I love Oxford

Did I tell you before that I love Oxford incredibly? Well if I did then you already know, and if I didn’t, then I’m going to tell you why in this post. It could be a very long post, as it is just an incredible place, and there is so much to inspire you. Having only been in the vicinity of it for a few months now, I find that I try to visit as often as possible.

Here immediately below for example is a picture taken in what is more or less the centre of the city, of All Souls College, designed by Christopher Wren I believe. Is that incredible, and beautiful, or what?


So here are a few of the things I like about Oxford:

1. It has the most incredible history. There are just so many facts and figures that I don’t know where to start. But it does just bristle with that incredible feeling of what it has seen through the ages. It apparently dates back to around 4000 BC, and whilst apparently largely overlooked by the Romans, there is so much to the place that it boggles the mind.

2. The colleges. There are 38 of them for those of you who don’t know that (I didn’t until I came to live close by). They themselves of course ooze history. The oldest, Balliol, or University, or Merton, depending on who you believe, was founded in 1249. They are fantastic, and I have been in four of them so far – New College, Merton, Christ Church and Brasenose – I want to go into them all in due course. If I had been to university here I would not have failed to have been inspired I hope. Here is a picture of Brasenose, isn’t it just great?:

Brasenose College:

Brasenose College:

3. Great restaurants. I have not had the chance to sample many of the culinary delights of the City yet, but there are places aplenty. Of course you don’t have to go a long way out of here to find Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Raymond Blanc’s flagship, and one of the top restaurants anywhere. In town you are spoilt for choice, from Jamie Oliver’s latest offering (imaginatively called “Jamie’s” :)), to Shanghai 30’s, a top notch Asian offering in a 14th century building, to the likes of The Grand Cafe, the ubiquitous Loch Fyne, and a whole bunch of places like Gees, which just serves damn good food. I can recommend Fishers too, a fish place funnily enough.

4. Pubs! I have been to a pub or three in my time it is fair to say. In my experience, city centre pubs are always hit or miss at best. You will usually have a few scruffy offerings, a few touristy places, a few decent places for the locals, and maybe the odd hidden gem if you are lucky. I know from my many dips into the Good Pub Guide over the years, that there are very few really good pubs in any city, other than the odd  one here or there. Oxford I can say is the exception to beat all exceptions. I think I have been in about 10 or so pubs so far, and am yet to find one that isn’t just great. Wow! My favourites so far, in no particular order, are The Turf (hidden down a back alley, very low ceilings, great selection of beer, good food etc etc), The Kings Arms (great real ales, good little snug rooms, very good food, great atmosphere), The Old Tom (combination of cosy ambience, well kept ales, and shit-hot Thai food), and The Eagle and Child (Tolkien, CS Lewis and various others used to drink here, what more can I say?):


5. Museums – I had forgotten that museums can be so great. It is so long since I went to one, and when I went on a Walking Tour of Oxford a couple of weeks ago, it was a recommendation of the guide that they should be seen. And so today I went to three. I did the Science museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Pitt Rivers, which is Anthroplogy and Archeology. The Science Museum is apparently the oldest museum in the world; the Natural History museum easily rivals London’s, and the Pitt Rivers museum is just brilliant. There are apparently over 500,000 exhibits. I could have spent forever there. Here’s a picture of the inside:

Inside Pitt Rivers Museum

Inside Pitt Rivers Museum

Oh and apart from what I saw today, let’s not forget that Oxford is most famous for it’s Ashmolean Museum, which is the oldest University Museum in the world, and contains da Vincis, Raphaels, Turners and Michaelangelos. That’ll be for next time then.

6. Oxford is literally full, at almost every twist and turn, of fantastic things, be they architectural (witness the Radcliffe Camera, Christchurch Cathedral, The Sheldonian Theatre to name but three, and it is known as the City of Dreaming Spires for good reason ); natural and beautiful (the rivers Thames (known as the Isis locally) and Cherwell flow right through it and are full of rowers and punters); to the surprising and amazing (the stunningly beautiful Magdalene College has a 200 acre deer park within its grounds, and Blackwells bookstore which looks tiny from the outside has a 10,000 sq ft room in the basement which is the largest floor in any book shop in the world).

