Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Sandlings Way

Following a recommendation from Griffmonster, I spent Monday and Tuesday strolling along the Sandlings Way. And wow, what a hidden gem it is. The trail starts just outside Ipswich, and wastes no time in finding some glorious stretches of heathland. The sunny weather probably helped a great deal, but Monday's walk past Woodbridge was one of the best I have done for some time. Woodbridge itself, nestled on the banks of the Deben, is always worth a loiter.

Yesterday's walk through Rendlesham Forest was (slightly) less exhilarating, especially as I had to turn it into a circular walk due to a lack of public transport. Despite this it was still an enjoyable stroll.

The going is easy underfoot, often with a sandy soil, and there were no ascents or descents worth the name. I can hardly wait to do the next stretch. Unfortunately, transport is once again a problem.

I car-camped on Monday night, the idea being to give my kit a test before the season starts. It was a bitterly cold night, and the condensation within the Westwind was the worst that I can remember. Time will tell if this is a long-term problem or due to the conditions on the night.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Four more walks on the website

In which I do some of the flattest walking possible.

No.LocationDistance (m)Date Walked
888A circular walk from West Lynn to Sutton Bridge24.324/03/2011
887Littleport to Kings Lynn26.621/03/2011
886Cambridge to Littleport along the Fen Rivers Way24.514/03/2011
885Ventnor to West Cowes18.015/02/2011

I am enjoying being back in East Anglia...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Katherine Talbot-Ponsonby

I have just read with sadness that Katherine (Spud) Talbot-Ponsonby died in January last year. In 1994 Spud walked the coastline of Britain with her dog, Tess, sleeping in a beat-up motorhome. Her book about the experience, 'Two feet, four paws' is by far the best book about the walk, and was the direct inspiration for my own walk eight years later.

Her follow-up book, 'Small steps with heavy hooves' is an excellent and poignant description of her attempt to walk back to health after a cancer diagnosis. It has recently been reissued as 'Small Steps with Paws and Hooves'.

I never met Spud, but I had the honour to talk to her by phone on a couple of occasions. She was at all times charming, and  answered my questions with sparkling good humour. I thoroughly recommend both of her books.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


In my mind there can be no doubt that the current intervention in Libya is not only right, but vital.

I have listened to a great deal of TV and radio over the last week, and am getting fed up with people saying, 'What about Bahrain? What about Saudi Arabia? What's special about Libya? It's all about oil, innit?'

I find such thinking amazingly flawed. Why would France, Britain and the US want to treat Libya differently from those other countries? The answer is both easy and sobering:
Libya has admitted responsibility for all of these events, and paid compensation. They are not in dispute. In addition:
  • Britain remembers that Libya funded and armed the IRA (an unquantifiable number of dead)
  • Spain remembers that Libya funded and armed ETA (an unquantifiable number of dead)
  • Africa remembers the Chad-Libya conflict (8,500 dead)
Gadaffi has repeatedly sponsored terrorism and wars in the past. This marks the difference between the situation in Libya and all of the other countries mentioned: the leader has killed thousands of people, and sponsored terrorism and wars both within and without his borders. There can be no doubt that, if we did not intervene, he would kill those within Libya who are against him. His troops were preparing to attack Benghazi - a city of one million people - as the air attack was launched.

Vengeance is wrong. However, last week we had two choices: we could stand back and do nothing, or help those who want a freer and hopefully fairer Libya. Doing the first and allowing Gadaffi's troops to kill and maim unaided is unthinkable.

I supported the previous government's attempts to bring Libya back in from the cold; it was the right thing to do. Normalisation of relations made it less likely for Gadaffi to attempt similar atrocities. I did not - and do not - support the release of the Lockerbie bomber. The best solution there would have been for his appeal to go ahead.

This does not address the end-game. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 specifically does not allow regime change. It does, however, allow wide action to protect civilian lives. A potential solution is for loyalist troops to leave the immediate areas around the rebel towns that they have attacked over the last few weeks - for instance Misrata, Ajdabiya and Zawiya.

This could lead to a ceasefire could lead either to a split in the country, or alternatively encourage his lackeys to overthrow a weakened Gadaffi. A split in the country could possibly be unstable - who would get the oilfields? - and lead to further conflict.

One thing is certain: the end-game is firmly in Libyan hands. Resolution 1973 does not allow for an invasion, and it is doubtful whether any of the combatants would want to get involved in another painful ground war.

