easily, so I persevered.

An out they come, the 2 rustic looking large bread rolls.

I sliced them up and I’ve had them for lunch 3 days this week with some soup (I’m no baker, but they taste fine to me)

Nikki and I have been together for over 10 years.

One interesting hobby she introduced me to was wine, and wine tasting.

I’ve often sat in Vin Santo or Paysan drinking wine and being told about different regions of the world where it’s made.

Bordeaux is the world capital of wine so inspired, we decided to get out on the ground and see what it was like.

On the first morning, we did a “free” walking tour.

Bordeaux really is an amazing place, everywhere was clean, the people were friendly and the weather was superb.

We spent quite a lot of time, wandering around the old town.

Above is the Grosse Clocke (interesting, as it’s name sounds German to me !)

As it’s the world capital of wine, it has an amazing museum with the history of wine, how it’s made and stuff like that.

Unfortunately, their website is appalling, so we ended up on a sort of pretentious wine tasting encounter with music and poetry reading !, and never got to see the actual museum.

No matter, the next day we’d booked a trip to visit one of the appellations.

Saint Emilion. There are very strict rules about wine having Bordeaux on it’s label.

We were going to visit 2 Chateaux, see the vineyards and get to taste some wine.

Our first stop was Chateaux Rol Valentin. As we stood outside looking at the vineyards I commented to our host how lucky they were with the local weather.

I said we’d be looking to get 15 days like that in a year in the UK 🙂

We got to visit the actual town of Saint Emilion and the church built to honour him.

Chateaux D’Aiguilhe. Part of the Chateaux dates back to the 12th century and the 100 years war.

And here we are. After hearing so much about it, were sitting at a table in a Saint Emilion Chateaux drinking wine.

I’ve amassed quite a few new books and I need to catch up.

I’ve always enjoyed interesting books, and I got the inspiration from my mum. We didn’t have lots of luxury in our house, but there was a book case of interesting books and mum would buy additional books whenever she could.

I didn’t have a great time at school. A lot of the time, I educated myself and learned things from books in the house.

One one occasion mum bought the readers digest encyclopaedia of modern knowledge. It had everything in it in short order (think book version of Wikipedia) I read it every evening and learned about science, politics, geography. I was engrossed.

Those books are long gone, but just for nostalgia, I recently bought a set to keep in my house.

I know lots more things now and I’m a lot better informed. But I was reading them the other evening and it’s every bit as interesting as it was all those years ago.

I never give money to beggars. If you just give money to people, what message does that send.

I remember travelling when I was in Cambodia and a man with serious facioul burns was begging us to give him some money. It was heartbreaking, the cost of a UK Newspaper would have fed him for 2 days.

The solution. I asked our guide and driver to translate and ask him where the nearest cashpoint was. They explained that they both already knew where the cashpoint was. I told them to ask him anyway. He looked puzzled, then replied with directions. So I gave him some money.

In Chester, in the weeks around and before the races, we have a deluge of beggars, literally in every doorway.

I was passing one on Frodsham street, a few weeks ago. She had some paper and felt pens and was selling her “art”.

I really liked this one, so I bought it. She wanted a fiver, so I gave her a tenner. It’s a really nice picture and I look forward to putting it up at home.

My love of OO gauge trains is well known, and my collection continues to increase.

When I say OO gauge, most people say “oh, you mean Hornby”. Well, many of my trains have been made by Hornby, but another company called Bachman, in my opinion make more detailed trains and offer superior value for money.

A good case in point, the train above, my newest addition. A Class 150/2 Arriva train by Bachman.

Interesting thing about it, a few years ago, when I worked at Moneypenny, this was the train I got to work ! (the full size one, not this little thing).

The “tree” in the background isn’t part of a model railway installation, it’s one of the plants our receptionist has put into the lunch room.

In an attempt to add a bit of badly needed culture into my life, I arranged to see the Northern Jazz orchestra. They were performing at Alexander’s in Chester.

Tony came with me, so I wasn’t standing around on my own. Honestly, I had a fantastic time, and It’s definitely something I’d do again.

Well, plans in place for my Birthday.

This year, I’m having a long weekend in Jersey (and hoping to hop across to Guernsey while there).

I’ve booked a nice hotel with a pool (which I’ve no intention of using) and dinner for Saturday night.

I’ve found a website with a list of beautiful locations in Jersey to have a picnic, so that’s my plan for my actual birthday on Sunday.

Lots of trips planned for this year. The post Covid bounce-back is happening in earnest.

I’m presently planning a trip to Florida for Christmas (there are dozens of interesting things to do there, and at a time when it’s cold and wet in the UK, the weather will be superb).

On thing I am please about, is there’s an option of a day trip to the Bahamas. If that comes off, I’ll have completed 99 countries by the 1st of January 2024.

I’m fully intending to join the travellers century club in 2024 (group for people who’ve been to 100 countries) The question will be, where shall I pick for my 100th country !.

I’m in a walking club called the Chester and District Walking Group.

I first joined 12 years ago, and the activities of the group and the companionship of it’s members helped get me out of the darkness of a year of unemployment and low income.

I’ve always loved walking. In fact I used to joke, if a won a million quid, I don’t know what I’d be doing, but the day after, I know I’d go out walking.

Unfortunately, my arthritis has got progressively worse. I can’t walk much more than about 3 miles, so I’m unable to join the group on it’s weekly walks. A fact I find deeply disappointing.

But life is about opportunity and re-inventing yourself when you need to. So I’m now on the committee of the group as social events/activities co-ordinator.

One event we did recently, was a trip to Shrewsbury (about an hour by train from Chester). We had a really good time, looking around the town and a fascinating tour of Shrewsbury prison (now closed down, but frequently used as a tv/film location). A retired Prison officer showed is around and told us all about it’s history.

I’ve always loved going to the cinema. There was a time in my life when my brother and I went every Saturday for several years. Sadly, we live a fair distance apart, The Manchester Odeon has been knocked down and the ABC Deansgate has been converted to a Witherspoon.

Also, a lot of films I watch now, are not very good. I asked my brother what he thought. Have I just got older, and have I lost the ability to suspend belief. David thinks not. He said there are a lot more films made now, Netflix and stuff like that, and like cakes, the more you make the lower the general quality.

Two films I really enjoyed last year were No time to die and Top Gun Maverick. In both cases, they’d spent years getting the film right and it showed.

A few years ago, there was a 4th Indian Jones. It wasn’t very good, because it had been rushed and “appealing to fans” without an interesting story or believable characters (apart from Indie) just didn’t work.

Now, I’m enthusiastically looking forward to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (5th instalment of the “trilogy”). I feel like they’ve taken time to make this film properly and settled for nothing less than excellence.

See what happens, but it’s out on the 30th of June, if your interested.

You can see a preview here and here.

Speaking of things I’m looking forward to watching.

Star Trek – The Next Generation finished in 1994. It was one of the best and most popular science fiction tv series off all time (and I loved it).

In the 3rd series of Picard (named after the captain from the Next Generation) the original crew get back together on a brand new adventure. There are 2 episodes left and I can’t wait to watch them (along with the season finale of the Mandalorian).

Well, in 8 days, I’m off for a long weekend in Porto, Portugal.

No specific plans, just relaxing, possibly a boat trip, and a day tour of the valley and wine regions.

I’m especially looking forward to getting a picture from the multi-level bridge.

This blog entry started with a picture of a beautiful animal – The Ocelot (well actually it didn’t it started with a picture of me on a rope bridge, but, the one bellow it is the Ocelot).

I’ve never been very interested in any kind of gambling. Although going back to my youth and the excuse for a human being, my stepfather I’ve always put a bet or joined a sweep for the Grand National, as I did last week.

The horse I picked out was Hill 16, which tragically died falling at the first fence. I’m not an activist and I’m not going to cause trouble, but quite simply, I can’t justify doing this anymore. So from now on, I simply won’t be taking part in the Grand National.

Well, that’s all for this time, thanks for taking the time to read this. The search for adventure continues…

Festive Season in Sicily and first post of 2023

Well, It’s 2023 and a New Year is upon us.

This is my first blog entry of 2023, so I thought I’d start with some stuff about Sicily, where I spent Christmas and New Year.

First thing to say, is that I think this time I bit off more than I could chew. Sicily is a massive island and we frequently only stayed one night in accommodation before travelling off the next day. As such, we were always rushing around.

It was a fantastic trip, but if I were to make a recommendation, it would be do it in 2 separate trips.

Navigating around busy city centres was also quite stressful and it was annoying sometimes when we’d booked accommodation that “had parking” only to arrive and be told by the owner that he knew somewhere you could park. Not the same thing at all!

The Island is scattered with more ancient treasures than an Indiana Jones Film.

Just one of them above, the Temple of Concordia.

The weather throughout the trip, was fantastic (but isn’t that what you go away at Christmas for?).

A day trip to Mount Etna and we found this 2 story house, that had been overrun by Lava from the Volcano.

Taormina was one of the highlights.

An incredible town in the mountains, it has spectacual views and amazing places to eat and drink.

On New Year’s Eve, they had a street party with Fireworks.

I’ve always enjoyed the film, The Godfather. The American Film institute, names it as the 2nd best film ever made (after Citizen Kane).

Several scenes in the film are set in Sicily, and I was determined to find them. Although it was 50 years ago, you can see above, the Cathedral Santissima Annunziata in Forza d’Agro where Michael Corleone and his 2 bodyguards pass as theyre wandering around “Corleone”.

Actually, Corleon was considered too well developed by Francis Ford Coppola so the scenes were filmed in Forza d’Agro.

And in the lower shot, me sat outside the Church (where they seem to have some new doors 🙂

While in Catania, we did an organised trip to Mount Etna.

Afterwards our guide recommended a place for lunch – Trattoria di De Fiore.

The place was simple, friendly and the food was excellent. I had Pasta alla Norma.

What we didn’t realise was the owner Rosanna has been cooking for over 50 years using her Great Grandmothers recipe’s. her Pasta ala Norma is considered the best in the whole of Sicily.

