Location: Lake District, overlooking Coniston and Coniston Water.
The Old Man of Coniston, as it’s also known, is a must do in the Coniston area. Only 1600m off our Everest total, we decided to give it a shot.
I took charge as Team Leader and chose our set-off time, map-read and motivated our team out of the motorhome and up the mountain. It was, luckily, a gorgeous day which is pretty unusual for the Lake District but we weren’t complaining. Our chosen route followed a ridge along to Old Man of Coniston, taking in Brown Peak, Buck Pike, and Dow Crag, before reaching the Old Man summit.
The walk began from our campsite, which was convenient, and cut across fields of sheep, wove past huge piles of slate deposition before splitting off from the direct summit route to climb up Brown Peak, the first peak along the ridge. The path then carried on to Buck Peak and skirted the top of Dow Crag, a dramatic rock face that is understandably popular among climbers. Dow Crag offered a bit of a scramble, which always spices up a walk, and offered stunning views of the valley below, Coniston Water, the west coast and, of course, Old Man Coniston. And, as a bonus, the slopes either side of the ridge weren’t steep enough to set off my mum’s fear of heights!
Carrying along the ridge, we reached the final slope up to the summit, where the path became increasingly busier. Soon, we were at the top, sharing the summit with a group of overexcited school kids and some elderly walkers. The Coniston Old Man was a brilliant challenge that we highly recommend other to try and was the perfect penultimate peak for our Everest Challenge.
Location: Southern Highlands of Scotland, west banks of Loch Tay.
It didn’t take long to climb Bienn Ghlas. After climbing Ben Lawers, we only had to descend from the summit to a wide and windswept ridge, which led to our second peak of the day. The wind was much stronger than further down, and we had to be very careful where we put our feet and stayed well away from the steep drop on the western side of the ridge that the gusts were pushing us towards. When we did reach the top, we nearly walked past it – a pile of stones more like a cairn marked the summit, but we couldn’t complain. The view of Loch Tay, that stretched out below us, made up for it.
We couldn’t stay up there for as long as we would have liked, for fear of being blow away, and soon began the walk down. We’d previously been warned that it was not a good idea to descend this way, as the path was supposedly mauled and hard to walk on. Thankfully, we decided to give it a shot and found that it was actually walkable – a shorter and more direct path down to the car park, where my sister and mum were waiting. Then, it was just the walk back down the road to the campsite before we arrived back at the motorhome after a tiring but rewarding day up in the Scottish hills.
Find out about the first part of this walk, climbing Ben Lawers, here.
Location: Southern Highlands of Scotland, west bank of Loch Tay
After recently scaling the renowned Ben Nevis, we decided to clock off some more miles by climbing a couple of other Munros in Scotland. Our first one: Ben Lawes. We were staying on a lakeside, or should I say loch-side, campsite not too far from the mountain but were disappointed to find the peak was just out of walking distance. Of course, we didn’t let that stop us. There is an infamous road that winds up past Ben Lawes and its neighbouring Munro Ben Ghlas to a car park, which makes the mountains easily accessible – for a car. Now I say the road is infamous because it is narrow and windy, with passing places far from generous in size and tight corners – we’d never been up there before, but anyone we spoke to did a sharp intake of breath when we suggested taking our motorhome up there. So, deciding it probably wasn’t wise to risk getting marooned half way up a country road, we instead parked at a campsite near the base of the road and set off.
Walking up the road added an extra few miles to our trek up the mountain, but it didn’t take long to reach our starting point (which was a little demoralising, especially as we could look back down on the loch we started from and realise that only now did we actually start the mountain ascent). There was no sign of rain, though, so our spirits were lifted. The climb wasn’t too steep either, which meant that we enjoyed a gentle walk through a valley and passed Beinn Ghlas, which would be part of our route back. The conditions were perfect until we reached the end of the valley and met strong winds. The path towards the summit skirted a steep slope and patches of snow occasionally crept onto it. My sister was being blow around pretty violently and strong gusts made her turn back with my mum. My Dad and I pressed on to the summit, where the wind was actually considerably less gusty and the view amazing. We didn’t stay long though. We had another peak to tackle before the walk was over – Beinn Ghlas.
Find out about the second part of this walk, climbing Beinn Ghlas, here.
