Tag: Dalby Forest

Birthday Adventure and Travels

This is going to be a quick blog post, mostly because I have spent way too much time thinking and not left enough for writing. Excuses, excuses I know. Tomorrow I start on my epic summer ‘tour’ and I am very excited. Every year in the summer holidays I tend to do something away from my family or, as I prefer to call it, an adventure. For two years I went on Action for Blind People activity weeks, before that I did guide and brownie camps and last year I went through my biggest adventure yet- training with my guide dog. This year, after finishing my exams and finding myself a whole extra month of holiday to play with I have taken it upon myself to cram as much in as possible. Tomorrow is the start of my travels, but first a catch up…

My status as a ‘May Baby’ was always fine until I hit my year six SATs at primary school. This was the first time that I realised that my birthday would clash with nearly all of my major exam seasons throughout my time in education. However during my SATs I remember being more concerned with the vomiting bug I had unfortunately contracted at the start of my tests than my multiplication methods taking over my birthday! Being a may baby really isn’t that bad though, so far it has been only every six years that I have had exams imminent on the day. This year my birthday took place right before my friends and I were due to sit our final french exam. I figured that it would be both incredibly selfish (and incredibly stupid) to use the weekend before our monday exam for a sleepover or celebration. So I waited for summer and I am so glad I did!

As I have already written in a previous post: Dalby Forest is one of my favourite places in the world. For my late birthday celebration I was lucky enough to be able to go camping there with my friends. We had a fantastic time and the weather was perfect. During the day we went bike and tandem riding around the many paths through the forest, and at night we devoured a very large oatmeal and raisin cookie cake slice by slice. Riding a tandem is something that I had not experienced as a VI person before, though I had ridden (navigated by Mum) a tandem around the forest when I was six years old. This was nothing to do with my impending vision loss, but I was just a very uncoordinated child and wasn’t to be trusted near large hills and craters whilst on a bike. Ten years later and though myself and friend Z were initially very unsure and wobbly on our new found shared wheels we quickly picked it up. We found that a system of counting up and down for setting off and slowing down was very helpful for keeping us in sync. It seems that the first few seconds of movement are very important when navigating a tandem and if both riders aren’t seated, balanced and peddling you are on very rocky ground! Though Z found the experience slightly stressful as she was completely responsible for my safety (apparently I am to blame for some grip-related blisters on her hands) I found it relaxing- after all I only had to peddle! Myself, S, E and Z did two bike rides: one which was two miles long in the morning, and the other which was supposed to be eight miles. All the routes were circular and so you just had to keep riding and following the signs to get home, simple!

Sadly my friends and I have a tendency of getting in bizarre/dangerous situations. On the first bike ride there was an incident with E, who was at this time probably the most confident rider in the group, and Z’s video camcorder which she got for christmas. One thing that we all share is our love of multimedia; S is a keen future animator, Z is a very good photographer and always is the one with the camera, and I am the geek with the sound recorder and often a camera somewhere in a bag too. Early into this first trail -when myself and Z were still wobbling but beginning to relax a bit- we remarked how cool it would be to get some footage travelling through the forest and of the scenery around us. E, who was riding my old bike rather well, offered to film with Z’s camcorder and everything was fine… until it wasn’t. Myself, Z and S passed over a bridge and we didn’t have any doubts that E would be quick to catch up with the camera. But then there was an “Agh!” from behind in the direction of where we had just come, not very loud and not enough to make us brake. It was the splash that followed that made us abruptly stop in our tracks. Screaming E’s name in the alarming silence which had fallen upon us, we all ran to the side of the bridge where we found E kneeling in the stream water just to the side of the bridge. Offering her a hand and helping her up the mucky slope she had seemingly fallen down, and then fishing out the bike, we established that she was not too badly hurt aside from some grazed knees. E is one of those remarkable people who tends to bounce back quickly when they are put in a potentially dangerous situations, in fact she was once hit by a car and was texting friends a few minutes later. Sadly the same could not be said for Z’s rather soggy camcorder which we hoped very dearly would dry off and recover, or at least let us see the footage of E falling into the stream for a laugh. It showed how strong our friendships are in the group because it was a good few minutes before Z even mentioned her likely broken christmas present even once we found out that E was fine. The rest of the ride was beautiful, though E was still soaked through!

After a lunch of crisps and brioche bread we attempted the second of the ‘beginner’ routes. My Mum, a naturally outdoorsy person, had warned us that it started with a very large hill which we shouldn’t let deter us. Thinking back this should probably have set alarm bells off in my head. For Mum to even mention a hill existing, for the average person it must of been an extreme mountain. When we reached the start of the route we were faced with what appeared to be a cliff face. A very steep hill indeed. Cycling up the hill lasted mere moments because none of us had the muscles that would be required to prevent ourselves rolling back down the slope. Lugging our heavy bikes up caused energy levels -and general morale- to drop. It was all that I could do to keep in a state of permanent optimism, although my arms and legs were admittedly screaming from pushing the back end of the tandem. If you were going to make the assumption that a tandem shared between two people walking up a hill requires less effort than a whole bike each- you are sadly mistaken. After recovering from the climb we carried on cycling; it was steeper than our first route and we had to walk the bikes up various bumps in the track. Whilst trying to follow the signs my group had problems distinguishing the green arrows (a very dark shade) from the black. This was a bit of a problem because the black was, according to our map, ‘extreme’ where as the green (which we were already struggling with) was ‘beginner’. At some stage I think these signs were responsible for causing the following incident. Myself and Z had found ourselves at the head of the group, and after powering up and down a hill we had lost the other half of our party. We had raced past a cross roads and (whilst pausing for them to catch up) it began to dawn on us that E and S had probably gone the other way. At this point we had been biking for a few hours and we were expecting to be approaching the end of the route so we continued, knowing that all the routes would end in the same place anyway. Sadly the end wasn’t in sight, and after cycling for another half hour we found that we were at the stunt bike track that we had passed before at the beginning of our ride. We had run out of water, were hungry and very tired when Z left me with the tandem to try and find some people to ask for directions. We were both trying to block out the thought that we might have to complete the route again to exit , meaning we would have done roughly sixteen miles on this single track. We asked a Mum who was sitting on a log watching her son do various gravity defying stunts on the course below how to get out. She, in turn, gave a detailed description and then conferred with her son who enthusiastically gave completely different instructions.  Now the only sighted person cycling, Z had to keep looking for orange arrows which apparently indicated an escape. Though the forest was undoubtedly beautiful, there is nothing like burning first to make you want to get out of it. We went down some extremely large hills (thankfully not having to climb up them first) this was perfect because we were both verging on too exhausted to peddle. Luckily by this time I had picked up the queues which meant that Z was slowing down, changing gear, or upping the pace so we dropped the verbal communication we had previously had through the journey to preserve our energy.

