Saturday, 6 January 2018

The Conclusions of 2017

Wrapping 2017 at Baildon station.
Well, we all made it to 2018, which honestly surprises me after the unfolding stupidity of 2017 is considered, not a worse year than 2016, strangely, but certainly much stupider; much, much stupider. But we are not here to lament geopolitics and all that nonsense, but to instead mark the turn of another year and look back on my sixth walking season and to ponder once again the thought, what did we learn in 2017? Mainly, the reflection point is Despite the stresses, the Season was a success, as most of my walking plans came together for once, and most of the targets set back in February were achieved, despite the loss of impetus in both May and September, and the obvious lack of a Summer holiday to fit in another long distance trail. Setting my sights towards Bradford and Nidderdale turned out to be excellent choices, as both provided illuminations to the local walking territory that had not been expected, as finding a whole previously unseen city on your virtual doorstep provides so many new things to see without having to travel too far, whilst the next valley up from West Yorkshire proved to be a fine location for a break away and much closer than I'd thought it might be when summer's adventuring came around. The relatively tight focus of the year meant that I might not have ventured as afield as I might have planned, but keeping close to the territories around the city of Bradford and in the lands between the Wharfe  and the Nidd meant that a great deal of familiarity of previously alien lands was gained, and I honestly feel all the better for that. So we might have not travelled out over the Bronte Moors or up the higher reaches of Airedale, but in all a lot was gained in this tight focus, unlike the usual problems of not taking time out for rest, and failing to find any time to be sociable on my trails, indeed, I did the entire year solo, which ought to feel like an achievement, until you consider that I didn't get over to tramp in Lancashire with My Sister for a second consecutive year, or to get out with any of my walking friends, which I haven't done in any capacity since 2014 (!), a failure that I seem to lament every year.

Boldly venturing across the Washburn,
and onwards to Nidderdale!
Boldly venturing through the unknown,
along Bradford's many streets!
The large takeaway from 2017 is that this the year that I Learned to Be Bold, and took the largest steps to expanding my walking expectations to reach beyond the limits of West Yorkshire, to find that apparently distant lands are not to distant lands are not beyond one's reach if you are willing to be ambitious and to give it sufficient planning. My mind had always had it that Nidderdale was that bit too far away, beyond too many unfamiliar hills and fields, to be a viable target, and that expenditure in time and money to get there and back would be too much to make it worthwhile, thoughts that proved to be completely incorrect as this year's trails were blazed northwards. It's strange how natural barriers exist in our minds, how the passage of the A59 seems to mark the northern edge of what is local to West Yorkshire and that all lands beyond must surely be inaccessible without a residence being taken away from home, or a lot of time, money and effort being absorbed. Taking up such a residency in Nidderdale to walk The Way proved that idea to be so much nonsense, as everything below Pateley Bridge is easily accessible, revealed by the startlingly short distances from Otley and Pool to Bewerley and Summerbridge, and combined in with the regular running of the H&D #24 bus and the regular trains from Harrogate means that this could be just as much a starting point as a destination in the future. As with learning that Bradford is easy to find my way around and not a knot of mysterious streets and districts that could lose the unwary traveller, my capacity for finding my way, and my confidence that comes with it, has taken a significant boost, and my mind is ready to look beyond the barriers that still seem to contain my walking territory, and in future years I will start to travel them. West Yorkshire will no longer be contained by the Lancashire moors of the Pennines to the west, the channel of the Ouse to the east and the passage of the A628 Woodhead pass to the south, trails to East Lancashire, East Yorkshire and the Dark Peak of Derbyshire will start to find their way onto my itinerary, as I know have the emotional and physical endurance to take them on, and the financial cost of travelling starts to recede as a worry, as after all, a dozen cross-country journeys per year is still significantly cheaper than owning a car.

Four OS maps retired after 6 years
of sterling outdoor service!
My Fuji Finepix E-900 retires,
after 7 years as my constant companion.

I've also acknowledged that It's Finally Time to Ring the Changes and retire some of the kit that has served me so well over the last six years, as some long time standards like my trusty Regatta bag have finally been relegated to shopping duty only, and many maps that have been in my possession since 2003 have finally reached the point that one stiff breeze or wet day would shred them past the point of continued viability. The major change is the retirement of my Fuji Finepix E-900 digital camera that has been my constant companion on my travels over the seven years and six walking seasons, having done over 3,000+ miles over the lanes and byways of this country with me, as well as having travelled as many miles again as I attempt to document everything interesting that I have seen over the years. It owes me little, having taken almost 130,000 pictures on my travels and having taken many, many trips to the ground and into dirt and puddles, to always come out smiling and ready to go again, and indeed it still works just fine, but the rubber hand grips on it have started to deform and come lose after so many miles in my sweaty paws, and thus it's due a retirement before it breaks catastrophically. Indeed, it's done many more trips than I had intended for it, as it was planned to be replaced after my 40th birthday, an appropriate treat for myself, but it kept on going as it still worked and had legs, despite it's perpetually terrible battery life. Still it's a device from another age, acquired on the super cheap almost a decade ago as an end of line discount, a mere £70 from a wholesaler on eBay, and new machines have the capability to do 12M imagery and HD video, and house an 8GB SD memory card that can hold over 5,000 pics at 5M resolution, whereas my largest xD card could hold a mere 1,600 (and 8GB is the smallest available card by contemporary standards). So, it's fond farewell to an old friend, and I hope that the replacement will do me as much sterling service as this one had, braving the fiercest of weathers in all the seasons, and never letting me down along the way, it's a tall order already, and will certainly never provide the value for money that this old girl did.

50 Years of Marriage, & of Family Wren!
Finally, the familiar sort of reflection comes around, that It's Always Worth Filling Your Days with Activity, as 2017 marked My Parents' Golden Wedding Anniversary, which gave me a fresh perspective on 50 years of being a family and what I've done with the 43 years of life, and what I might continue to do in the future. Measuring the passage of time with your mind is particularly challenging, especially as it passes at varying speeds depending on your age and activity, but a marked anniversary is always a useful indicators as I can immediately recall My Parents' Silver Wedding, as well as attending the marriages of couples who have since celebrated their 25 years of matrimony in recent years. For many years, I did not realise how relatively uncommon a completely stable family life is in the modern world, something I may have taken for granted when it has been denied to so many, so it was quite a thrill to see my Mum & Dad celebrate 50 years of being Family Wren back in September, with all seven of us being able to gather and have a week of celebrations. It's certainly pleasing to make this anniversary after a couple of difficult years, as My Dad's illness after his hospitalisation two years ago has seen his condition deteriorate markedly through the middle of the year, which had looked extremely serious according to his Neurology Consultant's initial prognosis, but has been managed by new meds and indications that he may be suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Naturally, the physical and emotional toll that has taken on My Mum has been telling, as it has on the rest of us to an extent, and thus in the coming year, part of every available work break will be spent with My Parents, to provide some company, illumination and variety in their later years, as the family ought to endure for as long as it can. Maybe, 50 years of married life looks like it might be outside my compass from my present perspective, and a fulfilling working life seems unlikely too after two decades at Leeds THT, but there's still a lot more of the world to explore out there, as well as  interest to take in so many things, and so the path continues into 2018, and for as long as my limbs and my faculties will carry me, I hope.

Next Up: The passage of the Dark Season, and new goals for 2018!

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