So much so, that she featured in Jamie Oliver’s TV series in Italy (you can see video of it here.)

I was inspired, so when I got home, I purchased Jamie’s book and I’ve had a go at trying a few recipe’s (but I’m not match for Rosanna 🙂

The kind of people I can’t stand are people who aren’t realists.

I mean, to me, there are 2 worlds. The one as it should be, and the second one as it is. I live in the second one.

However, in recent months, I’ve been partially living in the first. I have Arthritis in my right knee. It’s slightly painful so I walk with a limp. It’s not too much of a nuisance, but if it’s cold or I have to walk a reasonable distance, I’ve been told to use a stick (which I’ve avoided. I often joke to Nikki, that denial is one of my hobby’s 🙂

Well, I’ve decided to start using a stick. But if I’m going to do it, I’m going to own this stuff, so I’ve gotten hold of a stick like the one from the TV series House MD (with flames painted on the bottom).

The other good news about my change of heart is the advantage at airports.

I now accept offers of assistance from the airport staff. On one previous occasion, someone approached me and offered to put me and my “carer” (Nikki) to the front of the queue. I declined explaining I was completely fine.

After the staff member had moved away, Nikki said “you idiot, there are 300 people in front of us !”.

Speaking of Nikki, her family had decided to have a get together and visit other relatives in Tunbridge Wells.

I’ve always wanted to go to Tunbridge Wells, so I could write something that ended “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells!”.

With Nikki and her mum in the car we set off.

Nikki’s family don’t like to “waste” a journey, so it was decided we would stop off on the way to do some exploring (I honestly didn’t see the point, and when our destination was highlighted as the Shoe Museum in Northampton I groaned.)

I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge. Once there, I instantly recognised these ludicrous sized Dr Martin boots.

They were the exact one’s worn by Elton John in the Pinball Wizard scene from the Rock Opera Tommy.

Like so many times in my life. Something amazing that I never thought I’d see. You can see the scene here.

While flying to Sicily, I was catching up on a tv series I really enjoyed called The English.

When I travel, I always try to go as light and as versatile as possible. I borrow heavily from the lightweight alpine style of mountaineering and the everything should be able to do 5 jobs world of bushcraft/survival.

In amongst this, most of my travel clothes are from Rohan, I usualy have a Swiss Army Knife, a headtorch, notebook and pen (and a spare pen). On my way home I always make a list of things I should have taken and what I could have left at home.

This came into my mind, at the end of the first episode of The English.

With the 2 key characters about to ride off in search of adventure, the female participant says “I don’t know what I want to take ?”.

The native American character says “The difference between what you want and what you need, is what you can carry on a horse”.

I don’t have a horse, but this simple statement summarised everything I think about travelling light.

I treated my niece Poppy to a head torch for Christmas (she is going away on a school outdoor trip, and I thought it would be useful).

We also got her a whistle, so between the torch and whistle, she has 2 ways to signal for help. I don’t think for a minute she will need too, but it’s important to me that the people I care about know how to call for help if they ever need it.

But it got me to thinking. I’d always been taught, if your in trouble, 6 short bursts on the whistle, or flashes with the torch, then a minute delay, then the same again until rescued. The reply (so you know someone is coming, is 3 long bursts).

So I was surprised when I went to see Ray Mears, that he recommended 3 blows of a whistle to request assistance. Surely there’s a conflict there. So, I emailed UK mountain rescue and a really helpful chap called Al Read – National Training Officer, got back to me.

Hi John The international distress signal in the mountains is 6 blasts of a whistle in a minute and then wait a minute, repeating it for as long as possible.

The reply for people coming to help is 3 blasts in the minute when the person who needs help is not blowing their whistle. That should allow rescuers to work out where the person is and let them know help is trying to get to them.

In water rescue, paddling and kayak the emergency whistle signal is 3 blasts quickly a short pause repeatedly.

There is no minute of silence as it is really important to try and get help there as quickly as possible.
Carrying a good loud whistle does make a help if people need help.

Best regards  Al

So that answers the question, is well worth remembering and could save your life !.

While I was in the mood for sending emails, I sent one to Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth.

Dr Jane used to write a column on travel health in Wanderlust magazine. I enjoyed her column so much, that I bought her book.

There was one article by Dr Jane that was particularly interesting. In it, she said something like (and this is my interpretation, so any Dr’s reading this will be aghast!). It you have a real/serious infection, then your temperature will be above (I couldn’t remember the number).

Ok, so here was my idea. Sometimes (quite frequently) when I travel I feel unwell. But how do I know if I’m just rundown/jetlag/dehydrated, or it’s something more serious. If I buy a travel thermometer, I can take my temperature. If my temperature is below the one in in Dr Jane’s article, I know not to worry, as I’m just rundown or whatever and it will pass.

If it’s higher than that, I can seek medical attention, job done.

So I wrote to Dr Jane, told her how much I enjoyed her articles and book and that I couldn’t remember the temperature she’d mentioned (and no longer had the article). Below is her typical stylish reply (I must go and see her the next time she gives a talk somewhere 🙂

Dear John, if medicine was that simple there wouldn’t be much need for doctors!

That said bacterial infections and nasty things like malaria tend to cause fevers of 38.5 or more. Temperature under 38 suggest no infection. Viral infections can be less reliably diagnosed in this way. And people on steroids or with long-term medical conditions can also react in different ways so if you feel unwell or are worried and symptoms go on, you do need to consult a doctor or call the 111 service.

I hope you stay healthy. Best Jane

Slightly less exotic on the travel front, but every bit as important, I organised a party for the walking group (I only remembered at the end to take a picture. At one point, there were 3 times as many people at my house, enjoying the vegetarian Chilli that I’d made).

The idea of the party was a cheep event in the middle of January when a lot off people were skint or feeling a bit down.

Although they don’t do a lot of jungle walks, the CDWG (Chester and District Walking Group) was a lifeline for me in 2010 when after a year of unemployment and being completely broke, I needed to get back onto the “adventure horse”.

I decided having guests was a good time to do some essential January jobs in my house.

One of them was to update my adventure board with some photos from Januarys adventures.

Some people who were first time visitors to my house, incorrectly (but politely) asked if the board was there for some sort of bragging/boasting purpose.

I explained:

a, I love looking at the board. It reminds me of how lucky I am and all the amazing things I’ve been able to do, despite coming from humble roots.

b, Like everyone else, I have moments when I feel a bit down. Sometimes, I get up in the morning about to head to work in the rain and wonder why I bother. I look at the board and suddenly, I know why I’m doing it 🙂

Bratislava, Riga, Majorca, Barbados, Naxos, Sicily

Well, 2022 was an amazing adventure year. I got to visit 6 new countries (according to the directory of the travelers century club).

So, at this moment, I’ve visited 90 countries. Once I’ve been to 100, I can join the travellers century club as an associate).

This year, I’ve got 7 new countries in my sight’s.

Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Jersey, Guernsey & Tunisia.

I’ll also be visiting Bordeaux but as I’ve been to France before, it doesn’t count as a new country.

My friend Nadiah bought me his book for Christmas last year (I read it, and I’ve since read his other book).

“Foxy” is one of the guys on the TV program SAS – Who dares wins (which I’ve never seen). He wasn’t actually in the SAS, he was a Marine and later a member of the Special Boat Squadron. I find his writing fascinating, so I was delighted when I found out he was giving a talk at the Liverpool Philharmonic.

A genuinely amazing guy, Tony and I are going next week, it should be really smart and full of interesting stories and insights (it’s Foxy who’s the amazing guy, not my mate Tony, but Tony is ok as well).

At Christmas, travelling to Sicily, it wasn’t possible to fly from Manchester, so we had to drive down to Luton airport and stay over in a hotel (flight was at 6am, so we needed to be inside the airport by 3am).

Since I was down that way, I met up with Jon Mallet and Kev, 2 friends from a Desert Survival course I did some years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch.

They picked me up and we went for a few drinks around the town (they took me to this really smart music venue).

While chatting, Kev explained that he is running some Wild Cookery courses. I really enjoyed Ray Mears Wilderness chef, and I’ve done stuff like this before with an outfit called Woodsmoke in the Lake District. So, I’ve signed up.

It’s in some Woodland in Bedford, the Saturday is cooking on a campfire and Sunday is cooking on a Dutch Oven (I’ve even bought Petromax’s book to get a head start).

In time’s gone by, I’d have camped out, but as it’s such a long drive (and February) I’m, staying in a hotel.

If you’r interested, there are details here.

On the subject of Bushcraft and Survival from a purely theatrical perspective, I treated myself to this authentic Rambo Knife while in Sicily.

I enjoyed watching First Blood (the first Rambo film) when I was 13, but there was no way I could ever have afforded a real one.

The actual knife used in First Blood was designed by Jimmy Lile, the legendary Arkansas knifesmith. He’s passed away now, but his original knives sell for 10’s of thousands of dollars.

Thing is, I’ve learned a lot about Bushcraft and Survival since I was 13 and I now know, the knife as it is, is completely impractical for the following reasons:

  • Hollow handle knives are never as strong as a full tang (blade extends straight through the handle).
  • Big knives in the woods are simply no match for an axe. In the jungle, no match for a Parang or Golok machete.
  • Compasses in knife handles won’t generally work after the knife has hammered against hardwood for half an hour.
  • Trying to fillet a fish you’ve caught with a 9 inch blade will not be easy.
  • Saw’s on the back edge of knife blades (and wire saws for that matter) never work. The one on a Swiss Army Knife is much better
  • 50lb fishing line is only useful for catching small sharks.

So you might wonder, what have I bought it for?

It looks fantastic, and I see it as film memorabilia, rather than a functioning cutting tool.

And… It makes me feel 13 again.

Some people are really lucky.

