Keep Learning: 5 Ways to Wellbeing

I’ve not blogged for a while, and I thought today would be a good day to talk about the Keep Learning element of 5 Ways to Wellbeing. One of the things I have wanted to know more about in my adult life, is evolution. It was the 160th anniversary of the publication of, On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin earlier this week. I purchased a copy of the book a few years ago, but never got round to reading it. I have decided to start reading it this week as part of my Keep Learning. I would then like to read other books on more advanced studies of evolution, but without the need for a PhD in Biology to understand them!

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the first seed of interest on the topic of evolution started when I was a boy. I had a school friend who had a houseplant terrarium. Within the terrarium was a Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula). This is probably the one carnivorous plant that most people will recognise, with its distinctive shaped leaves and trapping mechanism. It utterly fascinated me. We did what you’re not supposed to do, and set off the trap by touching the trigger hairs with a stick or something (I can’t quite remember now). I was desperate to have one of my own, but back then, they were quite expensive.

Dionea muscipula

But evolution and plants, never cross my mind. As a child, I was indoctrinated into the High Church arm of Anglican Christianity (it’s like Catholicism, but without the smells of incense wafting around). The church I attended saw the book of Genesis as literal truth. Therefore, I was brought up believing that Yahweh/God did his magic in 6 days, and then needed a rest. All life was created within an instant, and then most of it was wiped out in the great flood. As I only ever socialised with people from the church, or in my school which was next door to my church, I never questions the authority of the vicar or my family. My primary school didn’t really teach science at all, so it wasn’t until I was around 11, that my eyes slowly but surely opened, when I went to high school. Therefore, up to this point, my only explanation was that “God created the Venus flytrap”, and I never gave too much thought to the plant for a good few years. I certainly didn’t make any connection with evolution, as my teeny tiny knowledge of the subject at that point was how “man came from monkeys“, which had been ridiculed by my church and family. However, for lots of different reasons and over a period of several years, I stopped believing in Christianity, and then all religions. Once I had left school, I had also started to train in horticulture, and I soon became interested in the breeding of of different plants. Where I worked, the head gardener was always trying to create new varieties of various plants (and so I was introduced to artificial selection or selective breeding).

It was around this time, that I got my first carnivorous plant. I was given a Venus flytrap, and, before long, I had purchased several more. Eventually, I bought Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack. Although the book has over 200 pages, it only has a couple of pages on the evolution of carnivorous plants. It was these two pages that started me to think more widely about evolutionary biology. No more “man came from monkeys” for me! I still grow a handful of carnivorous plants to this day. I particularly like the Nepenthes genius of plants, commonly known as tropical pitcher or monkey pitcher plants.

The two pages in Slack’s book was enough to whet my appetite to learn more, but over the years, I have kept finding other things to do and read. However, I have now made the conscious decision, and have started to read Darwin’s book, along with other sources of evolution. It feels good to be learning for pleasure!

One great educational resource has been OneZoom which is an interactive map of the evolutionary relationship of over 2,000,000 species of life on our planet.It’s a non-profit charity based in London. You can even sponsor a leaf on the tree, which I have done.I have opted for “leaf” containing one of the endangered carnivorous plants that I now learning about, Nepenthes rajah.

It’s never too late to learn something new, or update your knowledge on something you think you know.

Black Forest gateau energy balls

I’ve not posted for a while, so I thought I would share a new recipe. This is loosely based on a recipe for Rocky Road Power Balls I found in Men’s Health Magazine in the summer of 2019, but I a) couldn’t get all the ingredients in the original recipe, and b) I like to experiment with recipes. As the flavours are predemoninately chocolate and cherry, it reminded me of those Black Forest gateaus of the 1970/80’s that you used to get. Interestingly, as a kid, I hated that flavour, but these energy balls are really good (even if I do say so myself).

They are really easy to make, and require no cooking as such. They are great to take on a big bike ride, or for post workout energy boosts. They are packed with carbs and fibre, so not recommended for snacking!! Most of the ingredients should be readily available in your local supermarket. The only ingredient I struggled to source, was the cocoa butter, which I got online, but I think you could substitute this ingredient with another hard fat, such as butter (but obviously that would be for non-vegans).