So there, just to name a few, are the things that I so far seen and learned about Oxford. When I come into the centre (Broad Street, by the gates of Balliol College is my favourite spot I think), I sort of get goose bumps, and get consumed by it all. It gets me interested, inspired, excited, and quite driven and challenged even, to see and do more more. To that end, it makes feel a lot like a certain mountain in Africa does……………

Some of the dreaming spires.

Some of the dreaming spires.

Sorry to be late….

I have been guilty obviously of not updating this in a week, which is bad I know, so I am sorry for that. In the meantime I have been stupidly busy at work and also sick for a couple of days. I think they call what I was suffering from “man flu” – anyway it did me in to the extent that I felt about as bad as  have for an awful long time, but I think I am on the mend. One of my first thoughts was that I really really hope that I don’t get to feel like that in February. I actually felt so bad one morning that I didn’t buy a chocolate croissant on the way to work, and that I can tell you is serious!

So also in the 7 days since I last posted there have been a few other things going on in my life, and here is not the place to mention them. Suffice to say that I am sad currently, and I’ll let that be that. Maybe another time it will get aired, and maybe it won’t….

Moving on then, I have been to the gym three times in the last week. Wow! When you consider that those three times actually eclipse by a factor of three the total number of times I have been to a gym in over twenty years that is a HUGE thing! I have Nordic-climbed, biked, treadmilled, leg bench-pressed, done the plank (am over 30 seconds now:)), oblique-crunched and what have you rather a lot. Am feeling better for it too, apart from the man-flu thing of course. Oh and I nearly had a treadmill accident, which was rather embarrassing.

You see I am just not used to treadmills. In fact I have been on a treadmill four times in my life, and each of those occasions were in the last two weeks, and I can and do suffer from momentary lapses in concentration from time to time. So here I am merrily trundling along at a sort of jogging pace, when I drop my pen. You see, I have my fitness programme sheet in my hand, and instead of setting it down by the side of the machine before I begin, I just had it my hand when the treadmill sort of started before I wanted it to, and here I am, somewhat Mr Bean-like, running away with my pen and paper in my hand. Anyway, after about a minute of trying to look as if I am absolutely the most composed runner in the universe, if not the gym (and perhaps not doing very well), so when I drop my pen my natural reaction is just to bend down and pick it up.

Oh dear! So as my left leg seems to wrap itself around my neck, and I am sort of shot up in the air with my head heading towards the gym floor, I somehow seem to land on the very back of the machine on my right knee, and sort of bounce back onto what seems to be a surface that isn’t moving. I think I am on my knees, and stand up, make sure that I am OK, and then hope that no-one was watching (it is 6.30pm and the gym is packed unfortunately so I have no chance). I also seem to have all of my fingers and toes still. I then jump straight onto the back of the treadmill at apparently the wrong pace, and am immediately shot off back onto the floor. What an idiot!

When eventually back on the treadmill, after another minute or so of my seriously frenetic (or sweaty and laboured anyway) jogging, I see in the mirror in front of me one of the gym trainers walk past and pick up my pen. My instinct is to turn round and call out “hey that is my pen!”, but it is too late, and as I turn I am off again. I am really lucky that I do not break something or someone this time, and decide to call the treadmill off for the day. One of me or it had a lucky escape that is for sure. I dust myself down, or “towel off” as I think they do in these places.

Oh and also this week I met a really really nice guy from the UKclimbingforums, who has done Kilimanjaro about three times, and also (I’m jealous) the “Seven Summits” (for the uninitiated, and I was until recently, that is each of the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, including Mount Everest). I will tell you about that meeting in the next post……..

Need to count up my miles, but I certainly have some, and all I need now is to learn some treadmill concentration. Wish me luck!

Some pictures of the mountain:

This is a bit of a trial run and I will add to it/update it later. I wanted to add some pictures of Kili that I have been looking at online, as I think they are gobsmackingly stupendous. Here is one:


How good is that? You get a picture of the diversity of eco-systems involved, from the tree-lined tropical forestation at the bottom, to the permanently snow-bound peak at Uhuru.