Second time lucky?
Like anything, snow is brilliant when it doesn’t wreck your plans. But, the first time we attempted to summit the 1,345m Ben Nevis, it did just that. We were little past half way and climbing the second zigzag in the path when we reached the snow line and were forced to turn back, the path being dangerous for anyone (us included) without crampons. A year on, we were back in Scotland with renewed determination, and decided to give Ben Nevis another shot.
The weather was in our favour. We were met in the morning by blue sky, sunshine and no wind – a warm day worthy of a Ben Nevis climb. In fact, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, we found it was almost too warm climbing up the mountain to the halfway lake and even the slightest breeze was welcome. It seemed others had made the most of the conditions too. A helicopter was transporting bagged rock from the mountain’s scree to the footpath. One of the volunteers supervising the work from below told us how they were preparing the stone for the next week’s repairs on the path. They explained how the infamous snow on Ben Nevis had affected them as well; a lot of stone that they had bagged the previous year was left on the side of the mountain and had been buried. Some had to be imported from the nearby port of Oban, and they were left with extra stone when the snow line eventually receded. After waiting for good visibility and gentle winds, they’d finally got their perfect day to transport the stone to the footpath and were spending a few hours doing so.
It was way past our previous turnaround point when we reached the snow. Unlike last time, though, it was soft and walkable. And it certainly wasn’t going to prevent us from reaching the summit. We pressed on until we reached the trig point and had a complete 360° view. It would have been easy to mistake the landscape for the Alps – the snowcapped peaks with villages dotted between, the snow drifts, the nearby Glen Coe ski resort. It was a stunning end to our walk and just proved that sometimes we don’t need to travel far to appreciate fantastic views when we have mountains like Ben Nevis on our own doorstep.
We climbed Ben Nevis as part of our family-friendly Climb Everest Challenge.
The ‘mass medication’
Fluoride has been present in UK tap water since 1964 yet there is still much debate about its effects. Over five million people in England receive artificially fluoridated water but, in some cases, this fluoride can have lasting damage on the body.
The positive health effects
The British government’s health officials encourage for fluoride to be added to tap water. By the age of five, nearly two thirds of children in some parts of the UK have at least one rotten tooth and so the fluoride added to tap water is meant to help tackle this. The mineral strengthens the enamel of the teeth during their growth, which helps prevent tooth decay and stops cavities from forming within teeth.
On the flip side…
But there are solutions!
Not all of the UK population receives artificially fluoridated water but it’s understandable for those that do to be cautious. Just because tap water contains fluoride, though, doesn’t mean that bottled water is the only other option. Filters can be bought to attach to taps so that the water is filtered and is even safer to drink. Bottles, such as Water To Go, also have filters built into their lids so that they can be filled up with water from anywhere but the ocean and drunk from without the consumer having to worry about the water being unclean. Despite the fact tap water may be unsafe for some due to the fluoride contained in it, these other filtered options mean that we don’t need to worry about drinking from the tap.
For more information about Fluoride and how it affects our health: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Fluoride/Pages/Introduction.aspx
A petition to help give consumers more environmentally-friendly choices
Around 18 months ago we quit our jobs, sold our house and took our children out of school for a year (or two) of EdVenture – making learning rich, purposeful and real. Part of our road-school curriculum is centred on the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and a petition we started in Change.org comes from our efforts, as a family, to make a positive impact on the planet.
Every day, the Earth’s valuable and depleting virgin non-renewable resources are used in the manufacture of single-plastic bottles that are filled with water for sale in our supermarkets.
The recycling red herring
The fact is, most single-use plastic bottles are only used for about 10 minutes before they are discarded, mainly into landfill sites where they will remain for hundreds of years, slowly degrading into microplastics and damaging ecosystems and wildlife -as well as human health.
Bottled water companies mislead us into thinking that the bottles they use are environmentally friendly, when in fact they are not. The ‘Fully recyclable’ logo is a red herring, because most bottles don’t even make it to a plastic recycling centre (it’s too expensive to clean and recycle PET plastic for reuse). Those that do make it to a recycling centre, don’t actually get recycled into new bottles, but ‘down cycled’ into lower grade plastic products like fleeces and carpets.