As for Gadaffi: tyrants should realise that countries of honour have long memories. We in the west should realise that the people of Afghanistan and Iraq also have long memories. Hopefully doing the right thing in Libya - as we are - may undo some of the harm that has been caused over the last ten years.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The move

After four weeks of chaos, we are now safely ensconced in our new house in Cambourne. Like our old house it has three bedrooms, although it is much larger and feels exceptionally roomy.

The move itself went fairly well, hindered (or perhaps helped?) by the fact that Şencan disappeared to her parents' house in Turkey for the week. Good planning on her part, methinks. Fortunately the moving company (Bradbeers in Romsey) did an excellent job, meaning that I only had the problem of packing up all of our belongings.

And boy, do we have a load of stuff. Numerous boxes stuffed with books (including Şencan's Iain Banks collection and my Ian Rankin), plus, of course, my hundreds of maps and walking books. Then there was all the kitchen stuff, but at least we have got rid of two coffee machines since our last move, when we discovered that we had three between us. Our many DVDs and clothes also filled numerous boxes - I will have to go through them all and throw out all the trousers that (ahem) no longer fit me.

We got a cleaning company to go through the old house. They did a good job, especially as they had to work around a few of our remaining belongings. The gardeners were less impressive, although it would have been hard for them to make a stellar job of it given the time of year and the waterlogged ground.

Şencan has started her new job, and she is now faced with a fifteen minute walk into work rather than thirty minutes along main roads. So all in all a vast improvement.

One other note: in our previous two moves we had terrible problems with Internet connectivity. Virgin were bad enough in our second-to-last house, but they seem like Jeeves when compared to the hellish experience we had with TalkTalk. Every communication we had from them was like having teeth pulled, including frequent (sometimes daily) cold calls from them.

It was therefore with a little reluctance that we ordered Internet at our new home from BT. Frankly, we were expecting a poor experience. It is therefore with pleasure that I must say that we got connected in under a week - a day earlier than they stated - and it worked first time, out of the box. What is more the wireless connectivity was simplicity itself, and the hub had several neat and self-explanatory features. Time will tell if their customer service continues in this manner, but initial indications are positive.

Well done BT.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Lords of the Blog

I was honoured to be invited last night to a reception celebrating the third anniversary of the 'Lords of the Blog' blog. It is a single blog that is regularly contributed to by 12 Peers of all political persuasions, along with guest posts from others. No other legislature in the world benefits from such a cross-party blog.

I have been reading the blog for two and a half years, although admittedly I have only commented on a couple of occasions. Media coverage of politics is poor at best, and the House of Lords only receives mainstream coverage when something spectacular is going on, such as the recent shenanigans concerning the AV vote. This is a shame, as the work of the house is absolutely vital to our democracy. Lords of the Blog provides a valuable resource on what is happening in the Lords, from the mouths of the people who work there.

I may not agree with everything that is said on the blog, but I have little doubt that the views expressed are genuinely held. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for many blogs run by MPs. Perhaps the presence of cross-benchers in the Lords makes this blog appear much less partisan (and therefore more useful) than those written by individual MPs.

The reception was held in the River Room in the Lords. I found it hard to draw my gaze away from the spectacular views along from the Thames, despite the typically dreary London weather. I have a certain fondness for architecture, and the Houses of Parliament (and especially the Norman Westminster Hall) always make my spirits soar. It may not be to everyone's taste, but there can be no doubt that the buildings provide a suitably impressive setting for any meeting.

The intricate nature of the architecture means that my eyes are always searching out the details: an ornate cornice here, an inlaid plaster ceiling there. There was plenty of such detail visible in and from the River Room. I had a glass of wine and a couple of snacks from the buffet as I waited for the speeches to start.

The speakers made many interesting points about the way they think that their blog represents a link between the house and the public, and the way they would like to see it head in the future. Lord Soley made the point that political hustings were common before the seventies, with church halls and clubs filled to the rafters with politically active people. This phenomenon has died off over the years, killed in part by television. In many ways the Internet is starting to fill that gap, enabling conversations between speakers and the population.

In my opinion the best points of the evening were made by PoliticsHome's Paul Waugh, who talked about the way that fewer MPs are blogging now, and on the rise of twitter in political debate. This was particularly interesting as I take a diametrically opposed view, that being that twitter is worse then useless for political debate. It is superb for soundbites and terrible for real, solid information.

