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‘Un-slumping’ your anxiety with a walk

Dr Seuss seems to have something good to say about everything, including anxiety and depression.

And when you're in a Slump, you're not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

Dr Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

In the depths of my Slump, I cannot leave the house. Some days, I cannot leave my bed. Anxiety is a prison not of my own making, a chemical reaction racing through my body that will not respond to reason, logic or science. Other days it is a trickling undercurrent to my life; unseen but undermining everything. Anxiety is not a one size fits all type of illness, but whichever form it takes, it is always unwelcome, constantly distracting, and often debilitating.

Whenever I leave the house, I take my anxiety with me, so going for a walk should not be the first thing I think of as an aid to recovery. Life outside the comfort of my own four walls is challenging; within my space I have control – outside I have uncertainty and chaos. When you are in the midst of living with anxiety, stepping outside of the front door isn’t always at the top of your list, but, having taken a bit of a backwards step these last few months, coupled with the onset of the perimenopause and a huge weight gain over lockdown, I realised that I had to do something more than just relying on medication and CBT.

So why walk? Well, the science is there to show that walking helps in several ways to calm, exhilarate and distract the mind. It has huge beneficial effects on easing tension in the muscles, it can alter the negative chemistry in the brain, and it helps the amygdala to control the release of the adrenaline that causes the fight or flight desire. Exercise burns off that excess adrenaline pumping through you and it releases the happy hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, to balance the negative with some positive. And, of course, most simple of all, it distracts the mind from the hurly-burly undercurrents that the anxiety is stirring.

Of course, knowing all of this is only the beginning of the battle. Making the decision to start and actually doing it are not always done on the same day. Not always in the same week. Not always consistently. What you know you have to do and what you feel you are capable of doing are two different things.

The answer is to do what you can and let go of the guilt.

Going for that walk is about feeling better, not about being burdened by other people’s expectations. It’s about taking your time, finding your own pace and exploring your own route. It’s about being comfortable with where, when and for how long you walk. For some it is the local park for social company and distraction, whereas, for me, it is a remote footpath and open countryside for seclusion. I began by aiming to take the dog to the local field for thirty minutes on a Tuesday. It wasn’t really much of a walk (I spent most of my time throwing the ball around) and by the second Tuesday I was already buckling, finding as many excuses as possible not to go. But now I walk three days a week, yes, slow and plodding, but exploring the woods, clambering over stiles and crossing fords. 

There is something fantastically liberating about standing on top of a hill being battered by the wind – my anxiety is still standing there next to me, worrying about what is going to happen if another walker appears, but sometimes, just for a few seconds, it shuts up and just looks at the view.

Of course, not only where, but also if, I go is dependant on how I am feeling . Brisk regular exercise is said to produce the best results, but that isn’t always possible. Some days it is just a big, fat no. I try to do what I can do, even if it is as simple as a walk around the garden. If that is all my anxiety is letting me do today, then I take what it is offering. I hope that I am growing braver and stronger and although I take a risk every time I leave the house that today will be the day that it all comes crashing down on me, I try to carry the positive experiences with me.

I have also dipped my toe into the world of mindfulness. I try to focus on 5 things that I can see, 4 things that I can touch, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell and 1 thing that I can taste. It can be tough going but, when I get it right, each helps to ground me in the moment. Walking helps. I get to try different things every day – the view from the hill, the sound of the birds, the feel of the path beneath my feet today; the closeness of the woods, the sound of the stream, the smell of the undergrowth tomorrow. The change in the weather brings different experiences – snowy days are one of my favourites.

I’ve also embraced distraction in the form of photography, but what started as a need has turned into something fun and rewarding. I concentrate on what I can see through the lens of my camera (or mobile phone) and just for a moment the sound of the anxiety rattling in my head is gone. It makes me look up and around me, challenging one of my key coping mechanisms (to keep my head down in case I am forced to make eye contact with anyone) and it takes me out of what is in my head and look beyond. Some days I go big with landscapes across the valley, whilst the next it might be small with intricate studies of a moss on a stone wall. And of course, it gives me an excuse to have to stop when the hill gets too much for my tired little legs. 