The bottled water companies also like us to think that the bottles they make are made from recycled plastic, when they are not. Even the big players like Britvic and Nestlé use zero post-consumer recycled PET plastic in their bottles. Every new bottle they make is made from new resources.
Non-plastic bottled water alternatives
And what is worse, as consumers wanting to purchase packaged water from shops and supermarkets (not that there is any need to in the UK due to there being a safe supply of tap water), we are not even given the option to make environmentally responsible choices. Non of the main supermarket chains currently stock non-plastic bottled water alternatives, of which there are a growing number of reputable sources available: Vivid Water in a Box, AquaPax, Ugly Drinks and CanO Water (to name a few). Their shelves are full of row upon row of single-use plastic bottles.
If the supermarkets give us more choices to buy non-plastic bottled water alternatives (such as cartons, boxes or cans) then we will see a win-win situation — we will benefit as consumers, and the Earth will benefit from a reduction in the use and abuse of single-use plastic bottles.
Thanks for reading, thanks for caring.
Find out more about our Clear Plastic Bottles campaign
Catching up with the globe trotting road-schoolers
Well, this is how we were described by ITV’s This Morning programme when we drove into the studio (not literally) on Wednesday to be interviewed by Rylan and Lorraine.
Whenever we get asked to do anything media related we have to think carefully about whether to or not based on what learning experiences can be gained i.e. how will Amy and Ella benefit from us taking part.
The team at This Morning are lovely people – we know that after being on the show in August – that wasn’t our concern this time round. No, the thing on our minds this time was that the appearance would clash with the girls catching up with their friends in Nottingham. Since taking them out of school over a year we have been keen to support them keeping up their friendships and we didn’t want to drag them away from friends to make a short appearance on This Morning. So when the invite came from ITV it wasn’t a straight forward decision.
The solution was for the girls to take a friend each and turn the trip to London into a mini-edventure for them too.
The result as four friends that had a bunch of fun, saw some of the main sights of London, stayed in a nice hotel (the Westminster Suite no less), AND got a brilliant insight into how a live TV show like This Morning is filmed and produced. It was a fascinating learning experience for them all. And as for Amy and Ella, well, they showed flexibility, confidence and competence when meeting people and being interviewed live on TV (no mean feat).
As with doing anything in the public eye, we open ourselves for criticism and negative feedback from people, but we’ve got tougher skin these days and feel that secure in the knowledge that we are just striving to do the best as parents, making careful and considered decisions with the girls’ interests the priority.
Interested in seeing what went out on the programme, here’s the link http://www.itv.com/thismorning/hot-topics/catching-up-with-the-globetrotting-road-schoolers-meek-family
Arriving in Spain
Our arrival in Spain was over the Pyrenees from France in mid-March. We then spent the next two weeks travelling down the Eastern Spanish coast, stopping in sites near cities, on beach fronts and in the woodland of National Parks. We were immediately immersed in Spanish culture and history and highlights included visiting the many tourist sights of Barcelona, including Barca’s football grounds and Gaudi’s buildings, walking along sandy beaches beside the clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea and enjoying a Catalan BBQ, tapas, Spanish beer and Sangria. We enjoyed getting a flavour of what Spanish culture is like by visiting local markets and attending Las Fallas, one of Spain’s many flamboyant festivals.
After spending the first couple of weeks inching our way down the Spanish east coast, appreciating warmer and warmer weather, we then started to turn inland and up towards the capital. The beaches and turquoise water that we were becoming accustomed to were soon replaced by stunning mountain ranges and rivers.
Leaving the region of Valencia, we headed back onto the toll roads and north of Madrid to a site in the Guadarrama mountain range. We pitched up with a view over the Lozoya valley beneath framed by mountains. We were itching to get into the countryside and spent a couple of days walking and cycling in the area. It was also Semana Santa (Easter week) so the site was buzzing with other families enjoying time off. The girls quickly made friends with some other children nearby.
Amy: The kids that we met were Spanish. They came over and introduced themselves to us in English. We had a go at practising some of our Spanish but most of the time we were busy playing games.
An Easter visitor
Ella: The Easter bunny came to Spain! When I woke up in the morning I noticed a couple of chocolate eggs sitting on the bike rack, outside. Amy and I quickly put on our shoes and explored. We found lots of chocolate eggs and chicks hidden around the motorhome and in the bushes.