My brother lives walking distance from one of the largest Steam Railway installations in Europe (which is annoying, as I love Steam Trains, and he isn’t that bothered)

I’m not so lucky. Incredibly, the Flying Scotsman is coming to Heywood near Bury. By annoying co-incidence, the days when you can travel on it, or dine on it, all co-inside with my trip to Costa Rica, the only time I’ll get to see it will be a private viewing standing on the tracks. I suppose the good news is I’ll get to meet up with my brother afterwards 🙂

Later in the year though, same venue I’m meeting up with my brother and my old friend Lee and we’ll get to enjoy Silver Service dinner, while travelling on a Steam Train.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to eat and drink in style on a Steam Train. I love trains anyway, but it’s a hark back to the golden age of rail travel.

I’m really looking forward to it.

The Chester Film Society is somewhere I go frequently. They have lots of “none blockbuster” films, foreign, independent, all sorts really. This year I’ve actually joined as a member, rather than just paying as I go.

The other evening, I went to see a film called Nae Pasaran (it looked so interesting, that Nikki came as well).

During a military coup in Chile, General Pinochet used Hawker Hunter jets to bomb the presidential palace (historically unheard off, to worldwide condemnation).

The planes used Rolls Royce Avon engines. Like all aircraft, parts have to be serviced regularly and the only place in the world where these engines could be repaired was in a factory just outside Glasgow.

When they realised what was going on, the engineer’s down tools and “blacked” the engines (a simple label meaning nobody would touch them). The film is a documentary about what happened and interviews the men on the ground at the time.

My favourite part was chilean government documents from the time, suggesting sending people to rough them up. Glaswegian factory workers !. I’d like to have seen that 🙂

An amazing film, if you get the chance to see it, do. It’s right there with the story of Rosa Parks and other examples of ordinary people just standing up for what’s right and to hell with the personal consequences.

But… this is johnsunter.com so after I left the screening, I was determined to find “Bob’s Engine” (you’ll know what it is when you watch the film).

I’ve found it, it’s in the grounds of South Lanarkshire College, and on Sunday I’ll be driving up there to see it 🙂

While I’m there, I’m going to visit my friends Caz & Yvonne (I haven’t been to Glasgow in a number of years).

Another adventure I’m hoping to pursue while I’m up that way, is to have dinner at Shish Mahal. It’s famous as the place where Chicken Tikka Masala was invented !.

November Update.

I’ll probably do one more post before the end of the year, but for now I just thought I’d write up some of the stuff I’ve been doing lately.

Two really big adventures happened since my last post (too involved to fully write up here, so I’ll be doing an entire section on them later).

Firstly, Greece, Island hopping. We stayed on 4 different Islands, and ended up visiting 3 others. Travelling by ferry over a 2 week trip, it was enormous fun but quite busy and involved.

I even got to rent the vehicle above for a day, which was the highlight of the trip.

A much more relaxing trip, and somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for 30 years ! – Barbados.

We visited various museums and went to the Fish fry evening.

But the highlight of that week long trip, was a trip in a Submarine.

Not cheap, but how many people can say they’ve been 200 feet down in an actual Submarine.

With the Barbados trip, we had an early flight, so stayed over in Manchester.

I got the chance for a drink in Cloud 23. Manchester changes, every time I come home, but looking out through the windows you can see the massive ammount of building work that’s already happened and the work in progress.

All the good stuff happening in Manchester, seemed to co-incide with my moving to live in Chester (I must have been holding things up !)

Speaking of Manchester, I attended a talk at the Chester Literary Festival.

I’m not particularly Literary (my kindle is filled with Wilbur Smith novels) but when I read who was attending, I was instantly excited.

Mark Berry, aka Bez from the Happy Mondays, one of the bands that launched the Manchester music scene in the late 90’s.

He really was one of the most down to earth people I’d ever met and spoke passionately about fracking and other things he felt strongly about. He also swore quite a lot and didn’t mess around with conversational flannel.

He was, you could say the archutypal “Manc”.

Unfortunately, Nikki had to leave early so I had to rely on a member of storyhouse staff to take this picture.

I’ve attended several wine tasting events over the last two months, but the major one was Vin Santo at Chester Cathedral.

Some wine tastings are “guided” where the host talks you through the wine. In this case, there were multiple stalls, each one with five or six wine’s you could tast and the stall host would give you a quick overview of the wine you were trying.

It was a fantastic evening, with all the usual personalities like Tom, Simon and Sino.

And I was able to stock my wine store ready for Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas preperations, I’ve started to upgrade the photo board in my living room.

Lots of cool things have happened in the last 18 months and unfortunately, the photo board doesn’t reflect this.

I know I could put up a tv with a rolling presentation or something like that, but I’ve always prefered “normal” photographs.

It’s a brilliant way to motivate myself. Sometimes (just like everyone else) I get a bit down and wonder sometimes why I try so hard and why I bother to commit and make things happen.

When I look at the board, I know why.

The tree and Christmas decorations are all being put up on the 1st of December in my house.

This year, I’ve bought a 2nd set of Mini Christmas jumpers to put up in my office and extend the Christmas spirit to there.

They cost £1 each, with the money going to cancer research.

This years train rig will be the biggest one ever and now features a tunnel and foot bridge.

I’ve bought 3 new trains this year, the picture above shows all the trains I presently own including the “fairwell tour” 125, the APT and the new hybrid Azuma.

Speaking of trains, I attended a 00 Guage train fair at the British Motor Museum.

Tony and I wen’t down for the day. Thing was, the trains were quite interesting, but the Motor Museum itself was superb.

Above, something I’ve always wanted to see but never managed to, a Delorean sports car.

They had the original jeaps used by the SAS in the desert, the first Jaguar E type and the first mini to come off the production line.

Obviously, James Bond cars featured heavily, but above, the Jaguar from Austin Powers, and next to it the Jaguar driven by Zao’s in Die another day (it was pointed out that the minigun was plastic and didn’t fire reall bullets !).

One of the things I missed during lock down was the Chester Globetrotters.

It’s a group I attend every 2 months, where there are 2 interesting talks on travel and adventure at Chester museum lecture theatre. Afterwards we go for a drink together in the pub and were able to chat about interesting destinations.

The Globetrotters is now back in full swing, and above, a picture of everyone getting together in the The Golden Eagle after the meeting.

After the pub, I usualy get together with a few friends and we have some more drinks around town and have dinner somewhere nice.

One thing I’ve been looking forward too for some time is the opening of the Chester Northgate development and the new Chester Market. We wandered over to see it, but honestly, it was chaos and most of the food was very expensive.

I’m sure things will sort themselves out, but for the time being I’m going to give it a miss.

After our exciting visit to the air museum and bushcraft show in Cambridge, Mike and I decided on another road trip.

This time, we’d go to Hebden Bridge. The countryside around was superb, so we headed out for a few hours of walking, before returning to the town.

We stayed at the strangely named IOU hostel.

It’s name was the only thing odd about it, otherwise, it was very comfortable and in a superb spot.

Following day, something I was quite looking forward to.

A querky outfit called Hebtroco make superb jeans and I’ve always wanted to own a pair (at the moment most of the jeans I own are from Rohan obviously).

The 2 people who run Hebtroco had the idea in a bar they used to frequent called “Drink”. A sort of bottle shop with a bar. They don’t have a shop, and when you order something from them, it’s normaly delivered to your house, but they also do deliveries to “Drink”.

Mike and I decided to have a few drinks in there, and it really was a superb bar.

And while I was there, I picked up my parcel.

And when I got home I tried them on. They really are excelent.

Unfortunately, I’ve now had to buy an iron.

This years walking group weekend away came around.

This time, held in Llanduno. We arrived on Friday evening and were picked up by my mate Andy (who lives in Llandudno).

He’d frequently mentioned pub he liked called the Old Stag. Right in the countryside, in the middle of nowhwhere and filled with farmers.

A friendly bunch and the food was superb.

Following day, a wander around Conwy. Everyone else puts up pictures of the castle, so I’d thought I’d put up some boats in the harbour for variety.

While I was away in Greece, I got an email saying Marc Almond was performing at the Liverpool Philharmonic.

In these modern times, where police officers are seen dancing at pride events, this guy was outspokenly gay at a time when the police parked vans around the corner from gay clubs and beat people up as they were leaving.

I remember listening to his music when I was a teenager. His lyrics about the complexity of relationship, how people are judged and frankly that life isn’t very fair, really connected with me.

But back then, one of my mates would get an album for their birthday and we’d all tape it (thats how skint we were) so the idea of seeing him live was just impossible.

So imagine how delighted I was to see him on stage. Performing all his old hits and a couple of new songs I liked enjoyed as well.

Nikki has arranged for us to go and see her relatives for a weekend away.

One of the people who inspired me to visit Barbados was my old girlfriends mother Mr’s Edgehill. She spoke Patwa beautifully, and honestly it was like listening to a flute.

I remember being suprised that a working class black woman from Barbados would buy the Daily Mail, every Sunday…

But I read it anyway. I remember in their letters page, there were frequent contributions from “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.

And next weekend, I’ll be visiting Tunbridge Wells for the first time 🙂

When I went to see Marc Almond, he performed a song called Purple Zone.

For the first time in over 40 years, Soft Cell have made a song in collaboration with the Pet Shop boys (another band I think are fantastic). I was watching their video, which features them sitting around a table having a drink.

Just for fun I looked it up. It’s the The Black Prince in Kennington.

When I’m travelling back from Tunbridge Wells on Sunday, I change trains in London, and I’ve left myself a spare hour to visit that pub (it’s the same one where the fight scene in Kingsman – The secret service was filmed).

Well, 14 working days and I’m off to Sicily for the first time. At that point, I’ll have visited 90 countries, with only 10 more until I can join the Travellers century club.

The scenery, food and wine are my main reasons for spending Christmas and New Year there, but a side project I’m really keen on, is visiting the town of Corleon as featured in the Godfather.

My stepfather Fred (a man I deeply detest) always said he wanted to go there. He won’t but I will have and that will make the trip extra special.

Three weekend adventures.

A plan was afoot with Nikki’s family, to visit London.

Nikki’s sister Lyn had bought us a late birthday gift of tickets to go and see Coldplay.

Not a big music fan, but they’re a massively famous band so I was intrigued. I also really like their song “The Scientist” and I’d never been to Wembley.

