Month: April 2012

Birthday Itinerary.

My Birthday Itinerary in Chester – Saturday the 5th of May 2012.


Well, only 7 days to go, before my birthday. I’m really looking forward to it this year.Loads of people are coming down, and the weather promises to be superb.

If you want to stay over, there are basically 3 options. Top end, the Mill Hotel, next to my house, which is lovely. Middle option, one of the B&B’s on Hoole Lane. Bottom option (but no less friendly) is my floor !.

Also, some of you have been asking what I’d like for a present, so I’ve taken the liberty of making up a list, which is taken from the treats section of this years Mindmap.

Socks Some of the old Auntie Marjorie favourites are badly needed.
Glasses I’ve replaced my wine glasses, but only have 3 tumblers. These would go great with the JD
Stool For my breakfast bar. Doesn’t have to be this one, something similar would be fine.
Jack Daniels Not being a spirits drinker by nature, I can make one of these last a whole year.
Hobo Handbook Guide to Bushcraft and living by your own rules.
Boot bag When walking I normally get a lift, and Tesco bags wear out.

I know some people (Steve) may think I’m being cheeky listing presents. Its not like that at all. I’ve had bad experiences buying things I thought were nice for family members, and later finding them in the loft unused.

The above list is just an attempt to avoid that, but far more important, is that my friends are around on my birthday and make merry !.

Now to the actual Itinerary:

Okay, we wont be travelling in any Barges, this is just a topical picture from a previous Birthday celebration.

The idea is to visit a few nice pubs in the historic city of Chester. There are 3 pubs and a warm-up to get us started. All of the pubs I’ve chosen do food, and I’ve even arranged for the pub were in around 5pm, to have a separate room, so those that wish, can watch the FA Cup.

If there is any confusion or anyone gets lost, just call my mobile and well work something out (number ends 617, if you don’t have it, send me an email).

upto 12:45 – The Mill hotel.

The actual event kicks off at 1pm, but between 12 lunchtime and then, ill be picking people up from the railway station and dropping them of at the Mill hotel. This should get things started, and if any of you are staying at my house and want to drop of bags etc, my house is next door.

1pm – The Lock Keeper

Previously the Frog & Nightingale, its been a favourite pub of mine for several years (you can read about it here). Its since been refurbed and inside, its one of the nicest pubs in the city (there are tables outside, if its really sunny !).

4pm – The Marlbororough arms

A painting mistake some years ago, lead the unusual name.  Very mellow pub, with wooden trastle tables and stools. Has a tv, for those wanting to watch the FA cup. Practically in the centre of town, and next door to Marks & Spencer, for those that need to nip out shopping.

6pm – Hickory’s

One of only a handful of authentic smoke barbecue restaurants in the country, it has a friendly bar, and views across the river Should be an ideal place to watch the sunset.

After this who knows. Perhaps we can go for a curry, and Dave L can get burned and we all eat for free 🙂

Last drink of the night, will probably be back at the Mill hotel.

Give me a shout if you have an questions, otherwise, see you all there.


All systems go.

My new laminate floor is well under-way, in anticipation of my birthday next weekend. I know they cant speak, but I can tell that the fish are excited about it all (I haven’t seen them like this, since the last few levels of Modern Warfare 3).

Well, the weather today is terrible (the CDWG have cancelled today’s walk which is extremely unusual), but its reckoned to be sunny for my birthday next Saturday, so should look something like this.

Ill be writing up my birthday itinerary in the next few minutes, loads of people are already coming, but if you haven’t made up your mind yet, do try and attend.


Music Train

Sometimes in life, ideas that sound feasible are actually quite terrible, when you get around to doing them (family camping, motorway cones helpline, the bay of pigs). One such idea I was involved with, was the Music Train.

The concept:

Genius navigator and stalwart of the walking group, Brian organised a social event on the “music train”. It all sounded pretty exciting. Its a normal train, and you buy a ticket. There is a band or bands on the train to entertain you, and when the train stops at its destination, you head for a pub, and the musicians come with you, and perform.

The reality:

I arrived at the station (Glenn came with me, as there was no actual walking involved in this activity) and we met up with Brian, Sue and Gaynor. I was surprised to see a friend from the Chester Globetrotters. As she was on her own, we invited her to join our little group.

If you buy 2 tickets together, you get a discount. Even with that, for a 40 minute journey, it seemed quite steep. Once boarded, I realised, that it wasn’t a quaint old train or anything, but one of the standard rickety things that I get to Delamere forest !.

