Challenge: Get up early for a week

Kings Heath Park
Park report: King’s Heath is my current favourite to walk to. KECH girls are already going to school at 8am, flicking the finger at friends/enemies and checking out the boys. Drivers are driving like arses in 20 zones. It’s warming up for a 27 degree day. Grass is dewy but drying. A bee is hovering and checking me out – probably the smell of Soltan. Baby Driver soundtrack is playing. A hay fever sneeze. End of year accounts await and later an epic Moselele summer singalong. It’s gonna be a good day.

A random wish on my sabbatical list – and one of the toughest for me as a night owl – was to get up at dawn for a week to see what it would feel like and discover if/how it would change my day/life.

With sunrise at 4.45am in June and dawn at 3.55am, this was a bit too much of a stretch. Still, on the week of the longest day of the year I started to go to bed at 10.30pm in order to get up at 6 – three hours earlier than usual.

Three spare hours at the start of a day! What would you do?

Birmingham is a city often maligned and mistaken for a concrete jungle. Its critics are not aware of how much greener it is than, say, London. We have so many tree-lined streets but also a multitude of parks and recs. Within 30 minutes walk of our house, for example, are 12 or so parks: Kings Heath, Highbury, Cannon Hill, Holder’s Lane playing fields, Row Heath playing fields, Hazelwell, Stirchley, Muntz, Cotteridge, Cadbury’s ladies recreation ground, Bournville and Raddlebarn/Selly Park.

Waterwise, there is also the Lifford Reservoir, the Rea Valley Route, and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. And, of course, my local Hazelwell Allotments to which I have the key.

I didn’t consciously set out to explore the parks and open spaces of south Birmingham in the early morning hours but it was a natural consequence of walking any short distance. The sun was shining, most people were still asleep or at breakfast, the day felt fresh and new. I downloaded a playlist on to my phone and started walking wherever (admittedly sometimes singing, dance-walking or air-drumming) to the beat of the music.

Here’s what I saw…

Hazelwell Allotments
Cotteridge Park
Muntz Park
Cadbury’s Ladies Rec
Rea Valley Route
Birmingham and Worcester Canal at the Lifford Curve
River Bourn at Stirchley Park and a shadow-me on the bridge

The walking felt good, the views were uplifting, the day started with a feel-good factor, and the music was a key part of the experience, giving me a lift and making me walk further and further, for an hour or more at a time. Coming home, my tea and toast never tasted so good. I even fitted in a meditation for extra deep levels of calm and relaxation, or visited a friend for a tea. And I still haven’t got over the weird feeling of having done so much and it being only 8 o’clock.

There were some downsides: losing my creative time at the end of the night and needing a nap to get through the day. But…

At the end of the week I was convinced enough to keep going with this new regime of getting up early Monday to Friday (and lying in at the weekends). Sunset walks were added, walks with friends and some trips further afield…

Harborne Walkway with Danni and Emma – a disused railway line close to the centre of Brum
Cannon Hill Park
Cannon Hill Park
Holders Lane playing fields and a paddle in the River Rea with sis
Kinver Edge walk with bro
Kinver Edge Rock Houses and breakfast overlooking the Black Country

On one walk I even discovered a secret canary yellow canalside breakfast caff in Stirchley, called the Barge Thru Café. It caused quite the stir on Twitter and I felt a little Lewis and Clark, discovering new things in an area where everything seems to be known. A breakfast expedition with other Stirchillians is already being planned – and if not a walk, an approach by raft or inflatable like the pioneers we aren’t. The adventure continues.

Brazilian-looking cafe at Stirchley ‘marina end’ – an unexpected find

And so…

It has had a big effect on me, and my mental and phyiscal health, this getting up early malarkey. This is the call to action bit. Is anyone else interested in an early morning walk around the B13, B14, B29, B30 post codes – there are some areas I don’t want to venture alone, namely the canals and commons.

Get in touch if you do.

Day 7: A wild swim and a very long walk

 

A tunnel to the Blue Lake
Dripping wet tunnel to the Blue Lake

Switchover day as we shifted to Dolgellau, taking in a wild swim in the Blue Lake (aka Golwern Slate Quarry). I’ve never done a wild swim in the UK but I have read some of Roger Deakin’s inspiring Waterlog and the idea of navigating through an old mining tunnel to get to the lake was too Indiana Jones to resist. So in I jumped. Pete, of course, had the camera…

Fi swims!

A post shared by Pete Ashton (@peteashton) on

The water temperature was as breathtaking as the vivid blue lake with vertical walls all around but I managed to swim across, trying not to think of the rumoured 90ft depth. Once out, my skin started to burn, not unpleasantly. I’m adding this to my #microadventures list. A challenge for me but nothing compared with those people who jump from high ledges 50ft down into the deep.

On a different kind of high, I set out to walk part of the 10-mile Mawddach Trail, along the wide estuary from Dolgellau down to Barmouth. The legs gave up around 6.5 miles in but I’m quite chuffed I made it that far and really enjoyed the changing estuary scenery, which was almost lunar in the sunshine.

Mawddach Estuary

Arthog
Mawddach Trail at Arthog
mawddach-trail
The trail was converted from an old railway track that was closed down after nationalisation

Now chilling with a sauvignon and a pie. Stay classy Dolgellau.

Microadventure #3: Bodyboarding weekend in Cornwall

Tl;dr: unfit middle-aged Brummie woman with lifelong surfing obsession fulfils dream by not standing up on board.
fiona cullinan bodyboarding

The challenge has always been to surf. It’s been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember fuelled by seeing early skateboarding films in the ’70s. Then came movies such as Big Wednesday, The Endless Summer, Blue Crush, Lords of Dogtown and the oh-so-quotable Point Break. I even read books: Andrew Martin’s cult classic Walking on Water was particularly inspiring as (like Keanu in PB) a fellow journalist gets the ultimate assignment – he’ll be paid to go surfing, in Hawaii, for The Times. ‘Awesome.’

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Microadventure #2: Nordic walking in the woods at night

‘There’s no snow, you know!’ OK, so walking with ski poles across the pedestrian crossing in suburban Birmingham may draw a few gags but needs must. I want to get fitter and this seemed a perfect way to take my daily 10k step walks up a level even if I did look a bit silly.

It’s not just walking with poles, though. I needed to book a lesson to learn the basic technique. Nordic walking involves ticking off a number of skills before you can join a group walk, and so, in the same way that people join ski school, I booked an hour’s one-to-one lesson with Hazel Jonas of Nordic Walk Now.

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Microadventure #1: Alone in Kings Heath park at night

IMG_6900My heart was practically tachycardic as I entered the blackness. They (if they were there) could easily see me nipping off-path and slipping between the large conifers edging the park into the expanse of darkness beyond. I was banking on no one of cruel intention waiting for me there. All I wanted to do was to be able to see the full moon undiluted by surburbia’s glow.

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