A weekend in London would be ludicrously expensive (it would have been cheaper to visit Rome or Paris) but since you’re going anyway, you might as well pack as many things into the trip as possible. So that’s what we did.

I’ve often joked, that London should have it’s own currency, instead of £’s, they should use “tenners” and just call them £’s

Travelled down by train and stayed at a nice hotel in Hampstead (I was surprised how big the wardrobes were, then realised one of them contained a small kitchen with a fridge).

We arrived at London Euston at 4:30pm and I split off, to do my own thing.

While everyone else had drinks in Camden, I visited the British Museum, popped into the Rohan shop in Covent Garden (I found out its original name later that weekend) and then walked along the Thames towards the Walkie Talkie.

I grabbed a quick drink in a nearby bar and got changed in the bathroom. For a while now, I’ve had some Rohan clothes which could pass as semi formal evening wear (yet could still be carried in a rucksack and washed in a bucket!).

I decided this was the opportunity to try them out, so suitably dressed I step out for the evening.

The rooftop Sky Garden of the Walkie Talkie is set over 3 floors and features a real garden (like plants and flowers that aren’t made of plastic) and a sort of coffee lounge (which doubles as a nightclub later in the evening).

It’s free to visit, but you had to queue. We had booked a table for dinner, so we were able to fast track (a bit like Holly and Phil). 31 floors in the lift.

It features a viewing platform with spectacular 360-degree vistas of London.

We sit down for dinner at the Darwin Brasserie.

I only had a chicken burger, but it was delicious. We had quite a lot of wine and it cost a fortune, but you don’t get to do stuff like this every day do you?.

Two hours later, we head downstairs. The coffee lounge has transformed into a nightclub, and everyone is doing “shots”.

Back to our hotel in Hampstead. In the morning we find a nice bakery for breakfast (it was like a scene from the film Notting Hill). The days adventure begins.

First off, a tour of the London Underground.

We meet our tour guide Mark outside Baker Street tube station and where better, than next to the Sherlock Holmes statue, paid for by the Sherlock Holmes Society (I didn’t know there was a Sherlock Holmes Society ?).

It was built in 1863 in advance of the mass number of people that were predicted to be living and working in London (an idea that was well ahead of its time).

The original tube was 5 metres deep, and basically involved digging up a major road, digging out a massive trench, then putting a “roof” on it and restoring the road.

The one’s that followed were 20 metres deep. A digging support “pipe” was used, and as the hole dug further, the pipe was picked up and pushed forward. It’s from here that the transport system takes its name, The Tube.

At one point, we passed the abandoned station at Aldwych. I couldn’t see enough of it to take a picture.

The tour finished with this memorial to Frank Pick. After the 1st world war, the underground was expanded massively into the suburbs around London.

We wander further into London (it’s a fantastic day and the weather is 30 centigrade).

Passing Jermyn Street, I pop into Charles Tyrwhitt (why not, I was wearing one of their shirts).

We have lunch at The Ivy. It’s the 3rd time I’ve been to an Ivy restaurant in 2 months and they really are amazing. The food and service are like something from a bygone era.

We head back to get ready with much anticipation.

So now, the main event. I really didn’t know what to expect. We got the tube a few stops (carriage was very busy) and then we’re walking down Wembley way.

I was wondering what chaos would ensue when 90,000 people tried to sit down all at the same time. I shouldn’t have worried; they do this every day and it’s a really slick operation.

People are taking their seats and first up is a performer called Griff (her real name is Sarah Griffiths; Griff is her nickname from school). Only 21 but she was a superb musician.

Her music really connected with me. She was so good, that when I got home I bought her album (first album I’ve bought in about 10 years).

People are starting to arrive in serious numbers. I’d been given a wrist device to put on, which I presumed they used later to check that everyone had left the stadium. A surprise awaited.

And with the stadium packed and an atmosphere like a religious event, here they are.

Coldplay. Incredible performers who looked like 40-year-olds having a good time… And with over 100,000,000 albums sold world-wide, I’ve read they’re the most successful band of the 21st century.

As I said before, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of theirs, but I instantly recognised a lot of their songs.

Without any warning, the thing on my wrist lit up. As did everyone else’s and the entire stadium lit up. Later, it would make massive heart shapes and stuff like that, so the technology was quite advanced.

Craig David was a surprise guest and the evening ended with a tongue in cheek firework display.

Following day, we have to drop off our bags near the station so we can continue our adventures and pick them up next to the station.

The drop off, involved another first. I’d never been on a London bus before.

Wherever I travel, I try to learn a few words of the local language.

In this case, I was chatting to the driver. I enquired if he knew a good “Battle Cruiser” where I could get some “Britney Spears”. He frowned at me and didn’t reply.

The oldest theatre in its original location, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Burned down and destroyed several times, it was first built in 1663.

We’d arranged a back stage tour, but this being theatre, it was done in an animated fashion by 2 superb actors.

The Theatre had just undergone a £60m upgrade. The whole place was steeped in history.

The longest running theatre show in history Miss Saigon, featured a helicopter landing on the stage.

On another occasion, an actor killed another on stage, the audience didn’t realise and loudly applauded the dying man’s performance

The King and the Prince had a falling out, so the theatre was refitted with 2 doorways. A Kings side and a Princes side, with 2 anti-rooms, 2 bars the whole lot.

They also explained where some theatre tropes come from.

At one time, the wealthy, could sit on the front of the stage and watch the performance. As they left, sometimes they’d pick up memorabilia from the play. To stop this, the theatre started to print “property of theatre” on the items. This was later shortened to prop, and that’s where the name comes from.

Sailors were only paid while out to sea. While in port, they earned extra money hauling ropes and such like at the theatre (the 2 jobs were very similar). That’s why theatre today use words like the crew, rigging and why it’s bad look to whistle on stage (sailors whistle to each other to communicate, if your an actor and your whistling is misunderstood, you may get a sandbag dropped on your head 🙂

The sad part was the picture above. They were showing performances of the Disney Film Frozen. I say sad becase security had sniffer dogs to check for explosives. A tragedy that things like that need to happen at all.

Also found out, that an area nearby used to be a convent. Due to a misspelling, the garden next to the convent was renamed Covent Garden !.

The final adventure of our trip, something I’ve wanted to do for 15 years.

A visit to the re-created Globe Theatre and a chance to see Shakespeare as it was originally performed nearly 500 years ago.

We got to see The Tempest. I’ve always been fascinated by it, ever since watching the scene in Star Trek with Picard and Data and my friend Frank explaining what was going on.

It was a bit uncomfortable, but you could rent cushions for £2.50 (nothing is cheap in London).

Some dinner at the Fishmarket, then off home. A brilliant weekend, pulling together loads of things I’ve not done before and several things I’ve wanted to do for decades.

The following weekend, I embark on a solo adventure.

I’ve accumulated quite a lot of new equipment in the last few months and it’s really important to test this kind of stuff, before you actually need it.

There’s a campsite about an hours ride from my house called Chester Lakes (so it’s basically in the Chester area and contains 3 manmade lakes). It has normal camping, as well as a forest, where I prefer to stay.

So I got there, set up my tent, made some food and tried out various equipment (that all worked really well).

By late afternoon, I decided to have a walk around the site. The campsite pub was closed, and I wondered why.

Turns out, the rest of the campsite had been hired out for a Truckers convention.

Although they had taken over the campsite, they were friendly and helpful.

At 6pm, I headed off to join Nikki for dinner at the Red Lion in Dodleston (I enjoy living wild, but why go without a nice Steak and glass of red wine if you don’t have to).

After a relaxing evening, Nikki heads home (the country roads around there can be treacherous at night, so she set off about 8:30pm).

I head back to my tent, check everything’s prepped for bed and my bikes locked up and I wander back over to the main campsite (my camping fees for the weekend, included access to all the facilities of the campsite).

Turned out, the campsite pub was closed, as a Marquee had been erected with a bar and dj. The atmosphere was superb, and even better, at 9:30pm, a live band playing Irish music took to the stage.

Two hours later, and back to my tent. Hot chocolate on my Jetboil stove and then off to sleep (I slept very well).

Up early the next day, got cleaned up and then cooked breakfast before heading home.

Everything had gone to plan, plus a few extra benefits I hadn’t bargained on.

Weekend following, it’s Nikki’s mum’s birthday.

A bank holiday weekend and were staying at the George hotel (it’s about the 5th time, we love it here).

We arrive on Friday, evening, Fish and Chips in the pub and then off to bed.

The following day we head off for a walk. We’re heading for Kinder Scout from Hayfield and retracing the steps of the Mass Trespass. I’m always contemplative when I do this route. I’m aware that people went to prison for my right to walk up this hill and I’m respectful of that sacrifice.

This wasn’t like an outing with the walking group, and I had concerns about everyone’s fitness (apart from Nikki’s).

But we did fine, it was fantastic to be back in the Peak district with amazing views of open land, like the one above.

The view above Kinder reservoir.

Nikki and I have been here many times on different walks, it’s one of our favourite spots, so the flask comes out and we have coffee and biscuits.

We get too Kinder and walk back. Everyone is tired, but we’re back in one piece, after an amazing day.

But the fun’s not over.

The Saturday is actually Sheila’s (Nikki’s mum) birthday.

Nothing less than a fine dining experience for this evening, so we sit down at the Pack Horse.

The food and wine were superb, and an amazing evening was had by all.

Best part was their attention to details (they made their own bread, and stuff like that). They also had these amazing knives for buttering bread. I found out where they’d been purchased and ordered some when I got home.

Next day, we decide to take it easy on our legs so head out to Matlock.

My old favourite, a steam railway run by enthusiasts.

In the town, there’s some sort of fair going on in the park, so I try some local Gin and buy some locally made sweets.

On the way, I finally get to visit The World of Bushcraft Centre. It’s been open a while, but I’ve never gotten around to going. It’s a different sort of bushcraft shop, as not only can you buy items, but you can book training sessions. So for example you could buy a spoon carving knife then have 2 hours where someone teaches you to make a spoon.