The band started playing (The time bandits) . They tried really hard, but the acoustics in the train were terrible (and the train was diesel not electric, so very noisy). Also, I find folk music rather bland and repetitive. Finally, there was no bar, or anywhere to get a drink.

The journey felt very long, but eventually we arrived at Plumley. The representative from the local council, lead us to the pub, and immediately put on a hi-vis vest (health and safety dont you know).

Once in the pub (the Golden Pheasant), the music sounded a bit better, and we were able to order some food (a tenner for Beef and Ale pie, and it was really nice). The beer was £4.30 a pint, which was breathtaking (I don’t mean the taste of the beer, I mean the price).

After a pleasant evening, chatting to my friends, we leave, and join the train home.

The mood had picked up, as much ale had been consumed. We got chatting on the train, and things are ok.

But within minutes some ultra keen fans off folk decided to get up and start dancing. I have to say, its one of the most pitiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

Back home, and we pop into the Town Crier for a pint (the highlight of the evening).

In summary. I feel better for having tried it out, rather than just wondering, but apart from spending time with my friends, it was an expensive wast of an evening.

Easter camping.

Camp isn’t the kind of word that people use to describe me. However as an activity, its rather cool.

The Chester and District walking group organised a weekend away in Wales with Sue C. at the helm, and I couldn’t resist it.

I got up early on good Friday, reached for my rucksack, and jumped on the train. Twenty minutes later, I get of at Ruabon station and begin the walk into Llangollen.

Its about 4 miles to the town, and a walk I’ve done before in a darker time (its nice sometimes to return to these places now that things are better, and sort of put things right).

As it was, I didn’t have to do the whole walk along the canal (that would come the next day, towards the end of a superb walk up high in the hills above Llangollen).

Sue had waited on the road to give me a lift. I jumped in and we sped towards the camp-site. I was especially pleased, as the road to the camp-site, is ludicrously steep (as I’d find over the 2 evenings, walking back from the pub !)

Wern Isaf farm camp-site has simple facilities, as its a working farm.

When I’m going camping, I don’t usually look for swimming pools and television rooms.

The 2 main things for me, are that the showers and toilets must be spotless (being outdoors is no excuse for a lowering of cleanliness and hygiene standards. In an outdoor setting, cavalier attitudes to washing and germs can be downright dangerous).

The other thing, is the people running it, and their attitude to anti-social behaviour. If some idiots arrive late in a van and start playing loud music, will the owners come and and throw them off the site, or just roll over in bed and leave everyone to their own devices. This is important as I’m not a social camper. If I’m sleeping in a tent at night, it means I’ll be out on the hill in the morning, and I need my sleep.

We set up our tents. I’ve brought a 3 man tent. A bit bigger to carry, but was expecting friends might want to stay over, and with the extra space, would just need to bring a mat and sleeping bag in the boot of their car.

Sue asks my advise re tent pitching. I stupidly position our tents on steep hill, reasoning with my feet facing down hill, it would be more comfortable (it wasn’t, I kept sliding off my thermarest).

I regail expertise given to me in the scouts some years earlier “Always put the arse of the tent into the wind”. I thought it was a fairly practical piece of advise, but Sue collapsed in stitches laughing. She had heard this advise before, but never in the graphic format I had demonstrated.

As I tended to my minimalist backpacking tent and super lightweight sleeping bag, Sue set up her air bed and 3 quilts.

I didn’t complain though. By the time I’d finished, there was a table and chairs set up, with 2 cans of Fosters. Result.

It was Friday, with exciting walks planned for Saturday and Sunday, so we decided to acclimatise to the environment. Walked over to the Abbey and had a cup of tea, in the tea shop near the other camp-site there. They have camping pods on this camp-site and when we politely ask one of the occupants what they are like, they are so proud, they give us a guided tour.

We wander back along the canal to Llangollen and I spot this duck.

I look closely, and it looks like a model or something, run by remote control.

One of the other people on the bank explains that its quite common to see it, its an oriental duck and probably escaped from a Zoo or something like that.

Back in Llangollen (a place I’m falling in love with) we have a wander around the shops. I pass the pro-adventure shop where I’d previously done canoing and mountain biking. We walked passed a really cool hardware shop, that literally had everything you would need for camping (and this place had everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink !).

Wandering further, we see this very diplomatic letter, that someone had left out, along with some local by-laws.

We visit the high street chippy. Only £3.50 for fish and chips, and their delicious. We head for the summit of everes. Sorry I meant to say walk up the hill to the camp-site, although it felt like the same thing !.