So, I leave the last words to Dr Seuss, who always seems to know the right thing to say:

On and on you will hike, and I know you'll hike far - and face up to your problems whatever they are.

Dr Seuss, Oh, the places you'll go!
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A weekend walking in the Holme Valley

Overshadowed by the nearby Peak District and Yorkshire Dales, we explain why the Holme Valley in West Yorkshire is the perfect place for a weekend away walking.

There are times of the year when the towns and hamlets of the Holme Valley are bustling centres of art, film, food and folk events. If it can have a festival, then Holmfirth will host it. But this is forgivable for a town trying to rediscover itself after the ending of its most famous inducement to visit: the British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine which was filmed there. Long gone are the Japanese and American tourists that flocked to see Nora Batty’s house and Sid’s Café (both of which still exist, like archaeological sites to a fading past), and a new type of visitor is emerging; the weekend walker.

That is not to say that this area has not seen walkers in the past; quite the contrary. But the nearby delights of the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales lures walkers away from this lesser known haven.

A stop in Holmfirth opens up an opportunity to discover a hidden gem of Yorkshire walking.  

Holme Valley
By Tim Green - Holmfirth, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52100053

The Holme Valley lies on the far reaches of the West Yorkshire border, where the county meets Derbyshire, and turns into the rugged terrain of the notorious Saddleworth Moor. At its head is Holme, the gateway to the Peak District National Park. At its end is Huddersfield. It cuts a sharp V into the landscape, with the River Holme on its floor, and the larger settlements of Holmfirth and Honley climbing up the hillside, narrow roads spreading out like veins on a leaf, houses left to chisel themselves into the inclines. Once a royal hunting ground, the area around them is rural, scattered with farms, whilst they themselves bear testament to the Victorian age which saw a plethora of mill building. That legacy still marks the valley and dominates the architecture, marred by the occasional twentieth-century mistake now earmarked for demolition. 

Over the years the valley has been known as a hub for the early British film industry, the centre for saucy postcard production and the home of Fenella the tiger. Now it boasts a vineyard, a cider press, the Welly Wanging World Championship and one of the best cycle climbs in the country, featured in the Tour de France.

Walks flow out of Holmfirth in all directions, offering a variety of terrain and endurance levels, but always with a spectacular view as your reward. Flat walks are scarce without a drive, but they do exist if you know where to look: there is a small carpark at the head of Ramsden Reservoir, giving access to a flat walk to Riding Wood Reservoir and on to Yateholme, suitable for prams and sturdy wheelchairs.

Most walks from the town will involve some kind of ascent, but the severity of it depends on which route you take. The effort is worthwhile. Close to the town, the climb up through Wooldale to Holmfirth Cliff offers stunning views across the rooftops and a chance to boulder if you are so inclined. Other walks follow the River Holme downstream, meandering to Brockholes, Biggin, Thurstonland and Fulstone, following with lanes that have been used for generations to transport salt from Cheshire, stone from the local quarries and cloth from the many mills.

To the north of Holmfirth, are the two Thongs: the villages of Upperthong and Netherthong – and yes, on more than one occasion the names have appeared on national radio travel reports to great hilarity! In fact, they derive from the Old English: uferra þwang (upper strip of land) and neoðera þwang (lower strip of land). Come in June and you will be treated to the Welly Wanging World Championship, but for most of the year they each remain a tranquil hamlet where you are unlikely to receive the same welcome as John Wesley who recounted in 1757: ‘The men, women and children filled the streets and seemed just ready to devour us’. Weave through the old part of Netherthong village to find the cider press, complete with café and shop, and follow the winding paths, bridleways, woodland tracks and roads lined with dry-stone walls to Wolfstone Heights. For some the journey will take an hour, for others it may take the whole day, following the various routes out as far as Honley and back.

Holme Valley
Holme Valley

This land is the green fields of sheep farming, but look up the valley towards the Peak District and the place can seem barren and bleak. The area is rich in reservoirs (Digley, Bilberry, Ramsden, Riding Wood, Brownhill and Yateholme), built to serve the sixty or so textile mills that sprang up along the length of the valley below. Some have carparks, circular routes and picnic tables, attracting day trippers and families, becoming go-to places when the days are warm. Go further afield and the world is transformed. Carved into the landscape, the reservoirs present a diverse array of paths that twist down into the woods and up onto the bleak tops giving stunning views across the dappled landscape and down the valley.

