Thank Goodness For Waterproof Boots!

So, after my last walk being rather wet and windy, and feeling like I really needed some fresh air, sunshine and quiet, I went on an extra training walk yesterday on my own, to take advantage of the lovely spring weather we’ve had this week. Being somewhat spontaneous I just picked a nearby train station and Googled walks originating from nearby, and fortunately I found a rather lovely 6 mile circular walk from Brockenhurst, New Forest.

I am so fortunate to have this National Park on my doorstep – I can get a train there within an hour and with minimal fuss – so it is a shame that I haven’t really done much walking there. After our misdirection last time I armed myself with a compass but sadly I don’t have an Ordnance Survey map of this area, so had to make do with an approximate map provided on the walk leaflet. Sadly, this was not enough to stop me getting lost four times…

It all started well; I headed out from Brockenhurst station as the leaflet directed, crossed the road and turned right.  What the leaflet did not indicate was which exit to take from the station, and clearly I had taken the wrong exit, having arrived on a different platform than the walk assumed.  I saw some pretty shops and a flash looking car, then realised this wasn’t right and turned around to head over the level crossed, to where I was supposed to start the walk from.  Getting lost strike one.

Once facing in the right direction I soon found the path I was looking for and headed uphill alongside a very pretty graveyard which seemed to have a lot of history. On the other side of the path was farmland, with some disinterested ponies munching on some hay. It was here I saw the first of three buzzards, this one was circling high above the field.

Very pretty church and graveyard of St Nicholas
Very pretty church and graveyard of St Nicholas

At the top of this path I found the church of St Nicholas, a very pretty little church with lots of interesting features. Cue getting lost again.  The instructions said bear round to the left with farm buildings to the right….and neglects to mention that this could apply to two of the paths you are presented with. I chose the left-most path…got all the way to the bottom of a very muddy, slippery (and manure-y) path only to realise I had ended up pretty much at the end of the walk (missing out all five miles of the middle). Getting lost strike two.

So, I ploughed my way back up the muddy hill and took the other path instead (I would have called this the middle path, personally), until I found a field of sheep.  Running alongside the field of sheep was one long 2-ft wide puddle path that someone had labelled “bridleway” and my instructions told me I was to go down it, so I did. I stopped every so often on a hillock of grass to rest, as it is pretty tiring pulling your feet out of mud every step, and looked round to see the sheep just staring at me. I am sure that if they could laugh they would have been.  It was here that I saw my second buzzard of the day, at first swooping down on the farmland on the other side of the path, and then taking up a perch in a tree on the far side of the field.

Even the sheep thought I was mad for taking this path.
Even the sheep thought I was mad for taking this path.

I finally reached the end of the puddle path and after negotiating one last patch of mud around the gate, a sign proclaimed that I had entered Roydon Woods.  “At last,” I said to myself, “dry land!”  And in hindsight it was probably the driest section I walked on all day that wasn’t tarmac, but I still found I could barely walk on the actual path, and instead had to weave in and out of the trees either side to avoid the swamps puddles.

Despite the damp conditions, Roydon Woods were very pretty and I really did enjoy this section of the walk. In summer there will be an abundance of butterflies and bird-life here and it will look fantastic with a coating of green.

The lovely New Forest in sunshine
The lovely New Forest in sunshine

The path eventually took me out of Roydon Woods and I realised I was now alongside the grounds of Roydon Manor.  I passed an old lodge house, updated with a new trampoline out the back, and just as I was looking around for my next landmark, something caught my eye in the field opposite the lodge.  Deer!

I have a soft spot for these shy creatures, so it’s always a treat to see them in the wild. I stopped, and even though they were some distance away I knew they had seen me because they had stopped too and were looking right at me.  I took a few pictures and waited for them to move….and waited….and waited.  I waited for so long I started to think I’d been had – maybe someone had some carvings put in the field or something, but they were just so still.  Then, suddenly, one of them flicked his ear and I realised they were real after all.  Two roe deer – at least one was male as I could see the antlers but the other one was at the wrong angle for me to see.