Most of the ingredients

Ingredients

  • 250g of pitted dates
  • 40g of dried cherries
  • 10g of dried blueberries (alternatively use raisins or sultanas)
  • 10g of dried cranberries (alternatively use raisins or sultanas)
  • 4tbsp of cocoa butter
  • 6tbsp of mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, golden linseed in mine, but any edible seeds should work)
  • 8tbsp of ground almonds
  • 4tsp of cashew nut butter (almond or peanut should also work pretty well – note this is the only teaspoon and not tablespoon portioned ingredient)
  • 4tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2tbsp of golden syrup (or maple syrup)
  • Icing sugar for dusting (optional)
Soaking the dried fruit

Method

Soak the dates and dried fruit in some boiled water to soften them. This should only take a few minutes. Whilst the fruit soften, melt the cocoa butter and the syrup in a pan on the stove, until all has melted and mixed together. In a food processor whizz the ground almonds with the seeds and cocoa powder, until you get a rough crumb type texture

Blending the ingredients

Add the drained fruit to the food processor along with the other ingredients, and quickly whizz, until you get a sticky dough. Tip that into a mixing bowl.

The sticky dough

If you find the dough a little too sticky to hold its shape, then add a little more dried ingredients (e.g. ground almonds and cocoa powder), a spoonful at a time. If you have some plastic food grade gloves, they might come in handy for the next part. Using your hands, take a piece of the dough and roll it until you have a neat little ball about the size of a golf ball or a ping-pong ball. To keep them from sticking together, roll on the ball on a plate of icing sugar. I made 22 out of my batch. They can be placed in a food grade airtight container. They can be frozen, and taken out on the day of use to thaw out.

#C2C4Cam My Coast to Coast Journey

Well, I’ve done it. My first tour, my first charity bike ride, my first major cycling challenge. It’s been a fantastic adventure. My legs, and neck muscles, really are feeling the effect of cycling 150+ miles over 3 days, in horrendous weather, with some significant hill climbs. But I didn’t want to let myself down, and more importantly, I didn’t want to let down others (those who had coached me, sponsored me, and particularly I didn’t want to let the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust down).

On Sunday 9th June, I packed my panniers, and loaded them onto my bicycle. As I went to bed on Sunday, the weather forecast for the next 3 days looked a mixed affair, but not too bad, but when I got up the next morning, Lancaster was beautiful and sunny; although the forecast didn’t look too great! I cycled into the city centre, and hopped onto the train to Morecambe. It’s only a short distance, but I didn’t want to waste any energy, as I knew I would need all the reserves I could get for when I reached the Yorkshire Dales.

First leg of the route

Of course, no long distance cycle ride from Morecambe is complete without the obligatory photo opportunity with the Eric Morecambe statue. As a kid, I loved the Morecambe and Wise show, utter comedy genius! I then set off feeling energised, excited and nervous all in one.

Setting off from Morecambe at 8.15am, 25ft above sea level, along the Promenade, it’s a nice gentle start. No motor vehicle traffic, just a handful of dog walkers. It’s only a few hundred yards, but then you join a street for about a 1/2 mile, before coming to the old railway line, that is now a cycle track to Lancaster (and beyond). It was midway between Morecambe and Lancaster that I met up with John who had volunteered to cycle with me. It was also at this point that I realised I hadn’t set up my Strava or Cyclemeter to record the ride, so I missed the first couple of miles, but not too concerned as I had Komoot up and running from the start. Komoot is great as a guidance app, but doesn’t give me the details that the other two apps do. John had been put in contact with me as someone who has also supported the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust, and who gave me a little advice over the phone about doing the C2C cycle ride as he is an experienced rider. John also volunteered to cycle some of the first leg with me, which was a great help – giving me a morale boost. John cycled with me as far as Giggleswick, before getting the train back to Lancaster.

John and I cycled the rest of the old rail track for around another 5 or so miles, it’s a beautiful little track taking you through the Crook O’Lune beauty spot. It was initially busy with people rushing to get to work, but once we were out of Lancaster, it became very quiet. It is here where I slightly deviated from the traditional Way of the Rose route. Usually people go into Halton and up the north side of the Lune Valley, but I stayed on the south on the A683 on the stretch where the very first white lines In the world were painted onto roads in 1922. We would rejoin the traditional Way of the Roses route near Wray. It was in the village of Wray where we decided to stop and have a quick refuel. The Post Office, has a few tables and chairs outside, and they serve hot and cold drinks and light snacks/lunches.

