Ravens of Clevedon

I keep banging on about how enjoyable walking is, and how much easier it is to get and stay fit if you like walking. I honestly do try to shut up sometimes, but the trouble is every time I go out for a walk, I see something interesting or thought provoking!  So here’s what happened today.

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I started with a walk along the sea front, from the pier towards the Marine Lake. Renovations are going well, and these shots show how much has been cleared already, as well as the new concrete being laid to form the path and the new inner wall between the main lake and the small lake. The original concrete base of the small lake is now visible, with the mud having been cleared out.

They are working in sections to pour the new concrete, so it’ll be good to see how work unfolds each week. Of course, as the lake is tidal they will also need to fit in pouring fresh concrete between high tides. It’s all carefully worked out! Children (and adults) did walk along the old wall, but it was narrow and crumbly and the new version looks much more inviting and safer for crabbing.

Then I walked around Poet’s walk, and onto the causeway between Clevedon Pill and Marshall’s Field (one of the key locations in the first series of Broadchurch – the field where Ellie stood while Beth was shouting at her…).  It was here I saw the raven, and as wildlife is another of my interests, very glad I was to see it too! In case you don’t know, there are four black-feathered members of the crow family that you can often see in the UK, and they are generally easy to tell apart. Jackdaw’s are the smallest. They have blue eyes and a shiny grey patch across the back of their heads. They always fly in groups, and make a very distinctive chattering sound. Then you get crows (carrion crows) – very common and completely glossy black from beak to tail. They make a distinctive cawing sound. Rooks are a bit bigger and easy to identify. They have shaggy feathers round their legs, and grey skin visible round their grey beaks. They are more of a rural bird, and they move around in flocks picking up food in the fields. They nest communally in rookeries, and can be quite intimidating if you walk too close to their trees whhile they have eggs and chicks in the nest.

Then there are ravens, the biggest and wildest of the crows, and glossy black from beak to tail tip. You see them if you visit the Tower of London, but otherwise they are associated with moors and mountains. Except they are also quite common around here. I saw my first raven at the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol – sitting on one of the towers croaking (‘cronking’) away. We also saw one patrolling the roof tops near the bridge while we were eating lunch; no doubt keeping his eyes open for food he could steal. Or she, of course. But they are generally harder to make a clear identification for, as from a distance you can’t be sure how big they are and you can’t hear their vocalisations. Being glossy black, they could just be a crow. You need to get a view of their diamond shaped tail to be sure.

So this morning I was pleased to see a raven and a crow flying above me, engaged in a bit of a scuffle. The crow was definitey trying to stop the raven from getting too settled, and encouraging him to move on! The bird landed down near the boats, ‘cronked’ a bit, flew around a bit more, had a run-in with a gull and then decided to move on down the coast. I saw the size difference, heard the call and saw the tail – positive ID – job done!

Now I just have to spot the peregrines which nested here last year and hopefully are back now, and the avocets which were also seen.

The things you see on a walk…

I’ve always believed that walking is equally beneficial to your mind, body and indeed your soul.

Physical benefits – heart, lung and muscle work- surely we all know about those. Blood flowing through your veins; fresh air and exercise. Marvellous stuff – helps keep the weight down, and more importantly helps keep you healthy too.

But here are three examples of the mind and soul benefits from my early morning walk around Poet’s Walk and the Marine Lakes in Clevedon.

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Soul-food. Not my finest photograph – I had an all-purpose lens on the camera – but maybe you can just see the sunlight catching the lower mandible of this wren, singing for all it’s worth. You can certainly see it’s distinctive tail sticking up. A fabulous sight and sound. I just stood and listened for a while – set me up for the day.

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A bit of brain fodder – certainly food for thought. When you walk, you have the chance to notice things that you’d never see if you were in a hurry. You wouldn’t notice this old gateway if you were jogging around Poet’s Walk, I bet. But if you wonder while you walk, you can easily work out that this is a left over from the days when there was a lower path on the hill: maybe even a path down to the water. They are gradually replacing the fences along Poets’ Walk, and one day this gateway will be gone. A hint, a clue, about the changes going on quietly around us will have vanished.

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A rarely seen spectacle. Well, water regularly fills the Marine Lake as the tide rises, but the sun doesn’t often turn the cascade into quite such a silvery curtain as this. Maybe the calm of the sea added to the sight, but it was worth a photo.

So there you have it: just three of the things I saw that made my walk special. And the truth is, there is always something worth seeing: you just have to get our there! Walking for pleasure, indeed.

Burning fat – What’s it all about?