Not sure if you can see them, but there are two deer here.
Not sure if you can see them, but there are two deer here.

Pressing onwards I found my next turning and immediately became grateful for the waterproofing on my boots.  Oh boy, what a puddle!  No matter which way I looked at it there was no way round.  I tried opening the gate a bit wider and found it was as wide as it could go, so the only thing for it was to take the path of least resistance…I literally followed in the footsteps of whoever had gone before me. They were very squelchy footsteps, and I have to admit, my boots are not waterproof if the mud goes in over the top. I also managed to splash the mud all up the legs of my new jeans!  Note to self, wear old trousers in future. Addendum to note, you have no old trousers that fit. Oh rats.

The mud was worth it though, because as I pulled my shoes out of the last footprint I heard a rustle to my left. Tiptoeing over I saw a little tuft of fur poking out from under the leaf litter.  Whatever it was clearly wasn’t put off by me being there so I hung around, and was rewarded with my first ever sight of a real life MOLE!  So cute, but I won’t bother writing about it…I took a video!

Continuing along this path I checked my instructions to see what was next – “follow the path…across the Lymington River…” – so I assumed the river was not very wide at this point and I could jump across, or something.  I almost had a heart attack when I rounded the bend in the path and saw this….

As I rounded the corner it looked like I was about to take a swim.
As I rounded the corner it looked like I was about to take a swim.

The path literally went straight up to the waters edge and out the other side.  Fortunately as I took a few more steps forward I was able to see what you can just see at the side of this photo – a bridge! (I am noticing a theme of precarious and slippery bridges in my walks….)  So at least I didn’t have to swim or fly, but although it looks quite sturdy I think more than one of those boards is on it’s last legs.

Now I was in Newlands Copse, a very pleasant stretch of woodland which opens up to farmland on one side at the top of the hill. As I left the river behind I was startled by a slender figure hunched by the stream bed….until I started him and the graceful fellow unfurled his wings to show himself as a handsome heron, before flying overhead and away.  I also saw the first bumblebee of the year, which I believe was the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum – surely a sign of spring if ever there was one!

My directions next told me to take a left turn just before the farm. If only I had realised how literally to take that!  I came across the gate to the farm, and seeing the left turn and what looked like a fallen bridleway marker I naturally assumed this was my turning and headed off down an even muddier (I didn’t think it could be any muddier!) slope…until I ran out of path.  I checked my map and compared it to the trace on my workout tracking app and they seemed to match, as much as two inaccurate things can, but there was no path!  Fortunately some Forestry Commission men were working nearby, identified my plight and told me where I had gone wrong – apparently when it said turn left just before the farm, it meant literally right in front of the barn door! I had turned left too early. Getting lost strike three.

So I climbed back up the muddiest slope yet (it was like walking on room temperature butter), and back to the gate to the farm.  Unfortunately the gate was tied shut with rope.  Yes, tied shut. With rope.  In a puddle seven inches deep.

Just one of many very deep and wide puddles. Thank goodness for waterproof boots!
Just one of many very deep and wide puddles, not even as bad as the one that was tied shut! Thank goodness for waterproof boots!

Well, what was I supposed to do?  Aside from it being tied shut there was nothing to indicate that the right of way had been rescinded, and the chap down in the woods had told me to come this way, so I climbed the gate, landed in a puddle of manure, and continued on my way until I finally found the correct bridleway to turn down. Yuk!

This path was also very muddy…are you detecting a theme here?  But more worrying for me was that it ran along side a field of cattle (didn’t stop to check if they were bulls or cows), and the fence was squashed.  I mean actually squashed into the ground in the way you would expect if a herd of cattle pushed down on it in their hurry to leave the field.  This conjured up all sorts of images of me being mowed down by raging bulls, but happily it appeared that hay had just been provided and they were all happy munching on that. I guess I’m just not as tasty as hay.

