Friday, 2 March 2018

Land Rover 4x4 Off Road Experience

Don't be deceived by the clear blue skies , the weather was bitingly cold! Our venue was Rockingham Castle out between Corby and Market Harborough. I was really only keeping Marina company as it was her driving experience. However I was asked to make sure I had my driving license with me. During the briefing our instructor 'Graham' insisted that I had a go. Despite getting my excuses in early including; 'well actually i'm full of cold', 'i've never driven an automatic' and i've never even watched Top Gear' he wasn't put off, simply saying 'you'll be fine'. I wasn't so sure but it looked like he wasn't taking no for an answer anyway.

The Land Rover Experience team, who provide the equipment, supervision and training, are in a unique position to offer a wide variety of terrain, from disused sand and stone quarries to woodland, boggy lowland and rolling countryside. Our vehicle of choice today was the Range Rover Evoque. I was more than happy sitting in the back of the vehicle and occasionally jumping out to take a few photos.


As well as being a fun and enjoyable experience it was also about learning the capabilities and getting the best from the vehicle. This included 45 degree hill descents and climbs , driving through deep water and ice and driving on steep banks.

  And then it was my turn. I didn't feel at all nervous surprisingly even looking down from 'Holy Hill'. I say looking down but actually I couldn't actually see over the bonnet. A leap of faith if ever there was one!.

It is called 'Holy Hill' as people have been known to suddenly come over all religous and start saying a few prayers.. 

Getting down steep hills is a doddle using the 'hill descent' feature which applies traction to all four wheels automatically maintaining a constant speed and applying brakes to each separate wheel where required, increasing the vehicles capability. At the same time resisting the urge to hit the brake pedal. My biggest problem wasn't to disengage my left leg with it being an automatic . I found that I kept reaching for the gear sick which of course wasn't there.

I really enjoyed the experience and Instructor Graham said that I had done very well ! Although perhaps not as well as Marina ..

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Hot Yoga (with Harry)

Half Moon Pose
It was with some trepidation that I set out for my first ever 'hot yoga' experience. The mood wasn't helped when I initially went to the wrong location and ended up rushing to make it for the start time. I had heard about this 'hot yoga' thing on Radio Northampton where the instructor and general guru Harry was extolling the physical and mental therapeutic benefits. Before the start, the room is heated to between 30-35 degrees  with humidity mimicking the climate of South India where most forms of yoga were originally practices. I managed to find myself right next to the heaters.... Made a mental note to arrive early next time. Harry teaches the Bikram series which is a dynamic sequence of 26 hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises. It is the type of yoga favoured by ex footballer Ryan Giggs which he says helped to prolong his career. Also future Royal Meghan Markle is a big fan.

 Benefits: Half Moon Pose strengthens every muscle in the body’s core, especially in the abdomen, and flexes and strengthens the latissimus dorsi, oblique, deltoid and trapezious muscles. It increases the flexibility of the spine comprehensively, from coccyx to neck; promotes proper kidney function; and helps to cure enlargement of the liver and spleen. Half Moon also firms and trims the waistline, hips, abdomen, buttocks and thighs.

I was worried about my flexibility following back and knee surgery. However each posture has an entry level to it and as the body opens up with continued practise deeper and more advanced versions can be reached. 'Practising yoga isn’t about being perfect and neither is life. You do the best you can and sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days'. Better to do 10% of a posture 100% correctly than to try to do 100% of a posture only 10% correctly!  
That is the mantra according to Harry.

Tree Pose

It wasn't long before I was sweating buckets , but that is good ! It is encouraged as it is the natural bodily function of our largest organ, the skin and is an immensely therapeutic and detoxifying process. I must be doing good things because my yoga mat has become like an ice rink with the amount of moisture being soaked up. ...
 Benefits: The Tree Pose improves posture and balance and increses the flexibility of the ankles and knees as well as the hip joints. By strengthening the internal oblique muscles, it prevents hernia.