Is anyone else in the UK enjoying the BBC series looking at food and health? “The truth about…”

I like to think I know quite a lot about healthy eating, having a degree in Biology and several years of reading and listening to advice about foods and trying to put into practice the things that make sense to me.  Although a lot of the information in the series has just confirmed what I already knew or intuitively believed (don’t follow fads, don’t give up particular types of food, don’t eat too much of anything, eat lots of veg, keep active) there has still been plenty of interest.

I  really believe in and enjoy the benefits of walking, as anyone who has read my Kindle book will know and the programme “The Truth about Calories” gave evidence that the best way to burn calories is to keep up a good level of gentle activity, rather than exhausting yourself with a too-vigorous work out. Walking fits nicely into that regime! Good news!

However, although I am healthy, exercise frequently and am careful with what I eat, I also really enjoy food, so like many people I carry a little more fat than I would like, and maybe a lot more than is currently recommended for good health. I also have a family wedding coming up in July, so I am trying to shift an extra few pounds of fat in the next three months. The most recent programme, “The truth about fat” has inspired me to try the latest scientific idea for burning fat. It sounded so interesting that I got my aerobic step out today and made a start. And I thought I’d share with you the beginning of the experiment and give you a progress report as I go along the way.

So, here’s the plan. It’s like High Intensity Interval training – short bursts of testing exercise with rest breaks in between. The programme recommended 2 minutes of exercise followed by 1 minute of rest repeated 7 times. This pattern of activity and rest switches your metabolism so you burn fat for a much longer period of time after the exercise has ended. I can’t remember the figures, but it was definitely significant!

I chose stepping, as I know it’s aerobic, but achieveable for me. You have yo chose something that will challenge you, but won’t hurt you. I have stairs in my house, but the step is handy as I can have it near a clock. On Day 1, the level of activity was right I think (hope!). I kept to a good , fast pace and appreciated the minute rest. My heart and breathing rate went up, I felt hot and could feel the work in my muscles and I definitely needed water afterwards.

The total of just over 20 minutes was easy to fit into my day, and I’ll be repeating the activity every day for at least a week (and maybe longer) to see if there are results. I aim to post a short comment each day, so scroll down to see if I’m sticking to the plan!

For the record, and so I can actually tell if there is an impact on fat, I’ll share some stats. My starting waist measurement is just less than 34.5 inches and my weight is 171.25 pounds: it’s just beginning to come down anyway after the excesses of Christmas. For comparison, in July last year I was cruising at around 165 pounds, and wanting to lose a little more fat, so although losing fat isn’t all about weight*, I’ll be pleased to get back to those sorts of levels. Even better will be a reduction in my waist measurement! [*It isn’t all about weight as increased muscle and increased bone density through exercise also increase your weight. A better measure might be accurate body dimensions, but measuring size accurately enough is quite difficult, so weight is a handy indication]

I won’t be changing the amount I eat, or my other normal daily exercises, so I’ll let you know how I get on and whether this makes a difference to me!

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A foot – essential equipment for step exercises, and for walking!

Day 2: Hard to make a start today… But that’s my own fault. We had dinner with friends ast night, and I had a glass of wine too many… No wine for me today!

Day 3: Easy to be good on the wine front today: just water and tea in liquid yesterday, and again today I think. A little Easter fare – hot cross buns and some choclate: and home made pizza for tea, so I haven’t been trying to reduce the calories through food intake. We have done a little gardening, and then I did my 20 minutes for the fat burning regime. I’l be interested to weigh myself in a couple of days and see if there has been any effect. Not that I’m expecting anything much so soon…

Day 4: Such a nice day! I just want to be lazy!! But I have done my repititions, so am entitled to feel virtuous. Two days until my weekly weigh-in. I wonder if this will show results? I feel lighter…

Day 5: The novelty is wearing off, but once you start it’s no so bad. And I was feeling chlly after sitting and typing, but i’m nice and warm again. We have our Wednesday weigh in tomorrow, and maybe I’ll see a difference. You’ll be the first to know!

Day 6: The weigh in. Well, there has been a loss – about 0.25 pound. Not much, but then we did have a very nice meal out with friends, including wine, and some hot cross buns for Easter treats. Alec put on a pound in the same period of time… I am thinking that my stepping needs a little more resistance to it, so I have got my wrist weights ready to use today.

You don’t need daily updates, do you?  I’ll be back with news next Wednesday!