Refuelled, we set off once more. Mainly on little country lanes with little traffic. We did come across a guy on an electric bicycle, who was doing the whole of the traditional Way of the Roses route from Morecambe to Bridlington. We met him (or should I say, he overtook us), as we started the long, but fairly steady hill climb into Yorkshire. The first real test for me, and the weight of the gear I was carrying (which was far too much, but I will come onto that later), climbing out of a hamlet called Mill Houses. Not a big climb by any stretch of the imagination at around 150ft, but it was at 12%. Thankfully, I was very fresh still at this stage, and had John to climb behind.

When we go to around 600ft, it was fairly easy, as there were just some gentle peaks and troughs, with the occasion steep climb (never seemed to be any steep drops mind)! From here we kept zigzagging over the Bentham railway line, which is the route that John would eventually get on, as he headed back to Lancaster. It’s an area that I don’t know that well, other than the hamlet of Eldroth. We had made very good progress, John had to take a quick business call (and what a great place to take a call).

Whilst John took the call, I took a photo. This was probably the closest we got to Ingleborough

We eventually reached the railway station at Giggleswick on the A65 trunk road, and I thanked John, and said goodbye. I was a little daunted by the A65 as it is a major road from Kendal into Yorkshire, but thankfully, it did have a designated cycle lane. I headed south-east as it bypassed the towns of Giggleswick and Settle; again, this is a diversion from the traditional route, but one I had planned (not all my diversions were planned)! I turned south, and when down river with the River Ribble. Through various little villages, before taking my first unplanned diversion! It was clear that I should have double checked any unscheduled routes between Komoot and a proper OS map! As the route tried to take me down some private road on a country house estate (this wasn’t the only time this happened). It was also around here where I stopped and chatted with the second cyclist of the day. A woman who had decided to go for a”quick 50 mile circular ride“. “Quick” and “50 mile” seemed like an oxymoron to me, but she was happy, and advised me where I could stop for lunch, in Hellifield, which was only a matter of minutes away. By this point the cloud was starting to thicken considerably, and a cold breeze had started to pick up. Unfortunately for me, the normal prevailing winds, were not around to give me a tailwind! I grabbed a quick bite to eat, and started my climb into the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Reaching the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales felt like a psychological achievement. My legs were really starting to feel tired now, and it was here whilst I stopped to take a break, that I got patronised by some cyclist who stopped to tell me that I had packed far too much; and I wanted to say “No sh!t Sherlock“, but just kept that thought in my head! Climbing out of the Ribble valley, I crossed into the Aire valley. Many of the villages were like those you used to see on chocolate box covers. It was around here that the first rain started to come down. It wasn’t heavy, and to be honest, I appreciated the cooling effect. One of the extra difficulties I was now facing was the number of lanes that had been given a recent topdressing. There was so much loose gravel/chippings, that if it hadn’t been for my 29er wheels and fat tyres, I think I would have been all over the place.

I eventually made it to Hetton, and I was tempted to go into the Angel pub. I’ve been there in the past, the food is to die for, but it ain’t cheap! I was tempted, as I knew I had one big last push with an elevation of around 300ft over the space of 7 or 8 miles, and some of it was a steep gradient, and I thought that a hearty pub meal would give me the boost, but that was just a fleeting idea. However, the beauty of that section, is that the lane is a designated cycle road, between Cracoe and Burnsall.

I eventually made it to my first Air BnB stopover in Burnsall. I did it in good time, but I was cold and tired. I had a quick shower, and changed into some non-cycling gear, and had a little stroll around the village before refuelling in the local pub (which was interesting as they served the starter at the same time as the main. Not sure if this was Yorkshire Tapas!). I slept like a log!

Second leg of the route

Overnight there had been an Amber Severe Weather Warning from the Met Office for the whole of Yorkshire and Humberside for strong winds and torrential rain, with localised flooding predicted! Ugh! What to do? I had a hearty breakfast, and packed up and took a look outside. Yes, there was a stiff breeze, and yes it was cloudy, but I thought that it must be in other parts of Yorkshire where the worst of the weather would be! I was a little achy from yesterday’s ride, but not as achy as I thought I would be. I was in good spirits, so thought I might as well get on with the ride. I knew the second day was going to be very tough, with two big hillclimbs to do.

The climb out of Burnsall started off gentle enough, and the weather wasn’t too bad. But in just five miles, the weather really took a turn for the worst; partly due to being more exposed (Burnsall was snuggled in the bottom of a valley). The other unexpected difficulty was the road from Burnsall for a few miles, had recently been top dressed with new tarmac and new gravel/grit (this seemed to have been a common occurrence during the three day ride). As mentioned before, I was grateful for the tyres that I had on my bike are 29ers with good grip, but I was still skidding slightly as the depth is of the clippings, was much deeper than yesterday. I also became concerned about my crankshaft as it had started to make a slight “clunking” sound on every revolution of the peddles. My front derailleur was struggling to work correctly too. My enthusiasm was waning rapidly. And to top it all, it started to rain, hard!