Visiting the capital
We then travelled west of Madrid, skirting the capital on the way. We couldn’t miss an opportunity to see Madrid and managed to get a bus from our next site into the city, where we walked around the historic buildings and through the large Regio park. The girls enjoyed splashing out on some mementoes with their spending money: Amy buying a tee-shirt with Madrid written on it and Ella buying a Barcelona tee-shirt since she now an avid fan (not swayed by visiting Madrid!).
Our route then took us further north, staying at sites near Salamanca and Vallodolid. Leaving the bikes behind, we ventured into the historic towns and cities to soak up some Spanish history. Salamanca is the third oldest university in Europe and it is said that they speak the purest Spanish there. Whilst visiting Salamanca, we took this as an opportunity to put our Spanish into practice. As we’d travelling through Spain the girls had been learning useful Spanish phrases that they put into practice in different contexts but whilst visiting Salamanca they produced a short video with some tips for learning the language.
As we neared Bilbao for the ferry home, we had two short stop-overs. One in the Cabuerniga valley in a beautiful site by a river, surrounded by mountains. There were farm animals everywhere and the girls took a liking to the two resident donkeys.
Our last stop over was at the coast (Northern this time) at a site that was a short walk from the Oyambre beach. In the distance we could see the Picos de Europa and the Cantabrian mountain range and the surrounding countryside was green. But it was green for a reason; this particular part of Spain gets lots of rain. For us, however, our last full day in Spain was spent in glorious sunshine.
And so marked the end of our Spanish trip abroad. In just under a month we stayed at eleven different Caravan Club sites, explored by foot, bike, bus and metro and seen beaches, markets, mountains and festivals. We loved our time in Spain and, whilst we weren’t able to spend longer there and explore further south, we felt we got a good flavour of what it had to offer. Hasta luego Espana – we look forward to returning.
50 Evening Adventures
Our last book (Learning Outdoors) wasn’t picked up in the media as widely as our first book – which frustrated us a bit as we’d worked really hard to write it!
The concept of the book – leaving work and getting home in time to have a mini evening adventure with the family before the kids’ bedtime – really changed our family life by helping us achieve a better work/life balance.
If you’d like to find out more about the book, here’s the Amazon link.
Here’s hoping lots of families get to hear about this book.
Our small steps to leading a sustainable lifestyle
Living in a motorhome means that we have little space to store food therefore we have to buy regularly and are careful what we buy. Rather than bulk buy, we tend to buy smaller amounts. It is often the fresh food that can go to waste therefore we buy less of it than we did before and always have tinned in the cupboard for when we can’t get fresh produce.
Our time in the caravan and motorhome has made us aware of how much water we use. In a house, we were careful to turn off the taps but having to fill an aquaroll for the caravan or the water tank of the motorhome has made us all-to-aware of how much water we need and therefore only use a minimum amount.
It annoys us that so much of what we buy in shops is packaged in plastic and it is difficult to avoid it completely but through some consumer choices it can be reduced. Wherever and whenever possible we will choose to buy something in tin or glass because these materials are more easily and effectively recycled. In some cases we refuse to buy something if it is packaged in excessive or unnecessary packaging. This sometimes means that we don’t buy something, e.g. yoghurts or margarine.
We never buy single-use plastic bottles. Instead we carry around a refillable bottle which we fill with tap water whenever we can. Our bottles also have filters that filter out germs and leave the water tasting better; this means that we can also take our bottles out on walks and fill up from streams or lakes without the worry of having to boil or sterilise the water.
Recycling isn’t the solution; we need to tackle the problem of waste before it reaches this stage and reduce the amount that is produced but at least recycling is a positive step to take. The options to recycle are getting better so we try to recycle what we can. That means that if we do have any plastic, tin , glass, paper etc. we always try to find a recycling bin to put it in.
As a family we eat very little meat. Some of us are vegetarian and those that aren’t only eat meat on rare occasions. The production of meat for human consumption has a large impact on climate change (highlighted in the film Cowspiracy). Our small step towards being a more responsible consumer is to reduce meat from our diet. A more drastic step might be to cut it out altogether and even consider cutting out all animal produce.