Day 7 – maybe just one interim update! I did the 20 minutes with wrist weights today and found I had to push myself much harder towards the end. I think just step wasn’t quite enough for me…

Day 13 – Weigh in day! First of all – how has the week gone? Well, not too bad. I have done my 20 mintes of stepping – with wrist weights – on 5 of the intervening days. I missed out 2 days when I had my normal exercise classes and was busy with work. The wrist weights definitely make the sessions tougher, and I am very glad to finish, but the advice was that you need to make the exercise tough for it to be effective. So the weigh in.  A loss this week too:1.25 pounds this time.  I feel lighter, so I believe I have lost some internal fat, which is good for health such as reducing diabetes risks.

There may be an additional factor in the weight loss, which is that when you are putting effort into losing weight, it makes it easier to resist snacks and treats. Certainly I have been ‘good’ dietetically this week. We shall see what next week brings – watch this space!

Day 20 – It’s a disaster darling!  No weight loss this week (I’m blaming 0.25 pound increase on the fact that I weighed myself wearing heavier clothes than the gym clothes I normally wear). I’ve had a busy working week too, so missed a couple of fat burning sessions. I enjoyed a glass of wine – and a pint of beer now I come to think about it – over the weekend too. Whoops! Back on the step for me!

Day 27 – And we’re back on track! I’ve lost 2.5 lbs this week, That’s 3.75 pounds lost since I started the regime a month ago.  It’s been a stressful week – I’ve had a computer meltdown and IT related issues. I haven’t done the fat burning 20 minutes every day, but I have done it a couple of times as well as a few early morning walks and my usual exercise classes. Half a bottle of wine, some chocolate and crisps at the weekend, so I haven’t been super good on the calorie front.

I was reflecting today that the pilates class I do on a Wednesady is quite close to the regime: quite aerobic sessions followed by a short rest. The sequence with 3 pressups, a 20 second plank and then rising up onto the balls of your feet, squatting and reapeating 3 times is certianly stenuous, for example. So maybe the step is another weapon to have have in my armoury for the days I can’t get out for other exercise….

We shall see.

Why do supermarkets do that?

1.  Why do supermarkets sell chopped up kale?

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Here’s how kale looks if you buy it from our lovely local Veg Box shop.  All you need to do is give it a rinse and then strip the curly leaves off the tough stalks. Takes a couple of seconds…

The supermarkets all seem to sell the vegetable chopped, so you have chunks of tough stalk throughout the bag. I have bought it this way and know that you have to spend considerably longer picking out the stalks. And you almost always miss some. Plus of course the edges of the shredded leaves start to turn dry and brown very quickly. So – why do supermarkets do that?

2. Why do supermarkets only sell tiny parsnips?

The Veg Box has been selling massive, unwashed parsnips lately. Much cheaper than the small, prettier versions, and one root contributes to several meals. Less peeling too. And it’s helping farmers by giving them some income from veg that would otherwise go to animal feed or waste.

It’s well worth checking out your local independent suppliers. They know their stock, so can recommend which apples, oranges or tomatoes are particularly tasty. They can also suggest ways to cook or prepare some of the less familiar veg.

What do supermarkets do that you can’t understand??

Giving advice – how hard can it be?

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Well, the answer is – very hard indeed! And the other question is – how good are we all at taking advice?

I heard on the radio this week criticism of guidance given on the amount of exercise we should be taking on the basis that it would be unrealistic for many people to achieve that level, and so they would be de-motivated to try to exercise more. I only fleetingly heard this, so I can’t give details, but I believe the advice was that we should be taking 2.5 hours of moderate exercise every week.

Similar problems arise with recommendations about the amount of  fruit and vegetables we shoudl be eating every day. Most, if not all, nations are pointing out to their citizens that the more fruit and veg they eat, the healthier they will be, but the quantities recommended vary greatly. In the UK it’s now 7 a day, I believe, up from the 5 a day we have become used to. But in Japan they recommend 17 different fruit and veg every day. The difference is largely down to the fact that most people in the UK struggle to get to anything like 7 portions a day. However, I have heard some commentators say that it is discouraging to mention 7 so we shoud recommend fewer portions.

The problem is that if we are simply advised to “eat more fruit and veg” or “exercise more”, many people wll have no idea of what they should be moving towards, or how close they are already to the ideal. Someone who only ever eats meat and potoatoes may think they are doing marvellously by having an apple every week or so, or some fruit juice with breakfast. Someone who always drives may think they are exercising well if they walk to post a letter. How will they know otherwise unless someone tells them?

I know that when I was teaching, I had a series of conversations with a parent whose child was doing very badly at school, and had little or no ability to take part in their lessons. Eventually I asked the right question (“Is it just that he’s tired?”) It turned out that he was watching videos every night until his parents turned off the television at midnight. No one had ever told them how much sleep a child needs.