Balance, particularly for the standing exercises proved to be my biggest weakness. Several times I completely lost it and keeled over. There were clearly others in the group who were no strangers to yoga , hot, cold or lukewarm. One lady told me she was a former gymnast! I was extremely grateful when Harry said we ha finished the last exercise and were now about to finish with a relaxation exercise. That was my favourite part I must say, but overall I felt good and it had been enjoyable.
Not too bad for a first attempt.  

Triangle Pose
The following couple of weeks seemed a little better, especially as I was now as far away from the heaters as possible. Not to say that I didn't still sweat like a 'goodun'. Drinking plenty of water before, during and after yoga is a good idea. When it got tough I kept reminding myself of the benefits of every muscle, joint, ligament and tendon in the body being worked. There are great benefits too for the immune system , respiratory system, the metabolism, reducing stress and anxiety as well as increased strength and flexibility. 
 Benefits: It improves every single bone, muscle, joint, tendon and internal organ, and it revitalizes nerves, veins and tissues. Flexing and strengthening the last five vertebrae in this posture can alleviate crooked spines, as well as rheumatism and lower back pain. Triangle Pose also benefits the heart and lungs, forcing them to work together.

 I've now done a full five sessions and whilst nowhere near perfect I definitely think that i've made significant improvement. I hope to continue and feel that I am on my way to becoming a fully fledged 'Yogi'. In Harry we trust !

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

An Intimate Evening with Magnum's former Keyboardist Mark Stanway

We gathered in the shadow of 'Molineux' home to Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers. The Newhampton Arts Centre to be precise. It came as quite a shock when at the back end of 2016 Mark announced that after 36 years he was leaving Magnum due to ‘irrevocable circumstances’. He joined Magnum in 1982 for their third album 'Chase The Dragon' and made an immediate impact on his signature track Sacred Hour.

With Chas

Arriving at the venue I heard someone shout are you 'Peter Arthur' sheepishly I replied errrr yes. I didn't think I owed any money or was on the most wanted list? Well not in Wolverhampton at least. Turned out it was someone who new me from my Facebook posts and recognised me.A good night was had in the company of Chas Rust.

Mark had respectfully requested that no photos or video of the evening were taken so as not to spoil it for other venues. So you will only see photos taken after the show.

Tonight was a walk down memory lane of his long and colourful career spanning over 4 decades as  a touring and recording musician. Apart from Magnum he has played with the likes of , Robert Plant (Led Zep), Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), Roy Wood (ELO, Wizard, The Move).

With Mark
We were treated to an evening of slides and videos of unseen footage from his own collection and tales from the road and studio. Not to mention the surprise guests we had been promised and a Question and Answer session. The whole evening was brilliantly compered by long time Rocker and Hard Rock Hell Radio DJ Roger Fauske. Roger with his impish sense of humour and was the perfect 'wingman' for the evening. The atmosphere was intimate and personal with an almost 'cafe like' setting with it tables laid out. Friends , family and fans alike had all turned out in force. The draught beer was very reasonable at £3 a pint and went down extremely well too I must say. If I could only remember it's name I would tell you .....
With Richard

First 'special guest'  was Richard Bailey who played keyboards and flute on the first two Magnum albums. We were treated to a rendition of the original intro to 'Kingdom of Madness' with his trusty flute and Mark on keyboards .

With Spike
With Laurence
 I think that everyone in the room wanted to hear the intro to the chilling 'Sacred Hour' and Mark didn't disappoint. What I didn't know though was that it was actually written by his wife 'Mo Birch'. She bravely got up and played it for the first time in many years before handing over to Mark.

Next 'special guest' was the larger than life character 'Spike' from 'The Quireboys' another band Mark has worked with in the past. 'Spike' performed a duet with 'Mo' and was also joined by 'Laurence Archer' of' UFO' and 'Grand Slam' fame on lead guitar.

It was just one of those nights that worked perfectly. The fact that it hadn't been over-rehearsed and was spontaneous added to the occasion. In fact the evening was overrunning and some parts had to be skipped. I wonder what they were ?