I relax in my tent with a book (I’m trying to extend my Japanese garden, in advance of my birthday in Chester on Saturday the 5th of May. Plug, Plug).

In the evening, we head into town, and I see this sign.

It appears to me, to be inviting people to urinate in the corner next to the cash machine. Thankfully, nobody seemed to be doing this.

We tour some of the local nightspots. First of, the Star. An absolutely brilliant pub I discovered one weekend after walking. We hang around, but leave when some live music starts playing (not really my thing).

Next up the rough one, The Bull. Idiots in pubs, don’t frighten me, but I prefer to give them a wide berth. As we arrived in the pub, somebody was re-enacting a fight he’d had recently, blow by blow. This wasn’t uncommon, when I was 13,  but this guy is in his 40’s and should know better.

After one drink in here, we move onto Bensons. From the outside, it looks like a double glazing showroom. Its very friendly here, and we stay for 2 drinks. A final drink in the bridge end (next to the famous taxidermist).

As we leave, I realise, tragically, that the chippy is closed. I grab a hot and spicy pizza and head up the hill, wheezing. I offered the leftovers to some lambs in an adjoining field, but they weren’t on board with it.

And so to bed. Sleeping in a tent, is one of those things that you always remember with a certain romanticism, but while your actually doing it, it isn’t like that at all.

Driving rain, lambs with the attitude of gangster rappers and a family with a young child suffering from tourette’s made for a poor nights sleep.

No matter. I get up early and go for a lone walk with my ipod (I know that I’ll be spending a lot of the next 48hrs around other people, so grab my own energy space while I can).

We wait in the canal side cafe, to meet up with the days walkers (who unlike us, haven’t had the stomach for camping). A few people have breakfast (ridiculously, the children’s breakfast is just the right size, and the “normal” breakfast is too much food for man or beast.

We head out for the day. Walking up Dinas Bran (which means Crows Hill, the site of the old castle that overlooked Llangollen).

We head back down the other side, then the path gets steep as we head for the much higher hills, that overlook the valley.

Somewhere I’ve not been before, with spectacular views (you can see from this photo, that were much higher, than Dinas, Bran, the hill in the background. The weather is still changable with some rain, but its not cold at all.

Further up the hill still, is leftover snow, and in places you can wade through snow up-to your thighs and possibly try an ice axe arrest (if you can do it in 8 feet !).

A decision is made that some people will go back after a couple of hours, and head home. A few of us stay on, and wander further up hills…

 Through forests …

And the Prospect tea house. Just before this, we come upon an injured woman (who had driven to the top of the hill, then tripped up, walking from her car to a picnic spot. Were ready to provide assistance, but an ambulance has already been called (and when they arrive, they don’t look impressed).

A few people head home, some people are staying for the evenings meal booked at the Cornmill, and yet others are waiting for us back at the camp-site.

We go back to the camp-site to get ready. I notices Dave’s tent.

Its one of  those special moments. Nobody on the camp-site is even vaguely aware. A tents a tent isn’t it ?. Not really, Dave’s tent is a Hilleberg. Just about the best you can get and nobody notices it.

I joked later, if he offered to give me his car or his tent as a gift, Id take the tent.

Back in town, I realise the famous Cornmill has 3 floors, and our table is booked on the top floor. The food here is famous throughout the country. I decide to go for something simple, and have burger and chips. A couple of pints to wash it down, and some great company. Its then I realise just how tired I am. Its been a quieter evening than last night, but relaxing all the same.

More torture in the tent, but in the morning, its forgotten (although I give the lambs a stare that tells them how I’m feeling).

As I take the tent down, I’m reminded of the advice from Ray Mears, for breaking camp. When you first arrive at camp, all your kit tidy and organised, as you’ve probably preped it at your house, where its warm and there’s plenty of room.

When you break camp, the temptation is to cut corners and throw things together quickly. Avoid this at all cost, and prep things as though you were in your living room.

This time, we drive into town to meet everyone for breakfast. We briefly visit a bring and buy sale, then sit down for breakfast at a cafe that doubles as a book shop (they were very disorganised, and although my cheese on toast was cooked ok, I really think they should stick to books).

But we’re not in Llangollen to sit down. We jump back in the cars, and heard for the Ponderosa. The weather is quite bad, and there are discussions about walking at a lower level (and in some cases, going home altogether).