Overfishing has led to a drastic decline in fish numbers in our oceans and this irresponsible form of fishing does not allow the ecosystems to recover. Fish and shellfish are also seriously being affected by the marine litter than we produce as humans. Microplastics that reach the oceans are being eaten by fish and shellfish and this is working its way up the food chain.
We try to only use what we need, which isn’t a lot when you’re travelling around in a motorhome.
The truth behind bottled water
Bottled water – a fresh-tasting, pure drink that is supposedly bottled from pristine mountain rivers. A beverage that nations spend billions of pounds on every year. And, in reality, a substance that is often misrepresented by the label on the bottle. Some believe bottled water is better for you than the water from your tap; others merely think it tastes better. Here are 6 reasons, though, why the bottled drink is no better than tap water.
- It costs a lot more
It may be deceiving when presented in the supermarkets, but bottled water costs a lot more than just refilling a durable bottle from the tap. In fact, it’s commonly more expensive than petrol or diesel – bottled water costs around £1 per 50cl whereas petrol and diesel cost about £1.40 per litre. That means it’s more expensive for a litre of water, the natural resource freely available to people in most countries, then it is for a litre of petrol.
Then when compared to tap water, bottled water can cost up to 2000x as much.
What’s even more shocking is that most bottled water companies (PepsiCo’s Aquafina included) fill their bottles with filtered tap water. So they’re basically charging a lot of money for something that’s available to us for next to nothing – and just because it’s in a labeled bottle.
- It’s unnecessary
In developing countries or areas affected by natural disasters, filtered water from a bottle is a necessity as water from the tap is unsafe to drink but here in the UK, most of us have access to clean, safe tap water. So why do we pay more for bottled water when we have other alternatives? Already we are paying a monthly water rate so that we can have clean, regulated water flowing from the tap, so why pay more money on top of that? Tap water is actually proven to be better for you – more tests are carried out to insure it is safe to drink and minerals such as fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay, are added to the water for extra health benefits.
We may have been drawn to bottled water because the manufacturers have us under the false illusion that bottled water is better for us, or that it is a tastier alternative. But what they’re hiding is that the single use plastic bottles they package their drink in contain lots of different chemicals. Most bottled water companies are proud to declare themselves ‘BPA Free’ (BPA is a harmful chemical that, if consumed it too large amounts, can lead to cancer. It was once used to make single-use plastic bottles). But their bottles are still made from chemicals. These chemicals, if exposed to sunlight or warmth, can leach in the contents of the bottle – no one knows for sure what their effects are on the body.
- Recycling a bottle is a red-herring
When we recycle a bottle, what do we expect will happen to it? Will it be made into another bottle you might well drink from another time? Will it be used as a material for some other useful object in our lives? This is what the bottled water companies want us to think. The truth is far from it. The bottles that are recycled are down cycled; this basically means they are made into something of less worth than they were before, like carpet for example. And that’s just the bottles that are recycled – a maximum of 20% of the billions our country consume every year. The rest? They end up in landfill or, worse, litter the environment, killing wildlife and pillaging ecosystems. Worse still, bottles supposedly made from post-consumer plastic only have a maximum of 10% of recycled plastic used in their manufacture.
On the whole, recycling is just a minor solution to a problem that could be avoided in the first place – or just a strategy to settle our conscience.
- After use, the disposable bottles litter the environment
You don’t need to drive or walk far to see plastic bottles littering roadsides, paths, waterways and our oceans. The majority – water bottles. The ones we use once for a short amount of time before chucking in the bin. A large proportion of littered bottles make their way into the oceans, where they break down into smaller and smaller pieces. The key thing that makes plastic bottles so bad is that they never biodegrade. They are just worn down over hundreds of years until they become micro-plastics (pieces of plastic under 5mm). These are ingested by fish and work their way up the food chain, the chemicals present in the micro-plastics biomagnifying. And eventually they end up in us – toxins that mix up women’s hormones and can even cause cancer. Larger pieces of plastic are just as deadly – bottle tops fill the stomachs of fledgling sea birds, whales are stuffed with discarded items. This pollution, and its effects on us and on wildlife, is the evidence that the demand for these bottles has to stop.