I love this next one too, perhaps more so:


It looks like the mountain is almost unreal, or superimposed, because presumably of the fact that there are the elephants in the foreground. It is easy to forget however (or if you are like me to just not to have realised properly at all) that we are just below the equator, just next to the Serengeti, home to elephants and giraffe, and the outrageously fantastic wildebeeste migration. I wish now that I was going to do a safari as well, but I think that for now that I have quite enough to think about!

Until later……..

Darth Vader married my sister

Dunno if that got your attention or not? I’m trying to work out if there is any correlation between what I put in the title of my posts and the number of hits I get.

For those of you who don’t know (and I certainly didn’t before I stared this), when you do a blog you get a ‘dashboard’ to show you how many hits you get each day. Now I haven’t really started publicising my blog much yet (I did put a link to it on my Facebook page, but I’ve only got about 40 friends in total :(, and most of them are probably very infrequent facebookers like I am (it’s my age you see:). So I don’t really know whether anyone googling certain words might get to my site my accident? (If anyone is reading this who knows a bit about blog optimisation, then let me know what the tricks are please?).

Anyway, the point of the above is that I did a post the other day about new boots, called something like “New Boots” (not very exciting of course:)), and I got two views that day. The next day my post is also about boots and stuff (and certainly no more exciting than the one before), but it is called “Mileage”. For some reason it got 56 hits, my most yet, and I don’t know where the traffic came from! It also tells you if people linked from certain pages (like Facebook for example), and there was no real clue, so I just have to speculate that the title has something to do with it. Hence today’s title. I don’t even know if Darth Vader is popular any more though, but I saw a TV commercial earlier with him on and so that prompted me. And no, I don’t even have a sister, so it wasn’t true ever.

Anyways, I’ll get round to what I came here for – it is a Saturday today, and I (at long last) got my gym programme mapped out for me at last this morning! I went there at 9am, which was way too early for me on a weekend, but was ready for whatever they threw at me, I just wanted to get started for real, and on with the show.

The programme they started me on is basically as follows, me having told them what I want to achieve (ie basically to be able to be fit enough to satisfactorily climb Kili):

1. Five minutes stationary bike, upping tension each minute.

2. Seven minutes Nordic Climber, 20% incline.

3. Ten minutes treadmill, alternate jogging, fast run.

4. Two reps on leg weights machine with 60kg, until “fatigued”.

5. Various left and right oblique raises.

6. Dorsal raises until “fatigued”.

7. The “Plank”, which is like a pushup held until you can’t hold it any more.

8. Various hamstring and other leg and back tortures.

I was told that this was to ‘get me used to the machines etc’, and that when I have done this three times they will up the intensity next week and every week so that I get progressively ‘fitter”. So I did the above under supervision, and I was smiling all the way until I finished the first piece of equipment. Then the Nordic Climber is a bastard! I hate it! It gets your calves after about 30 seconds, and then you feel yourself alternating your thoughts between “this must be really good for me”, and “switch it off I am going to collapse and die”. I do manage to finish the rest of the programme, and when ‘Zak’ (my new personal trainer, I think Mark has decided I am not worthy enough to be in his gang) asks me if that is all OK for me, I stammer out “it’s fine”, when I am actually thinking that I didn’t want to join the SAS, I just wanted to go for a bit of a walk.

But it is not a walk is it? It is a 100km walk in one go, with a 20,000ft mountain in the middle of it, where the atmospheric pressure means that the oxygen level is at 40% of what you and I are used to. And not just any 20,000ft mountain either. It is the roof of Africa. The highest free-standing mountain in the world. The one which is an enigma, a legend, that captivates, and dominates, and ultimately defeats at least a third of people who try to get to its snowy peaks.

I respect it, and I wonder if Darth Vader has been up there before me?

My Hotel is Booked, and I do some proper walking!