After following this path for a while, jumping across the occasional stream, pulling threads on my jeans by squeezing past too many brambles, grabbing hold of barbed wire (luckily between the barbs) to steady myself when I fell in some mud, having a buzzard (third of the day) swoop so low overhead I could have touched it, and saying hello to some foraging piggies…


….I got to the other end and found that this gate was tied up with rope too.  Not just one bit of rope either…four. Four bits of rope. So I once again climbed the gate (feeling quite the daredevil adventurer now!) and found myself in a section of typical New Forest heathland, with the ubiquitous ponies dotted around.

The path from here was quite straight forward, it seemed, until I reached what the instructions described as a stream, but under current conditions was more like a river. I had to make a makeshift bridge out of fallen branches to cross, and then found that the other side of the stream was one large bog.  I don’t just mean the bank…the remaining mile of woodland was bog with a loose covering of crunchy leaf litter giving it the appearance of being dry.  This made for an interesting walk.

I have to admit, I gave up.  The path followed the course of a B road, so I walked along that instead, having realised that the section nearest the river would be impassable I felt this was safest.

Having rejoined the official route at Mill Lane I toddled onwards, looking for the next turning.  I thought I had found it but could find no way into the actual path, so I walked up the road a bit further. Then it was obvious I had missed it, so I walked back again, re-examined the path I had found before and dismissed it again, carried on to the start of Mill Lane, and then headed all the way back up it again because there was no sign of any turning.  Getting lost strike four.

Upon my third examination of the path I had tried twice before I realised I had in fact found the path the instructions told me to take, but someone had blocked it off…with BARBED WIRE!  Not just rope this time, barbed wire, and there was no way I was climbing that, so I just walked all the way back up Mill Lane. As it turns out, the path I was supposed to take just went parallel to Mill Lane anyway so it didn’t make any difference.

Having finished getting lost for the day, I crossed over the railway and after a short residential road was back on the road I had started on.  I was happy to discover a lovely pub called the Rose and Crown conveniently located at the end of the route, which was still serving food although it was nearly 4 pm.  Having had a late breakfast and no lunch I popped in for a light bite (fish finger butty £5.50, yes please!), and had the largest fish fingers I have ever seen!  I couldn’t even manage the whole thing. I definitely recommend the venue and the staff were very friendly.

The largest fish fingers I have ever seen!
The largest fish fingers I have ever seen!

This walk was lovely, if muddy, and it may seem like I’m spending a lot of this post moaning about the mud, because it really was muddy, but that is to be expected in the first week of March following weeks of heavy rainfall and recent storms.  That’s probably why those gates were tied shut, but having come so far I really had to continue.  With all my getting lost, the six miles turned into over nine miles, but despite the mud I did it faster than my last 9 mile walk so that’s a good sign. I will do this walk again, but in the summer, and once they’ve had time to fix the winter damage to the fences, bridges and paths. Also, next time I will take a stick so I can test how deep puddles are before I step in them!


These Boots Were Made For Walking

At the end of May this year I will be walking a marathon (yes, the full 26.2 miles) to raise money for a local children’s hospice called Naomi House.  I’m a fairly fit and healthy person, but even with a good basic level of fitness, walking that kind of distance requires some training.  The walk itself will take about 9 hours (it took me just over that the last time I did it), and as someone who has a sedentary job and usually only exercises for a few hours at a time I have decided to start early to get the most training in.

I know from previous years that I am comfortable with walks of around six miles so in order to challenge myself I am starting my training with walks of eight to ten miles.  I am not walking alone – this year I will be walking with one of my best friends, who did this charity walk with me two years ago, and a friend from work, and we will be training together too.

Training has got off to a mixed start so far.  Out of two planned walks only one has gone ahead, and only two of us made it (no, we didn’t leave the other one behind, she was too ill to walk that day!). Unfortunately at this time of year the weather seems to be doing all it can to deter us from our training mission.

Nevertheless, our first planned walk of nine miles went ahead despite forecast torrential rain and gale force winds, with the two of us optimistically heading out, top-to-toe in waterproof clothing, and hoping that the worst of the weather would wait until we got home.

Sadly it started raining the moment we parked at the start point for our walk, so there are no photos from this walk at all (sorry folks, not risking ruining my electrical equipment for a few snaps) however the walk was not uneventful!