I will long remember the evening for the genuine warmth and love shown towards Mark . Despite recent provocation from certain parties he maintained complete dignity and has emerged the bigger man in my opinion and a true gentleman. Those going to his other shows  are in for a real treat .

With Suney

I can't resist adding one last photo that I took of Mark some years ago with Magnum.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

A walking tour of Avebury.

A quick 2 hour drive and we were in the ancient World Heritage Site of Avebury in the county of Wiltshire. The walk we had planned was going to take in; West Kennet Long Barrow, the Avenue, the Sanctuary , Silbury Hill and Windmill Hill. We actually parked at the start of The Ridgeway ( a route I walked part of a few weeks ago from the Tring side). In actual fact the route today did not actually touch on The Ridgeway until the very last part.

The Ridgeway is definitely a route that I will be re-visiting in the future to complete a few more legs on.

West Kennet long barrow with Silbury Hill in the background
With all the recent rain and snow the going was very heavy in places so progress wasn't the quickest .... The first notable stopping place was West Kennet Long Barrow (3700 BC). Created by early Neolithic people there are around 14 burial mounds in a 3 mile radius around Avebury. They vary in length from 20m to over 100m. The longest and the longest in the British Isles is West Kennet long barrow. These were major projects , digging ditches through the chalk and moving huge stones to form chambers. The one at West Kennet is a perfect example and excavations revealed 5 chambers containing human remains.

From West Kennet Long Barrow there is a good view of Silbury Hill (2400-2000 BC). The hill is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, around 37 m high, 30macross the top and around 500m at the base. It occupies a valley-floor position, close to where the River Kennet rises at Arrowowhead Springs. I would definitely have climbed it but public access is forbidden unfortunately.

Windmill Hill
So instead a photo with me standing in front will have to suffice. Despite various excavations have not been able to answer why the hill was built ? However they did uncover how it was made.It started small, a mound of clay and gravel and then a larger mound of turf and soil. Archaeologists calculate that it took 18 million man-hours, equivalent to 500 men working for 15 years to create. Earth worshippers believe that Silbury is, in fact, the swollen womb of the Earth Goddess and provides a symbol linking the harvest with the pregnant earth. Others suggest that the hill was built as a burial mound for King Sil and his horse, whilst some believe it to be a giant astronomical 'sun' dial. 

Adam and Eve
 At the far end of the Beckhampton Avenue there are only two stones left standing 'Adam and 'Eve'and are know as the 'Longstones'. Adam is the larger of the two stones, weighing an estimated 62 tons, and along with three others formed a four-sided cove.The Beckhampton Avenue was a curving prehistoric avenue of stones that ran broadly south west from Avebury towards The Longstones. Our walk took us to Windmill Hill, still about one and a half miles from Avebury Centre. it is the largest known causewayed enclosure in Britain. The weather had started to deteriorate and there was rain in the air giving the landscape a bleak foreboding look. However my walking companion was confident that we would see a sunset over Avebury before the day was done. A large barrow cemetery once stood ion Windmill Hill. Barrows being burial mounds of which there are numerous examples all around Avebury. They are quite a feature on the horizons and often had groups of trees planted on them and known as 'Hedgehogs' locally.

We arrived in Avebury via the Anglo Saxon churchyard. The Church of St James has an 11th-century Saxon nave in which two original Saxon windows survive. Our next stopping point was more welcomed 'The Red Lion' and a couple of pints of the local brew 'Avebury Well Water'. Avebury contains the largest megalithic stone circle in the world.


Our thirst suitably quenched we set off to explore the three historic stone circles around the village. As well as a tourist attraction it is also a place of worship for modern day pagans. it is the largest megalithic stone circle in the world. The monument is made up of a large henge (a bank and a ditch) with a large outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the middle. The surrounding ditch today is only around a third of it's original size when dug out of the chalk landscape. It is the giant stones though that create the long lasting impression. The local sarsen stones range in height from 3-6 metres and weighing up to 20 tons that formed the Outer Stone Circle. 53 stones remain, from around 85 in the original structure. Sarsen stone is a silicified sandstone found as scattered blocks on the chalk in southern England.