It’s operated by Woodland Ways, which is run by a chap called Jason who I spent time with on a trip to Borneo.

As you can imagine, I bought loads of stuff there (it’s just not the same, buying things online). So much so, that after I left and joined everyone at a nearby cafe, I ended up going back to the shop to pick up a cookery book I’d seen.

To my surprise, there was Jason, loading canoes onto the roof of a 4×4 with the guy who runs the shop helping him. I hadn’t seen him in 14 years it was great to see him again.

That evening, we have dinner in Colloseo a brilliant Italian restaurant in Hayfield.

The last night of our trip, so it’s celebration time, and I wake in the morning with a thick head.

We drive into New Mills and do a 4 hour walk around the forests there.

The walk finished in the town centre. Just looking around, you can see years of heritage from mills and the cotton industry.

They also have a working Archimedean screw, which generates electricity which they sell back to the national grid. They were the first local council to do this. I’ve spent 3 days in amazing countryside, so I’m reminded how fragile and precious the environment is.

So, locally sourced Sunday lunch in a nice local pub and then we head home.

What makes a fab weekend ?.

Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure in British Politics (the ultimate Bovril person you might say).
Whatever your thoughts on her as a Prime Minister and a person, there’s a quote of her’s, I think we can all agree with.

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”

I’ve had a couple of adventures and weekends away like that recently, so I thought I’d write about them.

The amazing Making Tracks team setup their 90 meter rig at Chester Cathedral.

For only £2.50 I got to see dozens of 00 guage trains both old and new (it runs until the 3rd of September, so if you haven’t been go now).

The event is assisted by Chester Model Centre, who I frequently visit and have repaired numerous old trains for me.

Interesting thing is one part of the Making Tracks rig is a replica of Rugby railway station, where co-incidentally, I’d be visiting the following day (more about that later).

Another interesting thing is that Making Tracks are a team of volunteers who are headed up by Pete Waterman (formerly of Stock Aitken and Waterman). He was there at the event, and as much a gobshite as I remember (but I was enjoying myself so much, I didn’t care 🙂

Later that evening, were off to Liverpool. I previously worked in the city and really enjoyed it, with so much going on after work.

Since then, a new restaurant has opened, Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. The food was superb and set us up nicely for the evening.

Gordon wasn’t actually there, this is a poster of him, in the window.

In November, Nikki and I will have been together for 10 years.

Not long after we got together, she suggested a trip to the theatre. I hadn’t been many times, so thought I’d give it a go.

We ended up going to London to see the Book of Mormon. I was blown away by it.

So I was delighted a while later when it was on in Liverpool and (after 2 years of Covid nonsense) we were able to go and see it.

I won’t spoil the story, but if you watch this song from the Tony awards, it captures the power of the play.

I’m not religious at all, but I frequently listen to this song, both to make me laugh and to inspire me.

So, on Saturday, up early some toast and tea before we head of for our weekend road trip.

Nikki decided not to come as she finds bushcraft tedious and due to her father’s love of aeroplanes and being made to go and see them lots of times, hates that too.

Mike decided to join me, and Nikki let us use the car so we were all set.

Our first stop was the Bushcraft show. It’s been running for a number of years, but I’ve never got around to going (in truth I haven’t done any bushcraft activities in a number of years, so didn’t know what to expect).

We wandered around and I saw a lot of familiar faces. There were lots of vendors there, so I bought some equipment (probably more than I should have to be honest).

The food was excellent so we looked around to find somewhere to sit down and eat our chicken burgers.

In the picture above, you can see over 300 people sitting enthusiastically waiting for the next talk of the day.

And they would!. It would be the legendary John “Lofty” Wiseman. SAS Survival instructor for 26 years and author of the SAS Survival handbook which I purchased when I was 17.

The book contained all sorts of interesting things (too many to mention here) but one thing that facinated me, was the idea of a tobacco tin survival kit and what to put in it.

A smoking friend gave me a tin. My grandma helped me put the sewing items together and my mum helped with the medical kit.

I got hold of the other stuff from fishing shops and a magnifying glass and some tweezers from a Christmas cracker. I found that painting matches with nail varnish makes them waterproof !. I was all set.

There wasn’t much optimism in my life then and not much to look forward to. I know it sounds ridiculous now, but once I had my Survival kit tin, I knew it was just a matter of time before adventure called.

But as we sit around a table with a few old guys, who’s this ?. The legendary man himself is sat at the same table.

I’ve found before that amazing people like Chris Bonington have no pretentions and are quite charming when you meet them.

As was Lofty. I told him about buying his book and how it had changed my life. He seemd genuinely delighted (it can’t have been the first time someone had said that to him) and insisted I sit down and have a photo with him.

An incredible experience to finally meet my hero. Shortly afterwards he headed to the stage. His talk lasted an hour and it was really interesting.

He talked about life after Covid. About storing plenty of water in your house, planting your own vegetables and having a years’ worth of tin food in your Garage.

While talking about his work on Duncan Dares, he mentioned the Wilkinsons Sword Survival Knife I remember from my youth (ludicrously over engineered and farcically expensive but I really wanted one). He commented that it had a bottle opener on the blade.

He joked, any man who can’t open a bottle without tools deserves to perish :).

He finished with another joke: My father went to prison for his beliefs… He believed the night watchman was asleep 🙂

We had more plans for that end of the country, so I found myself staying over in Cambridge (I’d been there twice before when my company were paying) this time I realised how expensive it was. I stayed at the Ibis Cambridge Central Station – the cheapest I could find @ £160 a night for a twin room (nothing flash) city centre car parking overnight £28.

We had a few drinks around the town, then Mike found this really good curry house called the Tiffin Truck. The end of an amazing day, I drifted off to sleep with a real sense of contentment (and relief that I hadn’t crashed Nikki’s car).

In the morning I start another special day, so what else for breakfast than Scrambled eggs on toast at a respectable restaurant next to our hotel called the Station Tavern (Cambridge is expensive, but they do things with style).

And were off on our next adventure – The Duxford Air Museum. IF YOU FIND PLANES BORING (like someone I’m in love with who’s initials are NY), you should probably SCROLL DOWN TO THE PICTURE OF THE MAN ON THE WHITE HORSE BELLOW.

If you don’t find planes boring, the one above will rock your world.

The SR71 Blackbird. Designed in the 60’s with pencils and paper.

It remains to this day, the fastest plane in the world and that morning I finally got to see one for real (it’s the only one outside the US).

At the back, they had removed the engines so you can see how big and powerful they are.

This is the only plane in the world that can fly on continuous afterburn (for several hours). It flies at Mac 3, which is about 34 miles per minute and normal flying height 85,000 feet, about 18 miles in the air.

No wonder that the X Men fly around in one !.

The Imperial War Museum Duxford (to use its full title) has several exhibtions over an enormous site.

For £30 I thought it was amazing value, and they even had WW2 fighters and bombers that you could watch take off from the runway.

Wandering further around the American part of the museum, they had an explanation of the War on Terror and pieces of the Twin Towers.

Further along, this metal tube is part of the famous Iraqi supergun.

The Cold War exhibition was very interesting to me (it was my era), and they even had an original section of the Berlin Wall.

You might remember the Greenham Common women, who protested about American nuclear weapons on British soil.

This is the trailer that would have launched the weapons (they weren’t going to be launched from the base I found out, they would drive away quickly so they could still fire if the base became “compromised”.

On the left is the Tomahawk Cruise Missile it was designed to fire. They aren’t typically nuclear capable, but these ones would have been.

Using older technology, they had a bult in map that allowed them to fly nap of the earth, to avoid detection and interception.

Greenham Common closed in 1992 and the protesting women all went back home.

Above is the U2 spy plane similar to the one flown by Gary Powers in 1960.

On the bottom left is the Soviet SA2 missile which shot it down. The Americans had believed the plane couldn’t be hit at 60,000 feet.

Gary Powers was put on trail (you can find out about it in the film Bridge of Spies). This lead to the design of the SR71 Blackbird, which could fly at 85,000 feet. It was also made so it could outrun any missile fired at it (and still could to this day).

In other parts of the museum, they had “enemy” aircraft.

Here, a Mig 21.

Messerschmitt from the WW2.

One of my favourite planes, the Tornado.

And another, The Typhoon Eurofighter.

It’s interesting that a lot of American ordnance is named around native Americans. Tomahawk missile, Apache Gunship, Chinook Helicopter.

British Planes seem to be named after “wind” based themes (Tornado and Typhoon and the next generation will be called Tempest).

Bombers have an amazing relationship with people.

For example, when I say this is a B52, some of you will start humming Rock Lobster.

Mike standing under the wing of one. It’s longevity is such that it’s one of the few planes in the existence where you, your father and your grandfather could all have flown one!.

Equally, when I mention the name: Lancaster Bomber, some of you will think of a pint of real ale.

A fascinating museum about the parachute regiment showing them equipped for action throughout the ages.

And finally, the P51 Mustang.

Featured in the film Top Gun Maverick. The plane in the film, actually belongs to Tom Cruise (you can buy old ones for about $4 million).

With that over, I head to the shop, buy a few books, and our weekend is over.

Driving back, I reflect on my experience. I’d seen one of the biggest 00 guage train installations, met Pete Waterman (not sure if that’s a plus), eaten at the Bread Street Kitchen, Watched book of Mormon, met Lofty Wiseman, had drinks and a curry with a mate and seen an SR71 blackbird. I was exhausted but euphoric.

A bit like the day Margaret Thatcher was describing.

Following weekend, a more modest, but no less exciting proposition.

After 6 series, the Peaky Blinders finally finished, with Tommy Shelby on a white horse in front of Chrome hill in the Peak District.

I’ve always been a massive fan of the “blinders”.

On a previous trip, Nikki and I had been in the Museum of Liverpool (I’ve said before how good I think it is).

There was an entire new section called Scouse not English, and an explanation of why scousers are seen as loud and boisterous. At one point, a young lad on camera says, there’s no point, some people are never going to respect us, but if were loud then at least we’ll be listened to!.

In another section of the museum, they had Tommy Shelby’s hat and pocket watch.