Maps are consulted, and an improvised route is decided on. Its a different group today, from the previous day (only Gaynor, Sue and me have done both days).  We head downhill, and cross fields in drizzle (which is concerning, as I know every step we take downhill, means another step back up hill, when we’ve finished !).

We continue walking, and find a farmhouse.

Its called Glyn cottage and is really remote. It doesn’t look like it has electricity, and instantly reminds me of the building in Withnail and I.

No sense wasting a wind break. We sit down next to the wall, and have lunch.

Passing through various stiles there’s a heated discussion about the boat race saboteur.

We wander down a lane, and I see this house.

Its then it hits me. 3 years ago, Tony and I drove top the countryside (which at the time, felt like the middle of nowhere) to look at holiday properties he was thinking of buying. I’m actually standing next to the exact house now !. Small world.

We continue our wander, but with the enthusiasm and friendly conversation of the group, I hardly notice the steep hills, and were back at the Ponderosa.

I queue behind a disorganised family to buy some hot chocolate. Settled with friends in a corner, nursing hot drinks, I realise our adventure is over and its time to go home.

Good news for me, is that Pete is driving back to Chester and Ill be dropped at the front door, so no messing about with trains on a bank holiday.

Im in bed by 8:30 that evening, and sleep most of the following day. I must have really needed my rest.

Thanks for everyone who came, and especially Sue for taking the time to plan and organise everything.

Same time next year ?

Llangollen circuit

Out once again with the Chester and District walking group (during that very brief week of near perfect weather).

This time, we did a circular walk around Llangollen.

Aiden organised it. He arrived late, and then made everyone walk really fast to make up the time (which seemed unfair in some ways).

Anyhow, enough of my moaning, we hit the trail.

Initially, the weather was quit grim.

On the right of the picture, are Raymond from South Africa (who is wearing the Rohan jacket I lent him, Leather jackets aren’t ideal for hill walking) and Debora from Italy.

If your really nosey, the person on the left is Sue, who’s been with the club for years, and represents the “marine corps” of its membership.

After walking up hill for a while, we drop down a bit and from far off, we see the Pontcysyllte (god knows how you pronounce that) aqueduct we were heading for.

Forty minutes later, and were walking across the “duct”.

Although there’s a walk way on one side, on the other, there’s practically nothing. The water bellow is just deep enough to float a tin bath, and I couldn’t help thinking if you were in a canoe, and fell out, you’d drop 200 feet to the earth bellow.

We stop at the Trevor boat yard for lunch. Ive previously visited it, on my Birthday barge trip.

There is talk of a beer, but I decide against as we normally go for a pint at the end of the walk anyway.

One of the things I’m most proud of, is how 12 of us will drop into a small country pub (the kind that are struggling now) and buy 12 drinks. The delight on the landlords face, is a sight to behold (its not unknown for “closed” pubs to open just for us, when we knock on the window).

I finish my lunch early, have the last mouthful of Tea from my flask, and do some exploring.

Its been pointed out since I originaly posted this, that the word above has 2 meanings, and is spelt correctly. Please read the following with tongue firmly in cheek.

I see this sign:

Refuse Disposal – Don’t stand for it ?

Honestly. I cant spell particularly well, but before I arranged for a sign, I’d check the spelling first, and I’d like to think that the sign maker would check it as well :).

On a more serious note, some people say never admit your weaknesses and stuff like that.

I think the opposite. Work out what you are good at and focus on that.

With the things you aren’t good at, decide if you actually need those skills/knowledge or not.

If yes, get some help from someone that is good/knowledgeable.

If no, simply forget about them (I can’t snowboard, and its never cost me a moments sleep !).

The final leg of the journey, begins up hill, but the weather is with us.

We pass Dinas Bran castle on the hill overlooking Llangollen, and are rewarded with this amazing view of the valley bellow.

I’m starting to get a “wainwright’ien” love of Llangollen.

Another great day out on the hill and thanks to everyone who came. Most of all congratulations to Aiden, the best day walk I’ve done in months.

London conference and WM Abbey.

I had arranged to visit London, to see one of our suppliers (Insight, and the excellent Gary Siddle, who I’ve worked with for 9 years and couldn’t recommend more highly).

I quite like London, and since my company were paying for the train (First Class once again !) I decided to fit in some adventure, while there.

The route to the event, went right past the British Museum.

Some of the worlds most amazing artefacts are kept here (some of them controversially) and people travel from all over the world to visit this amazing place. I’ve been before, but it seemed silly to pass within 100 metres of it, and not have a look inside.