The walk took us from the train station and into the nearby Victoria Country Park which looked out over the Solent, where the wind lashed us with rain and sea spray, and we could dimly see the stacks of the refinery at Fawley through the grey skies. It soon became apparent that the official walk guide expected us to walk along the seafront, on the shingle beach.  We gamely headed down to the sea wall, only to recall that we were experiencing the highest tides in 18 years at the time, and yes, you guessed it, it was high tide.  There was no beach.

A hasty consultation with Google Maps on my phone as we huddled together to protect it from the rain showed us an alternative route through the woods along the cliff top, which we both agreed was the better option, so we set off into woodland, which mercifully protected us somewhat from the wind and rain, following what we hoped was the right path to meet up with the official route further down the coast.

Unfortunately without a compass or map my sense of direction is pretty poor, and I led us a couple of miles in the wrong direction before we realised our error. Happily though we ended up in a small village area so we were able to get our bearings and make tracks in the right direction again before too long.

Once we picked up the official walk again we discovered to our delight that we would be making a small ferry crossing as part of our journey. The vivid pink ferry was waiting at the end of the jetty in Hamble for us, with a rather damp looking chap poised to set off as soon as we were seated. Five minutes and £1.50 each later we arrived at a deserted jetty in Warsash, the other side of the river, and disembarked to a windswept and wild looking path. As we looked at a tourist signpost, which included a helpful map, we realised that our walk now took us along a nearly 2-mile long causeway, with sea on both sides, no more than 4 metres wide for most of its length. With the wind getting stronger and the rain beating down this was going to be interesting!

As we skirted puddles, dodged sea spray, climbed precarious and slippery wooden bridges (ok, just the one bridge) and became increasingly thankful for our wet weather gear, we also took the time to admire the houses on the inland side of the causeway – not so much in bad weather but in summer you could imagine the view would be lovely from there, and the gardens were huge – one even had a tennis court in it. However, the wind eerily whistling and humming through the rigging of the hundreds of ships in the marina would be enough to keep me up at night.

Dreaming aside we finally made it on to land again and, after walking through the marina and ship yard we started to head inland, towards the motorway.  Our final destination, Botley, was still another three and a half miles away so it was back to focussing on the path ahead.  After walking underneath the motorway flyover and through another shipyard we found ourselves on a rather boggy patch of land following the path of the river North, and unfortunately the river had gotten a bit uppity and burst its banks. Our walk instructions directed us to cross a stile and head into the country park on the other side….currently the stile was a foot deep in river, and surrounded on all sides by water and barbed wire fences!  Through teamwork and sheer luck we tiptoed out onto the small island of mud held in place by the fence (only getting a little bit prickled by the barbed wire), climbed the stile whilst holding on to each other for support, and splashed back to dry land using the mud on the other side of the fence. Note to self, don’t do this walk when it has been raining.

Finally on dry land and making a steady climb upwards out of the river valley we headed gratefully into Manor Farm Country Park, where a sign proclaimed it was 3/4 mile to the tea rooms.  “Thank goodness” we thought, “we can use some shelter to check the rest of the route, and have a quick drink and bite to eat out of the rain.”.  So we plodded on, only to be told at the next sign post that it was STILL 3/4 mile to the tea rooms…. Slightly disheartened that we apparently weren’t any closer (but at least the distance wasn’t getting greater!) we plodded onwards. After all the excitement of getting lost, the ferry, the slippery bridge and the flooded stile, this path seemed quite dull, but I am sure it would be lovely in the summer.  We met a few dog walkers (and their dogs!) along the way, and finally found some shelter in the covered picnic area near the tea rooms, where we scoffed jelly babies, drank water and planned the rest of the route.

With only a mile and a half to go we picked up the pace a little bit – there was a train to catch at the other end! – and with mixed feelings started the last leg of our journey on tarmac. On the one hand you are less likely to turn your ankle or fall in a rut on tarmac, but on the other hand it is not very forgiving on tired feet!