I’ve previously stood in Tommy Shelby’s office at Arley Hall, but I found out lots of locations in Liverpool had been used in the filming of the Peaky Blinders. I got in touch with Mike who lives in Liverpool somewhere and we organised to have a Peaky Blinders, day out.

Peaky Blinders “home” and betting office on the depressing looking Watery Street in the series.

In reality, it’s called Powys Street. On the right, just before it was done up, and used during filming of the Peaky Blinders.

On the left is what the street looks like now.

And with Mike acting as photographer, I get this picture of me with the peaky blinders “house” in the background.

We wandered around a few places and had a couple of drinks.

Mike had never expressed any interest in the Peaky Blinders, so as a thank you for helping out, I got him his own hat. It isn’t as good as mine though, my hat is official PB merchandise, purchased from the Black Country museum.

Where to finish the day. Well, where better than the Peaky Blinders bar, where we have a few pints, sporting our new hats.

Back in Town

Delighted to be back Blogging again. Loads of interesting things have happened including a walking trip to Rivington and I finally got to see the 7 arch bridge.

A lot of the stuff is about Chester and things that are happening here. I really am luck to live in such an amazing place and thought I’d write a bit more about it.

Well, it only happens 6 times a year, but tomorrow is the Chester Globetrotters meeting.

Two really interesting talks. Nikki will be compering, drinks afterwards and dinner with friends later.

It’s at Chester museum, 1pm, for a 1:30pm start, if your around in Chester, come along.

I was briefly seeing a girl some years ago.

She was status obsessed. One quote by her that I remember was during dinner, she asked “Don’t you ever wish you were really successful”.

To which I replied: I’ve always wanted to work in computers. I do. So I am sucessful.

One thing that delighted me was when she criticised my clothes and as an antidote bought me a Hugo Boss shirt as a gift.

The shirt far outlasted the “relationship”. I loved that thing and wore it all the time until it practically fell apart.

I’m going to buy another one this year.

The Hugo Boss shirt came into my head earlier this week after reading something in a book I’ve just bought (The Modern Gentleman’s Handbook.)

Apparently, in the 1800’s shirts were incredibly valuable. Most people only had one and even the wealthy only two or three.

If a chap got into a spot of bother and things were about to turn physical, by agreement, all concerned would pause and remove their shirts so as not to damage them in the affray.

A person who kept a cool head and avoided this situation was said to have “Kept his shirt on”. This is why, we use the phrase “Keep your shirt on” today.

Interesting some of the things you hear while out hill walking. The original Advanced Passenger Train from the 80’s could be viewed at Crewe Heritage Centre.

Due to covid, it was closed, but as soon as it re-opened I jumped on the train to Crewe to see it (and it turned out there were quite a few other interesting things to see as well).

The main thing about the APT was that it could “tilt”. The problem with trains in the UK (and a lot of the world) is that once a train goes around a bend it has to reduce it’s speed significantly. This train was designed with what was then the most advanced technology available in the world. It was cancelled when it was around 96% finished (more about that later).

In the 70’s Rail travel was pretty grim and unreliable.

I remember those days well. Nobody got the train unless they had to and the idea of actually enjoying a train journey as I do now, was unheard off. The only thing it had going for it was it was a lot more comfortable than a coach 🙂

Above is the first class seating. I was able to walk around the train and sit down. Although it was built in the 80’s the seats are still very spacious and comfortable.

Back then, the idea of a bar you could just walk up to like a pub was unheard off (of course in first class you would be served meals at your table in the manor of a restaurant). Bars like this are pretty standard now on most Virgin/Avanti trains (more about that later).

I found a seat and watched a 45 minute video they had about the history of the train. It really was fascinating.

As I continued to wander around, they had 2 HST 125 trains, this one in it’s original livery like the one I’d seen at the Rail Museum in York.

Train strikes have returned to the UK recently, and much talk has been made of how hard it is to drive a train considering they are paid 60k

I’ve never driven a train, so it would be daft to comment, but this is the drivers cabin of a 125 HST. Not sure I’d want to sit in this all day long.

Amazing. One of the first Manchester Trams in it’s original colours (they are sort of yellow now).

When they came on the scene, they revolutionised travel in Manchester (as they continue to do today).

It was a tram like this, which enabled me to get a job at IBM. A bus into town, then the tram to Sale.

I used to sit in the same seat (well most of the time) every day on my commute to work.

So just for fun, I got someone to photograph me back in that seat with so many happy memories.

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It took me about 25 mins to walk to the Heritage Centre from Crewe Railway station.

On the way back, I found they had a vintage bus that travelled there and back every 30 mins, so I travelled back on that.

As I stand on the platform about to head back to Chester, I spot an Avanti Pendolino.

Italian made, they can lean, use the same technology as the APT and are capable of incredible speeds on all kinds of track.

You see the technology we failed to finish off, was bought by the Italians. They made it work, then sold it back to us.

But there’s a positive end to the story. As well as a really nice café and a brick a brack shop (more about that later) they had several Hornby train installations. One of them was the 80’s version of the APT (they have a newer version but it’s £500 quid !).

A week later I bought one myself and here it is on my test track at home.

And it actually lean’s when it goes around the bend 🙂

An imminent adventure weekend planned in about a fortnight.

I’m fascinated by survival and Bushcraft, and I’ve spent literally weeks living outdoors, catching my own food and living in a shelter I’ve built myself (the one above took me an hour to make and I slept in it for 3 nights.

But the journey began in 1986 when I bought the SAS survival handbook.

I didn’t have the money or resources to do much adventure then, but I made a tobacco tin survival kit and practiced a lot of the things taught in the book.

After all these years, I’m heading down to the Bushcraft show to actually meet John “Lofty” Wiseman, the author of the book.

There’s lots of other stuff going on there, and many of the famous names from bushcraft will be giving talks. Theres a chance to learn new skills and see lot of bushcraft equipment in action.

It is possible to take a tent or bivvi out, but instead, I’ve decided to stay in a hotel overnight near Duxford Air Museum.

The 2nd part of this amazing weekend on Sunday, will allow me to visit the museum and see some of the worlds most amazing planes first hand. The Wessex helicopter that rescued the SAS from the South Sandwich Island during the Falklands conflict.

They also have a P51 Mustang (the plane at the end of Top Gun – Maverick, believe it or not, that one is actualy owned by Tom Cruise). An Avro Vulcan, a Spitfire, I’m really looking forward to it.

But most of all, the plane above, the SR71 Blackbird. Designed with pencils and paper in the 60’s it’s still the fastest plane in the world. Capable of Mac 3 (which is 35 miles a minute) it could fly faster than any missile fired at it. It also holds the record for the highest flying plane at 85 thousand feet (16 miles in the air, incredible).

It won’t be flying, they’re all grounded now, but It’s the only one outside the United States.

For nearly 10 years, Chester had no Cinema or Theatre.

Lots of other alternatives were introduced like a restaurant showing films with a meal (Chez Jules), The Chester film society who put on films church halls, Tip Top productions who performed Theatre in a basement and Chester Theatre in the Park.

We now have Storyhouse, which is a combined theatre, music venue, cinema & library (with a bar !). I was initially worried that many of the alternatives would fall by the wayside, but needn’t have worried.

Nikki and I went to see Little Women at Theatre in the Park (were going to see Romeo and Juliet next week).

The shows aren’t cheap (for the best seats, it’s about £45) but sitting in the sunshine and watching a play “In the round” is well worth it we think.

We’re watching something at the actual Globe Theatre in London later in the year, and I’m really looking forward to it (were going to see the Tempest, Frank explained the plot to me some years ago).

Speaking of outdoor entertainment, I was passing Harkers Arms the other evening (probably the best pub in Chester) and saw some Morris Dancers performing.

Wine tasting at Vin Santo recently. Previously Corks out, we had loads of fab evenings there when we first started seeing each other, so we were delighted when it re-opened under new management with Tom and Sino onboard.

But you can’t keep a good man down, so Simon has now opened a wine shop on Brook Street, near my house.

I’ve worked in lots of different industry’s over the years, but it’s much the same for me, as I work in IT.

So, as an employee of a Civil Engineering company I have little knowledge of what our lads do on site, most of the time.

So I was delighted to see the other day that we were doing some mods to our site. We had a digger and a tipper truck in the yard and they were hard at work.

Speaking of work, I’m really lucky with the people I work with.

In construction, time is money. There isn’t time for politics and flannel here.

Face to face communication is the prefered form and it’s quite common for people to visit my office (which has recently been decorated, thanks Ian).

Here, the excellent Ant from estimating pops down to seek assistance. To his right is my “official merchandise” Peaky Blinders hat.

Upstairs at the Grill, modelled on a New York steakhouse, is probably the best venue of it’s kind in Chester.

It’s a bit of a ritual that I go there every year on my birthday.

Due to covid and other reasons, I haven’t been there for 3 years, so when it opened recently I had a late birthday treat.

In the film Se7en, a key plot vehicle is that the government monitor what books you buy and rent so they can profile you.

I wonder if that happens in real life ?. If so, it’s a concern to me. Two interesting books I’ve read recently are Never split the difference and 100 deadly skills.

Never split the difference is written by Chris Voss. He was the chief negotiator for the FBI. In conventional negotiation you might say split the difference. In the world he occupies, that would mean 8 hostages, 4 are released, 4 are killed, so that’s not an option. The books tagline is negotiate as though your life depended on it.

100 deadly skills has some fascinating stuff about how to steal a car, how to get rid of a body (there’s practically a disclaimer on every page). My favourite is how to get into a building via the 4th floor (made me think of the window cleaners at the Liver building, pictured above).

Since January, I’ve visited Latvia, Majorca and Bratislava. Three new countries, so on track for 90 by end of year. At this rate, I should have joined Travellers century club by 2024 and have a certificate hanging in my kitchen.

In the Brick a Brack shop at Crewe Heritage Centre, they had all kinds of interesting stuff (some of it more interesting than useful). I managed to get a cup and saucer from Virgin Trains First Class. One thing that fascinated me and I honestly thought I’d never see again, was this spanner.