When you are feeling low, there is only one thing to do! Eat Cake!

Now, I am not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but like a sign from the gods, a little tourist show cave, with an attached tea room appeared on the horizon. I pulled in straightaway, and ordered one of the best slices of chocolate cake I have ever tasted, with a pot of Yorkshire Tea! Whilst there, I met another touring cyclist, who inspired me. He was cycling 1,800 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats via various places he had lived or had a connection with (which meant he was zig-zagging his way north, and not going the direct route).

Back on my back, I was off like a shot. The weather became much more changeable. One minute it was sunny, next it was doom and gloom. I was finding I was stopping and starting whilst I changed layers of clothing to meet the needs of the weather, which was frustrating, but it did help with making sure I kept the calorie intake up! John from the first day, had recommended taking a slight detour to Brimham Rocks, which is a National Trust owned site, of some amazing rock formations. It handily had a little outdoor cafe serving bacon baps and hot tea, which was brilliant, as it coincided with lunchtime. The staff there were very friendly, and we had a good chinwag about the weather (British, talking about the weather. Stereotype or what?)

Once I had lunch, the route became a little gentler, less hills to climb. I loved the name of the lane that I was on for a couple of miles; Careless House Lane – I did wonder how it got its name. As with the first day, there were lots of pretty little villages and market towns to go through, and also like the first day, the Komoot on a couple of occassions tried to take me the wrong way (again, down a private drive way to a very large stately home), but in all, the voice that Komoot was my companion (yes, by this point, I was talking to my satnav, and yes, I enjoyed the conversation). Another little minor detour was in Easingwold, but this was because my bladder was full!

Day two’s route

Eventually, I made it to my second day’s destination of Sheriff Hutton, and what a treat, the room was brilliant. Again, another Air BnB, but the hosts, were also keen cyclists (although they were tandem riders). The room was cheap as chips, yet modern and clean, and just across the road from a pub. It was such a relief to get here, as the start of the day had been really challenging both physically and mentally!

Third day of the route

My hosts from my second night provided a much needed breakfast, and I was away by about 8.30am. It was quite a humid morning, and my host knew most the the route I was taking. He mentioned a fairly big hillclimb just a couple of miles into my journey, but said the rest was pretty easy (just what I wanted to hear). This was the shortest distance of the three days, and I was hoping the weather would let up, but again, it was a mixture of drizzle, sunshine, and showers. That said, a much needed welcome relief was that the breeze had dropped considerably.

The first hill, Bulmer Bank was a killer; and I am not going to lie, I did get off, and push my bicycle up most of it, which was really challenging. I was physically tired from the previous two days, my bike weighs around 15 kilos, and my panniers had around 9 kilos of weight in them. Plus something I was really surprised by, my neck muscles ached like crazy (I was expecting thighs and other leg muscles to ache, but not my neck and shoulders)! Once past Bulmer Bank, I skirted around the magnificent Castle Howard estate. As a keen gardener, I love Castle Howard. It also holds special memories for me and my partner, as we celebrated her birthday there recently. I did think about popping in to look around the gardens, but given the time and the weather, I thought better of it.

Castle Howard is just a couple or so miles away from the old market town of Malton. It’s a great town to visit, and is known as the Food Capital of Yorkshire (not entirely sure why, but it does have some great food shops with local suppliers, and some cracking pubs, severing fine Yorkshire ales and gins)!

It was busy getting through Malton. I had got there whilst rush hour was still going, and some motorists were a little impatient. I made it to the A64, where again, it was a major trunk road, but thankfully it had a designated cycle lane (although it wasn’t that well maintained by Yorkshire County Council, with potholes on it, and overgrown branches hanging low). I also noticed that Elvis is alive and well and on tour around Yorkshire! By mid-morning, I was at the end of the section on the A64, and I was ready for a little brunch. In a layby just where I turn off the A64 I came across a little burger van. I ordered my food, and the owner asked where I was going and where was I from. When I told what, where, how, etc, she very kindly gave my money back, and told me to donate it to the charity (which I dully did).