The waters here have not always been so benevolent. In the early hours of 5 February 1852 the embankment holding up Bilberry Reservoir collapsed. The 81 people (sources are confused as to the exact number) who died that night were the victims of neglect; a spring which had been discovered when building the foundations was ignored and simply plugged and buried rather than being diverted, and in the years that followed, as the wall began to slump, none of the wealthy millowners who benefitted from the reservoir would pay for its repair. The torrent of water that swept through the valley wiped out entire generations, from 2 month old George Hartley to 72 year old Joshua Earnshaw; in one house, ten members of the same family were all drowned. An almost forgotten plaque in the wall of the butcher’s shop on Victoria Street marks the flood height as it swept into Holmfirth – you have to look up to see it.

Turn away from the valley and you are greeted with the moor. This area offers challenges: walks that require confidence, fitness and stamina. They are not for the casual traveller. Holme Moss has become famous as one of the elite routes for cycle climbing, rising up out of the village of Holmebridge to a height of 524 metres. Following a map across the moor – there are very few tracks – leads to Black Hill, which, being 58 meters higher, pips its neighbour as the highest point in West Yorkshire. But only just; you are now in the Peak District, sat on the border with Derbyshire, although until 1974 the hill had been part of Cheshire. Once black as the name suggests, it has been rewilded, bringing back mountain hares, grouse and short-eared owls to the once barren and boggy plateau. From other directions you can reach the summit via the Pennine Way, but whichever route you take, the panorama remains spectacular, with a view of Pen-y-ghent in the Yorkshire Dales on a clear day.

Holme Valley
Black Hill with the debris of the Sabre Jet. By Mick Melvin, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9117039

The south-east side of Holme Moss bears witness to its darker side. Remains of a US B-24H Liberator aircraft that crashed here in 1944 killing nine of her 10-man crew can still be seen. She had been on a test flight and, in poor weather conditions, the pilot flew low through the valley, crashing into the hillside which rose up before him and bursting into flames. Black Hill had already claimed a victim in January 1940 when a Fairey Swordfish crashed, killing its pilot. Only four months later, the moor claimed another aircraft, this time a four man Handley Page Hampden returning from a bombing raid in Germany, its unused bombs exploding on impact. The final tragedy occurred to the east of Black Hill in 1954 when a Sabre jet was undergoing a test flight before being transferred from the RAF to a NATO ally. Its pilot was also killed.

Come back down into the valley and normal tourist adventures are possible. A stroll around the town will take you past the old railway station, closed as part of the Dr Beecham reforms, the alms houses erected as a result of the devastation left by the floods and a 16th century gaol. There is also the building which once housed the Holmfirth Film Studios, a successful silent-era movie company that made films such as The Kiss in the Tunnel, Ladies’ Skirts Nailed to a Fence, Paula and Winky Causes a Smallpox Panic. This is somehow appropriate for Holmfirth – in Old English the word Holme means Holly and the word Firth means wood! The annual film festival is a reminder of what could have been. There are cafes, restaurants and independent pubs for refreshment, and a concert venue that still has the power to pull in some big names (the Nashville band Hayseed Dixie describe it as one of their favourite places to perform). Time your visit well and you can enjoy the festival of folk in May, the arts festival in June, art week in July, and the food festival in September. And, of course, there is still Sid’s Café and Nora Batty’s house.

Holme Valley Britain
All photographs by Samantha Arrowsmith unless otherwise stated.
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Enjoying British beaches: Aberdyfi

I am not sure if there are any beaches more beautiful in this world than those along the coast of mid-Wales. They ooze character, ecological importance, rugged charm and the most magnificent scenery that includes dunes, mountains and castles.

A recent holiday to the Cardigan Bay coastline from Tywyn in the north down to the small village of Aberdyfi reminds me of what I love in a beach. It is such a very British shoreline, not in the kiss-me-quick hat and shove-penny kind of way (which I also love), but rather in the endless invasiveness of sand and the never too-far-away threat that rain is coming. I love the idea that you are never quite sure what you will get and what you will see.