Years ago, when you bought a Raleigh bike (something like a Grifter or a Chopper) you got one of these spanners. It was heavy being made of stainless steel, but you carried it in the back pocket of your jeans. You could literally strip down your entire bike, with this tool and some spoons from the kitchen for tyre levers.

Not much use with my present bike (most of my tools are titanium) but for 99p a superb souvenir.

First post of 2022

I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I was feeling a bit down (as I think we all do sometimes). Piles of notes and ideas, I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and write.

Well, I’m back in town now, so what have I been doing ?.

At Christmas we visited Lanzarote (I’ve resisted the urge to post pictures of people with tattoo’s and shaved heads drinking pints in the sunshine) instead, I favour this view of the Volcanic area, which we went to see on a day tour.

The trip wasn’t perfect, I had some sort of Kidney infection while I was there, but overall, I think being out in the sunshine was just what I needed (and beers for £1.50 per pint).

I’m trying to retire from Facebook, but there are still quite a few people who I communicate with regularly on there, so it’s proving more difficult to let go than I’d have liked.

I got a new friend request recently from my friend Amanda. We worked together at Arthur Andersen several years ago. Not sure what happened, but the request didn’t seem to work. Anyway, if you’r reading this Amanda, I hope things are going ok.

Two significant things happened when I was in my 20’s, and I was sat at my desk at work on both occasions. I remember thinking that they would both change the world and how privileged I was to live through them.

Nelson Mandela was released and aparthied, which had blighted humanity for so long had come to an end.

The other was The fall of the Berlin wall. The end of the cold war. For most of my life, the threat of planetary destruction had hung over everyone and it was finally at an end.

So, just as covid in the UK seems to have progressed to a sensible point after 2 years, Russia (not the Warsaw Pact, nor the USSR) are back causing mayhem and destruction. My thoughts are with the people of Ukrain who I got to meet on a trip there 2 years ago.

Just before Christmas, I finally upgraded my train board. It has 2 circuits now, controlled by bluetooth and a station, bridge and various “people” milling about the station.

A few friends know that when I was very young, my dad bought me a train set (the best one in the shop, the brand new Intercity 125 by Hornby). My mum thought I might break the train so put it away for several years. It was during this time, that my dad died. When we unpacked the train, it no longer worked and so we gave it to a jumble sale.

I have several trains now (as you can see in the picture above) I have a reconstructed 125, but it’s not the real thing really.

I only found out when I started collecting 00 gauge trains, how hard they can be to come by.

When Hornby bring out a train they do a run of that model and that’s it. So if you decide a few years later, that you want that train it’s a trip to ebay and 2nd hand. I ended up rebuilding one from parts.

On May 15, 2021, EMR retired their final Intercity 125 trains (the real one’s, which I saw at the York train museum) a 4 day national farwell tour was arranged with the train painted in its original livery. To commemorate this, Hornby launched this set earlier in 2022 and I managed to get one.

Out of the box and running on my test track. Working exactly the way my dad would have seen it in the shop in Oldham 40 years ago.

Since I started collecting trains, loads of my friends have been giving me their old trains (either from childhood or belonging to relatives). Many of them don’t work, but those amazing guys at Chester Model Centre have been able to fix them all for a tenner each 🙂

Valentines once again, and I cooked (ok, the same Seabass recipe I cook every year from Jamie Oliver, but I think I cook it well).

Flowers for Nikki. The shop I normally use has closed down, so this year I went with a smaller local shop and some simple red roses.

On another romantic note, my old friend from Phonak, Dan Hand is getting Married in April. Nikki and I are looking forward to attending.

I had a day trip up to meet up with Nick and Julie in Manchester recently. We’ve started to get drink in the Brew Dog. At first, I thought it would be poncy, but it’s actually got a really good vibe. While there, on a Manchester related theme, I saw a guy with a coat from Pretty Green (Liam Gallagher’s brand) that I’m going to buy.

The Globetrotters (a group I attend for interesting travel talks) hasn’t run for nearly 2 years (but due to restart on May21st, when Nikki and I will be giving a talk on Namibia)). It’s normally here, that we meet up with our friend Andy from Llandudno, which sadly hasn’t happened.

So, we headed for Llandudno to meet Andy and had a few drinks and dinner around the town (The Cottage Loaf is a superb pub there). I was also able to do another “somewhere I really wanted to stay when I was younger” experience by staying at the Grand Hotel.

The location is amazing, but “Grand” it certainly isn’t (when we arrived after an evening out, the police had been called to throw some idiots out of the bar!) but the view of the ocean was spectacular and overall, a superb weekend away.

The following day, we ate a medeocre breakfast and then went walking up to the Great Orme.

I own various Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman multi-tools. I also have some larger knives I’ve used on Bushcraft courses, and even larger ones I’ve used in the Jungle.

One thing I’ve always wanted is a pocketknife, made from Damascus Steel. When I saw the Civivi Trailblazer made from this steel, with components made of titanium and carbon fibre, I decide it was time to invest in a late Christmas present.

The great news is, the blade is under 3 inches, doesn’t lock, and doesn’t support 1 handed opening so to all intents and purposes is street legal (which is fine, as most of the time, mine is used for opening parcels and cutting string 🙂

I’m presently at 84 countries so only 16 more before I can join the Travellers Century Club and have my certificate hanging on my kitchen wall. So what adventures have I actually got planned at the moment?

In the UK:

  • Easter in Bath/Bristol with Darwin Escapes
  • 3 Days walking in the Peak District (Hayfield)
  • Weekend in Manchester – Stephen Hawking exhibit.
  • Weekend in Liverpool – Book of Mormon & Dr Who exhibit
  • Long weekend in Anglesey with my Brother
  • Bike-packing weekend in Cheshire
  • Long weekend in London (various stuff and Coldplay at Wembley)
  • Walking group Christmas weekend in Abersoch

Not as many overnight trips in the UK this year, as my main intention is to get out travelling abroad.

Overseas this year:

  • Majorca – walking and cycling
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Guernsey/Jersey
  • Greek Islands (2 weeks summer touring)
  • Sicily (2 weeks over Christmas)

I’ve said for a while that 2022 is when Europe will re-open for adventure travel, and 2023 the rest of the world.

Trips booked for 2023

  • Costa Rica – 2 weeks, back to the Jungle
  • The Wonders of the Silk Road – 2 weeks, includes a trip to the Dervaza gas crater pictured above

I’m off to the National Outdoor Expo this weekend at the Birmingham NEC. I’m hoping to find some ideas and inspiration while I’m there.

But you can’t go away all the time (you need some sort of job to pay for all of this, and with that some sort of house to go back to when you’ve finished work 🙂 – So I’ve also been doing a lot of what I call adventure at home.

Chester Storyhouse is somewhere I go practically every week to either watch films, watch a play or get a drink and read some travel books. Chester Northgate development will be completed this summer and we’ll finally have a “proper” 6 screen cinema.

I also enjoy watching films with the Chester Film Society, Dinner & Film at Chez Jules and an injection of Am-Dram at the Chester Little Theatre.

Corks Out in Chester has closed down, but the property has been re-opened by Vin Santo. They’ve started doing evening wine tastings again (Nikki and I used to go there when we first got together so it has lots of memories) so we’ve booked all 3 of them.

Last but not least, home entertainment. I absolutely love watching Billions. I’m also enjoying/looking forward to, the final seasons of Peaky Blinders and Better call Saul. I’m working my way through Halo Infinite, I’ve done battle as the Master Chief since first playing in 2002.

To finish off, a quick word about my sister Emma’s small business Regenr8.

I think everyone is conscious of the planet at the moment. The great thing about Emma’s clothing range is that they are environmentaly friendly, recycled and just as comfortable as any of the clothes I have from Rohan (who set the bar quite high).

I couldn’t recomend them more highly, and as proof, this truly awful picture of me modeling a superbly comfortable hoody in my kitchen.

Thanks once again for “tuning in”. Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

One summer… August to September

Chester Zoo – Aug

My sister and her little family had wanted to visit Chester Zoo to celebrate Emma’s 40th birthday.

Due to various problems (Emma catching Covid from one of the school children she looks after, the Zoo actually closing…) it was cancelled 3 times.

Finally all the stars were in alignment and we had a day at the Zoo. It was especially nice for Nikki and I, as although we live in Chester, we hadn’t been in over a decade.

There were just too many things to describe here, but at one point we had a nice picnic (people everywhere were keen to get out and do things, so the picnic area was packed and we were lucky to find a free table).

I spent a total of 7 hours at the Zoo and still didn’t manage to see everything.

Above, the Jaguar enclosure, one of hundreds of amazing things to see at the Zoo.

One sad thing, is the Monorail I remember from school trips in my youth, has been removed (apparently, it was costly to maintain and practically impossible to get parts for).

Buxton – August

We decided to have a relaxing weekend in Buxton.

In my youth, I’d go camping there, with Frank, and later Caz, Jane Smith and various other friends.

We’d normaly walk into town to buy fish and chips from the chip shops (and on later trips, mis out the chippy and just go to the pub).

On every occasion, we walked past this spectacular hotel (The Palace) and I always said, one day I’d stay there.

And so with Nikki’s help to organise it, I finally did . They even had a guy playing Piano in the evening.

Unfortunately, the weather was awful. No matter. We got our bikes out of the car and I put the wheels back on them.

We did a sort of freestyle route of Nikki’s own design to get to Bakewell.

We stopped on the way to have a drink at the Bulls head in Monyash which I’d visited some years before with Frank Walmsley.

We continued on to Bakewell, where we wandered around the shops and got some lunch.

On the way back, we pedalled along the Monsal trail and passed through the tunnels (I’ve done it before, but it’s still an amazing route, either by bicycle or on foot).

And back at the end of the Monsal trail, just a few miles from Buxton.

An evening meal at the amazing Simply Thai (we eat there whenever were in Buxton).

Next morning, weather was atrocious. We did a short walk, then headed for home.