From the A64, I took back road up to the A170. I know the A170 very well and the villages that I would ultimately go through, as I used to spend my childhood holidays in and around those villages, as well as the are around Scarborough and surrounding seaside towns and villages. The first village I arrived at is Snainton, where as a child I learned how to ride a horse! Just beyond Snainton is Wydale Hall. Now a Christian retreat centre, it had been a private home, and during the time between the two World Wars it had been the family home of the Illingworth’s. During that time, my parternal great, great grandmother had been in service; around the time of the fictional Downton Abbey. Along the A170 I continued, sometimes of the road, and sometimes on designated cycle paths on the side of the road. I was making very good time, when I turned off the A170, and Komoot decided to take me down a forest track! Highly sceptical of where this was going to lead me, I followed the route. The Trek 920 is designed to go pretty much anywhere, and it handled the muddy track very well (although there was a sharp downhill where I nearly fell off)! At the end of the track, I came out on the outskirts of Scarborough. I foolishly stopped following Komoot, and thought I remembered how to get to the South Bay from my childhood memories, but I ended up in North Bay; just a small detour! However, I had made it to my final destination!

The weather when I arrived wasn’t exactly get down on the beach and sunbathe weather, but it did start to getting better. I was buzzing though, my legs ached, my backside was saddle sore, but mentally I was stoked! I couldn’t find anywhere by the harbour to safely lock up my bicycle so I quickly dropped it off at my final Air BnB place to stay, and walked back to the Harbour Bar, which was just shutting up for the day. However, they had a little kiosk serving ice cream (much needed at that).

All in all, I was thrilled that by the end of the day, I had made the epic journey (epic in my eyes), and very pleased that I had surpassed my original target of £500 for the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust. By the end of the ride, I had got to £820, and I think some money is still coming in now, two weeks later. Thank you to everyone who donated. Thank you to everyone who supported me with hints, tips, and advice! It’s been a great start to my 5 Ways to Wellbeing. Now, where will I go next???

Vegetarian Chilli Non Carne

This is a great meal for sharing informally around the dinner table. It is cheap as chips, and healthy too. Its very simple to make, and takes around 1 hour prep and cooking time. It was a new recipe for me, so part of my 5 ways to wellbeing being, learn something new! This is a great meal for sharing, helping you to connect!

It will serve between 4 and 6 people depending on your appetite, and what you plan to serve with it.

You will need

  • 1 large onion diced small
  • Vegetable oil, such as olive oil (for frying)
  • 3 large cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 cinnamon stick broken in half (alternatively a quarter of a tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 2tsp of cumin seeds, slightly crushed (alternatively, a 1/2 tsp of ground cumin)
  • 2 can of black beans
  • 1 can of red kidney beans
  • 1 jar of roasted red (0r mixed) peppers (alternatively, roast 3 fresh red peppers in your oven), chopped small
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes (and use half a tin of water – see note in method)
  • 2 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 2 tsp of cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp of chipotle paste (available in most supermarkets)
  • Salt and pepper to season

Method

It’s always best to prepare all the ingredients and have them ready to hand. In a large heavy pan, sweat the onion, garlic and cinnamon stick on a low to medium heat for around 10 minutes until the onion has softened, and just started to brown.

Onion, garlic and cinnamon

When the onion has softened, add all the other ingredients (beans, tomato puree, chipotle paste, coca powder, and half a tin of water, etc.)

Cook over a gentle heat, with the pan lid on for around 30 minutes. Taste, and see if it needs seasoning, or an extra spoon of chipotle paste. Stir from time to time. When the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly, you are ready to serve. Serve with rice, or fill tacos, etc.

Just a few more minutes, sauce still a little too runny

Fundraising has begun…

Just a quick post today. The fundraising for the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust page is now live, and it can be found here. Any contributions will be welcomed – no matter how small or big, please do donate to this worthwhile cause.

Yes, I will do the obligatory dance before I set off

It is all feeling very real now. 135 miles (as long as I don’t get lost), starting at the Eric Morecambe statue, in Morecambe, and ending at the Harbour Bar in Scarborough for a well deserved knickerbocker glory!

The Harbour Bar, Scarborough
Mmmm…. ice cream

If you’ve been following my blog, you will know I am looking to cycle the route over 3 days, and I have now booked my cyclist friendly accommodation. First night stay is in Burnsall, and the second night stay is in Sheriff Hutton, before making my way to Scarborough via Thornton-le-Dale. I will rest my weary legs in Scarborough overnight, before returning on the train via Leeds.