Staggering through the dunes, calves burning from the effort of digging our feet in and out of the shifting sand, we come out to the glorious vista of a long, sandy beach running as far as the eye can see. The sea that rolls in before us is grey and yet so very, very wonderful. There is a long line of drying seaweed that marks the last hightide, the odd jelly fish washed in on the waves, the smell of salt in the air and hundreds of unbroken cockle shells and intricately patterned stones. 

I prowl the shore for litter, but it is pristine, with only drift wood and natural flotsam to be found. It makes my heart sing. 

A jelly fish washed up on the shore
Sea Rocket

There is wildlife everywhere, from the strangely muted seagulls (why were they so silent?), to wading oyster catchers, razor clams and random clumps of sea rocket just growing out of the sand. 

A burst of sunshine and now the sea is vivid blue.

You can walk for miles but the view never gets boring.

There is hardly a sole on the beach except for a few families with their backs against the dunes for protection, building sandcastles in jumpers and shorts and dashing down to the sea’s edge to collect some water for the moat that never stays filled. We meet a couple of other dog walkers and pass some pleasantries as the dogs tear around our legs. Further on we come across a group of teenage surfers crashing in and out of the waves in black shiny wetsuits. I don’t even attempt to take my shoes off.

This is a dog-walking, ball-throwing, shell-hunting, bird-watching kind of a beach.

Boy in a hole!
Running the beach

So that is what we do. My son throws himself into a hole in the sand and my daughter chases the dog. 

I keep looking out to sea in the hope of spotting the dorsal fin of a basking or blue shark, because that would really make my day complete. My hair is windswept and tangled and I can feel my face becoming red and tingly from the salty air.

And when we are done, we go back to the hotel, sit on the terrace, play pitch-and-put, eat scones and jam and watch the sea continue to do its thing.

That is my perfect British seaside holiday.

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Finding Social Media: better late than never

I was born in the 1970s, in that in-between time when grammar wasn’t taught in schools and computers were still the size of a room. By the time consoles began to appear in the home, I had already spent my formative years using the ‘proper’ ways to communicate, such as pens and telephones. Don’t get me wrong, I still embraced Manic Miner and Daly Thompson’s Decathlon on my rubber-keyed Spectrum, playing for hours though it meant that no-one else could use the TV, but I didn’t get the idea that they would be a thing to communicate through.

 

By the 1990s that ethos was well and truly entrenched. Emails for work, yes; but social media? I watched others embracing, first, Friends Re-united and then the fledgling Facebook and wondered what all of the fuss was about. All it seemed to be about was people telling each other what they had had for breakfast. Why would I want to tell the world that, or anything else for that matter? Who would be interested in my ramblings?

 

It has only been in the last year that I have been ‘forced’ to engage with social media as I try to build up my writing business. I read with horror the numerous tips and hints guides that all said I had to use it. ‘Oh, hell’, I thought, ‘not that, of all things’. The world might have moved on from just talking about breakfast, but the results were still the same only now with lots of selfies and trolling.

 

I look back now with a huge amount of regret. Because of my original blinkered misconception I didn’t even try to look at what else was going on. If I had, I would have found the groups that were just the sort of people I would want to listen to: the history groups, the shark saviours, the Star Wars fans, the thinkers and the dreamers. But I stuck with my mantra that the only thing social media was used for was as a way for vain people to talk rubbish.

 

My daughter’s birth in the early 2000s would have been a perfect time for me to have discovered how wrong I was. I wish that I had jumped in, writing, blogging and talking with other oddballs like me about why Emma of Normandy was such a great queen, why Jar Jar Binks isn’t as bad as all that and how to get poo stains out of baby-grows when you haven’t slept for days and you think you are the only new mother on the planet not coping.

 

I would have learnt so much more than just what someone was having for their breakfast.

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The problem with time: seasonal clock changes

In the UK, as in many parts of the world, we change our time twice a year by moving the clocks either backwards by one hour in winter to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) (standard time in America) or forwards by an hour in the spring to British Summer Time (BST) (Daylight Saving Time in America). This means that during GMT it will get lighter earlier in the morning but darker earlier in the evening. For some, changing the time is the perfect solution for utilising daylight, but for others, including business partners across the world, it can cause all sorts of problems.