Liverpool – August

In the Rough Guide – First trip around the world, they talk about something called the Mount Fuji principle.

Less than 1% of people who leave in Tokyo have ever climbed Mount Fuji, even though it’s on their doorstep. The basic idea is that we can mis opportunities for adventure because theyre near to hand and “we can go there any time”.

With this in mind, Nikki and I decided to have a day out in Livepool an catch up on some interesting things there (both old and new).

First was an AI (artificial intelligence) exhibition at the World Museum.

The had this reconstruction of the difference engine designed by Charles Babage (and only lately acknowledged, Lady “Ada” Lovelace (who lent her name to the programming language).

I was working at IBM, when their AI computer the Deep Blue succesfully beat Gary Kasparov at Chess. I read about it at the time and he was a very bad sport. So you you could say, he was beaten at his own game.

IBM built on this achievment, and decided to create a new challenge. A computer that could understand spoken questions, but could actualy anlys the question that was being asked and answer it quickly in detail.

Amazing. The idea was for the IBM Watson to compete in a game of Jeopardy. For those that don’t know, your given the answer and you have to reply with a question. Simple enough for humans, but quite complex for a logic driven computer to do.

To make it really competitive Watson played against people who’d won at Jeopardy many times and offered massive financial insentives to the winner. The Watson won (with its 28000 cores).

They had the original studio setup in the exhibition. I’ve seen this on Youtube many times, but to stand in front of it was pretty incredible.

They had another section which showed deep data mining running in real time on Google searches and things like face book. You could do things like pick a politicians name and it would tell you if they were popular or not and if it was increasing or decreasing.

I’m pretty happy with the world as it is, but I can see how some people find this kind of thing quite sinister.

But in reality, I’m not convinced. When we talk about “Machine Learning” and “Data Mining” what we actualy mean is the AI equivalent of lots of date and looking for paterns.

I remember being in the Shropshire Arms in Chester on New Years eve some yearsa go. The landlady was in her late 40’s and had grown up in a pub. The landlord was about 25. At about 11pm, they had to get the Police to sort out a problem with a table of 5 lads.

The landlady had commented at about 7pm, that table will be a problem, keep you eyes on them. The youthfull landlord had said everything would be alright.

Was the landlady’s years of experience and recognising signs of trouble early on, any different than AI. Is it actualy groundbreaking, or just getting machines to do what people have done for hundreds of years 🙂

It was lunchtime by now. We met up with Matt at Brascoe. I used to visit it frequently when I worked in the Liver Building, it was good to be back and the Chicken Fillet burger is as good as it’s always been.

In the afternoon we visit the Naval War Rooms.

A massive underground facility, the Battle of the North Atlantic and various other activities were fought from here.

The place was truly enormous, yet during the war people would have wandered around on the pavements above, oblivious to what was going on 50 metres beneath them.

It’s run by volunteers as a charity. I’m always happy to visit things like this and as well as my ticket I also bought some stuff from the shop and made a donation. If you don’t, these things disappear, and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever and future generations will never get to see them.

Harrogate & York – August

Nikki’s family had organised a family get together for Nikki’s mums birthday.

Harrogate was the chosen location and Lyn (Nikki’s sister) and Vic (her husband) would be travelling to join us from their home in Spain.

We stayed in a rented apartment which was well appointed and cheap. Evening meal at a popular Greek restaurant nearby then off to bed.

In the morning, we did a walking tour of Harrogate. Some really interesting stuff, the place is mainly known for it’s mineral spring water which has medicinal property’s.

I was interested in the Swan Hotel. Agatha Christy disappeared for 11 days in 1926 and over 1000 police officers were assigned to find her (it’s been used as a plot vehicle for Dr Who).

The following day we decided to visit Harlow Carr.

Quite a long walk through fields, parks and forests, we finally arrive at the Royal Horticultural Society – Harlow Carr.

Nikki and her mum are a lot more interested in plants and gardens than I am, but this place really was amazing. Literally thousands of plants from all over the world.

There are few things more relaxing than wandering around in nature, in a place like this.

The next day, I decided to do my own thing, so headed off towards York.

My first stop was the train museum. I never visit York without going here, I love trains (full size and 00 guage).

This is the famous Mallard Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley it holds the world record as the fastest steam train in the world (126 miles an hour).

Wandering around, they have the only Bullet train outside Japan and the original Eurostar.

A re-creation of Stevenson’s Rocket, in it’s original colours.

And my favourite, a recent addition, the 125 HST. In service for over 40 years, it was finally retired. Repainted in it’s original livery, it did a farewell tour, before being donated to the Railway Museum York.

Like the Mallard, I have one of these in my set at home (very hard to get hold of, they’re at least 30 years old, but are due for re-release at Christmas this year (in case your reading this Nikki 🙂

Leaving the Train museum, I wander around York. It’s a Sunday, and quite busy with lots of people on day trips from Leeds.

Shambles street. The first time I walked down here, I was 8 yeas old on a school trip.

York Minster was open, but you had to book slots to go in. The next available opening was in 3 days time, so I just took this picture.

Another staple from my school trip days, the Castle Museum, York.

They have all sorts of cool things in there, like guns and uniforms from the TV series Sharpe. They also have old kitchens from the 80’s and it’s that quirkiness that I really like.

But again, tickets available, but the waiting time was 2hrs. I wasn’t going to queue for 2 hrs, so I’ll go there next time.

I found a nice pub, and had a couple of pints, while I wrote out my diary.

Our final day in Harrogate. Lyn and Vic had invited everyone out for breakfast to the Ivy.

What an amazing experience. Delicious coffee and scrambled eggs. Amazing service and just the simple pleasure of friends and family around a dining table. A bit more exploring around Harrogate, and then it’s time for home.

Lake district 2 – September

With summer fast disappearing, and having had such a good time at Darwin escapes, Keswick Reach.

We normally only visit the Lake district for long weekends or New Year (if we’ve got a whole week off, we usually go overseas). Since we were “forced” into it a week in the Lakes, it gave us a lot more time pursue interesting projects we’d not been able to do before.

First afternoon, we took the bikes out for a recce. We found a nice pub and they even had Bacon flavour fries.

Next day (almost at the front door) was Binsey Fell. The weather wasn’t brilliant, but Nikki planned an excellent circular walk. We were out all day, and on our return a cold can of beer from the fridge and a hot bath.

Following day, we were luckier with the weather.

We drove to the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Run by volunteers, it was extremely well organised and comparatively cheap for the uniqueness of the experience.

The carriages themselves were quite small (the railway had originaly been used to transport munitions during the war).

The journey lasted about half an hour with spectacular views of the countryside. It stopped for half an hour before embarking on it’s return journey.

But we were walking back across Muncaster Fell and some of the best views and scenery of the trip.

Following day, we do a bike ride to Keswick and back.

Visited all my usual haunts, managed to find a birthday gift for Nikki in the Rohan shop and as usual managed to avoid the Pencil museum.

We had a day driving out to St Bee’s head.

We did some coastal walking, I remember that the weather was awful, but fish and chips in the small cafe were the nicest I ate on the whole trip.

We’d heard great things about Bassenthwaite Lake Station so we cycled over there the next day.

Basically, an isolated railway line going nowhere, with an old train parked on it, and run as a café/restaurant.

We found the staff unfriendly and unhelpful. The train was nice to look at, we bought coffee, it started to rain, they didn’t tell us there was a compartment at the back we could have sat in out of the rain.

Jon Kiblonski from 42nd street told me some years ago, you vote with your money. I work hard for mine, so I was happy to “vote” for a hotel nearby which did superb food and wine and seemed delighted that we’d chosen to eat there.

On our last day, we wandered around the forest and a place called Brock Holes.

Not a major project, just an exploration and a chance to relax in a forest (I’m at my happiest, when I’m in a forest).

I had a nice piece of Steak that evening at the camp restaurant. When I checked out, I found out, the 2 “pay to watch” films we saw were free. If I’d known, I might have watched a few more 🙂

Anglesey 2 – September

Our final adventure of the season.

A return to Anglesey, this time to stay at Amlwch.

Nikki went out walking with the group, I just wandered to the coast to relax. Amlwch was pretty quiet but it had a curry house and we really enjoyed the food there.

A pretty quiet trip really. More a chance to catch up with friends (Brian, Gareth, Tony & the Uni Bods).

We stayed at the Dinorben Arms hotel and when I came to check out, I noticed this nice Teddy bears, that they had there.

With the adventure season largely over, it was time to get back to more domestic adventures.

Something I’d been waiting for the 18 months. The James Bond film, No Time to Die. I booked our seats A1 and A2 in the massive IMAX cinema at Cheshire Oaks (I’d later find out, from Dale at work, that they aren’t all the same size and the IMAX in Manchester is twice as big).

The film was superb (amazing to just be back in a cinema once again). But as I’ve said before, your not really in a cinema for very long, within a few minutes your in space, in a car travelling at high speed, trekking through a jungle. Thats the magic of cinema).

Nikki’s dad John was someone I really liked and respected. I was very sad when he died and after the funeral we went to scatter his ashes in a beautiful park he’d always enjoyed.

As we were leaving, they had plants for sale, and I bought some roses. I’ve always called them the Dad Roses, as just like John, they live life on their own terms and decide to flower at a time of their own choosing.

I was delighted when once again “Dad” had decided to brighten up my garden.

Chester Cathedral host’s all sorts of interesting things, and isn’t just a venue for religion (when Frank Walmsley visited a few years ago with Na, there was an art exhibition, and we got to see Damien Hurst’s sheep thing !).

More recently a group of train enthusiasts set up a massive installation. I know from experience with my own train set, this must have taken hundred of hours and cost tens of thousands of pounds.

But it was worth it, they had dozens and dozens of different trains setting off and arriving for the 2 hours that I was there.

Our love of Artichoke in Chester where we frequently go for drinks and Sunday lunch is no secret.

What I’ve probably not mentioned before, is they have a Winebar on the Chester Row’s called Paysan. It was closed for a number of months and only recently re-opened. It was nice to be back in there with a glass of wine.

Another example of how life is returning to normal.