Part of me is continually surprised that we need this kind of advice. But another part of me realises that many intelligent and well meaning people just don’t have the informaton they need to make good choices.

So maybe we all need to toughen up a bit, and learn to take advice the right way. We might not be able to exercise for 2.5 hours a week, but we should know that if we are doing less, we would be wise to make an effort to do more. We shouldn’t give up just because it is hard and we have a long way to go, but use the guidance as a measure of how well we are progessing.

(In case you are wondering why I chose the photograph above, it’s about perspective and point of view.)

From Clevedon to Cheddar (and beyond) by bike

As a Clevedon resident and fan of green transport, keeping fit and healthy and of Somerset as a whole, I was excited and sorry in equal measure by a short piece in the North Somerset Times this week on problems facing the Strawberry Line Association in their efforts to extend the cycle way so that we could get on to it in Clevedon.

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Excited, because I hadn’t heard that there were serious plans to extend the path, and this would be a marvellous facility for those living in and between Clevedon and Yatton. Sorry, because apparently they can’t confirm funding without plannig permission, and they can’t get planning permission without confirmed funding. Not a unique story!

The Strawberry Line already runs along a disused railway line from Yatton to Cheddar, across countryside visible in my photo above, taken from the top of the Mendips. This provides a safe and pleasant cycle path, keeping cyclists ut of danger from traffic, and preventing drivers being frustrated by needing to share roads with cyclists. Individuals and familes can get out into the fresh air, enjoying the environment, getting fitter and not spending too much money in the process.

There is potential to extend the network so that more able cyclists can travel widely across North Somerset, from Wells to the coast. What a boon to local tourism that would be! Loads more people visiting pubs, cafes, shops and bed and breakfasts across the region, taking advantage of the beautiful scenery and enjoying local produce.

I would want to see the path stretch to Clevedon even if I wasn’t an Airbnb host. Honestly, is there one disadvantage to the scheme? If there isn’t, I can’t see it. So I sincerely hope that the authorities help to smotth out the problems that seem to be slowing the scheme down. Hopefully I’l be on my bike very soon!

And incidentally – how have I only just heard of this? Note to self – check local news and events much more regularly!

Putting your best foot forward. How are your New Near Resolutions going?

Do you manage to stick to your resolutions? It seems that most people just can’t do it. They know what they should do, right enough (lose weight, get fitter, spend less, be tidier etc) but it’s just too difficult to see it through.

Well, there’s a simple trick to achieving what you want to achieve, and that is to find the fun in it. Let me explain.

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Let’s take getting fitter as an exampler. It’s mid-January, so the annual peak in gym membership applications is here. There will be lots of new faces signing up for classes or inductions to the gym to start the process of losing weight and toning up. How many of these people will still be regularly training in February? Not so many, I’d be prepared to bet. The problem is that unless you are fairly fit to start with going to the gym, or an energetic Zumba or dance class, it’s going to be too hard to be fun. And if things aren’t fun, it’s very hard to stick to them. At the slightest excuse (it’s pouring with rain: my kit’s in the wash…) it’s too easy to give up. But if things are fun, you do them whatever the inconvenience. Shopping? Going to the pub? Many people don’t have to be asked twice!

I’ve written a short Kindle book to explain my thinking about getting fit through walking, and I’m sure that this is a really good way for most people to get started.

You see, establishing the habit of walking doesn’t need too much time or special equipment. Most people can easily fit some walking into their normal day, either walking to work, or walking the children to school, or walking the dog or going to the library. If you choose your walks carefully and have the right mental approach you can easily find that walking is fun. The more pleasure you find in walking, the more you want to do it, and the fitter you become. The key is enjoying the place you are walking; taking notice or and an interest in what is around you. If you can manage a fast walk for 30 minutes or more, preferably including some hill work, then you are probably fit enough to enjoy going to the gym or starting an energetic class. Read more in my book. A beginner’s guide to walking for pleasure   ASIN B00L3D7ENY.

The same principles apply to other areas of life. To take one more example, it’s easier to eat better and spend less on food if you learn to enjoy cooking. It is fun to cook if you approach it with the right positive attitude; starting with something quite easy and building up new techniques as you gain confidence. I’ve enjoyed cooking for years, but am still working through some techniques that are new to me – making my own pasta for example, and getting good at making bread by hand. (My rye and wheat loaf with caraway seeds and ale was a masterpiece!) Again, it’s about enjoying learning new skills and the results of your work.

So, don’t set yourself up to fail by setting too big a challenge for yourself. Start small-ish, but keep challenging yourself. Above all, find a way to make what you want a pleasure, by focusing on the positives, and you’ll find it much easier to get where you want to be.