What is the reason that we do it anyway?

In 1784, American Benjamin Franklin proposed the idea of getting up earlier in a bid to save on candles, but this was only ever a satirical theory involving the firing of cannons, taxes and the posting of soldiers outside of shops. It was actually a New Zealand scientist by the name of George Hudson who, in 1895, made the first serious suggestion to change time so that he would have more time for his bug hunting. The cause was later taken up in the UK by William Willett who, wanting the chance to play golf for longer, published the Waste of Daylight in 1907 hoping to promote the idea. However, it was Germany who first introduced it in April 1916 in a bid to save energy and, therefore, win the war against the Allies. It didn’t, but the notion of changing the clocks was now a popular idea to save energy; Britain adopted the practice a month later and America followed suit 1918 although it wasn’t until 1966 that it entered federal law.

Who is affected?

Changing the clocks is rare in the Middle East and South America and not done at all in Africa or East Asia. Although America changes to Daylight Saving Time and back again, not every state (such as Hawaii) implements the practice, deciding instead to remain on Standard Time for the whole year.

In the UK and Europe, the clocks change on the last Sunday in October (the clocks go back) and on the last Sunday in March (the clocks go forward). At the moment, we are united in how and when we alter our time, but that might be about to change. In 2019, the European Union made the decision to stop the annual change of the clocks from 2021 onwards. Whilst this now seems unlikely to happen next year due to the COVID pandemic, it is still only a matter of time until it does happen. This raises issues in Europe. For one, the EU hasn’t made it compulsory that all members choose the same option; some might choose to stay on winter time, whilst others might go for permanent summer time. Although it is likely that a consensus will be reached, it may leave some member states feeling that they have been disadvantaged.

And this is where Brexit makes an impact. The UK, although being part of the EU when the decision was made in 2019, is still not certain about what it is going to do. We might see logic in keeping with the EU incentive or interpret it as yet another sign of Brussel’s push towards federalism. So, what happens when we have left the EU, particularly for Northern Ireland who shares a border with its EU neighbour, the Republic of Ireland? There is a lot of cross-border activity for business, families and work; how much more complicated will life be for someone who lives in Northern Ireland but works in Ireland if we aren’t on the same time anymore? The same is possible if or when Scottish independence is achieved, depending on who the Scottish Government decide to align themselves with.

What are the problems for business?

The main economic effect of changing the clocks twice a year tends to be on local businesses. Retailers and outdoor leisure activities suffer when the evenings get darker earlier, seeing less footfall during GMT, whilst farmers can be more productive because of the lighter mornings. Other industries take advantage of the darker evenings, launching winter products or gearing their services towards the approaching Christmas season. In turn, the change to BST is seen as causing a fall in employee productivity due to the loss of an hour in bed and even some serious medical conditions such as heart attacks.

For businesses in countries that don’t change their clocks, there is the danger of there being a mix up or confusion.  For instance, not being aware that a client in London will change their working time from next week, could lead to one party missing a conference call. Online teaching can also suffer when a teacher’s diary no longer matches a student’s; one is going to have to change the time of their regular lesson.

The move to BST could also have possible effects based on employees having to readjust their body clocks. There is some evidence that international stock markets can suffer, not just from confusion over opening times, but also due to the anxiety, tiredness and grumpiness of their traders and investors brought on by lack of sleep. The risks are minimal, but overseas clients may notice uncharacteristic behaviour in their usually charming London or EU business partner, which may cause unease or even offense in a previously positive relationship. Decision making might also be affected, leading to a delay in sealing deals or reaching agreements, and it would be advisable that any negotiations should be avoided if one party is suffering from an early rise.

The future

Whatever Europe, America or any of the other countries currently in discussion about keeping daylight saving hours decide, one thing is certain: not changing the time twice a year will certainly help anyone who prefers not to have their sleep pattern disturbed. What it will do for international relations, local retailers or cross-border business, however, is yet to be seen. Plus, bug hunters and keen golfers might not come off too well either.