So, we reached Botley…but where was the train station? Neither of us were aware that the train station was nearly a mile outside of Botley, and there were only 10 minutes before our train was due, so we power walked our little socks off to get there, purchased our tickets and ran to the platform…only to discover that we were three minutes late.

Deflated, we headed over the road to the nearby pub which had a glorious wood fire, free seating and the most delicious cappuccino I have ever tasted (things always taste better after a workout anyway). We took 50 minutes to warm up and dry out a little, before heading back out into worsening weather, for a damp and dreary train ride back to our start point.

Despite the weather conditions, detours, getting lost and practically having to swim across some parts, we both enjoyed this walk, especially the bonus of the little pink ferry, and have agreed we will do this one again, in the summer, when hopefully I can get pictures!

If you would like to sponsor us for the marathon walk (please) our fundraising page can be found here. Full details of the walk (as it is supposed to be done) can be found here.

Fill My Belly: Pancakes Don’t Have to Be Bad

OK, so pancakes are always a little bit bad, no matter what you do with them, but you can make them better for you by adding little extras and changing things up a bit.

Pancake day (Shrove Tuesday) has been and gone for this year, but pancakes are simple, quick and satisfying comfort food at any time of the year, and can be had sweet or savoury.  I tend to choose sweet as I have rather a sweet tooth (my downfall!) but usually that would mean loads of sugar sprinkled over the top with lemon juice, or lashings of chocolate spread, neither of which is very healthy and usually makes me sugar-crash later on.

However, there is another option!  Fruit and spices, especially combined, make a wonderful alternative for adding flavour; adding protein powder makes them more satisfying and keeps your blood sugars even. If you must add sugar, using natural sugars like honey are more beneficial than refined sugars – did you know that honey contains vitamins and minerals in small quantities, has been used for over 5000 years for its healing properties (it contains an antibacterial agent), and also contains fewer calories gram-for-gram than refined sugar?

So, what did I do with my pancakes this year?  I made the mixture with half wholemeal/half white flour, for extra fibre, and added a scoop of whey protein powder, then beat in a large egg and some soy milk (you can use any type of milk but I had soy on hand).  I then wiped a frying pan with oil and pre-heated it, before adding slices of banana to the pan for 30 seconds and sprinkling the pan with ground cinnamon.  I then poured the batter over the sliced bananas and cooked until the top of the pancake was almost solid, and flipped the pancake to cook the other side.  Once brown on both sides I served the pancake with a small drizzle of maple syrup.

Banana Protein Pancakes

This combination worked so well – the banana goes quite caramelised in the pan and cinnamon really enhances the flavour, but you could also mash the banana and add it to the pancake batter itself.  It would be fun to try with other fruits as well, though you would need to use quite firm fruits or they will turn to mush when they cook.

Nutrition Facts
Servings 8.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 149
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 2 g 4 %
Saturated Fat 1 g 4 %
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 23 mg 8 %
Sodium 30 mg 1 %
Potassium 185 mg 5 %
Total Carbohydrate 18 g 6 %
Dietary Fiber 2 g 7 %
Sugars 4 g
Protein 15 g 30 %
Vitamin A 3 %
Vitamin C 2 %
Calcium 7 %
Iron 6 %

Nutrition details above relate to the following quantities of each ingredient:

1/2 cup each wholemeal and white flour
1 egg
25g protein powder
1 large banana
200ml soy milk
1 tsp cinnamon
Maple syrup not included

Fill My Belly: On The Glow Basic Oatmeal Squares — Oh She Glows

Breakfast. Most important meal of the day. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper, as the saying goes.  Now, typically I’m not a morning person. I need a good couple of hours and a large coffee before I’m at my best (unless you let me sleep until 10am), so cooking or lots of preparation for breakfast is not an option for me. However, as I cycle commute I do need to have a balanced breakfast to provide both instant and slow-release energy for my ride. I’ve experimented with lots of different things over the years, from cereal to smoothies, and everything in between, but usually either the preparation is too involved or the dish doesn’t provide enough energy at the right time.

Until I discovered these baked oatmeal squares from Oh She Glows. Now, being new to this blogging malarkey I am sure there is a better way to share/present this but here is the link to the recipe and blog:

On The Glow Basic Oatmeal Squares — Oh She Glows.