Reaching the bike hire building, only minutes before our maximum time was up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that E and S were there and had been for quite some time. It seems that they found some other very large and rocky hills to use as an escape and that they had indeed gone the other way at the cross roads. We were too tired to really comment on this though, and we both reported feeling like we were either going to vomit or cry. After all, myself and Z had done four miles on top of the necessary eight. After ice creams at the visitor’s centre we felt significantly better, and after showers at the campsite (plus spidery companions) our aches and pains from the saddle were quite far out of our minds. There aren’t many things that beat campfire cooked pasta and white sauce either! There are countless moments that I can’t fit in this post, but maybe thats not a bad thing. As I have already said in a previous blog- Dalby is one of my favourite places to just think about the now and to simply ‘be’. But at the weekend I found that it is amazing to be there with friends

Over the next few weeks I am going to be doing a lot of travelling. I could do a big long list of the places I’m going and the things that I am doing there, but it will be more interesting to write about it after (or maybe whilst I am there). I am planning to put my WordPress app on my phone to good use, though it all depends on if I have wifi at the various places I am going. Adventures are ahead and the suitcase is packed… well nearly. Why is my whole life on charge?! Too many wires! I decided to leave the word ‘quick’ in the introduction for irony, I have never seen such a long post!

Four girls on bikes, two sharing a tandem.


Girls sitting outside a tent

Flying, Trees and Unfiltered Beauty

Dalby forest has always been one of my favourite places to be. For exactly that reason, it is a place to simply be. For a person who spends the majority of their time on the internet in one form or another I am surprisingly against the way technology has crept into every corner of our lives. I think it is harder to develop ideas due to this: as soon as one thought comes into your head you tweet it, and with a zap of wifi it is gone from your head and given to others instead. No one pays much attention to where they are anymore- they will find a spot of beauty to put on instagram but in the bright lights of their phone screens they will not notice the beauty of the tree bark, or the stars, or the clouds ambling above. What isn’t being realised is that social media is acting as a filter for our senses and our minds, we are remembering through facebook status’ and not the way things felt, looked or tasted. It isn’t enough for your mind to store things for you anymore, it has to be burnt into cyberspace and shared with others as if their minds are sociological hard-drives for backing up your personal memories. Stop. Just stop. This advert from 2011 makes my point.

I’m not trying to sell you a holiday here, but you get the idea. One of the things I like about Dalby Forest is that it is a signal black spot, not a jot of signal to be found in the entire forest. This is probably partly to do with it being situated in the North Yorkshire Moors (a location not renowned for its connectedness to the outside world) and partly because it is just acre after acre of very tall and beautiful trees. So even if you do take pictures on screened devices while you are there you at least get time to take in your surroundings, and the reason you felt taking a picture to be necessary, before sending it into social cyberspace. There are a lot of things to take in too, you don’t need to look very hard to see the unavoidable abundance of nature and greenery. However in the words of William Blake:

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

Even if you aren’t quite as enthusiastic about trees as myself you will at least note the height and expansiveness of these particular ‘green things’. They are everywhere. And yesterday it was in these trees that I climbed.

Go Ape is an adventure outward-bounds type assault course suspended in the tree tops of the forest. There are several places around the country that you can try similar, but be warned it is not for the faint hearted. I took on the challenge of Go Ape with a friend and despite me being the one in the team who is not scared of heights it was still slightly hair raising at times. I am not a monkey, nor a bird, and being 120ft in the air is not the ideal place for a humble human. After signing some documents in case of fatal injuries we were given a rigorous half hour training session, which involved mostly learning how to attach yourself on and off each platform and the importance of being attached to something at all times. Once actually on Go Ape we were confronted with many challenges: from your average balance beam to tarzan swings into cargo nets. Just in case you were to forget whilst on the huge wooden structure that your life was in your caribbeanas’ metallic gates, there were giant yellow signs on each activity with a picture of a falling man on. The poor man who was careless with his caribbeanas…

We managed to survive the adventure just fine, and definitely kudos goes to N for getting someone with low vision around the course in one piece. The highlight was certainly the zip wires which flew me through the air and between the trees in line with the birds. It is a strange feeling to be doing nothing, literally just sitting, but to be travelling so fast and doing something that humans were never really meant to do. I could feel the space around me; in my toes I could feel the ground they are accustomed to walking on so very far below and in my hair I could feel the oxygen that the trees had pumped fresh from their leaves for mankind to hold in their techno-addicted lungs. That’s when, at 120ft and approaching the ground, that I decided that beauty is found in different ways, in different things, by different people. Like William Blake says, what I don’t notice is someone else’s Mona Lisa. Then I hit the soil.