So I have two things to update you on this week so far:

1. I went for a good-ish walk on Sunday, which (best of all) had a good pub at the end of it:)

2. I have a hotel in Arusha and it is booked and paid for!

So Sunday first of all. It was a really lovely day. It has been so dry here for so long, and the sun shone like it was a day in July, so it was just perfect to go and break the new boots in. Except I didn’t. There is a pub close to here which is fantastic. If anyone reading this knows the area at all, then the Bell at Aldworth will be known to them. It’s great. Amongst some of the things I like are:

1. It has a great (one of the best) garden. Perfect in fact.

2. It serves just local beer (Old Tyler from the West Berkshire Brewery is the local favourite)  and cider (the cider (Uptons) comes from an Orchard about 1 mile from here)

3. It has really unpretentious food (you can have basically a ham roll, a cheese roll, a crab roll or a beef roll, and that is about it, and they are lovely)

4. They have no computer, no electric till even, no jukebox, no music, no nothing in fact, other than a great place to drink and socialise.

5. It has apparently been in the same family for 250 years!

6. They don’t serve lager. At all:)

There is a review of the pub here from one of my bibles over the years, the Good Pub Guide:


So anyway, the pub is about 8 miles by car from the house, but if you cut across country and walk over the downs I reckon that it is about 5 or so miles as the crow flies. The pub is at about 600ft above sea level, and I have the Ridgeway (which sort of borders South East Oxfordshire and West Berkshire) between it and me (and it is higher than the pub), so there is a reasonable but gentle climb for me too. I wanted to wear my new boots, but chickened out at the last minute, as due to my aforementioned crap feet and the fact that I haven’t walked for so long, I didn’t want to spoil it with blisters:). So I put my old trusty 20 year old boots on and off I march. Trouble is, the ground is so hard, and my boots are maybe older and harder than the last time I wore them, so after about a mile my feet are hurting! Sod’s law they call that!

Anyway, I walk like a trooper (always easier when there is the scent of a good pint at the end of it) and get there in the end, sore feet and all, in about an hour and ten minutes. Pretty good going I think for a rusty old (easy tiger!) fella. Safely esconsed at a seat in front of the pub, I enjoy the sunshine and three delectable pints of Old Tyler and a cheese and onion roll. There are lots of other people just stood and sat outside the pub too, as they do at this place. Lots of dogs too, all well-behaved. It’s a great people (and dog) watching spot. Life doesn’t get much better than when you are doing the simple things like this.

So onto Monday.

Back to work. Boo.

I love my job, and I’ll tell you about it some day. I love the company and what it stands for, and I love the industry. Really really like and admire the people that I have the privilege of working with. I’m lucky. It all gets me up in the mornings, even on a Monday when it is still dark when the alarm goes off. Even when I have had a good weekend and been to see Toy Story 3D and had a good walk and drunk some Old Tyler and the sun shone.

On my way to work I realise that  have an email from Henry. It is about my hotel. Seems I have one! It is confirmed!! I pay over $250 as a deposit, get a receipt straight away, and it is done. Super efficient. The money has to go to some bank in Cyprus or somewhere like that, which raises an eyebrow for me, but all is apparently hunky dory, as I ask all sorts of questions to satisfy myself.

So I will be staying on the 22nd and 23rd February in the Outpost in Arusha. And then also on the night of the 2nd March. Here it is:


Wow. I don’t care what it is like really, it will be an incredibly memorable place in my life, albeit briefly. It will the first place I have stayed in in Africa, and then the place I stay in when I return from my trek to the peak of the highest free standing mountain in the world. I love writing those words, they make me smile.

It is getting closer and closer and closer.

Mileage at last!

So if you read my last post then you’ll know that I was off to meet Mark for my first session. Well fired up I most certainly was, and the fact that I am writing this at all obviously means that I survived to tell the tale. There is one main reason for that, in that it didn’t actually happen!

I got there bright and breezy (well actually I felt like death warmed up, but what do you expect at 6.45 on a Friday morning?), trying not to feel or look too much out of place. I mean, what do you wear? Do you turn up dressed for work and then change there, or do you turn up in your brand new conspicuous never-been-worn trainers and stuff in the foyer and stand out like a sore thumb? Anyway, I went for it, and marched in with T shirt and shorts and my shiny new Saucony trainers (very comfy, good for under-pronators like me). I met Mark at the reception desk, to be told that there had been a cock-up, and that I had been put back. I felt a mixture of disappointment at not getting down to business, but relief to some extent as I would be more ready for it when it finally came, which is re-scheduled for next Wednesday. The time was not totally wasted, as a guy called Stevie showed me how the cross-trainers and treadmills work etc. and so I can go back at any time.