Some questions were taken from the floor after the speeches. Unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to ask my questions, but there was plenty of time to chat afterwards to various people as I stuffed my face with the rather delicious cake. In particular I had a fascinating chat with the immaculately-dressed David Leakey, the recently-appointed Black Rod.

All in all it the evening was informative as well as interesting. It is good to see so many Peers using the Internet to get their message across, and to use such events to reach out to their readers. It also gave me a good excuse to dust off my suit!

I would like to thank the Hansard Society, the Lord Speaker and the other honourable lords and ladies for a fascinating (and filling) evening.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Charity fraud?

Back in November I wrote a blog post about Matthew Brown, an ex-military helicopter pilot who was walking around the coast of Britain for charity. The claim was that he had already raised £500,000 for Help for Heroes, and was aiming for a 9,500 mile walk.

It sounded like an incredible objective and the sum raised seemed rather large, especially so early on in his trip. However I know of at least one other coastal walker who has raised similar sums, and the charity is particularly popular at the moment, so it was certainly within the bounds of possibility. Tonight I found this article on the BBC website, which makes it look as though the whole thing was one gigantic fraud. Even his claim of having served as a pilot in Afghanistan and Iraq appears to have been a particularly unsophisticated lie.

Later in November he was sentenced to 32 weeks in jail for pretending to be a doctor in Scarborough in order to gain free hotel accommodation. It was not the first time that he had been jailed for such a deception. Perversely, it was he publicity for his coastal walk that proved his downfall - a member of the hotel staff saw his picture in the paper and alerted the police.

There is much to be said about this: firstly, if it is a fraud, then using the Help for Heroes name makes it doubly sickening. Secondly, it makes it all the harder for others who are attempting to do a similar thing to raise money for charity; I had some doubt cast on my own walk whilst I was doing it, and I am glad that I documented it so comprehensively (on average I took three photos a mile, which would be hard to fake). Thirdly, it casts all charity fundraising in a bad light.

But more importantly, are his actions a sign of madness or nastiness? Should I feel hatred for someone who is so out of kilter with the norms of society, or sorry for him? What has happened to make him perform such desperate acts?

I have always taken the entries on my website in good faith, despite a few doubts about another recent entrant into the list of coastal walkers. Perhaps I should try to be slightly more sceptical and try to verify first in future. Then again, that is not really the purpose of the list.

Friday, 11 March 2011


My heart goes out to everyone effected by the events in Japan this morning. The pictures all look horrific; I can only hope and pray that the deaths and injuries are kept to a minimum.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

An excellent website.

My relationship with geology is fraught. I love maps, and few maps are as beautiful as geological maps, with their coloured bands and marks giving a faux-view of the surface and underground. Even the terms - Ordovician, Cambrian, Cenozoic - fill me with wonder. One of my uncles was a geology lecturer who appeared (often wearing the obligatory flares) in Open University programs during the 1970s and 1980s, meaning that such a fascination is possibly firmly engrained in my blood

Yet the subject conjures memories that still causes me to shiver. During my first year at university, my engineering course had five hours of geology on a Friday afternoon. We would study rock sample after rock sample, staring through eyeglasses at them to characterise and classify. One of the lecturers - an emeritus professor - was a genius, as witty and engaging as he was intelligent, and he would avail us of tales of his time in a Japanese PoW camp. The other lecturer, however, was quite the opposite. He turned those long hours into a drag, often choosing not to give us a break in the middle of the afternoon. Given that geology was just a small part of my course (I was much more interested in structural and material engineering), I came to hate the subject. It was a classic case of a bad teacher turning students off a subject.

Therefore I have found Ian West's excellent website, 'Geology of the Wessex Coast of Southern England', to be fascinating reading. The site contains a massive amount of information on the geology of the coastline between Southampton and Devon, a stretch of coast that I know well. The detail is amazing, but also surprisingly accessible. From the Burning Cliffs (oil shale that spontaneously combusts) to the history of storm surges, everything I could possibly want to know about the geology of this stretch of coast is here.

The world is full of experts on esoteric subjects, from lace-making to Roman concrete. Most of the time this information remains firmly embedded within inaccessible specialist literature. It is rare - and good - to have these experts putting their knowledge down for everyone to read.

Forget Facebook and Twitter: sites like Ian West's are exactly what the Internet was invented for.