These are so tasty, versatile and filling, I’ve had them almost every day for breakfast for the last month, and my latest batch has just come out of the oven now, ready for the coming week. The great thing is, you can do the preparation and cooking in the evening/weekend, and then they are ready when you need them in the morning. They last for 4/5 days in an air-tight container, although using fresh fruit will reduce their longevity, but I’ve found that you can also freeze them and just get them out the freezer the night before you want to eat them.

Fresh from the oven. It doesn't look like much here, if only you had smell-a-vision!
Fresh from the oven. It doesn’t look like much here; if only you had smell-a-vision!

I’ve been enjoying playing with the flavours – the recipe on the blog is for a basic recipe, but as Angela says in her post you can put anything you like in it. My flavour combinations so far are:

fresh blueberries and peanuts
vanilla, chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chunks
sultana, cherry and dried coconut
ground almond and cherry
lime (zest, and lime juice infused raisins) and dried coconut

I’ve also been adding 50g whey powder to the recipe (I make a shake with the whey powder and the almond or soya milk, and blend it into the liquid ingredients) for added protein, which of course does make the recipe no longer vegan-friendly, but you could use hemp or pea protein instead.

Obviously the nutritional value of these will depend on what you add to the recipe, but for the basic recipe alone there is instant energy from the maple syrup, and slow release energy from the oats.  There is omega-3 from the seeds (flaxseed is an excellent plant source of omega-3 (1)), and a whopping 7 grams of fibre per square from the seeds, banana and oats.  There is also protein and healthy fats from the nut butter and seeds, and vitamin E from the almond milk, which helps protect against oxidative stress (2), which has been implicated in conditions such as cancer (3), heart disease (2) and Alzheimers. The banana, and any other fruit or nuts you choose to use will add further vitamins and minerals to this as well, though sadly chocolate has little to offer here; vitamin C from berries and citrus, copper and manganese from coconut, and so on.

I really recommend giving these little nutritional powerhouses a go for breakfast, or they would make a great pre/post-workout snack.  I like mine with fruit on the side, and a hot coffee!

Cherry and Almond Oatmeal Squares
Cherry and Almond Oatmeal Squares

1. Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food

2. Vitamin E, Oxidative stress and inflammation

3. Oxidative stress and cancer: have we moved forward?

Fill My Belly: Squash, Leek and Mushroom Cannelloni

Cycling is hungry work, and as both myself and my husband cycle commute, a hearty meal is always appreciated when we get home. We take it in turns to cook depending on what time we finish work, and today it was my turn.

I decided on a recipe from the Healthy Food Guide magazine, February 2015 issue.  Unfortunately the recipe isn’t on-line yet so you’ll have to make do with my own pictures etc. and modifications.

Whether you’re active like me, or just want to eat healthily, it is important to eat a balanced diet (sorry, a cake in each hand doesn’t count!) with a good mixture of macro-nutrients (fat, carbohydrates and protein) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals). This meal is low in saturated fat and low in sugar, whilst being high in protein, fibre, iron and calcium.  It also has beta-carotene in the squash for healthy eyes and lungs (both essential for cycling), vitamin C (for a healthy immune system) in the squash, spinach, tomatoes and peppers, and iron and vitamin K (for healthy blood) from the spinach. When you break it down it’s easy to see why meals like this are great for supporting an active lifestyle.

Roasted Squash, Leek and Mushroom Cannelloni

Squash and mushroom cannelloniThe ingredients are as follows (note there are slight differences to the original):
Cooking oil spray 
1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
200g button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
150g baby spinach
500g butternut squash, roasted
125g ricotta cheese
4 fresh lasagne sheets
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Home made tomato sauce – I made mine using 1 400g can chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, mixed herbs, 1 clove garlic and chopped jarred peppers. 

1) Heat the oven to 190/170 fan/gas 5. Spray a non-stick frying pan with oil and fry the leek for 3-4 minutes on a high heat until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft.  Add the garlic and spinach and cook for 2 minutes. Leave to cool.