So today I duly did (go back I mean). I actually fancied a swim, and wandered along at about noon (today is a Saturday), but I find a few Dads with very young kids in the pool. This is slightly strange as I was told that kids weren’t allowed in the pool, which was apparently why there was a low chlorine level there, but maybe I just misheard all that explanation. Anyway, I wasn’t sure if I should even be in there with babies and things, so I leave and go to the gym

I eventually figure out how the equipment works (the place is deserted, which for self-conscious me is good), and get started on a programme on a cross-trainer. I last about 20 minutes, and the machine tells that I have done about 1,000 steps, and burned 100 calories. Magnificent!  I am on a mission after all! I then go onto a treadmill, and select the 30 minute “hill-climber” programme. I get through the whole thing, covering 2 miles, and my pulse rate gets to a max of 137 during that time.  The fact that the machines all have electronic heart monitors attached is a bit scary to be honest.

Oh I also weighed myself in the changing rooms, so whilst we are about to start monitoring all sorts of things, then here is the first statistic for you:

I weigh today 81kg, or 12 stone 10lbs. I think that is about 178lbs if you are an American:). That is quite heavy for me historically, although my weight has been around 12 stone (and probably never more than 1 stone plus or minus) since I was 18 or so.

So afterwards this afternoon I went to see Toy Story in 3D in Didcot. It was only released yesterday! Toy Story is certainly in my top 20 films of all time (I must put the full list on here sometime), and when I found out they had re-done it in 3D it had to be done. It is fantastic by the way, and so anyone out there thinking about it should just go do it, it is totally recommended.

So my first miles in training are recorded. Tomorrow I hope to get the new boots out in anger (I wore them this evening in the house and did the ironing in them:)) and do some proper walking.

I have momentum – the journey has really really begun now. So if anyone is reading this, I am looking for my first sponsor – it is for a cause that I think people know is enormously close to me, Bowel Cancer. Anyone like to be my very first sponsor?

Thank you/

A New Blog Title

So having thought about my blog title, and deciding that it didn’t really mean or say anything, I have changed it to the somewhat naff “To Kilimanjaro (and beyond?)“. I’m not sure about it still though. Maybe I should delete the parentheses? Or change the question mark to an exclamation mark? I don’t know – anyway it is better than it was that is for sure.

I suppose that I am still learning all this technical stuff. I am also a bit of a ‘stabber and a pecker’ when it comes to typing, having never learned to use a keyboard until I was way too old (that’s a reasonably big regret actually), and so I will hopefully sort it all out in the end. I need to learn how to put my posts into chapters or whatever they are called.

So what else happened today? – well I have not yet heard back on my hotel choice having given it yesterday to Henry, so hopefully tomorrow. That will be another significant one for me. I also need to go to the doctors to find out about what vaccinations and when I need them. I put a post onto ukwalkingforums website to see if anyone fancied a trek up the Fairfield Horseshoe at the weekend, but no takers yet. I have been contacted by a guy who has apparently led two Kili expeditions this year though, and has invited me to do the Three Peaks challenge at the end of October. That might be a stretch for me at the moment I have to say, especially to break in a new pair of boots (not to say the state of the rest of me).

I just need to get out and do something, that is for sure. It is interesting to note though that (especially for those of you that have done it before, of which I am one) the highest point in England, Scafell Pike, is a hard walk by most people’s standards. It hurts!. It is also a grand height of some 978 metres. Kilimanjaro is a gnat’s todger short of 6,000 metres! Holy smokes! Not for the faint hearted methinks.

Anyway, I am off to get some shuteye, I have to go and meet my nemesis in the morning for the first time, and I have to be there for 7am! Yes I am off to see Mark! I think I maybe shouldn’t have had this fifth glass of wine this evening?

If you do not hear from me tomorrow then he has probably put me off exercise for life – I am crossing my fingers, and think it is about 50:50 either way…………..or maybe that is being optimistic…….what, oh what, have I done?