Even the trees seem to take on a magical air conjuring up images of some ancient gothic horror. Just briefly the clouds have parted sufficiently to allow the sun to shine some light through for the first time today. It is short lived but I did manage to capture it at least. Last leg of the journey now back to our starting point which involved some creative fieldwork to get back on to the right path just as darkness was beginning to fall. A cracking walk and probably a distance of at least 10 miles covered.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Snowy Christmas Cycle Ride

Friends said that I was either very brave or very stupid to venture out on an icy, snowy morning. However the sun was shining bright (some of the time)I was well insulated and the bike has thick tyres and it was time to blow away the excesses of Christmas. I hadn't actually planned a route as such , just a question of sticking to roads that had been gritted, or been in the sun for a while if possible. Off I went along the Holcot Road turning left into the Brixworth Road crossing the causeway at Pitsford Reservoir. The reservoir looked beautiful coated in a layer of snow and I was tempted to do a circuit. Instead I carried in up the hill to Brixworth. Stopping only to take a picture of the sun shining on Pitsford Reservoir in the distance.

Going down the Spratton Road hill was a little worrying as it is a steep drop but the views to the left with the sheep on the hills were worth it. I made a slight detour at the crossing to go a short distance along the Brampton Valley Way towards Market Harborough to one of my favourite spots. Plenty of birdlife was in evidence, Several Kestrels , two Buzzards, Redwings and Fieldfares.

Another long climb was to follow as I went up to the village of Spratton, going through the village and joining the Welford Road. It wasn't too busy but I veered off as soon as possible taking a pleasant ride down Merry Tom Lane. This took me back on to the Brampton Valley Way this time heading
towards Northampton.

The track was extremely icy and wet for the most part so I took the opportunity to get off at the Brampton Halt and continue up Brampton Lane, yet another hill to Pitsford village. From Pitsford it was plain sailing or rather cycling back into Moulton. A very enjoyable ride ! In total 16.7 miles with a total elevation gain of 910 feet.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Waddesdon Manor Imaginarium

Talk about 'In the bleak Midwinter'! The scene at Waddesdon Manor encapsulated the words of the Christmas carol perfectly. When it wasn't drizzling there was a dampening mist along with a bitter cold air. Waddesdon Manor is a country house in the village of Waddesdon, in Buckinghamshire. It is located in the Aylesbury Vale, 6.6 miles west of Aylesbury itself. The Grade I listed house was built in the style of a French château between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839–1898) as a weekend residence for grand entertaining and as a setting for his collection.


 To get out of the miserable weather our first port of call were the wine cellars. They are modeled on the private cellars at Château Lafite Rothschild. More than 15,000 bottles are stored in the Cellars, some 150 years old, the majority from the Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild estates. It is the largest private collection of Rothschild wines in the world.

Venturing back outside we made our way to the aviary completed in 1889. The aviary is stocked with endangered birds and exotic species and is a registered zoo. Throughout the grounds there are light-based artworks created by Lauren Booth depicting various illuminated neon birds, goats and dragons.

 A warm up was needed in the form of a hot chocolate drink. Thankfully the courtyard cafe provided cosy sheepskins to keep out the cold. There was plenty going on outside the house but it wasn't really a day for walking the gardens. As the light gradually began to fade the house became more and more illuminated.

The highlight of the afternoon was as soon as darkness had fallen at 4:15 pm. This is when the Waddesdon Imaginarium came to life. The front of the Manor was lit up with roaming animals, flowers, Christmas images and dancing clocks that were projected on to its frontage. It is a 10 minute performance of light and sound created by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It was absolutely spectacular and well worth braving the elements for.


 A really enjoyable afternoon that couldn't fail to put you in the mood for Christmas with it's lights, displays and festive fayre. We shall definitely return , preferably during the Summer time though !