The Rosetta stone needs little introduction. It basically has the same paragraph, in 3 different languages. If you understand one of the languages, you can use this as a key to reverse engineer the other languages, and then use that to translate yet other samples of the same text.

Its value, is impossible to calculate.

No less controversial than the Rosetta stone, are the Elgin marbles. Purchased by Lord Elgin and placed in the British musuem, the Greek government repeatedly campaigns to have them returned.

I couldn’t help thinking, there are only a handful of places in the entire world that have artefacts like these in the same place. Since its only 2 hours on the train, why don’t more people go ? (and there are dozens of other free museums in London as well).

Outside the museum, is one of the tourist traps, and you can see that Fish and Chips are £8.50 !. Perhaps that answers my previous question.

I continue along, and my route takes me past Covent Garden. Incredibly expensive, but one of the nicest places to eat and drink I’ve ever been to.

Lorraine Pascal is one of my favourite Chefs at the moment.

Unlike many celebrity Chefs, she doesn’t have a restaurant as such, instead opting for a cake shop in the middle of Covent garden.

I decided to have some coffee & a cake. The one’s I picked cost around £12, but they were delicious, and I had travelled 200 miles to enjoy them.

I continue on, and at this point hit the river Thames. I have another mile and a half to walk along the banks of the river.

The weather was superb and on the right, you can see the new building – Shard London Bridge (it takes its name from a shard of glass) expected to open to the public in June 2012.

A series I used to watch – Spooks, used to frequently feature clandestine meetings on the banks of the river Thames. This looked like the kind of place that Harry would meet someone from the intelligence community.

I arrive at the event, and nightmare. There is a queue nearly 400 metres long.

I won’t bore you with what happened after this, as its all about IT, and ip phones and stuff like that.

A successful event, and my keep earned, I still have a little time before my train home, so continue on.

One a recent walk, a visitor to the country (the excellent Raymond from South Africa) asked me about Westminster Abbey, which he had always wanted to see.

Got me thinking about it, so I headed for there.

On the way, I pass the houses of parliament. Across the road, you can see there area where previously, protestors camped out, but have now been moved on.

I finaly arrive at Westminster Abbey. Its £13 to go inside (although free if you just want to pray) and you cant take photographs, but in every way, it was an amazing experience.

The staff inside (who I found out were called vergers) were very helpful and polite (I had a map, but without there help, it would have been impossible to find my way around the place). For a building that nearly 1000 years old, it is enormous.

Every hour on the hour, they say a prayer. While I was there, they prayed for victims of war. Although I’m not particularly religious, I was touched by this simple act.

A cynic might say, what good would it do people who are suffering, to know that others are thinking about them. I disagree. Its the very essence of what makes us human.

I walk back in a reflective mood.

When I get back to Euston, its 15 minutes before my train leaves. I decide to try out the First Class lounge.

I absolutely love Virgin Trains, but it was that busy and loud, I would rather have waited in Macdonalds at my own expense.

I board the train and help another passenger to connect his IPad to the trains Wi Fi internet. I willingly help, because he politely asks if anyone around knows about IT.

It reminded me of films where the Airline captain comes over the tannoy saying “Is there a Dr on the plane !”.

Three glasses of complimentary wine later, I pull into Chester. The days adventure is complete and the weekend is beginning.

Helsby Tech Centre

Just thought I’d throw this one in. Its the old technology centre at Helsby, formerly BICC and later Corning Cable Systems.

I worked there as a contractor. Although the company was pretty awful, the people I met there were fantastic and 11 years later, I still know and socialize with many of them (including the excellent Mike Delafield).

I pass by each day on the train, and I noticed that they had demolished the building in front of it, so I was able to take this photo.

Big shout-out for accounts.

I’m the UK head of IT at my company. As such, our team report directly to the group financial controller, so we sit and work with the accounts department.

It has to be said that most people think of accounts as dull, and its not really seen as the “exciting” part of a business.

The truth is, most companies wouldn’t last 24 hours without someone to pay essential bills, chase debt and calculate the difference between money coming in the door and real profit.

Its year end at the moment, and just like many accounts departments across the country, Laura, Marie, Louise, Gill, Lisa & Phil are all run of their feet.

I just wanted them to know, that all the work they do is appreciated by everyone, even if they don’t say it.

In other news, Scottish auditor is back (who I’ve now found out is called Claire) and working hard with Tim.

Other auditor (who had superb posture and carried a laptop quite a lot) isn’t back this time, but has been replaced with Other auditor 2, who seems very nice.