- We’re using raw materials to manufacture the bottles
Plastic doesn’t biodegrade for a reason. The materials that are being used to make it are man-made and aren’t natural, so plastic can’t return to it’s original form. Oil is one of the components of plastic. One just has to fill up an average 50cl bottle to a fifth of its capacity to see how much of the precious substance – a substance that countries war over – is used to make one bottle! And multiply that by the 25 million bottles used in the UK alone every day… it’s hard to imagine that that much oil is used just to fuel a demand for something that’s not really necessary.
Quenching our thirst for bottled water also has an increasing affect on the environment. Plastic bottles are mostly circular, so up to as many as 52 more lorries are needed to transport one million bottles, in comparison to just one needed to carry square ones. This contributes to air pollution, which is a major factor in climate change – and that’s excluding the energy used to manufacture the bottles in the first place.
- There are other alternatives
There are things we can do to address this problem – and they aren’t big changes. The only way to slow the demand for bottled water is to… well, stop drinking bottled water! It’s better for our health and for the environment to leave the bottle be and turn to more environmentally friendly options. Instead of buying a new single-use plastic bottle, just fill up a reusable one from the tap. Most shops sell reusable plastic bottles cheaply and so it doesn’t take a lot of effort to purchase one. If the water in your area isn’t safe to drink, or doesn’t taste particularly nice, companies such as Water To Go offer bottles with filters built in the lid, so you can be sure that what you’re drinking is harmless. If you would prefer to buy water, stores such as Tesco and Superdrug stock companies selling water in a box, an environmentally sound and BPA-free alternative to a plastic bottle.
So… bottled water isn’t quite what we thought. It costs a lot, isn’t great for the environment and isn’t any better for you then tap water. Why choose bottled water when you can do your body, wallet and the planet good by choosing a greener option.
To find out about our campaign against disposable plastic bottles, click here.
By Amy (12)
Goal 12: Responsible Consumption
One of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development that we have been focussing this year is Goal 12: Responsible Consumption. A report in 1987 defined sustainable development as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The problem is that in many areas of the world humans are exceeding the needs of the present and this is leading to problems.
In order to achieve Goal 12 and ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, the UN states agreed to halve the amount of global food waste per person, by individuals and companies. Recently the issue of the amount of food waste produced by larger supermarkets has become the target for many campaigns. This happens at both ends of the production line: vegetables are discarded because they don’t conform to size and shape regulations and large amounts of food (fresh and packaged) are dumped at the end of the day. This food is often still edible and could be donated to food banks. It’s shocking that there is so much waste in some parts of the world when other parts of the world are struggling to find food.
In America the issue was highlighted by Rob Greenfield, who spent a year travelling across the country, living out of dumpsters, which contained perfectly good food that had been ‘dumped’. He actually put on weight! He would pull out all the edible food that had been discarded by shops and companies at the end of the day and display it for the public to see. It shocked people.
Since the issue of food waste has been highlighted some shops around the world are tackling the amount of food that is wasted and passing it on to food banks but there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.
On a personal level, we can also become more aware of the amount of food that we waste. It’s easy to fill up the supermarket trolley with food for the week ahead but find that a few days later something sits at the bottom of the fridge uneaten, past its best.
The UN states also agreed to reduce the generation of waste through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Reducing the amount of waste that we produce means not producing as much as we currently do and reducing our impact on the planet. We can do this by reducing the amount of water that we waste, reducing the amount of energy that we consume, reducing the amount of meat and fish in our diets and reducing the amount of actual waste, particularly by purchasing products that have less packaging. Much of our packaging is plastic but this material does not biodegrade and is not often recycled or easily recycled. It is having a damaging effect on our environment as it is dumped in landfill sites, in our countryside and streets and in rivers and oceans, impacting on the marine life and ultimately us. In response to this issue, we’ve thought hard about how we can act responsibly so we are making an effort to refuse to buy single-use plastic bottles, refill bottles rather than buy single-use plastic and remove plastic beverage litter from the environment.
Small steps to leading a sustainable life
It isn’t easy to lead a sustainable life and it does involve some effort but it doesn’t have to take over your life. We’ve made small attempts to adapt our lifestyle to become more responsible global citizens. They do not involve radical changes but help us to contribute to the Global Goal for Responsible Consumption: