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Walk and Talk

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Walk and Talk

Modern life is all about short cuts. Labour-saving inventions to save us time and effort.  Time and effort that can be used for something else, be it work or leisure.

Let’s go back to the 80s. My gran’s TV was a fascinating machine. It was out of this magic box would spill our daily hour of children’s telly, and give the adults a break.  My gran would sit with us in ‘her chair’, but would often be sleeping before the hour was out. 

The TV went as far back as it did from side to side (no flat screen goodness), had a wooden surround and channels that were changed by way of four physical buttons – BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and ITV2.  There wasn’t an ITV2 when the TV was made of course, but the expectation was that there soon would be.  

The TV set was also made before the advent of the remote control.  Nowadays, having to peel yourself off the sofa mid-box set binge is only necessary when the batteries in the remote run out.

There are myriad other innovations, inventions and gadgets that relieve us of the need to exert ourselves more than the minimum – a plethora of appliances, vehicles and tools to give us more valuable time to, well, what?  Hopefully to get out and walk the dog. Maybe hunt errant Pokemon?  I fear that much of our saved time though is spent doing not very much, something squarely in sedentary territory.

Many modern appliances like our washing machines and dishwashers would be greatly missed by many and I wouldn’t want to suggest that such progress is bad, but inevitably the labour that we are saved is mostly physical and so naturally, the modern human has less need to expend as many calories. And do we balance things out with exercise?  Not enough is the answer.

Talking of appliances, we can see with one appliance, the vacuum cleaner, how progression has gone from labour-saving to just plain lazy.  Vacuuming used to require a fair few runs over the same patch of carpet before you’d suggest it was clean. Returning to my gran for a moment, I remember her having a vacuum cleaner that weighed a ton and picked up far less.  Using it was a real workout.  Vacuum cleaner technology improved and time taken to clean was reduced.  Cordless cleaners then saved us from unplugging the appliance and plugging it back in in each room, saving more time again.  And now, we have the automatic vacuum cleaner. One can purchase something that looks like an over-sized hockey puck that will go off on its own and clean your floors (and scare your cat).  So, we have the vacuuming equivalent of the remote control.  A device that requires no effort bar changing batteries.

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This is not a technology blog though (much as my inner geek would love it to be).  I’m writing about labour-saving inventions as these have given us back time, but taken away a need to be as physically active.   With mobile phones and email we can communicate from wherever we are.  With modern transport we can (painfully slowly at times) get to where we want with minimal waggling of lazy legs.  As adults our working practices are often bound to desks and children now are increasingly exposed to screen-based entertainment that has the power to transfix them into a quiet stupor (an understandably appealing prospect to tired parent).

So, while the need to be physically active to achieve everyday tasks is diminishing, the need to be active for the sake of our heart and our mind (exercising less is not good for your mental health either) is not. From ever more regular media reports we know all about the dangerous obesity levels in the Western world and while there are a number of sports that can help fight the flab and keep your heart healthy, there are smaller, simple ways that you can make a difference too.  For us bees in the modern office hive, sitting down for eight hours is dangerous to our health.

Try getting off that seat and going to another office to talk to a colleague.  Revolutionary, I know.  As quick as an email or call is, meeting face to face makes for a better interaction AND might involve a few more valuable calories burned.  Also, if you drive or take a bus to work, park further away or get off a few stops early if you can.  You probably won’t lose much time, but you will lose incremental inches.  And last of all, don’t take the lift unless you a) physically can’t manage stairs or b) work in a skyscraper.

The average person in the UK walks about half a mile a day.  Thirty years ago this was two thirds of a mile. Advances in technology invariably mean needing to move less to get by, meaning we’re on a collision course with heart problems, diabetes and more unless we take steps (literally and figuratively) to counter the real threat inherent in spending too long standing still.

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Doorstep Paradise

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Doorstep Paradise

Stop what you’re doing.

Think.

Do I live in Wales?

 

If not, you should visit of course, it’s lovely. A beautiful land of fine food, drink, song and sport.  As an Englishman, it can be mildly perilous around Six Nations time, but as long as you don’t go round the streets of Cardiff belching ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ (no seriously, don’t do it), it’s really a genuinely friendly place.

If you are here though, I urge you to consider this – how long it has been since you last went to the Brecon Beacons?  In my case, other than a couple of times passing through, it has been about 26 years.  Shocking.  And totally inexcusable.  I could pretend I didn’t know what I was missing, but I did.  I was just lazy/unimaginative in planning my weekend activities. Like the distant aunt you really ought to call but don’t, or clearing out the cupboard under the stairs, I just hadn’t got round to it. I also had the crazy notion in my head that the Beacons were a million miles from Cardiff and not somewhere to go without serious planning.

But this simply isn’t the case.  If you’re in South Wales you’re likely to be only an hour away from some seriously sexy landscape.  That’s practically on your doorstep.  So take the plunge, you won’t regret it.

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My adventure took place over the Easter weekend and my wife Clare and I were lucky enough to be able to spend a good five days in the wild paradise of the Brecon Beacons.  First stop was two nights up at the Penderyn Bunkbarn.  A great little place based at Pantcefnyffordd Farm which has all your standard issue cute farmyard animals, but also some actual peacocks.  I’m not sure if one keeps them for their eggs, but they do make a fabulously camp addition to any menagerie.  The bunkhouse itself was clean, warm, cheap and within booze-soaked stumbling distance of the legendary Penderyn Distillery.  What a stroke of luck!  Of all the places I could have picked to stay, eh?

And this brings me on to an exercise-related point.  Work and reward.  I didn’t think you’d ever find me exerting myself physically purely for the sake of it, so it was important for me to have something to treat myself to after a bit of walking.  So that was the plan on the first day – walk to Sgwd yr Eira waterfall and then come back for a whiskey tasting lesson and distillery tour.

However, as it transpired, and became increasingly obvious during the holiday, the walk really was its own reward.  The views were so sublime, they were all the motivation I needed to keep going.  Just as a rousing piece of music can help you keep up your pace or manage that extra mile when running, the splendid, rolling hills of South Wales made me want to keep going long after my legs had put in a written request to cease and desist, to seize up for good.

The waterfall was spectacular.  It took a bit of mountain goat style clambering to get to, but it was certainly worth the effort.  You can walk beneath it and just stand and listen to the unending roar of tonnes of water falling past each second, just a few feet in front of you.  And after the light trek to the waterfall and back, we hit the Penderyn Distillery.  A funny and fascinating tour of the facility by the irrepressible Alan was followed by a tasting.  I’m a malt whiskey aficionado so I was very surprised at my restraint, only purchasing one bottle to take home with me.

penyfan2

The following day, with both of us nursing very slightly foggy heads, my wife and I headed off to tackle Pen Y Fan, South Wales’ highest peak.  Given it was Good Friday and the weather was fine, the traffic in the area was pretty heavy.  This meant it was easier to stop a couple of miles short of the peak itself and set off towards it over the bracken coated hillside by the Beacons Reservoir.  And a good choice it was too.  The peak itself was thronged with people, most of whom had trekked up via a gently sloping path.  This meant that the summit was fairly busy and noisy and so the couple of hours we spent walking across the rougher terrain of the surrounding hills was a magically peaceful experience.  We stopped to sit down on several occasions, and on the whole this wasn’t to rest, but more to drink in the landscape, the greens, browns and reds of the grass, heath and ferns that coat the mountains in the area.

This blog is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up here.  I’m still learning the art of writing, but I doubt I’d ever be able to put across the majesty of the mountains in the Brecon Beacons. Even with a few photos thrown in you only get a hint of what’s in store if you go yourself.  My childhood involved many trips to the Scottish Highlands and so I know what beauty the UK has to offer, but I am certainly also now in love with the Beacons too.

I suggest you do what Visit Wales are encouraging locals and visitors alike to do and ‘Find Your Epic‘, your own adventure.  And for those in South Wales and nearby, you have an adventure waiting for you on your doorstep.

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