Step 1 - Cannelloni2) Spoon half of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 2 litre baking dish. Combine the mushroom mixture with the ricotta and roasted squash.  Cut the lasagne sheets in half widthways. Spoon an eighth of the filling along the edge of each pasta sheet and roll to enclose the filling. Place the cannelloni seam-side down into the baking dish.

Step 2 - Cannelloni Step 2 - Cannelloni

3) Cover with the remaining tomato sauce and sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes.  Serve two cannelloni per person, with extra spinach or salad on the side.

Step 3 - Cannelloni The finished dish - cannelloni

When I first read this recipe I thought that two cannelloni would not be enough, but they were very satisfying and filling, and I didn’t go back for more.  My husband thoroughly enjoyed these too, despite the lack of meat, and helped himself to my second portion too!  I will certainly make this dish again, and the only thing I would change is to add more tomato sauce.

Like Chocolate, with Negative Calories

Mmm....chocolately goodness

Everyone loves chocolate, right?  The delicious creamy taste, melting texture and feel-good factor…..

Yes, I totally tipped out my chocolate stash to take a picture, then ate some!
Mmm….chocolately goodness

Science tells us that eating chocolate triggers the release of neurotransmitters known as endorphins, such as serotonin. These are the body’s natural pain moderators, and act on the same receptors as opiates like morphine – no wonder we feel good after a bar of chocolate, eh!

Such a shame that aside from making you feel good chocolate has no nutritional benefit and is a short-cut to weight gain if not consumed in moderation…

The thing is that for me cycling has the same effect; it’s like eating chocolate, but with negative calories! I used to cycle daily as a teenager for college and work, and I started cycling daily again two years ago for my commute to my current job, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that those two periods correspond with me being happiest overall in life.

Consider it a natural high – a pain-fighting, mood-boosting, concentration-enhancing wake up call every morning, and a stress-busting, motivating pick-me-up after work, plus a work out and an uncomplicated way to get to work each day.

I’m not just making it up though, and I refer to science again (you’ll find I do that a fair bit) but studies have proven that exercise releases endorphins too (more so than chocolate even!) and it is becoming more common now for doctors to prescribe exercise to treat a range of conditions, including depression, because of the measurable effects of exercise on mood, among other things.

So, when people ask me now why I choose to cycle instead of drive, one of the reasons I should give is that it is like chocolate, with negative calories – what’s not to like!

If you’re interested you can find out more about exercise and depression from The Harvard Medical School.

My First Bike

It seems right to start at the beginning – where it all started, with my first bike. I remember my first bike well: it was white with silver and red accents, and a dropped bar, and stabilisers and a chain guard, and it looked like freedom.

I remember my dad helping me learn to ride it; teaching me the things it is impossible to teach and you really have to learn by making mistakes – how to balance, how to lean into the direction you want to travel, how to coordinate pedalling and steering and balance and looking behind you for traffic and waving your arm when you want to turn or stop…

I kept the stabilisers on for quite a while, I seem to remember. I wasn’t ready to balance by myself just yet.  And it felt like when we took them off, I had to learn how to ride all over again. Nowadays it’s all the rage to give children balance bikes (without stabilisers or pedals) so they learn to balance first and add the pedalling later, which seems to make sense to me as balancing is the harder skill.

Apollo wooden balance bike from Halfords
Apollo wooden balance bike from Halfords

We started in the garden and then when there wasn’t enough space in the garden we would go out into the garage road behind the house and I would whiz up and down – it felt like I was going really fast! – and dad would be there running along beside me reminding me to pedal or sometimes to stop before I hit something.

But once I could ride I could explore!  My friends all had bikes too, and although I wasn’t allowed far from the house as I was only little, there was plenty to discover around our own quiet road, and we would cycle around feeling fast and free and powerful, and race our bikes down the hill slight incline of the road – especially fun after they resurfaced it and it was all smooth.

I didn’t realise it then, but those early days of riding my little white bike with stabilisers would start a long love of cycling, and a sense of freedom whenever I get on a bike.